HDR is on the verge of becoming a major new feature for PC gamers, but what exactly does it do? How can you get started with HDR right now? And when can you expect your games to support it on PC? Here’s everything you need to know about HDR on the PC.
What is HDR display and why should I care?
HDR (High Dynamic Range) or HDR gaming on PC has been a hot topic in gaming tech for the last few years, but 2016 was the year it finally edged its way into the PC space. Both Nvidia and AMD released graphics cards that support HDR through their GPU connections, and Windows 10 introduced built-in support for HDR displays. This means you can now buy an HDR monitor and enjoy the increased contrast and vivid colors HDR provides.
And you’re not alone if you’ve never heard of HDR. While TVs have supported the format for some time now, PC gamers tend to sit closer than most TV viewers so it wasn’t too important for us. But, as HDR monitors become more popular, PC gamers should definitely get on board and familiarize themselves with how it works and what benefits it can provide for games.
HDR gaming is mostly about peak brightness
it allows your monitor to display much brighter whites and much deeper blacks than current displays. This increases the contrast between the two and creates a more vivid, life-like image. It’s not just about peak brightness though: it also has to do with how accurately colors can be shown on screen. HDR monitors support 10 or 12-bit color depth, rather than the 8-bit depth of current monitors. Current monitors can output more than 1 billion colors, HDR will be able to support up to 16 million. With that many colors on the screen, you’ll notice tertiary hues you’ve never seen before and it should provide a range of benefits for games as well as video content too.
What do I need to enable HDR display?
For an HDR monitor to work with your PC, you’ll first need a graphics card that supports HDR. Right now there are only a few options for this: if you have a 10-series Nvidia GPU, the only option available is the GTX 1050 Ti/1050. If you have an AMD RX 400 series GPU, your options will vary depending on the card: if it’s an RX 460/470/480 you’ll need to be running Windows 10 and use the latest AMD Crimson drivers, but if you have an RX 470/570 you can use a DisplayPort connection and current drivers.
AMD Radeon cards in S mode currently block HDR
Please note, if you have an AMD GPU in S mode, HDR gaming won’t be available. AMD confirmed earlier this year that FreeSync and HDR gaming is only possible in Standard mode.
How do I know if my display supports HDR?
If you’re buying a monitor specifically to take advantage of HDR on a PC, we’d recommend waiting until all the kinks are ironed out with both games and monitors before making your purchase. We don’t want you forking out $800 on a monitor that doesn’t work properly, after all! That said, there are already plenty of HDR displays available right now and if you’re looking to buy one soon, make sure it’s actually HDR compatible before parting with your cash.
There are several ways you can check if your monitor is HDR compatible
1) Check the specifications on the box or online to see if it features an Ultra HD Premium logo, this means it should work with the full range of HDR standards.
2) Look for ‘PQI (Picture Quality Index)’ (or ‘DisplayHDR’ certification). PQI is the official standard for measuring HDR capability, but DisplayHDR is currently a more robust solution. It’s part of VESA and includes three tiers of performance – DisplayHDR 400, 600, or 1000. These are different to TV standards though so don’t be confused by the labeling.
3) Look for ‘HDR’ in the monitor’s product name or description.
Currently, there are only a few HDR standards that offer specific certifications for monitors, so be aware that some brands have adopted their own standards and methodologies. This can be confusing as different monitors may require different standards to enable HDR content. For example, the Samsung CHG70 and Acer Predator have been given the UHDA certification, but the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is instead DisplayHDR 600 certified. That said, P3 color space coverage is a universal requirement for HDR so this should be the same on all current HDR displays.
How do you play HDR games?
Once you have an HDR monitor, there are actually two ways to engage with the higher quality visuals it provides. You can either use ‘fake’ or ‘true’ HDR:
Fake/Enhanced – Some game engines will have support for HDR, even if it’s only a small number of games. In those cases, the monitor will use local dimming to simulate dynamic range. It’s not as good as true HDR but it can still look impressive and you don’t have to upgrade your GPU either; True – If a game has full HDR capabilities (supported by both the monitor and graphics card), you’ll be able to engage it from within the game.
Bear in mind that not all games have been patched with HDR support, even if your monitor supports it. Make sure to check this list of popular titles either way.
What is ‘peak luminance’?
Luminance is something that is measured in candelas per square meter – cd/m2 (sometimes referred to as “nits”). A candela is an SI base unit used widely by lighting and headlight manufacturers.
One nit equals the luminance of one candle, with 1 cd/m2 = 10.765625 nits (by definition). So 1000 nits is equivalent to 100% of a standard ‘white’ being emitted by the display. For example, the maximum brightness on most TV screens is between 300-500 nits.
How is HDR implemented in games?
As mentioned earlier, there are currently two methods for enabling HDR content on PC monitors. A game might have support for the first method – ‘fake’ or ‘enhanced’ HDR – which would involve the monitor faking it by using local dimming to create a dynamic contrast effect. The monitor might also be able to support the second method, which uses true HDR and would mean that the monitor supports wide P3 color space as well as a required brightness level.
HDR gaming on PC is still in its early stages, but the new standard sets a good foundation for future monitors to build upon. There is already a range of HDR-ready displays available and more on the way. So if you have an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, there’s no reason not to take advantage of it when playing games. If you’re in the market for a new monitor, HDR support should be one of the features you look for. We can’t wait to see what advancements are made in this area next!