HDR vs SDR: Which is Better for Your Home Theater Setup?

by Dangbei Official on November 01, 2023

In the world of home entertainment, the choice between HDR (High Dynamic Range) and SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) can have a significant impact on your viewing experience. This decision becomes even more critical when you're in the market for a smart projector. HDR and SDR represent two distinct technologies that offer varying levels of visual quality. In this blog, we'll explore the differences between HDR and SDR and help you decide which one is right for your smart projector setup.

Understanding HDR and SDR

Before we delve into the comparison, it's essential to understand the basic principles of HDR and SDR.

What is HDR?

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. HDR video contains a wider range of brightness levels compared to standard dynamic range (SDR) video. This allows HDR content to display deeper, more realistic blacks, brighter whites, and more detail in the shadows and highlights. The end result is a more life-like, immersive image with greater contrast and color depth.

Most major streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ now offer HDR content in addition to SDR. HDR is also found on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and HDR-enabled cable/satellite channels. There are a few competing HDR formats - like HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision - but most new 4K TVs and projectors are compatible with at least HDR10.

What is SDR?

SDR, or standard dynamic range, refers to the video standard that has been used for decades in TV broadcasts, DVDs, and Blu-rays. SDR video has a more limited brightness range compared to HDR. While SDR content can still look very good, it lacks some of the enhanced realism, contrast, and color that HDR is capable of displaying.

Most older non-4K TV shows and movies you'll find are in SDR. And gaming consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One S/X mostly output in SDR as well, unless a game specifically has HDR enabled. Though more and more games today are being optimized for HDR.

HDR vs SDR Compared in Five Aspects


Brightness and Contrast

One of the most significant advantages of HDR is its superior brightness and contrast. HDR projectors are capable of a much higher peak brightness, often over 1,000 nits compared to just 300-500 nits for most SDR projectors. HDR content has more dazzling, intense highlights and deeper, inkier shadows. This expanded brightness range creates a more dynamic and immersive viewing experience, especially for scenes with a broad range of lighting conditions, from bright to dark.

Color Accuracy

HDR uses 10-bit color depth that can display over 1 billion colors. This is a huge upgrade over 8-bit SDR that can only display 16 million colors. With SDR's limited color space, color accuracy and realism are restricted, which can make content appear flatter and less true to life. HDR's expanded color gamut provides colors that are more vivid, nuanced, and lifelike. If color fidelity is important to you, HDR presents colors in a way that is much closer to what the human eye sees in the real world. Vibrant reds, greens, and blues just pop when viewed in HDR.


While HDR content delivers a clearly superior visual experience compared to SDR, it's essential to ensure your smart projector is HDR-compatible to reap the benefits. Not all projectors on the market currently support HDR, so if you plan to enjoy HDR content, be sure to carefully check your projector's specifications and supported formats before purchasing. An HDR-compatible projector is required to display the full range of brightness, contrast, and color that HDR content offers.

Content Availability

The availability of HDR content has been steadily increasing, especially on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. However, SDR content is still prevalent, and older movies and TV shows are often in SDR. Therefore, having a projector that can handle both formats is a smart choice.


Due to the enhanced hardware requirements, HDR-compatible projectors tend to cost more than comparable SDR-only models. There is a price premium for the benefits of HDR support. If you're working with a tighter budget, an SDR projector might still be a cost-effective choice. But for the ultimate home theater experience, HDR capability provides clear visual advantages worth the extra investment for many consumers. Consider some projectors with great value that support HDR, such as the Emotn N1. It has native 1080p resolution and comes with Netflix built-in, while supporting both HDR10 and HLG. During sales promotions, you can even get it for around $300 or less.

Emotn N1

Why Choose HDR for Projectors?

After the showdown, we can discern some compelling reasons to choose a smart projector with HDR support:

Greater Brightness: HDR projectors are on average brighter than SDR models. This enhances HDR's benefits and allows you to take advantage of HDR even in rooms with some ambient light.

More Lifelike Image: With its increased contrast, colors, and detail, HDR offers a more immersive, cinematic experience, which is ideal for large projected screen sizes.


Future-Proofing: As more movies, shows, and games add HDR, an HDR projector will be able to display them as intended in all their glory. This prevents you from having to upgrade your projector down the road just to get HDR capability.

Room Flexibility: HDR projectors allow you to set up an awesome home theater in rooms that SDR projectors may struggle in, like family rooms, basements, or living rooms that aren't completely darkened.

Types of HDR


This is the most commonly used and widespread HDR format. HDR10 is an open standard that any manufacturer can implement without paying licensing fees. It is supported by essentially every HDR-capable television on the market, as well as major streaming platforms and Blu-ray players. HDR10 provides up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness, a noticeable upgrade over the standard dynamic range. It also supports 10-bit color depth for over 1 billion colors. The open accessibility and broad adoption of HDR10 have made it the baseline HDR format for 4K UHD content.

Dolby Vision

Dolby Vision is a proprietary HDR format created and licensed by Dolby Laboratories. It builds upon the HDR10 standard by adding an extra layer of dynamic metadata that continuously optimizes the picture on a scene-by-scene or even frame-by-frame basis. This allows Dolby Vision enabled displays to adjust brightness, contrast, and color on the fly based on instructions encoded into the video signal. Dolby Vision supports up to 10,000 nits of peak brightness for impressive specular highlights and enables 12-bit color for over 68 billion colors.


HDR10+ is an open-source dynamic metadata HDR format backed by companies like Samsung, Panasonic, 20th Century Fox and others. Like Dolby Vision, HDR10+ utilizes dynamic metadata to enable real-time adjustments to picture quality that optimize highlights, shadows, and wider color gamuts. The goal is to provide a similar experience to Dolby Vision. HDR10+ is also capable of up to 10,000 nits of peak brightness for stunning specular highlights that really make images pop.


HLG stands for Hybrid Log-Gamma and is an HDR format developed primarily for broadcast television. It is designed to be 'backwards compatible', meaning HLG content can be viewed on both HDR television sets as well as older standard dynamic range displays without excessive issues. This makes it an adaptable format for broadcasters transmitting both SDR and HDR signals. HLG supports up to about 1,200 nits currently.


While SDR projectors are generally cheaper, investing in an HDR-compatible smart projector means you'll be able to enjoy the best possible picture quality as HDR becomes more prevalent. Just make sure your projection screen and other AV equipment are also HDR-ready to complete the ecosystem.

For the best of both worlds, consider a smart projector that supports both HDR and SDR. This way, you can enjoy the full spectrum of content available without compromising on visual quality. The decision ultimately boils down to your individual needs and how you prioritize the quality of your home entertainment setup.


Q: Do I need an HDR projector for HDR content? 

A: To fully experience the benefits of HDR content, an HDR-compatible projector is recommended. Most new 4K models support HDR10 at a minimum. Some higher-end projectors also support HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Without HDR support, you won't get the full range of contrast, color, and brightness that HDR content provides.

Q: What about SDR content on an HDR projector?

A: HDR projectors are backwards compatible with SDR content. While you won't get the full advantages of HDR, SDR content will still look great on an HDR projector. The projector will upscale SDR content and display it as best as it can. Just don't expect as much contrast and detail as with native HDR content.

Q: Is an HDR projector worth the higher cost over SDR? 

A: If you want the best movie-viewing experience and plan to watch a lot of HDR content, then an HDR projector is likely worth the investment. The boost in image quality, contrast, brightness, and color is significant. If your budget is tight, an entry-level 1080p HDR projector can provide good value. 

Q: What about lighting? Do I need a darkened room?

A: While a dark home theater room is ideal for any projector, HDR models are designed to provide a great image even in rooms with some light. Their extra brightness allows you to enjoy HDR without completely blacking out the room, like SDR projectors require.

Q: Can I enjoy HDR gaming on my console or PC?

A: Yes, many gaming consoles, like Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, support HDR gaming. Additionally, some gaming monitors and graphics cards for PCs offer HDR capabilities. Ensure that your gaming setup and games are HDR-compatible for the best experience.