Netflix is bringing higher-quality video to your phone—should you care?

While it looks awesome on TVs, HDR is a tough sell for smartphones

Credit: / Michael Desjardin

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HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a huge thing in TV right now. For people who want the best-looking TV and movies they can find, HDR is the answer. Netflix has finally started to roll HDR content out to mobile devices, meaning you can enjoy HDR content on the go.

Right now, LG's G6 smartphone is the only confirmed model. But while we're guessing newer phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 will also offer compatibility, it's not just compatibility that's a potential issue. Even if your current phone was HDR compatible, it probably wouldn't impress you very much.

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This is because to really get the most out of high dynamic range content, you kinda need... high dynamic range. When HDR hit the "scene" for TVs, it came with it a set of requirements for "premium" certification, including minimum required brightness or black levels—essentially, the highest contrast.

The UHD Alliance, the collection of manufacturers and content makers who first rolled out "HDR Premium" certification standards, are now touting a new standard called Mobile HDR Premium. To be certified "HDR premium" as a mobile device, a smartphone, tablet, or laptop has to hit a range of specs:

• Resolution: 60 pixels/degree
• Dynamic range: 0.0005-550 nits
• Colour space: 90 per cent of P3 colour gamut
• Bit depth: 10

These are similar requirements to current HDR Premium standards for TVs. However, a black level/shadow luminance of 0.0005 nits, while possible on OLED TVs and some AMOLED phones, is almost impossible for any other kind of device to hit. HDR requires much higher overall dynamic range. Current LED TVs get around their black level limitations by getting very, very bright, sometimes three times as bright as the average smartphone.

What does this mean for mobile HDR? Well, even if your phone becomes compatible, it likely isn't going to look much different from non-HDR content unless it's brand new and wielding an AMOLED screen. In fact, we've tested enough phones to know that even current, premium phones can't hit the Mobile HDR Premium requirements of 0.0005–550:

• LG G6 dynamic range:

Black level: 0.199 nits
Peak brightness: 471.60 nits

• iPhone 7 Plus dynamic range:

Black level: 0.346 nits
Peak brightness: 525.90 nits

As you can see, while both the new G6 and last year's iPhone get quite bright, they're still barely as bright as 2017's OLED TVs, and nowhere near producing a 0.0005 black level. You'd almost certainly need an OLED-based screen to achieve mobile HDR, which completely rules out other mobile options like tablets and laptops—at least, for the foreseeable future.

While mobile HDR is a welcome addition to the HDR revolution, it also sort of feels like Netflix is jumping the gun by rolling out compatibility. Sorry, G6 owners, but even if you get HDR, it's not going to be anything to brag about.

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