Netflix sees HDR as a bigger draw for its subscribers than 4K, according to Netflix's Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt, and the streaming giant expects 20% of its content to support HDR by 2019.
HDR, or otherwise known as High Dynamic Range, aims to increase the range between the brightest and the darkest areas in a scene. This increased contrast gives makes the picture stand out more and feels more life-like, and according to Hunt, is what users will notice more easily than a simple upgrade to 4K resolution.
“I think HDR is more visibly different than 4K,” says Hunt. “Over the past 15 years, we have had plenty of increments of pixels on the screen, and from what we saw with digital cameras, pixel count eventually stopped being interesting.” A higher number may have looked nice stamped on the side of the camera, but most people couldn’t discern a 25-megapixel shot from a 20-megapixel shot in real life.
Hurting HDR's chance to be "the next big thing" in home entertainment is, and this should be familiar to earlier adopters of HD, yet another format war, plus the fact that people will need to ensure their displays can support HDR.
Right now, there are two competing HDR standards, Dolby Vision and Ultra HD Premium (also known as HDR 10). Netflix is trying to stay format agnostic - while they currently only provide Dolby Vision versions of its HDR streaming shows Marco Polo and Daredevil, the company will offer HDR 10 versions in the near future.
“There are a couple of manufacturers making Dolby Vision TVs that we will certify and be in the market very soon. In a month or two, we’ll do the same with HDR 10 TVs as well,” Hunt says, also hinting that firmware updates to a few TVs already capable of HDR will make them Netflix-HDR compatible in 2016.
As for content, Netflix is aiming to make 5 percent of its library HDR compatible by the end of 2016, and up to 20% by 2019. While it's possible to add HDR to older content (much like 3D remastering or colorization), to get the best out of HDR, Hunt argues that shows and movies have to be shot in HDR, something Netflix is committed to doing.
“The big step for Netflix this year is that we’re shooting our original shows with cameras that are capable of capturing all the range, then mastering for HDR,” he says. “That includes all the metadata for both types of TVs because we worked with the manufacturers to render it properly. We’re ready to start building a library and the TVs are making a big leap this year.”