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What Is HDR and Why Should You Care?

Updated: August 01,2022

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If you're a gamer, you've probably seen the term HDR thrown around a lot lately. But what is HDR exactly, and what makes it such a game-changer?

In short, high dynamic range (HDR) refers to a technology that allows games to look more realistic by displaying a much wider range of colors. The result is an image that looks much more lifelike than the one without HDR.

Simply put, HDR gaming is the next big thing and will only get better in the future. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, now is the time to invest in an HDR-compatible TV or monitor.

Is HDR worth it, though? Before we can answer that question, let’s first talk about the technology itself, starting with the concept of a color gamut.

Color Gamut Explained

In short, the color gamut is a measure of how many colors a display can reproduce. The greater it is, the more accurate the colors on the screen will be. For instance, a display with a low color gamut might show red as more of an orange-like hue, while a display with a high color gamut will be able to differentiate between the finer shades of the same color.

When it comes to displays, the color gamut is usually measured in terms of NTSC, sRGB, DCI-P3, or AdobeRGB. NTSC is the standard for North America, sRGB is the standard developed by Microsoft and HP in 1996, and AdobeRGB is the standard for graphic designers and photographers and was developed by Adobe Systems. 

Most displays have a color gamut between 70% and 75% NTSC, which is adequate for most purposes as it sits around 100% of the sRGB gamut. 

Nowadays, the most used HDR TV and computer monitor color gamut measurement is DCI-P3. It’s an abbreviation for Digital Cinema Initiatives, which includes movie industry giants like Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox Film, Universal Studio, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, and Sony Pictures. 

The DCI-P3 color gamut range has a 4% shorter color range than NTSC but features 25% more colors than sRGB.

If you need accurate colors for your work or want a more vivid movie or gaming experience, you'll want a display with a high color gamut. Such HDR displays are usually more expensive, but they're well worth it.

What Does HDR Mean for Your Experience - The Benefits

Now that we know what the color gamut is let's take a look at some of the benefits of HDR.

1. Better Colors

One of the most obvious HDR benefits is better color reproduction. With a wider color gamut, more colors are accurately reproduced, resulting in a more lifelike image.

Most standard monitors and TVs have a limited color gamut, which means that they can't display the full range of colors that the human eye can see. HDR-enabled screens, on the other hand, have a color gamut of more than 95% DCI-P3, which allows them to display a much broader range of colors.

2. Brighter Whites and Darker Blacks

Another benefit of HDR is that it can display brighter whites and darker blacks with more subtle differences, especially on OLED TVs with HDR support. This is because HDR-enabled screens usually have a higher contrast ratio than standard screens.

Having HDR on your display expands the contrast ratio and accuracy of the colors significantly, giving the image more depth. This makes for a more realistic picture because it more closely resembles the range of light and dark we see in real life.

3. Greater Detail in Shadows and Highlights

Another benefit of HDR is that it can provide greater detail in shadows and highlights. Again, the wider dynamic range allows us to see more colors in poorly-lit areas and those with stronger lighting, resulting in a more detailed image.

4. Great for Gamers

What is HDR’s impact on gaming? Most importantly, it provides a more realistic and immersive gaming experience. It can also help reduce eye fatigue, as it more closely resembles the range of colors, shadows, and highlights we see in real life.

Finally, it can also improve your reaction time, as you'll be able to more easily spot subtle changes in color that could indicate an enemy's position. So if you're looking for an edge in your next gaming session, consider investing in an HDR-enabled monitor or TV.

Types of High Dynamic Range

There are multiple HDR formats we need to know about. So what is HDR10 or Dolby Vision? There are some important differences between them, so here’s what you need to know. 

HDR10

HDR10 is the most common type of HDR. It uses static metadata, meaning the information about the display's capabilities is encoded into the video signal. The display then uses this information to adjust the image as needed.

The advantage of this system is that it's relatively simple and doesn't require any special hardware. Furthermore, it's a royalty-free open standard, which means that any manufacturer can use it without having to pay licensing fees. 

This type of HDR effect is the easiest to achieve and is the most affordable way of improving your video entertainment system.

The downside of HDR10 is that it doesn't provide as much flexibility as Dolby Vision or the same amount of brightness. HDR10's peak brightness is around 1,000 nits, while Dolby Vision can reach up to 10,000 nits. 

The information about the display's capabilities is encoded into the video signal, which means that it can't be changed on the fly. As a result, HDR10 is less well-suited for use with dynamic content, such as video games.

Dolby Vision

Dolby Vision is a proprietary HDR format developed by Dolby Laboratories. It uses dynamic metadata, meaning that the information about the display's capabilities is stored separately from the video signal. This information can then be used by the display to adjust the image accordingly.

The information about the display's capabilities is stored separately from the video signal, which means it can be changed on the fly. As a result, Dolby’s HDR is compatible and better suited for dynamic content, such as video games.

The downside is that it's a proprietary format of HDR, meaning that manufacturers have to pay licensing fees to use it. 

HLG

HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) is a newer HDR format developed by the BBC and NHK. Unlike other HDR standards, it doesn't utilize metadata. Instead, it uses a special encoding which is a combination of the gamma curve and the standard dynamic range (SDR) signal.

The downside of HLG is that it's not as widely supported as HDR10 or Dolby Vision. In addition, it doesn't provide as much flexibility as other HDR standards, as the encoded signal is fixed.

HDR10+

Is HDR on 4K monitors something to look for? With Samsung’s improvement of the standard, it most definitely is. This advanced HDR method improves on the existing technology by adding dynamic metadata, much like Dolby Vision. The metadata isn't assigned individually to each screen but instead adjusts the display for each frame.

HDR10+ is backward-compatible with HDR10 devices, so you can still enjoy your favorite HDR content even if your TV doesn't support the new standard. Overall, HDR10+ is a big step up from HDR10, and it's quickly becoming the new gold standard for high-end TVs.

Downsides of HDR Explained

Despite the advantages, there are also some drawbacks to HDR. First, it can put a strain on your GPU, which can lead to reduced frame rates. Second, not all games support it, so having HDR compatibility is primarily useful for newer titles. 

Finally, it does make your monitor or TV use more power compared to SDR output, so it’s a poor choice if you have a massive TV but are trying to save on the power bill.

Overall, whether or not you enable HDR on your screen will be a personal decision based on what you are playing and your gaming needs.

HDR on LCD or (AM)OLED?

The newest generation of gaming laptops and TVs comes equipped with HDR tech. But what kind of display is best for HDR gaming? 

There are a few things to consider. First, LCD panels tend to have higher brightness and contrast than OLED panels. This means that HDR content will generally look better on an LCD panel. 

However, OLED and AMOLED panels have better color reproduction and black levels. This means that colors will pop more on such panels, creating a more immersive experience.

Ultimately, the choice between LCD and AMOLED or OLED screens comes down to personal preference. An HDR television with proper brightness and color gamut will look spectacular on an (AM)OLED screen, but LCDs will give you a more realistic picture overall.

HDR and 4K Resolution

4K and HDR are rapidly becoming the new standard for console gaming, with both the PS5 and the Xbox X able to provide smooth 4K 60 FPS HDR gaming experiences.

4K resolution is four times higher than full HD, so you get incredibly sharp-looking textures and higher-quality models.

HDR, or high dynamic range, delivers a broader color palette with brighter whites and deeper blacks for more realistic visuals.

Combined, 4K and HDR make for an incredible gaming experience. If you have a powerful gaming PC or console, you'll be able to take advantage of these new technologies to enjoy games like never before. With 4K, you'll see every little detail, and with HDR, the colors will look more lifelike than ever.

If you're a serious gamer, you’ll also know that resolution and aspect ratio are important considerations when choosing a monitor.

The most popular aspect ratio for gaming monitors and HDR TVs is 16:9. This widescreen format provides ample space for viewing game menus and the HUD, so it has mostly phased out earlier 16:10 and 4:3 screens for gaming and entertainment purposes.

In short: if you're looking for the ultimate gaming experience, make sure your monitor has HDR and 4K resolution support and a 16:9 aspect ratio.

FAQ

Is 4K HDR better than HD?

It most certainly is. HD resolution has fewer pixels, and a 4K monitor with HDR won’t leave you asking yourself, “Is high dynamic range worth the money?” You have to see the difference for yourself, though.

Is HDR the same as 4K?

No. HDR is the technology allowing for a wider color palette on displays, while 4K represents the number of pixels used to create the image on the screen. 

What does an HDR do?

So, what is HDR, and why is it such a popular buzzword these days? In short, HDR stands for high dynamic range, a technology that expands the range of colors displays can replicate, creating a more vivid and engaging viewing experience. For more info, check out our article above.

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Ivan
ABOUT AUTHOR
Ivan

A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.

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