Amazon Prime Instant Video Adds Limited Support For HDR

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Amazon announced today that it has rolled out, in limited fashion, support for HDR (high dynamic range) on Amazon Instant Video. It will initially only offer HDR videos to Amazon Prime members in the U.S., and only for one full series: the Amazon Original “Mozart in the Jungle.” In addition, HDR is available for the pilot episode of the Amazon Original “Red Oaks.” The move makes Amazon the first video service to offer titles in this enhanced visual format, the company notes, though Netflix has also committed to expanding support for HDR video in 2015, beginning with its own original series “Marco Polo.”

HDR videos offer better picture quality, with richer colors, and improved contrast between the bright areas on the screen and the darker parts of the images. The end result is a more engaging picture format – outdoor scenes look more realistic, while you can also more easily pick out images and shapes from darker, shadowy scenes. The feeling is one where images are less washed out, making viewers feel like they’re there.

However, from the manufacturing side, televisions taking advantage of HDR are still coming to market – which means that viewing HDR videos is not yet something that’s mainstream. That’s why in Amazon’s announcement today, the company explains that Prime members can watch the “Mozart in the Jungle” series in HDR format using the Amazon Video app on Samsung SUHD TVs.

In other words, Amazon’s rollout of HDR is still very limited in scope for the time being.

The company says that it will continue to add titles in HDR format over the course of the year, as it works with Hollywood studios, tech leaders and consumer electronics companies to expand the Amazon HDR experience. Of course, because it’s easiest for the company to upgrade its own content to HDR, it’s likely that, like Netflix, the first titles to become available in HDR format will be the company’s own original programs.

Amazon today also offers “hundreds” of movies and TV shows in 4K Ultra HD format – something that it began doing in 2014, following Netflix’s move to do the same. 4K Ultra HD is a ultra-high definition format that offers greater detail than standard HD images.The two technologies, 4K and HDR, can also work together to create more realistic images. The former refers to the number of pixels on a screen, and the latter is about making those pixels perform better.

However, 4K Ultra HD requires 4K TVs, so it’s also not broadly accessible, given the typical consumer upgrade cycle when it comes to replacing televisions.

Amazon says that HDR video is the “next step” beyond 4K, which is why it’s investing in the technology upgrade. The idea is that the streaming media providers want to get ahead of the technology’s broader adoption – when more consumers have TVs that support 4K and HDR video, the companies want to already have extensive catalogs ready as a competitive advantage.

Though Amazon technically beat Netflix to launch with HDR support, it won’t have a massive lead. Netflix says it will have HDR content ready to stream starting this summer, when HDR TV sets hit the market. So far, however, the only thing Netflix has confirmed is that it will offer its first season of its original show “Marco Polo” in Dolby and UHD Alliance format.

In any event, Amazon’s announcement today is more for show…or possibly about being able to claim they beat Netflix to launch. The standard was only just ratified and Sony and Samsung 2015 high-end set may only be able to support HDR later this year via a firmware upgrade. Meanwhile, because of the limited availability of HDR sets this year, those models that are on the market will still be fairly expensive.