Smartphones like Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, LG’s V30, and even Apple’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X are finally getting HDR (High Dynamic Range) video support, which means any HDR content you play on them will look better. Like, noticeably better.
HDR content looks better because it has visible improvements like greater dynamic range and brighter highlights that makes the picture quality more realistic and authentic to the director’s original artistic vision.
But something’s not adding up, especially on the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.
Apple advertises on its website that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus support “Dolby Vision and HDR10 content.”
From that statement, you’d think that these new iPhones would display HDR in all of its eye-popping glory. But you’d be wrong.
To get the full benefit of HDR content, your device needs to have an HDR display. HDR content requires special display tech to properly render it.
For instance, you’d need a screen with a certain level of brightness (measured in nits), with a certain contrast ratio spec, and wide color gamut display support, to see all the extra improvements.
It’s kind of like watching 4K content. The only way to really appreciably view 4K content is on a 4K TV or monitor.
This is why you need to buy a brand new TV with HDR support in order to view HDR content. Your rinky-dink TV just won’t do if you want all that extra picture quality.
So what’s the big deal? Well, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus don’t have HDR displays. The iPhone X is the only iPhone and Apple device with an HDR screen. Apple says it right there on its iPhone comparison page.
Without the necessary hardware for HDR, then what the heck are you actually seeing on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus when you load up a Dolby Vision movie on Netflix? That’s a good question because the answer wasn’t exactly obvious.
Normally, if your screen doesn’t support HDR, it simply won’t be able to read the signal and you’ll see the standard non-HDR version.
But that’s not the case on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Apple told Mashable that users of these two phones will see visual enhancements to dynamic range, contrast, and wide color gamut when playing Dolby Vision or HDR 10 content from their respective content providers, but it will not be at the full level of HDR visual fidelity as it’ll be on the iPhone X, which does have an HDR screen.
We also reached out to Netflix, but they referred us to Apple. Dolby didn’t immediately respond to our request for clarification on the faux-HDR support for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.
I know it’s a little confusing, but you could think about it like this: Many phones have an HDR mode within their camera app. When you take an HDR photo or video, instead of seeing blown-out areas, you see added colors and details.
You’re not technically looking at true HDR content but to the naked eye you’re seeing some discernible differences. Better video quality is better video quality, but if you want to watch HDR the way it was meant to be, you’re going to need to get a device with an HDR screen.