HDR (High Dynamic Range)

HDR

HDR (High Dynamic Range) improves the image quality of the compatible content by extending the color gamut and contrast range. 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 other software cannot fully utilize the extended color gamut the display boasts unless the hardware somehow emulates that limited color space.

This is where the 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.

what does hdr do

HDR Formats: HDR10 vs Dolby Vision

There are many different formats of HDR, so 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.

Static HDR vs Dynamic HDR

HDR Display Requirements

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.

One of the first Ultra HD Premium certified monitors is the Dell UP2718Q which is aimed at the high-end professional content creators.

Ultra HD Premium

DisplayHDR Standard 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.

DisplayHDR products will be demonstrated at CES 2018 in January. Big companies such as AMD, ASUS, AU Optronics, Dell, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Samsung will stand behind VESA’s DisplayHDR Standard.

hdr explainedFull Array Local Dimming vs Edge-Lit Local Dimming

Another important feature of the Dell UP2718Q is the full-array local dimming (FALD) which isn’t on the list of requirements for the UltraHD Premium but 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.

HDR Games

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). In addition, the upcoming HDR PC games include Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Need For Speed: Payback.

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.

G-SYNC HDR

Acer Predator x27 HDR

In 2018, we’re expecting the first 4K gaming monitors with 384-zone full-array local dimming and Nvidia G-SYNC HDR including the ASUS ROG Swift PG27UQ 4K HDR display, the Acer Predator X27, the Acer Predator XB272-HDR, and the AOC AGON 3 AG273UG. As if it weren’t enough, these cutting-edge HDR10 gaming monitors will also allow for the rapid 144Hz refresh rate at 4K.

According to the UHD Premium standards, these displays will offer true HDR viewing experience as they offer 1,000-nit peak brightness, true 10-bit color depth, 4K resolution, and proper connectivity ports.

Furthermore, AU Optronics and Nvidia also have curved ultra-wide HDR10 gaming monitors in the works. The Acer Predator X35 HDR monitor, the ASUS ROG Swift PG35VQ, and the AOC AG353UCG from the AGON 3 series will be the first gaming monitors to offer 200Hz refresh rate at the 3440×1440 UWQHD screen resolution.

Although these ultra-wide displays don’t offer the 4K resolution required by the UltraHD Premium for the total HDR support, the viewing and gaming experience will certainly be awesome given the monitors’ high refresh rates as well as the wide DCI-P3 color gamut and 512-zone FALD.

AMD FreeSync 2 and HDR

Samsung C49HG90 HDR

Unlike the above-mentioned G-SYNC HDR gaming monitors, AMD has lower standards for their gaming monitors. The Samsung CHG70 series monitors (Samsung C24HG70, Samsung C27HG70) and the Samsung C49HG90 offer HDR support as well as AMD FreeSync 2 technology.

However, these FreeSync 2 HDR gaming monitors offer only standard 350-nit peak brightness, 3,000:1 contrast ratio, and 1440p screen resolution.

Nevertheless, these 144Hz gaming monitors ensure both fluid gameplay and immersive image quality via the 1ms MPRT and quantum-dot technology that extends the color gamut to 125% sRGB – but, the viewing experience won’t be nearly as vibrant in comparison to the true HDR hardware support.

Another promising FreeSync 2 HDR display is the AOC AG273QCX 1440p 144Hz curved gaming monitor with the revolutionary 0.5ms response time speed. Apart from the ambitiously specified response time, it’s also the first display to offer HDR on a TN-panel monitor.

While AOC says that the viewing angles will remain TN-like, the image quality should be significantly better, even comparable to the certain quantum-dot technology displays.

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 a true HDR viewing experience. In fact, unless the monitor has UltraHD Premium certificate, the HDR support will be limited.

At the moment, there’s only one true HDR monitor while most of the others and several panels scheduled for development in 2018 offer a limited HDR or ‘pseudo-HDR’ support with certain specifications that don’t meet the premium standards – for instance, a peak luminance of 600-nits instead of 1,000.

Furthermore, some monitor manufacturers offer only software-enabled HDR support. Dell, in particular, took the heat for advertising their monitors as HDR with only standard specifications that you can find on any regular monitor.

While these ‘Dell HDR’ displays accept the HDR signal, the hardware can’t do it any justice. You’d get enabled dynamic contrast ratio and slightly brighter image which many monitors already offer in terms of ‘Smart Contrast Ratio’ feature which isn’t comparable to the true or even limited HDR support.

To clear away confusion, at least to some extent, we’ve divided HDR monitors into three groups: True HDR, Limited HDR, and Software-enabled HDR.

MonitorTypeResolution/PanelPeak Brightness (cd/m2)
Dell UP2718QTrue HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
LG 32UD99Limited HDR3840x2160 IPS600
LG 38WK95CSoftware-enabled HDR3840x1600 IPS300
Dell U2718QLimited HDR3840x2160 IPS600
BenQ SW320Limited HDR3840x2160 IPS350
BenQ SW271Limited HDR3840x2160 IPS350
Samsung CHG90Limited HDR3840x1080 VA350
Samsung C32HG70Limited HDR2560x1440 VA350
Samsung C27HG70Limited HDR2560x1440 VA350
Dell U2518DSoftware-enabled HDR2560x1440 IPS350
Dell U2518DXSoftware-enabled HDR2560x1440 IPS350
Dell S2718DSoftware-enabled HDR2560x1440 IPS300
Dell S2418HXSoftware-enabled HDR1920x1080 IPS250
Dell S2418HNSoftware-enabled HDR1920x1080 IPS250
Dell S2718HXSoftware-enabled HDR1920x1080 IPS250
Acer ET322QKSoftware-enabled HDR3840x2160 IPS250
ASUS ProArt PA32UTrue HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
Acer X27True HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
Acer XB272-HDRTrue HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
ASUS PG27UQTrue HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
AOC AG273UGTrue HDR3840x2160 IPS1000
Acer X35True/Limited HDR3440x1440 VA1000
Acer XR342CKSoftware-enabled HDR3840x1600 IPS300
Acer XR382CQKSoftware-enabled HDR3840x1600 IPS300
ASUS PG35VQTrue/Limited HDR3440x1440 VA1000
AOC AG353UCGTrue/Limited HDR3440x1440 VA1000
AOC AG273QCXLimited HDR2560x1440 TN400

For various purposes, we’ve made a dedicated page to the list of HDR monitors. Feel free to link to our FreeSync monitor list from anywhere you would like. The list gets updated every week with new additions.