The Note 7 is the first smartphone with HDR10-compliant display and this is why you should care
As anyone who's sat through the many format wars of the past—VHS vs Betamax, VCD vs DVD, Bluray vs HD DVD, et cetera—will only know too well, siding with the losing side is a lousy experience, and more than just a little discomforting. What are we supposed to do with that stack of HD DVDs from 2007?! Throw them in the can, that's what, seeing as no modern player cares about your failed bet.
ought to be a consistently better, more immersive experience for consumers.That's why, increasingly, companies enter into 'alliances', with all the key stakeholders ensuring themselves a seat at the table when deciding on the future of whatever technology is on the agenda. A recent example from the TV industry is the UHD Alliance, which was formed in the beginning of 2015. With top players including manufacturers such as Samsung, movie studios like Fox, and content providers like Netflix all in the mix, the main objective is to iron out standards that the entire industry—from creation, through delivery, to reproduction—can agree on. The net result
Among the latest creations of the UHD Alliance, as anyone who's recently shopped for a high-end TV will know, is the so-called High Dynamic Range (HDR for short, or HDR10 if you want to get technical) video standard, alternatively marketed as Ultra HD Premium. Right now, it's only available on the highest of high-end TVs from 2015, and a number of 2016 models.
Why should you care about the TV industry, however? Simple: while exclusive to TVs until recently, as of earlier this month, Samsung is the first smartphone player to bring HDR10 compatibility to the mobile industry with the newly released Note 7. And the implications are potentially great.
What HDR(10) is, and what it isn't
Unlike some of the marketing ploys employed by TV makers in the past, HDR isn't yet another gimmick or inconsequential feature. Instead, what HDR can do for your movie watching experience is pretty significant. Go to the nearest showroom and see for yourself. Anyway...
As with the HDR mode available with a DSLR or a smartphone, the underlying concept is rather simple to grasp: expanded dynamic range between the brightest and darkest areas of any one image, ensuring blacker blacks, brighter brights, and more visible detail previously concealed in shadows. For a TV to be compliant with the HDR10 standard, it needs to reach a specific level of nit brightness, and low enough black levels corresponding to that peak brightness.
Now that we know the basic premise of the HDR10 standard, it's time to note that the above requirements are but a part of the equation. In addition, and as many of you will know from having been bombarded for years by TV makers' parading of their latest product's extremely wide color gamut, granularity of color also has a part to play. As we often try to impress upon readers, the entirety of the web, Android, and pretty much all of the software in existence, complies with a pretty small color gamut called Rec. 709, or sRGB. What you see in theaters, however, is content mastered for a considerably larger gamut, called DCI-P3, which covers a big portion of naturally occurring colors in nature.
Importantly, HDR10 content is mastered for 10-bit color displays, while the Note 7's screen remains a more standard, 8-bit panel with 16M colors (instead of over a billion). At this point, however, a 10-bit display is not a requirement to pass the HDR10 test, not to mention that the custom mDNIe chip inside the the phone can decode HDR content over to the 8-bit display.
Technicalities aside, the implication is that we all get to enjoy better color granularity, which is to say a much more nuanced color spectrum, and therefore a more compelling image.
Even for non-fans of Samsung's Super AMOLED tech, at this point it goes without saying that the company is heavily invested in its efforts to continuously improve its displays. As far back as the Galaxy S5, the company has also been outing high-ends with various, specific screen modes that alter the image significantly. Almost without exception, however, these screen modes have had little real benefit in terms of bettering your viewing experience, mostly opting for overly saturated color reproduction, for which no content exists.
With HDR10, however, the advantages are there. Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, and pretty much the entire movies industry is committed to supporting this, from film production to delivery. If Samsung's implementation is solid, this should translate into a visibly better image with titles that are available in HDR—especially seeing as how the latest batch of Super AMOLEDs aim at DCI-P3 color gamuts. Under AMOLED cinema mode, for example, the Note 7 checks this requirement.
The takeaway here is that, more than anything else Samsung has done for its displays—such as the rather pointless pixel race—this is one change that could grant Samsung a competitive edge over competitors, some of which are probably already working on HDR for their own devices. Unlike the pointless, super-wide color gamut introductions of old, for which no content really existed, for HDR there's already an established base, and key players are hard at work to push HDR from a premium feature to a given.
No verdict. We need to get the Note 7 in our lab before we can make any conclusions, but we'd be lying if we said that we aren't confident Samsung will pull this one off. All the key pieces are in place, so there's no reason to expect the Note 7 to disappoint as far as its HDR aspirations are concerned. Of course, caution in all things is a philosophy that's proved the most rational in our experience of testing devices to determine if they satisfy the claims made about them.
In any case—if not made perfectly clear already—this is the first time in a long while when we're actually excited about a new piece of display tech. This one has the potential to change your experience noticeably, and for the better.
And we don't get to say that every day.
This story was previously pulled pending a further clarification from Samsung.