CES 2016 is shaping up to be the year of HDR, and one of the most vocal proponents behind high dynamic range imagery has announced a pair of new content partners and a new line of televisions from TCL to help move the ball forward. Dolby has announced that this year both Universal Pictures and MGM will be releasing movies in Dolby Vision, the company's forward-thinking, high dynamic range system that helps display images that are brighter and sharper than traditional televisions, with better contrast and a strikingly improved range of colors. Ready to display those titles will be the newly-announced X1 line of televisions from TCL, which follow LG's new 4K OLED TVs as the latest devices to incorporate the technology — what already appears to be a clear trend at CES this year.
The 65-inch X1, set to launch in the US later this year, features a 4K UHD screen utilizing quantum dot technology, with a peak brightness of 1,000 nits. For point of comparison, the Vizio Reference displays that have impressed us in the past max out at around 800 nits, and your normal modern television display clocks in at around 500 nits. (This brightness is important when dealing with things like sun glinting off a car's bumper; in Dolby Vision, those highlights pop just like they do in real life.) Matched with 288 zones of local dimming, the direct-lit television also supports a much wider color gamut, a built-in Harmon Kardon sound system, and a curved screen. When all of the Dolby Vision pieces fit together, the result is an image that is sharper, clearer, and more lifelike than what we've grown accustomed to from traditional displays. So much so that high dynamic range has been seen as the vital technology that could finally make 4K a must-have upgrade for consumers — but as with anything, there have been wrinkles.
HDR is still in flux
Like many things on the bleeding technological edge, high dynamic range has found itself the subject of a sort of mini format war. Dolby first started showing off its system several years ago — we were impressed after seeing Dolby Vision demos at the end of 2013 — and last year Vudu started adding Dolby Vision titles like Mad Max: Fury Road. But at the same time, companies like Samsung and Fox announced that they would be rolling out content and systems using a slightly different flavor of HDR, one that could work with televisions that weren't as bright as those Dolby required. When the official specification for Ultra HD Blu-rays was settled upon last year, it included that different, non-proprietary version of HDR as a standard, meaning that when Warner Bros. announced that it would be releasing 35 4K Blu-ray discs in HDR in 2016, those titles would have to support the non-Dolby version of HDR.
But 4K Blu-rays still support Dolby Vision as an option, so with the landscape far from settled each new content and hardware partnership becomes even more vital. Dolby's long-term strategy is for as many titles to be mastered in its format as possible — something mastered in Dolby Vision can still gracefully degrade into the non-proprietary version of HDR if needed — hopefully making it the de facto choice on the post-production side of the industry even if it doesn't win in all of the television sets out there. Making the situation even more fluid, Dolby has also been bringing high dynamic range imagery into movie theaters with Dolby Cinema, a laser-based projection system that takes advantage of many of the same strengths as Dolby Vision and arguably creates a more organic, fluid pipeline from theater to home release, particularly for filmmakers like Pete Docter who have been quite enthusiastic about Dolby's solution.
Of course, as with most television news at CES, it should all be considered a work in progress until customers can actually sit down at home with their new television and watch 4K HDR content for themselves. With the 65-inch X1 just the first in a line of Dolby Vision televisions from TCL — and the LG model already catching our eye as a contender for best television of the show — this may be the year that Dolby Vision finally starts to shine.