Dynamic range

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Dynamic range, abbreviated DR or DNR,[1] is the ratio between the largest and smallest possible values of a changeable quantity, such as in sound and light. It is measured as a ratio, or as a base-10 (decibel) or base-2 (doublings, bits or stops) logarithmic value.


Dynamic range and human perception

The human senses of sight and hearing have a very high dynamic range. A human is capable of hearing (and usefully discerning) anything from a quiet murmur in a soundproofed room to the sound of the loudest heavy metal concert. Such a difference can exceed 100 dB which represents a factor of 10,000,000,000 in power. A human can see objects in starlight (although colour differentiation is reduced at low light levels) or in bright sunlight, even though on a moonless night objects receive 1/1,000,000,000 of the illumination they would on a bright sunny day: that is a dynamic range of 90 dB. A human cannot perform these feats of perception at both extremes of the scale at the same time. The eyes take time to adjust to different light levels and the dynamic range of the human eye in a given scene is actually quite limited due to optical glare. The instantaneous dynamic range of human audio perception is similarly subject to masking, so that, for example, a whisper cannot be heard in loud surroundings. Nevertheless, a good quality audio reproduction system should be able to reproduce accurately both the quiet sounds and the loud; similarly, a good quality visual display system should be able to capture both shadow details in nighttime scenes and bright areas of sunny scenes.

In practice, it is difficult to achieve the full dynamic range experienced by humans using electronic equipment. Electronically reproduced audio and video often uses some trickery to fit original material with a wide dynamic range into a narrower recorded dynamic range that can more easily be stored and reproduced: these techniques are called dynamic range compression. For example, a good quality LCD display has a dynamic range of around 1000:1 (commercially the dynamic range is often called the "contrast ratio" meaning the full-on/full-off luminance ratio), and some of the latest CMOS image sensors now have measured dynamic ranges of about 11,000:1 (reported as 13.5 stops, or doublings, equivalent to binary bits).[2] Paper reflectance can achieve a dynamic range of about 100:1.[dubious ] Professional ENG Camcorders such as Sony Digital Betacam currently achieves dynamic ranges of greater than 90dB in audio recording.[3]

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