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Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: What’s the difference and which is best?

What is HDR and which version is better, HDR 10 or Dolby Vision? We take an in-depth look at this sexy new television tech, in our full HDR 10 vs Dolby Vision comparison guide.

In the world of television, the transition from Full HD to 4K UHD has basically already happened and now the next big thing is HDR, or High Dynamic Range. But obviously, to make things as difficult as possible for consumers, there’s actually more than one type of HDR TV to choose from.

Much like any new format, you have varying sides: Betamax vs VHS, DVD vs Laserdisc and now we have HDR 10 vs Dolby Vision.

We’ve collated everything you need to know about the HDR 10 and Dolby Vision formats as well as HDR in general (for those still unsure what it actually is), to figure out which is best and what you need to look for in your HDR TV purchase.

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: What is HDR?

Both Dolby Vision and HDR 10 are variations of the same thing, High Dynamic Range. In simple terms, HDR is the television’s ability to display colour and contrast, to produce realistic images.

Essentially these new HDR televisions have a great range of colours and a wider variation between blacks and whites. The result is much clearer pictures, with more lifelike skin tones and more varied blacks for clearer dark scenes. Of course this varies between LCD and OLED screens. After all, LCD televisions boast a higher brightness but OLED screens enjoy blacker blacks - but that’s a debate for another day.

For a lot more information and explanation, check out our complete guide to HDR

So what’s the difference between Dolby Vision and HDR 10?

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: Colour bit depth

One of the greatest variations between the two formats is the amount of colours that can be displayed. In short, Dolby Vision is better as it can manage 12-bit colour for a total of 68 billion possible colours. By comparison, HDR 10 tops out at 10-bit meaning it can only manage one billion colours.

The fact that film studios make movies for Dolby and need approval for Dolby mastering adds more points to the Dolby Vision camp when it comes to colour.

Of course, both standards are still massively impressive when compared to non-HDR televisions, which top out at a meagre 16 million colours.

Read next: How can I stream or watch HDR movies and TV?

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: Brightness and contrast

One of the ways a variation in contrast is achieved is by offering a higher brightness level. While HDR 10 is able to render up to 4,000 nits of brightness, Dolby Vision doesn’t reach its maximum limit until 10,000 nits of brightness.

However, we are currently limited by television technology, as our home tellies aren't actually capable of 10,000 nits of brightness. But the point here is that Dolby Vision has been created to continue to support television advances, so this standard is more future-proofed.

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: Bespoke playback

Dolby Vision was created as an end-to-end solution. That means it is used to master film, package it and then replicate it on your TV exactly as intended.

This is possible thanks to specific chips built into Dolby Vision TVs, which are smart enough to know what that particular television is capable of. This chip can pass that information to the DV source, which then optimises the content it’s streaming frame-by-frame, to suit that screen’s own colour and brightness limits. The result is the best possible replication of the original master, so you’re truly seeing the video as it was intended to be viewed.

HDR 10, by contrast, was created by television manufacturers as a means of avoiding being under control of Dolby (and likely its licence fees). The result is a more open-ended solution which doesn’t map content specifically for that TV, which ultimately leads to a less precise reproduction of the video.

Dolby Vision vs HDR 10: Which TV should I buy?

One of the great things about the HDR format war is that some manufacturers aren’t even taking sides. LG, for example, includes both Dolby Vision and HDR 10 in its new OLED TV selection. That means the television will adapt depending on the source it’s connected to, giving the best possible display result.

That said, splashing out for the higher-end Dolby Vision standard means the TV is also capable of HDR 10 playback, since it can effectively decode either. So it’s not just a case of LG being extra nice.

Even streaming platforms aren’t taking sides. Netflix, for example, streams videos in both Dolby Vision and HDR.

The problem at the moment is that Dolby Vision sets are still in short supply, with LG, Philips, TCL and Vizio the only manufacturers on-board right now.

The more affordable HDR 10 sets are in plentiful supply, from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, LG, Sharp and Toshiba.

So it’s clear that Dolby Vision is better than HDR 10 overall. But if previous format wars have taught us anything it’s that the best platform doesn’t always win. Since HDR 10 doesn’t require licence fees and will be available on cheaper TVs for the foreseeable future, Dolby is in for a tough fight.

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