Apple’s latest generation iPads Pro and Macs don’t just support 4K, they support 4K HDR. And it’s the HDR part that’s key.
There are a lot of rumors circulating about the next-generation Apple TV 5 getting support not just for 4K video but for 4K HDR. The difference between the two is tremendous.
From the The Wall Street Journal:
Apple wants to have major Hollywood films available in ultra-high definition on the new device, expected to go on sale later this year. However, it wants to charge $19.99 for those movies—on par with what it sometimes charges for new HD movies, the people with knowledge of the discussions said. Several Hollywood studios want to charge $5 to $10 more for 4K movies, the people said.
Hollywood still lives under the misguided impression that Apple “ruined” music by making it easily accessible and priced fairly enough to compete with the only real competition — piracy. Until Hollywood understands Apple saved music and brought it kicking and screaming into the digital age, we’ll keep seeing more of these public pressure tactics. And until we get an Apple streaming service akin to Apple Music but for video, the industry won’t be able to move forward.
That aside, I’m excited not at all for HDR. 1080p is more than enough for most home entertainment needs.
What I am excited about is HDR, or high-dynamic range video.
Last year I got to sit in on a comparison of the Force Awakens trailer and a scene from The Revenant, one side 4K, the other 1080p HDR. The HDR kicked it’s ass. Hard.
Apple knows that, of course, which is why I think we saw the company announce next-generation video the way it did.
From my 2017 iPad Pro review:
The first [new display technology Apple’s is fielding in the 10.5-inch iPad Pro] a new level of brightness — 600 nits. That’s a 20% increase over the previous 9.7-inch model and a 50% increase over the older 12.9-inch model. Combined with an anti-glare coating that reduces reflectivity down to just 1.8%. Even better, it enables real high dynamic range (HDR) for video.
HDR is a concept most of us are already familiar with from photography. The gist is, with HDR you don’t have to choose between blowing out the highlights or muddying up the shadows. You get more detail in both the bright and the dark.
Higher-end televisions and some other mobile devices have begun offering HDR alongside 4K, but many of them have lacked the brightness levels to really show it off.
From my 2017 MacBook Pro review:
Kaby Lake includes hardware acceleration for H.265, more commonly referred to these days as HEVC (high-efficiency video coding). The successor to the ubiquitous H.264, HEVC compression makes even 4K, 10-bit HDR video faster to stream and download. Handling that compression in hardware also means software doesn’t have to do it, which significantly decreases the load on the processor.
That means 4K, HDR video won’t just play better and for longer, it’ll have less minimal impact on any other apps and processes you want to run on your MacBook Pro at the same time.
With iOS 11, macOS High Sierra, and the latest generation of iPads and Macs, Apple didn’t simply introduce 4K. The company introduced 4K HDR. I don’t think that was accidental. Not at all. Apple took a lot of grief over it’s “slow” adoption of 4K, especially on the 2015 Apple TV, but I think it’s clear now the company was waiting on 10-bit HEVC, and the content needed to show it off.
HDR is the key. 4K is just along for the ride. Apple’s got the tech in place. Now Hollywood needs to get its stuff together on content.
(And I’ll include reasonable “upgrade” pricing from existing SD/HR iTunes movies to 4K HDR versions.)