What is high dynamic range (HDR)?

Dynamic range in production refers to the available range of brightness from black to peak white.  High dynamic range (HDR) provides a greater contrast ratio between black and white compared to Standard dynamic range (SDR).  The objective of HDR is to enable greater contrast ratios,  such that fine variations in blacks can be accommodated at the same time as very bright whites.

HDR can be used to capture effects with a wide range of luminance detail, for example, shining sparkles in dark water, where SDR would either crush all the detail of the water or would lose the intensity of the contrast between the sparkles and the water.

Multiple HDR variants are supported by the standards, the most well-known being Perceptual Quantisation (PQ) and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG).  In an end-to-end system from camera to display, preservation of the director’s artistic intent relies on each component of the video workflow being aware of the content’s dynamic range and processing it appropriately.  For example ,if the source content is SDR but is incorrectly treated as HDR within the workflow, then the resultant video will suffer unpleasant artifacts that make the video look over-enhanced.