Television sets and home theater equipment have improved dramatically since the days of CRT televisions and VHS tapes. As picture quality has advanced, many consumers are left to wonder what the best format is. Dolby Vision vs 4K is always a topic of debate, especially when you consider one is a resolution and the other is an enhancement.

If you’re interested in upgrading to a 4K TV, there are some important things you’ll need to know about 4K and Dolby Vision. These two technologies are commonly found on gaming consoles, streaming devices, and Blu-ray players along with TVs. When you want to find the right equipment for your needs, the first place to start is with the facts.

Dolby Vision vs. 4K: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Most modern television sets produced today have 4K capabilities.
  • Dolby Vision is used in homes and theaters with Dolby Cinema technology.
  • The smallest 4K television set is a 32-inch model produced by Samsung.
  • All 4K television sets provide a form of upscaling.
  • Samsung is one of the only major manufacturers without Dolby Vision support.
Dolby Vision4K
What is It?A format of HDRA horizontal display resolution of 4,000 pixels
Primary UseEnhancing the brightness and depth of imagesIncreases the sharpness of images
Date Introduced20142001
Developed ByDolby LaboratoriesEvolved from 2K resolution
Technologies Influenced Cinema, TVs, gaming consoles, monitors, mobile phones & tabletsCinema, TVs, gaming consoles, monitors, mobile phones & tablets

What is 4K?

Whenever you hear the term 4K, it refers to the resolution a display is capable of producing. It provides a major upgrade in picture quality and is four times as sharper than older 1080p television sets. 4K is the newest format available on televisions for consumers, and the format that many Hollywood blockbusters are filmed in today.

4K is also a marketing term that’s been adopted by a number of organizations under various standards. Simply put, it means the resolution has a horizontal pixel of at least 4,000. For television sets, that’s often 3,840 x 2,160p. The SMPTE set those 4K standards in 2007 under UHDTV1 while 8K resolution falls under the UHDTV2 classification.

Ultra High-Definition (Ultra HD) is another popular phrase you’ll see on products utilizing 4K technology. It was defined by the Consumer Electronics Association in 2012, but still has a resolution of at least 3,840 x 2,160p. Those specifications just apply to images produced on television sets—not smartphones or other devices.

Sony patented a trademark for CinemaWide 4K, but it’s something you won’t find on a TV. It’s for the company’s Xperia line of smartphones, which have a resolution of 3,840 x 1,644p or higher. 4K and UHD are also used on streaming services, projectors, and even cameras found on mobile phones. Most devices with 4K capabilities provide upscaling for FHD and 720p content as well.

Modern curved 4K UltraHD TV
4K means the screen has a resolution of 4,000 pixels, which provides for an incredible visual experience.

What is Dolby Vision?

While 4K is a resolution standard or format, Dolby Vision is a technology found on certain types of audio-visual equipment. It’s not something every TV or console can handle, but the ones that can show a remarkable improvement in several different areas.

Dolby Vision is a form of HDR, otherwise known as high dynamic range. This technology developed by the Consumer Technology Association ‘enhances’ videos and images produced in 4K and other formats. You can find HDR-compatible TVs with a resolution of 1080p alongside high-end 4K HDR models. Dolby Vision and HDR10 are the two most common formats, while Samsung developed the HDR10+ standard.

What makes Dolby Vision unique is the way it deals with metadata. This format contains dynamic metadata, which allows it to adjust each frame for the perfect picture on any compatible display. Dolby Vision was the first HDR format widely available and is still the leader in terms of quality despite offerings like HDR10+ and HLG10.

Dolby Vision provides viewers a significant boost in color depth and quality but hasn’t taken off like HDR, which is an open standard. When considering Dolby Vision, you also have to keep the specifications of your television in mind. Current technology has limitations with range, color, and bit depth.

Dolby vision
Dolby Vision is a form of high dynamic range (HDR) and it is less available for TVs and monitors than 4K resolution.

Dolby Vision vs. 4K: Which One Is Best?

It may seem like choosing between Dolby Vision and 4K is an easy decision when you realize one is a resolution and the other is an enhancement often used for 4K displays.

Well, that’s not the case, considering content is shown in various formats which vary between SD, HD, 4K, or 4K with Dolby Vision and HDR metadata.

Viewing Experience

Unless you’re using a television or projector that’s 1080p or FHD with Dolby capabilities, Dolby Vision offers a superb viewing experience compared to traditional 4K.

Anything you watch will have more vivid colors and better depth if it utilizes Dolby Vision. Even if high-end TVs struggle to display the technology’s full prowess, it’s a remarkable difference over traditional digital content.

4K televisions and those with HDR will still produce a crisp picture with strong colors and greater luminance than a 1080p or 2K display. Features like the resolution and high-dynamic range ensure that, although it lags behind Dolby Vision overall. The only downside is Dolby Vision is typically darker, which can cause issues viewing certain films.

Content 

If you’re trying to decide between Dolby Vision and 4K, you probably have more than a few films you’re looking forward to watching in these upgraded formats. Dolby Cinema found in theaters can use Dolby Vision and project 4K images, but the content provided for home use is in a different category.

Did you know some Blu-ray releases are simply released in 4K with no enhancement at all? Stranger Things season 1 is a good example of that, although most new films with a 4K release have HDR or Dolby Vision. The format on the disk varies, and we found that more disks use a form of HDR than Dolby Vision’s dynamic metadata.

Whether a Blu-ray movie or TV release has Dolby Vision largely depends on the studio. Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, and Lionsgate have all released Dolby Vision UHD Blu-rays. Some companies, like Sony, have even gone back to re-release UHD films in Dolby that previously only used HDR.

This is an area where compatibility is crucial as well. The Blu-ray player, disk, and television set have to be compatible with Dolby Vision technology. Otherwise, you’ll just get a 4K film without the visual enhancements.

Pricing

Many people comparing Dolby Vision against 4K look only at the specifications or tech itself. Pricing is just as important a part of the equation. Movies in Dolby Vision or HDR are generally priced the same, but it’s a different story when you’re dealing with equipment.

A regular 4K television set like this 43” Class 4 TV from TCL is affordable and high-received by consumers. It’s a smart TV with streaming capabilities and includes HDR for a vivid, enhanced picture. It doesn’t include Dolby Vision technology, however. To get that, you’ll need to upgrade to the 55 which basically doubles the price but certainly has incredible specs.

Dolby Vision TVs are priced at a premium compared to a television set that just displays 4K HDR content. Many high-end TVs can display both, by switching to the proper format, but TVs designed for HDR or HDR+ will not display content in Dolby Vision. Simply put, if you see the “Dolby Vision” label on a product, expect to pay a bit more.

Streaming

Millions of media lovers purchase Blu-rays for their collections each year. Streaming services have become incredibly popular, and it’s an area where 4K and Dolby Vision typically go head-to-head.

Dolby Vision got off to a slow start in the streaming world but is now found on most major services. That includes Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Apple TV+. Hulu and Amazon have two of the sparser collections of Dolby Vision content, although you can find originals and a handful of movies from both services in the format.

Many of these services adapt to the technology you have. If your TV or streaming box can handle Dolby Vision, that’s more than likely what you’ll get. The Apple TV 4K and some devices allow you to choose a format, while others automatically select it for you.

As with Blu-rays, most content produced by major streaming services today takes advantage of HDR or Dolby Vision. Some services are limited by device, so you won’t get the same selection on the Xfinity X1 box as you would on a Chromecast Ultra or a TV from LG.

Gaming

Gaming in 4K takes things to an all-new level. It’s something gamers haven’t been able to enjoy until recently, however.

The PlayStation 4 Pro was the first console to support true 4K output. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are also native 4K systems that can put out 4K at 120 frames per second. 4K was also introduced on the Xbox with the One S and Xbox One X.

PC gamers have dabbled with 4K since the mid-90s with titles like Afterlife, although they didn’t see many releases until 2016. Nintendo lags far behind as the Switch is only capable of 1080p when docked or 720p as a handheld device.

The Switch also doesn’t have HDR or Dolby Vision—even if it’s capable of support. The PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro both have HDR support and Dolby Atmos for movies, but no Dolby on any video games. The PlayStation 5 does not have Dolby Vision currently, although that could change before the PlayStation 6 release date.

Microsoft has been the only console maker to utilize Dolby Vision technology in their consoles. The original Xbox One and One X used HDR10 for games but supports Dolby Vision for certain media. Microsoft’s new Xbox Series S and Series X have support for HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision for both games and media.

Dolby Vision vs 4K: The Conclusion

Dolby Vision vs. 4K is a one-sided debate in the home theater world. Any content with Dolby Vision is a significant improvement in depth and color accuracy over 4K. The 68.7 billion color palette is something you need to see to believe and is a definite upgrade over HDR, which is 10-bit at around a billion colors.

This guide explains the differences if you’re on the fence about HDR and Dolby on your next media player or TV.

Dolby Vision vs. 4K: How Do They Compare? Which is Better? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is all Dolby Vision content 4K?

No, some Dolby Vision profiles allow for a lower resolution while still taking advantage of the color depth and brightness.

Does Netflix have Dolby Vision or HDR?

Netflix offers support for both Dolby Vision and HDR formats along with 4K if you have a compatible streaming device.

Which console games support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos?

Around a dozen Xbox Series X/S games including F1 2021, Borderlands 3, Metro Exodus, and the Division 2. More than 100 games are expected to receive support in the future.

Do you have to use HDMI 2.0 for Dolby Vision?

No, Dolby’s metadata is compatible with V1 interfaces and HDMI 2.0 or 2.1.

Are all 4K TVs HDR or Dolby Vision compatible?

No, that’s why it’s important to check the specifications before settling on a 4K monitor, projector, or TV.

More from History-Computer

  • Dolby Available here: https://www.dolby.com/technologies/dolby-vision/
  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4K_resolution
  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolby_Vision
  • Tech Radar Available here: https://www.techradar.com/news/xbox-series-xs-games-with-dolby-vision-and-dolby-atmos-support
  • What Hi-Fi? Available here: https://www.whathifi.com/us/advice/dolby-vision-hdr-everything-you-need-to-know