By Henry St Leger
Use your HDR TV to the fullest
Let’s picture the scene: you're relaxing at home after a long day’s remote working, and you're looking for something truly eye-catching to take your mind off things on one of your favorite TV streaming services. Thankfully, if you have a subscription to Netflix, there are a number of HDR TV shows and films available for you to watch.
Why should you care about HDR? HDR (high dynamic range, to use its full title) is a modern TV technology that gives video that extra oomph. The increased dynamic range over basic SDR (standard dynamic range) allows for more colors, better contrast, and a more nuanced palette than you would get on your TV otherwise.
HDR isn’t that hard to come by these days – though Netflix also supports a dynamic HDR format called Dolby Vision, which packs in additional metadata to tailor the television’s picture scene by scene, and ensure the end result is as close as possible to the master screens used in a film or TV show’s production studio.
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You don’t need HDR to enjoy a movie, of course, but it makes a huge difference to the visuals if you have a 4K HDR TV able to display it. That’s why we’ve brought together some choice picks of Netflix series you’ll be able to watch in Dolby Vision HDR – or regular HDR if your television doesn’t support the premium format.
It’s worth mentioning that you’ll need a TV that supports Dolby Vision or HDR to see the improvement, as well as the Premium Netflix price plan – but if those two needs are met, there’s nothing to stop you diving into Dolby Vision TV show and films today. (If you aren’t seeing the HDR or Dolby Vision logo on titles, it may be that your streaming settings aren’t set to ‘high’).
Don’t have an HDR TV? The following titles are still available to watch to Netflix, whatever your TV capabilities may be.
1. Star Trek Discovery
The seventh Star Trek series, Discovery, was created for CBS All Access, though also made its way to Netflix internationally – offering a tantalizing world of hyperspeed, intergalactic warfare and The Walking Dead’s excellent (and we mean excellent) Sonequa Martin-Green in the lead role.
It’s a show that suffers from having too many good ideas, and not being able to choose between them – everything from multiverse theory and quantum mechanics to time travelling crystals – but there’s a good mix of new stories and fan callbacks to make this a Star Trek show very much worth watching. Doug Jones’ turn as Kelpian Commander Saru is also a masterclass of acting in heavy prosthetic make-up.
2. Chef's Table
The first Netflix Original documentary is still one of its best. Chef’s Table profiles a different professional chef each episode, and has now been running for six seasons – meaning there’s plenty of food porn and behind-the-scenes chat with cuisine maestros for you to enjoy.
It’s a truly globe-trotting series, jumping between Italy, the United States, France, Slovenia, Thailand, and others – and watching in HDR really helps make those colorful cuisines jump off the screen.
3. Russian Doll
Natashy Lyonne plays a bad-mouthed video-game designer in New York, caught in a time loop of endless deaths. Can she escape? Is she just high? And might someone else be caught in the same predicament she is?
Russian Doll is surprisingly clever – often brutally succinct about the lasting scars of trauma and mental illness – especially as the sci-fi elements become more apparent, and having Lyonne as its snarky heart carries this show into pure brilliance. A redo of Groundhog Day, this isn’t.
4. When They See Us
Created by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, this hard-hitting drama miniseries follows the story of five teens – four African American men and one Hispanic man – who were accused of attacking and raping a woman in New York in 1989. It's a gut-wrenching story that shines a light on systemic racism in the US, and was one of the most-watched Netflix shows in its first month of release, going on to win multiple Emmy and Critics Choice awards.
The production values certainly aren’t the most important thing about it – but it was filmed in Dolby Vision HDR, and it’s one of the most deserving programmes on Netflix to have done so.
5. Altered Carbon
This Netflix Original TV adaptation of the Altered Carbon book series was an instant sci-fo classic, and its second season has now joined the first on Netflix too.
The world of Altered Carbon focuses on immortality – granted by a technology called ‘stacks’ that the human mind can be uploaded to – with the rich and powerful able to guarantee their permanent survival while those at the bottom of the ladder struggle to live more than one life.
If it sounds philosophical, it is – with a mournful AI also inspired by the gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe – but there’s also plenty of high-paced action and more than a dose of Blade Runner in the production design. The second season saw the MCU’s Anthony Mackie take on the lead role, too, with the body-hopping technology at the heart of this series putting a new, glossy and far more adult spin on the reincarnation sci-fi of Doctor Who.
The second season doesn’t feel quite as grounded, and also suffers from a lot of déjàvu (a lot of sets and locations are re-used) but there’s still a lot to enjoy here.
6. Black Mirror
Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology series may have started its life on Channel 4, but these days it’s a massive Netflix operation – spanning the world with tales of how technology has entangled itself in our lives, usually (though not always) for the worse.
The most recent seasons (4-5) were filmed in Dolby Vision HDR, and it’s clear the production values got a shot in the arm. Some of us may miss the satirical bite of the earlier seasons, but they’re all on Netflix for you to cast your vote on.
Check out our guide to the best Black Mirror episodes to know which ones are most worth your while too.
7. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach, husband of Little Women and Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig, made waves with this meditation on love and marriage – and divorce – on Netflix in 2019.
Starring Adam Driver (Rise of Skywalker, Girls) and Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, Black Widow) are a couple navigating the difficulties of drifting apart, both emotionally and legally. It's heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure.
8. The Politician
One of the most confident Netflix Originals on this list, The Politician follows a young high schooler and (in his mind) prospective future President of the United States. It’s a bit early to be running for office, certainly, but that won’t stop him putting his all into the elections for school president. It has all of the politicking, backstabbing, and soul-searching you’d hope from a high school drama and The West Wing rolled into one.
The show loses some momentum in its indulgent moments – mainly in order to show off the incredible singing voice of its lead, Ben Platt – but it’s still dramatic stuff, with every scene being packed with incredible outfits and unobtainable homes that truly sing in Dolby Vision HDR.
9. Velvet Buzzsaw
This 2019 movie from Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy is… an interesting mix of genres. With Jake Gyllenhaal playing a gallery curator who stumbles across the disturbing – and highly valued – artworks of a deceased painter, he puts them on display for the world to see. But things quickly go wrong, as this art world satire descends into paranormal horror and grisly bloodshed.
With John Malkovich, Zawe Ashton, and Stranger Things’ Natalie Dyer heading up the cast, there’s a lot of talent on show – while Velvet Buzzsaw’s popping colors and increasingly twisted aesthetic is a brilliant showcase for Dolby Vision too.
10. Stranger Things
Ok, you’ve probably heard of Stranger Things by now, but did you know seasons 2 and 3 were filmed in Dolby Vision HDR?
While the first season didn’t slack in the visuals department by any means – helped by the show’s lovingly-recreated 80s fashion and paraphernalia – this paranormal horror adventure story gets even more gorgeous with each season, whether the camera is patrolling the dark fields and interdimensional portals of season 2, or the sun-soaked swimming pools and flashy Starcourt Mall of season 3.
Here's when we expect to see Stranger Things season 4, too.
11. Always Be My Maybe
Comedian Ali Wong (Tuca & Bertie, Ali Wong: Baby Cobra) stars in this romantic comedy about reconnecting with your childhood sweetheart, reassessing what you want in life, and sleeping with Keanu Reeves. Truly a movie for us all.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney co-star in this Netflix crime drama, where a family is strong-armed into laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel.
With its third season having dropped in March, it’s the perfect time to jump into (or revisit) the series. It may have a dourer color palette than some of the series on this list, but boy do those shadows look good in dynamic HDR.
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Henry St Leger
Henry is a freelance technology journalist. Before going freelance, he spent more than three years at TechRadar reporting on TVs, projectors and smart speakers as the website's Home Cinema Editor – and has been interviewed live on both BBC World News and Channel News Asia, discussing the future of transport and 4K resolution televisions respectively. As a graduate of English Literature and persistent theatre enthusiast, he'll usually be found forcing Shakespeare puns into his technology articles, which he thinks is what the Bard would have wanted. Bylines also include Edge, T3, and Little White Lies.