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HDR (High Dynamic Range) improves the image quality of the compatible content by extending the color gamut, brightness, and contrast range of the display. Since there’s lack of content and support for HDR when it comes to PC and monitors, it’s arguably not worthwhile at the moment, but it will be in the future; so, it may be wise to future-proof your next display with HDR capability.
The term ‘HDR’ has been quite common for a while when it comes to high-end TVs, but now this standard is becoming more and more popular with the latest monitors as well.
So, should you care or is it just another passing fad? Well, the answer lies somewhere in between, at least for now. We’ll fill you in on everything about what HDR monitor is and if or when should you consider getting one.
What does HDR do?
Having a 4K resolution PC monitor with a high-quality panel, excellent contrast ratio, and color reproduction doesn’t mean that all of your games and other software will be able to make full use of it all.
In fact, apart from the professional applications for color-critical work, most of the other software cannot fully utilize the extended color gamut the display boasts unless the hardware somehow emulates that limited color space.
This is where HDR kicks in and implements its metadata to ensure correct reproduction of all the colors, among other things. HDR monitors and TVs recognize the HDR signal and allow for the image to be displayed the way the creator of the content had intended it.
HDR Formats: HDR10 vs Dolby Vision
There are many different formats of HDR, so just getting any display labeled as HDR won’t give you the same viewing experience.
Dolby Vision is a more expensive and demanding form of HDR. It requires that the display is capable of at least 4,000-nit peak brightness and 12-bit color depth. Additionally, Dolby Vision requires license fee whereas HDR10 does not – which is one of the reasons why PC and console content creators or display manufacturers opted for HDR10 free and open standard.
Unlike HDR10 with static metadata, Dolby Vision offers dynamic metadata implementation which makes for scene-by-scene brightness regulation and overall more engaging viewing experience. Samsung and Amazon Video plan to address this via their HDR+ format that will be both dynamic and royalty-free.
Other HDR formats include Advanced HDR by Technicolor and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) by BBC and YouTube. However, here we’ll focus on the open HDR10 standard which both professional and gaming monitor manufacturers as well as PC and console video games have chosen to work with, at least for now.
HDR10 Display Requirements: Ultra HD Premium
For the true HDR experience, the display needs to uphold all the required specifications including:
- At least 1,000-nit peak brightness and 0.05-nit or less black level – or at least 20,000:1 Contrast Ratio (For LCD)
- At least 540-nit peak brightness and 0.0005-nit or less black level – or at least 1,080,000:1 Contrast Ratio (For OLED)
- 4K Ultra HD Resolution: 3840×2160
- True 10-bit color support covering at least 90% DCI-P3 color space (125% sRGB, 117% Adobe RGB)
- HDMI version 2.0 at least
Most of the displays, whether TVs or monitors, don’t meet all the requirements but rather offer only limited HDR support. To ensure you’re getting a true HDR display, look for the Ultra HD Premium logo (picture below) which guarantees that the display is approved by the UltraHD Alliance that set the above-mentioned standard.
DisplayHDR Standards by VESA
In December 2017, VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) has defined new HDR standards. The DisplayHDR certifications are divided into three groups depending on the level of quality.
This way, you will know exactly what the HDR spec includes in terms of performance quality instead of relying on the ‘HDR capable/compatible’ and similar labels by certain monitor manufacturers.
Moreover, you’ll be able to download the exclusive DisplayHDR software and perform tests for the specified color gamut, peak brightness, and contrast yourself.
Full Array Local Dimming vs Edge-Lit Local Dimming
While full-array local dimming (FALD) isn’t on the list of requirements for the UltraHD Premium, it is arguably equally important.
As opposed to the standard monitors with edge-lit local dimming, the FALD displays use individual LEDs divided into zones which help deliver a higher contrast ratio and overall better details in darker images.
Although full-array local dimming isn’t required on paper for the true HDR viewing experience, it can greatly improve and enrich the picture quality.
Both console and PC games already offer several HDR-compatible titles. Some of the popular PC games that use HDR include Shadow Warrior 2, Deux Ex: Mankind Divided, Resident Evil 7, Paragon, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Obduction, Hitman (2016). You can track newly supported titles in this HDR PC games list. While some new games are made with HDR in mind, others will provide HDR support via a patch update.
However, when it comes to HDR PC gaming, there are still many difficulties as most of the software isn’t quite HDR-ready. In fact, Windows 10 forces HDR on everything once it’s enabled making non-HDR content unpleasant to look at, to say the least. So, you’d need to manually enable and disable HDR depending on what you’re watching.
So, at the moment, HDR isn’t entirely ready for PC even though the hardware is – including 4K HDR10 monitors and the new HDR-ready graphics cards.
For now, the best way to enjoy HDR content is via HDR compatible TVs by watching Blu-rays, playing HDR console games, and streaming (Netflix, Amazon Video, etc). Nevertheless, HDR for multimedia and gaming monitors is on its way, with different options coming from AMD and NVIDIA.
The first 4K 144Hz gaming monitors will also offer HDR 10 support with 384-zone full-array local dimming, 1,000-nit peak brightness, and true 10-bit color depth for the true HDR viewing experience.
These monitors include the ASUS ROG Swift PG27UQ, the Acer Predator X27, the Acer Predator XB272-HDR, and the AOC AGON 3 AG273UG.
The first 3440×1440 200Hz ultra-wide monitors will also offer HDR support. The Acer Predator X35, the ASUS ROG Swift PG35VQ, and the AOC AG353UCG feature full-array local dimming with 512 individual zones, a wide color depth support, and stellar peak brightness.
All of the mentioned displays meet NVIDIA’s requirements for its G-SYNC HDR technology which makes HDR gaming possible with no performance penalty.
AMD FreeSync 2 and HDR
Unlike NVIDIA’s G-SYNC HDR technology, AMD has lower standards for their FreeSync 2 gaming monitors. In order for a display to qualify for FreeSync 2, it must be able to provide twice the normal peak brightness and twice the standard sRGB color gamut. It also has to support LFC and have low input lag.
LFC or Low Framerate Compensation is a feature that allows for framerate doubling in case the FPS rate drops below the lower end of the FreeSync dynamic range which ensures smooth performance. FOr a display to support LFC, its higher end of the dynamic refresh rate must be at least 2.5 higher than the lower end.
So of the FreeSync 2 monitors include the Samsung CHG70 series monitors (Samsung C24HG70, Samsung C27HG70) and the Samsung C49HG90 with VESA’s DisplayHDR 600 certification.
While these displays have obviously weaker specifications than the G-SYNC HDR models, they are still HDR compatible and offer great image quality and performance.
Other HDR Monitors
As previously mentioned, when you see that a monitor supports HDR among other specifications, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get the true HDR viewing experience. In fact, unless the monitor has UltraHD Premium certificate, the HDR support will be limited in some way. VESA’s DisplayHDR certificate will also let you know to what extent HDR is supported and what it means.
Be wary of ‘fake HDR’ or ‘pseudo-HDR’ monitors which can accept the HDR signal, but the display hardware can’t do it any justice due to the only mediocre specifications. So, always do your research on the maximum brightness and the supported color depth of the HDR monitor you’re interested in.
Keep in mind that all HDR vs SDR image and video comparisons you find online are emulated in order to give you the gist of what HDR can do since there’s no way to show you HDR content on a non-HDR display.
As you can see there are plenty of things to take into account when looking for an HDR monitor today. There’s not enough content supporting it, Windows’ implementation is rather buggy and with all the marketing shenanigans the display manufacturers are pulling, you can easily get tricked into getting a “fake HDR” monitor if you’re not careful.
So, until there’s more HDR content and support thereof, you shouldn’t be rushing into buying an HDR monitor just yet unless you need a new display anyway and are looking to future-proof your system as much as possible.
Rob is a software engineer with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver. He now works full-time on writing for DisplayNinja while coding his own projects on the side.