A few years ago we swapped out an aging Sony television for a 47-inch Vizio flat panel HD TV. The change was remarkable on a number of fronts. The $1,500 Sony TV was best of breed back at the turn of the century. It was also as big as my first car (a 1949 Renault 4CV for $35). The $500 Vizio TV was easy to carry, easy to install, far more flexible on capabilities, and the quality difference, by comparison to the Sony, was stunning.
Since then, we’ve seen LED TV’s hit the market, then Ultra HD TV’s, and now 4K Ultra HD TVs so good and so advanced that today’s broadcast television shows and news look pale by comparison.
The latest Apple TV supports 4K video, all the UHD video, and HDR– high dynamic range– which promises to make early 4K televisions look anemic. Consumer Reports says the future of television is here.
Almost. But not quite.
My wife and I wandered around Costco, Best Buy, and Walmart recently and found many 4K HDR televisions available, some for less than what we paid for a 1080p TV just five or six years ago.
When presented with HDR content, TVs with HDR can display a wider range from black to white, so you can see more details in the very darkest and brightest areas of the picture. You’ll also see “specular highlights,” which are the momentary glints of brightness that appear on illuminated objects, such as the reflections off a car’s chrome bumper or a Roman gladiator’s armored breast plate. Without HDR, those highlights wouldn’t be any brighter than other bright objects in the scene.
So, today’s 4K HDR televisions are something of a breakout, even when compared to previous Ultra High Definition TVs, and prices have dropped quickly.
Content. Content is king and there isn’t much 4K HDR content available.
To enjoy an HDR experience, you need content—movies and TV shows—that have been mastered with HDR, plus a display that can reproduce it. Most of the HDR-enabled content right now comes from streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, as well as from new Ultra HD Blu-ray players and discs. For streaming 4K videos with HDR, you need a relatively fast broadband connection, of at least 18 to 20Mbps.
In other words, you’re not going to get 4K HDR video content from your cable TV connection. It’s internet only. At some point down the road– and it will be a long road– we’ll see broadcast television and movies in 4K HDR, but for now, it’s limited to a few sources.
Apple TV handles 4K HDR, including both standards; DolbyVision and HDR 10, so Apple is futureproofing the device. Mostly. The future is bringing a video revolution with resolution so crystal clear that it will make movie stars look like your neighbors or that uncle you never talk about anymore.
Apple’s most recent iPhone models shoot video in 4K. They can’t display it properly on the screen, but it’s there, waiting, ready for 4K. That means 4K HDR video cameras are around the corner, too. Even iPhone X has an HDR display (but not 4K).
Changes are coming. Those big, beautiful, flat-panel LCD TVs we purchased just a few years ago are already outmoded and the future is knocking on the door. Apple appears to be ready.