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4K SDR vs. HDR Apple TV

When shopping for a new television, you may see the terms 4K and HDR, both of which improve image quality. However, they achieve this quality level differently, so it’s important to understand those differences to ensure you’re an informed consumer before purchasing.

4K (or ultra-high-definition) is the screen resolution, which highlights the total number of pixels that fit on a display unit. HDR refers to a high dynamic range, which is the color and contrast between the darkest and lightest tones. HDR is more visually impactful than 4K SDR (standard dynamic range), because of the higher contrast, but HDR produces a sharper image.

Both standards are becoming more common within premium televisions, and both offer incredible image quality. Therefore, diving into the details will help discern the differences.

4K SDR vs. HDR Apple TV

HDR is an imaging technology that grabs, manages, and reproduces content so that the shadow and highlight details of a scene are greatly improved.

Although HDR has traditionally been used in photography, it has also shifted to monitors, TVs, smartphones, and a variety of other display devices.

This means images presented on the screen have a wider range of colors, more detail, and look closer to what the human eye sees, compared to SDR.

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Dynamic Monitor Range

When monitors feature a low contrast ratio or don’t work with HDR, details, and colors are commonly “clipped” due to the display unit’s capabilities.

That means any information that’s clipped cannot be seen because it’s lost. When a monitor attempts to produce a scene with a range of luminance, clipping occurs more.

HDR fixes this issue by calculating the amount of light in a scene and utilizes it to preserve details found in the image, even when scenes have a variety of brightness.

The goal of this process is to create more realistic-appearing images.

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4K SDR Pros and Cons


One of the advantages of this technology is:

· More affordable price than HDR Apple TV.


The downsides associated with 4K SDR include:

· Lower dynamic range compared to HDR.

· Natural color, which could appear muted.

· Viewing experience is subpar compared to HDR Apple TV.

HDR Apple TV Pros and Cons


There are many advantages to HDR Apple TV, such as:

· Best option for displaying an image in detail that could otherwise be washed out.

· Bright shots are clear and show minute details.

· Sharp contrast for a better viewing experience.

· More details are seen in the darks.

· Shows images in a wider gamut of brightness and color.

· Wider range of hues.


There are also a few disadvantages to HDR Apple TV, including:

· HDR Apple TV uses significantly more data for better quality.

· Most expensive option.

· Need a fast connection to stream HDR content.

Is 4K HDR or 4K SDR Better?

As with any technological medium in the past, there are always constant changes. In music, vinyl records became CDs which became mp3s that have transferred to streaming subscriptions.

The home video market saw VHS, DVD, Blue-Ray, and now streaming. Displays transferred from 480i to 720p to 1080i to 4K and eventually 8K. The current battle between 4K HDR and 4K SDR follows these same evolving trends.

While HDR has been common in the photography world, it’s new regarding display units.

Some experts even claim that 1080p HDR looks better than 4K SDR! This likely leads you to the question of which is the best option? 

Based on the wider color range and better detail in darks and lights, 4K HDR is much better than 4K SDR.

What are the differences between 4K SDR and HDR

SDR is the standard for all cinema and video displays. However, it’s limited by the ability to only characterize a small portion of the dynamic range that HDR produces. 

Therefore, HDR offers more details in a scene where the equipment contrast could be problematic. 4K SDR doesn’t have this capability. 

In Lamen’s Terms, when comparing HDR and SDR, HDR delivers more color and detail in scenes with a powerful dynamic range.

Another primary difference between the two is the measurement. If you’re familiar with photography, then the dynamic range is measured in stops, like aperture.

This reflects gamma and bit depth adjustments in the image and differs depending on if HDR or SDR is the standard.

Images on typical SDR displays have a dynamic range of around 6 stops. On the other hand, HDR content has around 17.6 stops. As a result, the dark scenes may produce grey tones that are clipped to black and bright scenes produce some details and colors that could be clipped to white.

Does Apple TV Convert SDR to HDR?

Yes, Apple TV automatically converts all SDR content to HDR for a cleaner and better viewing experience.

While HDR offers the best picture quality available on the market, viewing every frame in HDR may not be the best option for every viewer.

For instance, menus may be too bright, and some content could look worse. However, Apple TV has a built-in fix that allows you to change the setting to match the content.

Therefore, if the content is available in HDR, the system will change to HDR. If it’s only available in SDR, the system will remain in that standard. 

Although nothing is ever 100% guaranteed, HDR Apple TV is favored because its technology is more closely tied to 4K than SDR. Since 4K is now the accepted resolution, it makes sense that HDR Apple TV will follow suit.

You can compare 4K SDR and HDR Apple TV all day, but whether HDR is the right investment for you comes down to your personal experience.