What Is HDR For Monitors And Is It Worth It?

Should you get an HDR monitor or is it not worth it? This guide will help you make the best possible buying decision.

The term ‘HDR’ has been quite the buzzword when it comes to high-end TVs, but now this standard is becoming more and more popular among new monitors as well.

What Does HDR Do?

SDR vs HDR 1

Having a high-resolution PC monitor with a high-quality panel boasting excellent contrast ratio, high brightness and wide color gamut does not mean that all of your games and other software will be able to take full advantage of it.

This is where HDR (High Dynamic Range) kicks in and implements its metadata to ensure the correct reproduction of all the colors, gamma and brightness levels, 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.

In order for a monitor to deliver a proper HDR viewing experience, it needs to either have an OLED panel or – if it’s an LED-lit LCD, a full-array local dimming (FALD) solution.

A lot of monitors can accept the HDR10 signal but don’t have proper display hardware for good HDR image quality – these are often referred to as “fake HDR monitors.”

VESA DisplayHDR Certification

VESA has DisplayHDR certifications that are meant to help distinguish these fake HDR monitors from those with proper HDR support, however, the certifications are often misleading, so we don’t recommend relying on them.

Compliance Test Certification (CTS) v1.1

VESA DisplayHDR Requirements

Compliance Test Certification (CTS) v1.2

VESA DisplayHDR Certification CTS 1.2
Click to enlarge

The latest DisplayHDR v1.2 certification brings some tighter requirements in comparison to the previous v1.0 / v1.1 criteria.

DisplayHDR 400

The entry-level DisplayHDR 400 certified displays now must support 10-bit color depth, have a wide color gamut support (at least 90% DCI-P3) and a static contrast ratio of at least 1,300:1.

This is an improvement over the previous HDR-400 requirements (8-bit color, 95% sRGB color gamut and no contrast ratio criteria), however, local dimming support is still not mandatory, which is key for a proper HDR viewing experience on LED-backlit displays.

Additionally, moving forward, monitor manufacturers marketing displays as “DisplayHDR 400” will have to specify that they’re certified under the new CTS v1.2 criteria to distinguish them from the old v1.1 models. This also means that some of the currently available DisplayHDR 400 displays do not meet the new specs.

Other DisplayHDR Certifications

All DisplayHDR tiers also receive more rigorous testing when it comes to brightness and color accuracy, black crush, subtle flicker and test patterns.

DisplayHDR True Black and DisplayHDR 500 to DisplayHDR 1000 tiers now also require a minimum DCI-P3 color gamut coverage of 95% (instead of 90%).

HDR-500 and HDR-600 tiers now also require a static contrast ratio of minimum 7,000:1 and 8,000:1, respectively.

DisplayHDR 1000 and DisplayHDR 1400 certifications now require full-array local dimming in order to reach the specified minimum contrast ratio of 30,000:1 and 50,000:1, respectively.

LCD HDR Monitors

The most important aspect of HDR is that the monitor can simultaneously display deep blacks and bright highlights, which is not possible without FALD on LED-backlit LCDs.

edge lit vs full array local dimming

Monitors with edge-lit local dimming can improve some HDR scenes where dark and bright objects are far apart or by dimming the blacks bars when watching a 21:9 movie on a 16:9 screen.

However, edge-lit local dimming backlights can also cause distracting artifacts in a lot of scenes, so we don’t recommend these displays if HDR is your main goal.

Even FALD displays will exhibit blooming artifacts in demanding scenes (fireworks, stars in the night sky, etc.), but most users find it tolerable since it only occurs in those scenes.

Therefore, instead of relying on VESA certifications, we recommend checking out our best HDR monitors buyer’s guide for the best options and more information.

Alternatively, you can check out our mini LED monitor list, where you can filter out monitors by the number of dimming zones, peak brightness and other specifications.

OLED HDR Monitors

ASUS PG27AQDM

OLED displays have per-pixel dimming as they don’t rely on a backlight to produce an image. Each pixel emits its own light and can be completely turned off for true blacks thus providing a basically infinite contrast ratio.

OLED panels also don’t have any backlight bleeding, blooming or glowing visual artifacts like FALD monitors, but they have the risk of image burn-in, lower peak brightness and uncommon subpixel layouts.

All OLED panels have excellent color gamut coverage, which in addition to their infinite contrast ratio already ensures amazing HDR image quality. They do have different brightness capabilities, but again, VESA’s DisplayHDR certification won’t help you here.

For instance, both the Philips 27E1N8900 and the Dell AW3423DWF have DisplayHDR 400 True Black certification.

Both displays meet the 250-nits full-screen and 400-nits 10% center patch tests, however, when it comes to smaller ~3% patch tests (not covered by VESA), the Dell AW3423DWF can achieve 1,000-nits, while the Philips 27E1N8900 is limited to around 520-nits.

Needless to say, the AW3423DWF offers a more immersive HDR viewing experience with punchier highlights yet both displays have the same VESA DisplayHDR certification.

So, if you want the best OLED HDR display, we recommend checking out our best HDR monitors buyer’s guide or full reviews.

Conclusion

The good news is that nowadays there’s plenty of HDR content as well as a lot of decent and reasonably priced HDR monitors available. So, if you want to enjoy HDR, a good FALD or OLED HDR monitor is definitely worth it.

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Rob Shafer

Rob is a software engineer with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver. He now works full-time managing DisplayNinja while coding his own projects on the side.