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Gaming on an HDR display is often disregarded — much like ray tracing. And yet, whether people fully realize it or not, it can end up making a world of difference. We’ve all been gaming without these nifty bells and whistles for decades, so it is by no means a necessity, but it nonetheless elevates the entire gaming experience to a whole nother level.
Still, the fact that it never gained traction should hardly come as a surprise; only the most feature-rich and expensive monitors on the market have true HDR support. That, in and of itself, is a gargantuan — monetary-related — hurdle that cannot be overcome with ease.
An HDR monitor needs to tick many boxes in order to provide a truly stellar HDR gaming experience.
And, when upgrading, it’s probably the last thing on people’s mind. A bump in refresh rate is absolutely the number one upgrade you need to focus on. Then, if possible, resolution. The jump from, say, 1080p to 1440p is a truly tremendous one. Then, a better panel. A jump from an IPS display with just a single-zone backlight to one with multiple local dimming zones will be most noticeable. And, finally, there’s OLED — the undisputed king and the “endgame” for many gamers across the globe. Its response times are absolutely mind-blowing, and the same holds true for its contrast ratio.
With so many things to focus on and so many features to think of, it’s easy to understand why HDR isn’t a top priority.
Still, it should by no means be ignored or disregarded, especially for those who want as immersive a gaming experience as possible.
What Does HDR Mean?
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and it refers to the contrast between the darkest and brightest parts of any image. The higher the dynamic range, the better and more lifelike the image will look. It’s all about retaining as much information in the shadows and highlights as possible.
The point of HDR, therefore, is to present and render an image that is lifelike.
The way we perceive space and light in the real world is very specific and emulating it in the games we play almost always results in a jaw-dropping experience.
It adds to the immersion in ways one cannot even imagine — few are the words that can accurately describe the feeling one gets when playing a game that has proper HDR implementation. One would have to resort to an overly dramatic list of adjectives and superlatives so as to adequately phrase and explain it.
SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) is still, by all means, sufficient, but the image it provides is never as dark nor as bright as it should be. HDR deepens the range between those two extremes which results in a much more pleasing image.
This might not be that big of a deal in large multiplayer titles like, say, Call of Duty, but in singleplayer games and those that contain vast, beautiful worlds — or complex lighting and interiors and foliage — it can, by all means, make a stupendous difference.
Titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, Cyberpunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Gears 5, Resident Evil Village, God of War, Ori and the Will of the Wisp, Forza Horizon 5, Spider-Man, and many others end up looking far more beautiful than one would expect. Games that have vibrant visual effects, games that combine both incredibly dark scenes and spaces with bright accents and illumination offer an experience unlike any other.
In other words: if you have the sufficient funds and are on the lookout for a new display, make sure to get one that has true HDR support.
Going with a display that can reach 1000 nits of maximum brightness will result in the kind of experience you’re after, although those rarely sell for less than a thousand dollars/euros. Expensive, sure, but definitely worth the asking price.
Not All HDR Monitors Are Created Equal
The problem with HDR nowadays is the fact that there’s a myriad of different standards in place, most of which can be quite deceiving. And, naturally, manufacturers were quick to exploit this “loophole” to their advantage — all at the expense of the end consumer.
The fact that it says HDR on the box means nothing.
You’ll have to do your due diligence and read/watch as many reviews as you possibly can before making any kind of purchasing decision — lest you end up with a monitor whose HDR gaming performance is even worse than SDR.
What you’re after is either an IPS display with full array local dimming (with as many dimming zones as possible) or, at best, a top-of-the-line OLED model.
How Many Games Support HDR?
A surprising number of them, actually. And even those that don’t natively support HDR can — in some cases — benefit greatly from Windows 11’s Auto HDR feature. It works surprisingly well and can definitely make a world of difference, although that also depends on the title you’re playing.
For a list of titles that have native HDR support, you can check out the following link.
Do Gaming Consoles Support HDR?
All of today’s most prominent consoles have native HDR support: PlayStation 4, Xbox One S|X, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series S|X. So, no matter which route you take, you’ll be able to enjoy a stellar HDR gaming experience — assuming you have an adequate display, that is.
It all depends on your personal preference, but there’s something wholly unique and satisfying about sitting on a couch, booting up a PS5 or Xbox Series console, and entering a game within a matter of seconds. And once HDR kicks in — which, for the record, happens immediately — you’ll instantly revel in a level of immersion we could only dream of just a couple of years ago.
And, to answer the opening question, it’s absolutely worth it.