Dolby Vision is everywhere these days. On games consoles like the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, 4K Blu-ray players, smartphones the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, and (of course) across huge swathes of premium televisions from the likes of Panasonic, LG, Sony, and more.
But what exactly is Dolby Vision HDR, what content is usually found in the format, and what difference does it make to your viewing experience? The world of HDR can be confusing, which is why we've put together this in-depth guide to Dolby Vision's roots, availability, and advantages over competing formats.
Dolby Vision is the game-changing advancement to TVs that we've needed for the past decade. Yes, 4K has given us additional pixels, but it's HDR that has made those pixels really shine in a way they never have before.
Not all HDR TVs come with this dynamic HDR format – the minimum required is the more basic HDR10 – but those that do offer a rocket-boosted viewing experience above and beyond usual SDR images, that is, if the screen you're watching on is able to do it justice.
Dolby Vision is the format that more studios are turning to and harnessing its potential to deliver colorful, dynamic and calculated images on a scene-by-scene basis. All of which will show up on your TV at home.
With the latest Dolby Vision IQ technology enhancing the way that Dolby Vision is shown onscreen, too – by using brightness sensors in high-end televisions to auto-calibrate picture settings depending on the level of light in the room – it's a format that continues to give more the longer its on the market.
Dolby Vision is still a relatively new format, but from what we've experienced, it's exactly what home cinema needs to match the silver screen. Best of all? It's available for you to bring home right now.
What is Dolby Vision?
Dolby Vision is a type of HDR – probably the second most popular after the ubiquitous HDR10 standard that's included on all HDR TVs and players.
And while it bases a lot of its technology on the basic HDR standard (Dolby played a key role in the development on it after all), it's a better solution.
The main improvement from an end-user’s perspective is that it places an additional layer of information on top of a core HDR10 video signal which contains scene-by-scene information which Dolby Vision-capable TVs can use to improve the way they present their pictures. This means better brights and darker blacks, and this enables TVs to display the full range of colors in the Rec. 2020 standard.
If HDR blows you away now, wait until you see Dolby Vision.
We’ve seen Dolby Vision already in the UK on a handful of Netflix and Amazon video streams, and it’s also available via VUDU and iTunes in the US.
The ‘big one’ for many AV fans, though, has been Ultra HD Blu-ray. Dolby Vision is included as an option on the UHD BD specification sheet, and AV fans have been desperate to see how much of a difference Dolby’s system might make to the picture quality of the AV world’s best-quality source.
The latest crop of Dolby Vision Blu-rays, which include the Despicable Me films, West World from HBO and Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, look nothing short of amazing – provided you’ve got the hardware to watch them.
What is Dolby Vision IQ?
Dolby Vision is going to get even better this year, thanks to a new feature in some high-end TVs – Dolby Vision IQ – that will make shows and movies look great in any room at any time of the day.
The way Dolby Vision IQ works is by using the dynamic metadata encoded in Dolby Vision content in conjunction with an embedded light sensor in the TV, using the information to change the picture settings and display a more accurate picture.
Basically, Dolby Vision IQ can tell that you’re watching TV in a brightly lit room, where lots of dark details are getting lost. The TV will therefore be able to boost the brightness automatically without you having to go into the picture settings and do it yourself. Dolby Vision IQ also helps to change picture settings to suit the kind of content being watched (movies, sports, etc).
What you'll need to watch in Dolby Vision
For the avoidance of doubt, Dolby Vision is a licensed video platform that requires all the links in the video chain to support it. So buying the Despicable Me 4K Blu-ray discs won’t be enough in itself – you’ll also need a TV capable of receiving Dolby Vision, and a 4K Blu-ray player capable of playing Dolby Vision.
All LG’s OLED TVs are DV-capable, as are its high-end Super UHD LCD TVs. Sony TVs with X1 Extreme chips (the ZD9, A1 OLED, XE93 and XE94, plus the 2018 X900F) handle DV too after a firmware update, as can some VIZIO and TCL TVs in the US. Much of Panasonic's 2019 TV range (GX800, GX920, GZ1000, GZ1500 and GZ2000) also packs in Dolby Vision support.
The newest additions to the Dolby Vision family are consoles – including the Xbox One S and Xbox One X – and mobile phones, albeit on the premium end. The format can be displayed on the all-new iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone X and LG G6 handsets, bringing truly vivid visuals and color to the screens you're likely to use the most.
Of course, if you want Dolby Vision from a physical disc, there are only a few 4K Blu-ray players currently supporting Dolby Vision like the now-discontinued Oppo UDP-203 and Oppo 205, but more models from LG and Sony should help fill the void.
If you’re lucky enough to already own a suitable combination of kit, though, trust us: you’ll want to buy as many Dolby Vision Blu-rays as you can. The impact of Dolby Vision on the visuals of both movies has to be seen to be believed.
Dolby Vision: a new world of color
Take color, for instance. With our Oppo 203 and LG OLED55C7 combination, the Dolby Vision Despicable Me movies display an unprecedented array of tones and tonal subtleties. Everything from the animated skin tones to background walls and locations contains subtle variations and accuracies of color you just don’t get in HDR10 – a comparison verified by playing the discs’ HDR10 ‘core’ video through the Panasonic UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player onto the OLED55C7.
This helps pictures instantly look more detailed and refined, despite the fact that Dolby Vision isn’t capable of actually adding more pixels to the 4K source pictures.
The Dolby Vision transfer doesn’t just portray more subtle colors than the HDR10 transfer either. Some colors also look slightly different in hue and tone; and invariably our impression was that the DV versions were the definitive, accurate ones.
Startling in its brilliance, too, is Dolby Vision’s mastery of light. Somehow the technology seems to deliver purer, brighter highlights than we've ever seen from the LG OLED before, while simultaneously delivering dark scenes with more richness and subtle light detailing.
Actually there seems to be more definition between subtle light differences in every part of the Dolby Vision image, giving it a more stable, rich, deep, solid appearance that looks almost three-dimensional versus the flatter, less precise HDR10 picture.
As if this wasn’t all stunning enough, the settings Dolby has designed for the OLED55C7 seem to handle motion more cleanly and effectively than LG’s own processing with HDR10 does.
Add all the Dolby Vision/Despicable Me benefits together and you’ve got an image the likes of which we haven’t seen before on a domestic television, despite the fact that we’re only talking about a pair of ageing animated titles. Having seen the cinematic version of Dolby Vision at work on Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 recently, we can only imagine how spectacular Dolby Vision at home could look with more visually sophisticated titles than Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2.
Rival technologies to Dolby Vision
It’s worth remembering at this point that AV brands not signed up with Dolby for Dolby Vision – notably Samsung – tend to suggest they can deliver equivalent results to DV by just applying their own processing power to HDR10.
Having played the Despicable Me discs in HDR10 into a reference Samsung UE65KS9500, though, while that set delivered brighter light peaks than the Dolby Vision picture on the LG OLED, it couldn’t match Dolby Vision for light and color subtleties.
Samsung announced back in 2017 it was partnering with Amazon Prime Video to develop a new HDR format called 'HDR10+', which also applies a layer of so-called ‘dynamic metadata’ (scene-by-scene instructions) to an HDR10 stream. It's essentially a royalty-free alternative to Dolby Vision, which is built into Samsung's line of high-end QLED televisions.
Both Panasonic and 21st Century Fox had thrown their weight behind HDR10+, selling it as a more democratic, open-source HDR format. Panasonic recently changed its tune on this, however, and you can now get Dolby Vision on a host of Panasonic 4K Blu Ray players and Panasonic TVs.
We're not necessarily saying here that your next TV and 4K Blu-ray player absolutely definitely must have Dolby Vision support. The format still, after all, has to work within the brightness and color limitations of any TV it’s applied to.
There are non-Dolby Vision TVs out there which are either (in Samsung’s case in particular) capable of delivering color and brightness levels beyond those possible from any current Dolby Vision TV. But there still aren't many Dolby Vision Ultra HD Blu-rays available, despite the format’s ‘official’ launch.
What certainly does no longer seem in doubt from having seen Dolby Vision in action from a 4K Blu-ray, though, is that it does an incredible job of getting the absolute best out of any screen it comes into contact with. And with a technology as confusing and frankly error-strewn as HDR is right now, that’s a pretty big deal.
- Want a concise rundown of the differences? Here's our complete guide on HDR10 vs Dolby Vision
Original contributions were made to this article by John Archer.