Looking for a new monitor for gaming and wondering whether you should get one that supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) while you’re at it?
HDR has been getting a lot of attention lately. We’ve seen many HDR monitors released over the last couple of years and we expect even more coming up.
Does this mean HDR is the next major thing and a must-have element for your next display? Well, it depends.
What Does HDR Do?
HDR monitors accept the HDR signal of compatible content and improve the picture quality by extending the contrast ratio, color gamut, and peak brightness thus bringing the image closer to how its creator intended it.
There are various HDR formats, but when it comes to PC gaming, the most essential one is HDR10 as it’s an open standard and primarily used by video game developers and monitor manufacturers.
Not all HDR10 monitors will give you the same viewing experience. Some offer a significantly better image quality, while others provide you with a barely visible upgrade.
Due to the lack of proper certification and straightforward clarification about the HDR capability of a specific monitor by their manufacturers, it’s not enough for a display to simply be ‘HDR-compatible.’
When buying an HDR monitor, pay attention to the display’s specifications, specifically to the peak brightness, color gamut, and contrast ratio. Ideally, you should look for a monitor with some sort of HDR certification, such as VESA’s DisplayHDR or UHDA’s Ultra HD Premium.
VESA’s (Video Electronics Standards Association) DisplayHDR certification is one way to know what the HDR on the monitor means. If you get an HDR10 monitor that’s certified by VESA, you can download a free application to test your display’s HDR capabilities.
UHD Alliance’s Ultra HD Premium certificate requirements are similar to that of VESA’s DisplayHDR 1000.
For a notable improvement in HDR picture quality, a monitor should have at least DisplayHDR 600 certification as it implies a strong 600-nit peak brightness, wide color gamut, and some sort of local dimming.
DisplayHDR 400 monitors offer only a slightly higher peak brightness than a regular monitor, so these displays should be avoided – if you’re buying them solely because of HDR support.
DisplayHDR 1000 can offer significant improvement over DisplayHDR 600, but only if the monitor supports full-array local dimming.
For instance, one DisplayHDR 1000 monitor might have only several edge-lit dimming zones, while another monitor with the same certification might have 384 or 512 full-array local dimming zones!
The more dimming zones, the better, and for the ‘true’ HDR picture quality on a LED-backlit monitor, full-array local dimming is a must!
You’ve likely heard the term “fake HDR” or “pseudo-HDR” used for certain HDR monitors.
These displays can accept and process the HDR signal but their hardware cannot improve the picture quality, not even by a boost in peak brightness like DisplayHDR 400.
Whether an HDR gaming monitor is worth it depends on the monitor itself.
Some HDR gaming monitors are made with HDR in mind, such as the ASUS PG27UQ and the Acer X35 with full-array local dimming solutions. If you can afford one of them and want the best HDR image quality, they are worth the price.
A step down would be HDR gaming monitors with DisplayHDR 600 certification.
These offer a noticeable improvement over SDR, but not the ‘true’ HDR viewing experience. So, if the monitor itself is good even without that HDR support, then it’s worth it; otherwise, don’t buy it solely for its HDR support.
Lastly, there are DisplayHDR 400 monitors. This entry-level certification doesn’t reveal anything useful about the display’s HDR capabilities other than its 400-nit peak brightness.
So, an HDR400 monitor might have a wide color gamut or just the standard sRGB gamut. It might have a lowly 700:1 contrast ratio, or a decent 3,000:1 contrast ratio, depending on the panel.
In general, these monitors aren’t worth getting for HDR alone, but there are HDR400 monitors that are great despite their weak HDR image quality as they might have good pixel response time, a high refresh rate, or other useful features.