Amazon's HDR Streaming Service

It's Free to Amazon Prime Members, Too

Copyright Amazon

Amazon has stolen a technical march on its great video streaming nemesis Netflix by launching the world’s very first High Dynamic Range (HDR) video streaming service.

Available to Amazon Prime subscribers from June 24th 2015, Amazon’s new HDR service — which delivers pictures containing a greatly expanded brightness, contrast and color range to compatible screens — initially comprises two main offerings: the entire first season of Mozart In The Jungle and the pilot episode of comedy Red Oaks. Both of these shows are Amazon Original Series, and Amazon is promising that other shows and series will get the HDR treatment in the coming months.

Before you all rush to try the new HDR streams for yourself, though, we need to draw your attention to the ‘compatible screens’ part of the previous paragraph. For at the moment Amazon’s HDR streams will only work on Samsung’s SUHD TVs. 

Only those with the right TVs need apply

For those of you not familiar with SUHD technology, it’s a new type of LCD TV from Samsung that delivers a much wider color gamut and much brighter light output than typical LCD screens, in keeping with the demands of the new HDR image format.

The technology is only found on high-end models from Samsung’s 2015 LCD TV range, namely the JS9500 series (reviewed here), the JS9100 series, the JS9000 series, the JS8600 series, the HS8500 series, the JS850D series and the UN60JS7000. The need to own a Samsung SUHD TV isn’t the only ‘barrier to entry’ for Amazon’s new HDR streams either, for it’s currently only available in the US.

The service will inevitably be rolled out to other territories at some point though, and Amazon is also promising that its ground-breaking HDR service will spread to other non-Samsung HDR-capable TVs once they become available.

Sony has promised that some of its upcoming high end TVs will be getting HDR support following a software update in the second half of the year, and LG and Panasonic are saying similar things respectively about their E9600 4K OLED TVs and CX850 LCD TVs. 

Unexpectedly Amazon is claiming that the addition of HDR to its video streaming service doesn’t add significantly to broadband speed requirements, and also tells me that HDR will be available on HD streams as well as 4K UHD ones. This means that even people without super-fast broadband should be able to enjoy the HDR images — so long, of course, as their TV is HDR compatible.

Exciting news for everyone

Not surprisingly Amazon execs and the talent behind Mozart In The Jungle are both pretty excited by the HDR move. Amazon’s Vice President of Digital Video Michael Paull declared that he couldn’t wait “for Amazon Prime members to watch and re-watch Mozart In The Jungle at no extra cost”, adding that he was looking forward to “adding more titles and devices that support HDR This year.”

Mozart writer Roman Coppola, meanwhile, states that “the enhanced quality makes every scene look even better, and we hope it’s something that our viewers really enjoy.”

It’s not clear at this stage how long Amazon will be able to retain its new HDR advantage over Netflix. Netflix has previously stated that its own HDR debut streams — apparently of its home-grown Marco Polo show — would be ready to roll out this summer.

But even if Netflix ends up delivering HDR content in just a few days time the fact that Amazon has been able to pull ahead of its rival in picture quality terms for however brief a time feels like a potentially significant moment in the battle for global streaming supremacy.

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