HDR: Projector Compatibilty Issues

M. David Stone, November 16, 2016

With HDR (High Dynamic Range) video sources and HDR-capable projectors now both available, it is certain that HDR and UHD resolution can take picture quality up a significant step. However, at the moment HDR is very much bleeding edge, and compatibility problems between sources and displays abound. The industry will eventually work out the kinks, and everything will work together seamlessly without you having to know any details. For now, however, here are some tips on how to navigate the HDR landscape.

First, let's look at important HDR standards, specifications, and guidelines:

  • HDR10: This is the key standard your projector and video devices need to be compatible with.

  • Dolby Vision: Irrelevant for projectors. You can ignore it.

  • Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc specification: All that matters for practical purposes is that the specification defines HDR10 as the "base layer" for video on all HDR UHD Blu-ray discs, with Dolby Vision optional. So if your hardware supports HDR10, you should be able to see the benefits of HDR with any disc that supports it.

  • Ultra HD Premium: Also irrelevant for projectors. It requires a combination of peak luminance and black level that projectors can't provide, both because of inherent limitations in projector technology, and because having any ambient light at all will tend to wash out black levels on screen.

  • BBC/NHK Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG): An HDR standard that is also compatible with SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) displays. HLG is emerging as the probable HDR standard for broadcast TV, and can also be used to add HDR to 1080p TV signals. Despite the current lack of broadcast HDR content in the United States, some HDR projectors include support for it. Those that don't may be able to add it later through a firmware upgrade.

The oversimplification you'll see most often is that there are two HDR standards that you need to match between the video source and display--HDR10 and Dolby Vision--with the assumption that if both support the same one, they'll work together. The reality is that:

1. Dolby Vision, once again, is irrelevant for projectors. There are no models currently supporting it or on the near horizon, and

2. Just because a video source and projector both support HDR10 doesn't mean they'll work together to give you an HDR image. In theory you should be able to predict whether they'll work together based on the signal formats they support. In practice, it helps to have hands-on testing to confirm compatibility, or to get confirmation from authorized resellers.

With that in mind, we've compiled results of compatibility testing reported by all three vendors currently selling HDR-capable projectors that support UHD input and offer either native 4K resolution or 4K-emulation (what JVC calls e-shift and Epson calls 4K enhancement Technology). The test results are on the next page.

HDR Color definitions

Color depth: Also known as bit depth, color depth refers to the number of bits used to define the levels of each of the three color components, Red, Green, and Blue, in a pixel. 8-bit color is common. This is also confusingly referred to as 24-bit color because a pixel is defined by three color components. (8 bits per color times 3 colors equals 24 bits per pixel). A little arithmetic will reveal that 2 to the 8th power gives you 256 different potential values for each R, G, and B component, and 256 x 256 x 256 gives you the 16.7 million colors you hear advertised all the time. So 8-bit color depth equals 16.7 million colors.

We now have the option for deeper color systems using 10-bits or 12-bits per color. By the same logic, these can also be referred to as 30-bits and 36-bits per pixel.

HDR10 color depth: The HDR10 definition specifies 10 bits per color. Some HDR10-compatible devices also support 12 bits per color, which HDMI 2.0 and 2.0a (which adds HDR support) have the bandwidth to handle. However, 12-bit color isn't part of the HDR10 definition.

What HDR? Get a dark room. With projectors, HDR of any variety works best when viewing at night or in a dark room. HDR can give you blacker blacks and more brilliant highlights than SDR for a wider tonal range. However, to see the difference on a projector you must be viewing in a very dark room. Even a small amount of ambient or reflected light will compromise black levels, reduce contrast ratio, and hide much of the difference between HDR and SDR. It doesn't take much light to do that, so to get the full visual benefit, you'll want the viewing space as close to a black hole as possible.

Product Compatibility

As with any newl standards, manufacturers can interpret the details of HDR10 differently. This can lead to outright incompatibilities between products or just make it a little harder to get them working together than it should be. Fortunately, there are only a handful of HDR-capable projectors, UHD Blu-ray players, and game consoles available--or soon to be available--at this writing, which makes it easy to compile a list of what works with what. The information presented here is based on testing results reported by Epson, JVC, and Sony.

One type of HDR source material that has not been thoroughly tested is streaming video from Netflix, Amazon, and Sony Ultra, all of which support HDR10 with UHD. (VUDU limits itself to Dolby Vision only). The problem is that 4K HDR compatibility testing with streaming sources is complicated by the extra hardware that connects the source to the projector. A projector might show a 4K HDR signal from Netflix through one device but not through another. So compatibility testing with streaming sources is a lot more complicated than testing with Blu-ray players or game consoles that interface directly to the projector. In short, if 4K HDR is on the bleeding edge, streaming 4K HDR is on the leading edge of the bleeding edge.

Contents: Intro Projector HDR Compatibility Spec Matching Troubleshooting Tips
 

Reader Comments(3 comments)

Posted Dec 4, 2016 3:05 PM

By hifijohnny

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You sure got that right. Consumer electronics has been a hobby of mine since I was a boy. Home Theater is my passion these days. When we purchased our Lansing home, we sought a dedicated space for a moderately sized personal home theater. HDR is not ready for prime time for projectors yet. It's a pain in the *ss trying to keep up with the formats since the inception of HDTV. The industry is sabotaging their own future and retail viability by releasing amazing features every other year. I bought two expensive Sony XBR4 1080P televisions in 2007. 52" for the Lr 40" in the den. These sets were Sony's top of the line in 2007. Beautiful sets with a stylish glass and silver bezel. I fell in love with it the first time I laid eyes on it at Circuit City. Remember them? I gotta say. I was frustrated when less than two years after buying my Sony sets, 3D hits the market. They couldn't introduce both at the same time? Now, retailers want us to ditch our 1080P sets for 4K sets with HDR. . A format that has more than one standard. Remember Blu ray vs. HDD? what a pain in the *ss.I've been researching 4k and 4k really isn't ready for prime time. Especially if you are interested in a 4k Projector. This year I replaced an eight year old Denon AVR that is the driving force of our theater. I replaced it with a Marantz 8802 Pre/Pro and two outboard Amplifiers for 11 channels to bring the Cinema experience into the home. I do have to say that Atmos and DTS-X are a quantum leap in sonics and I didn't expect it to be as dramatic as it is. My Denon was expensive, their most recent high end flagship AVR5308CIA (discontinued) The Marantz Pre/Pro losts it's video output/ Not even a year old and retails for 4000. USD. I picked up a back up all in one receiver. Last years model Marantz 7010 cost reduced by 1100 dollars. What a bargain. We love home theater and so does everyone that gets invited to experience cinema quality in the Home. Every year there are more and more affordable components that are actually pretty darn good performers I half way decent theater can be had for as low as 3000 if you do it yourself. It's not that hard, just a lot of work installing gear. hiding wires in walls. Socket in ceiling for projector. That kind of stuf. But I am a little disillusioned that the consumer electronics industry is running a racket of format changes every couple of years. Audio and video. BTW, 8k TV is on the horizon.

Posted Nov 23, 2016 7:34 PM

By Wesley Miaw

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I can confirm the Xbox One S will feed a 4Kp60 HDR10 signal to the JVC DLA-RS500U / DLA-X750R with full compatibility with the Xbox One S UI, 4K Blu-ray discs, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.

Posted Nov 17, 2016 9:10 AM

By SimonBG

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What a mess! I regret purchasing 4k TV and will not update my other 4 zones for at least 3-4 years. Shame on you manufacturers and HDMI consortium. Your greed has no limits.

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