YouTube’s updated app brings HDR to select Samsung, LG, and Sony smartphones


Looking to test-drive your Galaxy S8 or Pixel’s screen with some ultra-vibrant high dynamic range (HDR) clips? You’re in luck. On Friday, YouTube extended HDR support to select Samsung, HTC, and LG devices.

YouTube’s expanded mobile HDR comes in the form of an updated app. Try it by downloading or upgrading YouTube from the Google Play Store on the Google Pixel, Xperia XZ Premium, Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, Galaxy Note 8, or LG V30, and then playing an HDR-enabled video. Tap the playback settings menu and you will see new HDR options in resolutions up to 1,440p (2,560 × 1,440 pixels).

It’s not quite ready for prime time, though. Reddit users are reporting stuttering videos and battery-draining brightness levels, and some Galaxy S8 owners claim the update does away with the option to stretch videos to full screen. It also appears to be a one-way street: Once you upgrade to the HDR-enabled version of YouTube, there is no easy way to switch back.

YouTube says it is working on fixes. “We’ll continue working with partners in [the] mobile industry to bring HDR playback to more devices,” a YouTube spokesperson told Digital Trends in an email.

HDR, or high-dynamic range, is a display specification that produces higher-than-average contrast between light and dark frames. The result is a brighter, punchier, and truer-to-life image than you are likely to get on a phone that does not support HDR.

But it’s not that cut and dried. The two dominant HDR video formats, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, are not interoperable, which has already led manufacturers like Samsung to ditch one format in favor of the other. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus comply with HDR10, but not Dolby Vision.

Content has not been easy to come by, either. Netflix recently rolled out HDR to the LG V30, Galaxy Note 8, Xperia ZX Premium, and Xperia XZ1, but only a sliver of its library is HDR-compliant (mostly Netflix-produced series like Chef’s Table), and accessing it requires a subscription to Netflix’s top-tier, $12-a-month 4K streaming plan.

Amazon Prime Video and Vudu, meanwhile, both boast a growing number of HDR movies and TV shows but have yet to support mobile devices.

That seems poised to change, though, as an increasing number of smartphone makers pledge to implement HDR. In February, the Ultra HD Alliance — a group of technology companies and movie studios — announced Mobile HDR Premium, a new baseline spec for HDR-enable smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It is unlikely to be a silver bullet, but it could be just the target manufacturers need to work toward full HDR compliance.