Note: This article was first published on 2nd July 2018.
HDR or High Dynamic Range is a buzzword that’s been circulating in televisions for the past couple of years now. If a TV is HDR compatible, it generally means it’s able to produce a brighter, wider range of colors and contrast, so a scene can display bright highlights, while still maintaining fidelity in the darker areas of the screen. There are however caveats to this and you can read more about the HDR compatible terminology here.
Mobile HDR is a fairly new technology on smartphones that aims to bring a similar experience from your big screen TV to your smartphone or tablet. Samsung kickstarted Mobile HDR with the short-lived Galaxy Note7, but it’s now available in many flagship smartphones including the iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, Razer Phone, Sony Xperia XZ2, LG G6, and the LG G7+ ThinQ.
Just like HDR on TV there are two main competing standards for Mobile HDR: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. HDR10 is an open source format that is currently more prevalent. Generally speaking, if your TV or mobile device is HDR compatible, it can play any HDR10 content.
Dolby Vision is another standard that isn’t as prevalent, but offers arguably better image quality. To compare specs, HDR10 currently supports up to 4,000 nits peak brightness, with 10-bit color depth, while Dolby Vision, supports up to 10,000 nits peak brightness, with 12-bit color depth. Dolby Vision also uses frame-by-frame metadata to ensure that the display you're watching is showing you the best results. While Dolby Vision isn’t as widespread as HDR10, both Amazon and Netflix, the two biggest companies pushing Mobile HDR, support it.
Phones compatible with Dolby Vision include the iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+, LG G6, and the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro. However, it’s worth noting that Dolby Vision on mobile devices is actually a software solution, rather than hardware-based – this means that technically, any HDR mobile device could run Dolby Vision, if a software compatibility update is released for it.
To make matters more confusing, in February 2017, the Ultra HD Alliance also announced a new standard for mobile devices, called Mobile HDR Premium. This isn’t a competing format to HDR10 or Dolby Vision; instead, it’s a certification for mobile devices that ensures you’re getting a great HDR experience.
The Mobile HDR Premium specs require:
These standards apply to all smartphones, tablets and laptop computers, meaning that you could see the Mobile HDR Premium certification on all those devices which offer HDR content. Right now, the only smartphones with Mobile HDR Premium certifications are the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, Note8, and S9 and S9+.
Unfortunately, right now there’s not a lot of Mobile HDR content out there. Netflix is your best bet for HDR10 and Dolby Vision content, however not all phones are supported. Currently, the following Android phones support HDR10 content on Netflix:
The only phones that can use Dolby Vision on Netflix are the iPhone X and LG G6.
Amazon Prime Video also supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision, however, again, not all devices are supported. Amazon doesn't maintain an up to date list of supported devices, so you'll just have to try your luck here.
YouTube also offers great HDR content, but it’s currently not available on the YouTube app, however we expect an update from Google soon. If you're an iPhone X user, many iTunes movies are also available in Dolby Vision and HDR.
Right now, if you want to experience mobile HDR content for yourself, your best bet is to simply download HDR videos from your smartphone manufacturer. For example, the Samsung Video Library app has some stunning high-quality Mobile HDR videos on it.