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Our TV Picture Quality Tests
Color Volume

Updated
What it is: How many colors a TV can display at different luminosity levels.
When it matters: HDR content. Includes some streaming videos, UHD Blu-rays and HDR games.
Score distribution

Color volume is a representation of the number of colors a TV can display at different brightness levels. As you want a TV to display as many colors as possible, it's important to have a TV with good color volume so that when you watch content, particularly in HDR, highlights stand out the way the creator intended. There are a few factors that help a TV have a good color volume, like color gamutbrightness, and contrast.

We measure the color volume in the DCI P3 and Rec. 2020 color spaces using a colorimeter and software that calculates the volume.

Learn about our color volume tests with monitors

 

Test results

When It Matters

High Dynamic Range (HDR) content is the latest innovation to provide more color detail to film and video. It requires high peak brightness, better contrast, and greater color reproduction than SDR content (see the differences between SDR and HDR). Color volume is a measurement of the different colors a TV display at various brightness levels, meaning a TV with good color volume displays both dark and bright colors well, making content look more realistic. TVs with poor color volume don't show as many details.

Color volume is similar to our color gamut test because we measure them at the same time, but they tell us different things. While the color gamut test tells us which colors a TV displays, the color volume tells us at which brightness it can display them. So if we know the display shows the color red, we also want to know how dark and bright it can make it.

Our tests

We test for color volume at the same time as the color gamut and the EOTF test that's in the HDR Brightness test. We connect our PC with an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or GTX 1660 graphics card to the TV via HDMI, and we use an HDFury Linker to send HDR signals to the TV. We then hook up our Colorimetry Research CR-100 colorimeter to the PC and set it up in front of the TV. After measuring the EOTF and the color gamut, we use CalMan 5 for Business software to measure the color volume. The software automatically measures the color volume and processes the results for us.

Normalized DCI P3 Coverage ITP

What it is: How much of the DCI-P3 colorspace a TV can display at different luminosity levels.
When it matters: HDR content. Includes some streaming videos, UHD Blu-rays, and HDR games.
Good value: 80%
Noticeable difference: 5%
Score distribution

This test evaluates how much of the DCI P3 color space a TV can cover at different luminance levels when adjusted for the maximum brightness of the TV. Of the new wider color gamuts, DCI P3 is the most common color space for HDR content, and many TVs master it well. DCI P3 is entirely contained inside the Rec. 2020 colorspace and is transmitted inside the Rec. 2020 container.

We already know that bright TVs should be able to produce bright colors. We want to know how much the brightness impacts the color volume, so we compare the measured color volume to an ideal TV with the same brightness. The result is given as a percentage of the DCI P3 volume in the ICtCp color space and any parts of the measured volume which fall outside of the target volume (too bright or too saturated compared to an ideal TV reference) aren't included in the result. For example, if a TV has 90% color volume, it means it displays 90% of the colors compared to an ideal TV of the same peak brightness.

Samsung QN90A color volumeDCI P3 coverage: 89.6%
Samsung QN90A QLED
LG UP8000 DCI P3 coverage: 60.7%
 LG UP8000

color volume cheat sheetAbove are two TVs: one with excellent color volume on the left and one with mediocre color volume on the right. Interpreting the graphs may be a challenge, so let's explain that first. What you're looking at is basically a 3D model, or a bubble, of colors. The picture on the top left is a top view of the bubble with the entire color gamut being represented, although you don't see it. The three other figures represent side views of the bubble; the y-axis labeled Normalized Brightness shows the bright colors on top and dark colors at the bottom. The black lines are the color volume of an ideal TV, while the colored parts are from the tested TV, so the more it fills out, the better. You can see the Samsung fills out a lot more of the bubble compared to the LG. On the right, you can see a diagram explaining where the different colors are in the bubble.

10,000 cd/m² DCI P3 Coverage ITP

What it is: How much of the DCI-P3 colorspace a TV can display at different luminosity levels when compared to an ideal 10,000 nit TV.
When it matters: HDR content. Includes some streaming videos, UHD Blu-rays, and HDR games.

This test evaluates the DCI P3 performance of a TV when compared to an ideal 10,000 cd/m² TV. Unlike the Normalized DCI P3 result, this test is heavily influenced by the peak brightness of the TV. It's not included in any weighting to avoid double counting the peak brightness of the TV and is provided only for reference. This test is really for peak highlights, so it's not as useful for most people as the Normalized DCI P3.

Normalized Rec. 2020 Coverage ITP

What it is: How much of the Rec. 2020 colorspace a TV can display at different luminosity levels.
When it matters: HDR content. Includes some streaming videos, UHD Blu-rays, and HDR games.
Good value: 80 %
Noticeable difference: 5 %
Score distribution

This test evaluates how much of the larger Rec. 2020 color space a TV can cover at different luminosity levels. It's performed using the same method as the DCI P3 test described above but targets the Rec. 2020 primary and secondary colors. The result is given as a percentage of the Rec. 2020 volume, which an ideal TV would cover at the measured brightness level.

Since the Rec. 2020 color space is wider than the DCI P3 color space, it's rare for TVs to have good color volume with Rec. 2020.

Vizio M7 Series Quantum 2020 Rec 2020 color volumeRec. 2020 coverage: 78.8%
LG UP7000 rec 2020 color volumeRec. 2020 coverage: 45.9%
LG UP7000

Reading the graphs above is the same as the DCI P3 graphs. As you can see above, even one of our better TVs with Rec. 2020 color volume, the Vizio, doesn't hit the primary colors as much as our best TVs with DCI P3, like the Samsung in the previous example.

10,000 cd/m² Rec. 2020 Coverage ITP

What it is: How much of the Rec 2020 colorspace a TV can display at different luminosity levels when compared to an ideal 10,000 nit TV.
When it matters: HDR content. Includes some streaming videos, UHD Blu-rays, and HDR games.

Like with the DCI P3 color space, this test is to measure the Rec. 2020 performance when compared to an ideal 10,000 cd/m² TV. It's largely influenced by the peak brightness of the TV, and because it's not included in the scoring, it's provided for reference only.

Additional Information

ICtCp Color Space

For a color volume measurement to be significant, it should correspond to the way we perceive colors at different luminosity levels. The eye is much more sensitive to small changes in luminosity of a dim light compared to a bright one. Although the measured change in luminosity may be the same, the bright source with a less perceivable difference should have less impact. This means that the way luminance is viewed by the human eye isn't linear, and our testing accounts for that.

ICtCp is a color space designed for HDR content and mimics the human eye's response. As a result, it's more perceptually uniform.

Color Gamut vs Color Volume

As mentioned in the 'When It Matters' section, color gamut and color volume are related to each other but are somewhat different. Our color gamut test is a 2D cross-section of the 3D color volume bubble, and it tells us how many different colors it displays at that specific cross-section. Imagine you have a cheese sandwich. If you take a bite of just the cheese, you know what the cheese tastes like; this is like the color gamut. However, to fully understand the flavors of the sandwich and how they work together, you have to take a bite of the entire sandwich; this represents the color volume of the TV. Since we test our color gamut at 75% stimulus, the specific slice is at 75% of the way up in the color volume bubble.

Advantages of Different TV Technologies

QLED

Many TVs have LCD panels and are backlit by LED lights. Manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Hisense, and TCL, also have some models with quantum dot layers in between the backlights and panels. The layers remit new wavelengths of light and allow for better control of the light from each subpixel, which provides the TV with a wider color gamut. These TVs are usually higher-end options with high peak brightness and great contrast, so combining the better color gamut, brightness, and contrast, these TVs usually have the best color volume as they display dark and bright colors well.

OLED

OLED TVs use different technology than LED-backlit ones because each pixel is self-emitting, and they don't have a backlight. One of the downsides of this is that OLEDs don't get very bright, so they can't display brighter colors as well as LED TVs. However, OLEDs have near-infinite contrast ratios so they can display absolute black, and their color volumes are generally still good.

Below you can see an LED and OLED with similar overall DCI P3 color volume percentages, but they're different. The Vizio does a much better job at displaying bright colors, but it has some trouble with bright blues, which is typical of LCD panels. On the other hand, the LG is better with blues and displays darker colors.

Vizio P Series Quantum 2021DCI P3 coverage: 83.8%
Vizio P Series Quantum 2021
LG BX Color volumeDCI P3 coverage: 82.5%
LG BX OLED

How To Get The Best Results

For TVs that support a wide color gamut, it's activated automatically once the TV detects supported content. You may have to enable full-bandwidth signals for HDR content.

The best settings to use are the same as those suggested for HDR content:

  • Set the backlight to maximum. This allows you to take advantage of the bright highlights and colors.
  • If there's a local dimming option, activate it. Reducing the intensity of the backlight in some parts of the screen allows for a wider range of colors in dark scenes.

Related Settings

On some TVs, the 'Color Space' option allows the colorspace of the TV to be adjusted. This target must match between the source and the TV, so should almost always be left to 'Auto' for HDR content. If you set it to Native, if that option is available, the TV stays in the same color space and adjusts the content accordingly, which may cause colors to be over-saturated.

Other Notes

  • No TV can display all of the DCI P3 or Rec. 2020 color space. As a result, they have to either clip colors that lie outside of their capabilities or compress the colors to fit them into the display limitations (or some combination of these two) in a process called tone mapping. There's no standard for calibrating to these wider color spaces because there's no reference of what a display should do and how this tone mapping should be performed.

Conclusion

The color volume coverage of a TV describes how many colors it can display at a range of luminosities. The larger a TV's color volume is, the greater range of saturated colors it can produce. A large color volume is useful for HDR content which takes advantage of this wider color range and results in a better image. For SDR content such as DVDs or cable boxes, the color volume is less significant as the content is not designed to take advantage of these wider color spaces. For the color volume test, we measure how much of the DCI P3 and Rec. 2020 color spaces the TV can cover. Unlike the color gamut, the color volume assesses performance for both dark and bright scenes.

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