So you’re looking to upgrade your monitor and you noticed most new monitors have a feature called HDR.
Are HDR monitors good for gaming? Are they even worth the upgrade? Let’s do a deep dive into the world of HDR monitors to find out.
Are HDR Monitors Good for Gaming?
True-HDR monitors are good for gaming because they add a whole new level of colour depth and realism to visuals. If you want the clearest, most realistic graphics possible, an HDR monitor will deliver. The upside is HDR doesn’t have much of a negative impact on in-game performance, making it an easy way to improve the visuals. For some, turning on HDR is a better visual improvement than increasing the resolution.
The downside is not every game implements proper HDR and you need a graphics card that is compatible. Before you make a decision, I suggest considering other display features, such as resolution, colour depth, brightness, and Hertz Rate. In my opinion, HDR is not the most important feature on a new monitor but it is a “nice to have” and an easy way to future proof your display.
HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” which is a media profile standard that improves contrast and brightness levels on displays. Displays with good HDR are capable of delivering more vivid and life-like colours. There are several types of HDR varieties too (a total of five), and each manufacturer has its own variation.
The most popular types of HDR are HDR-10, HDR 10+, and HDR 1,400. Dolby’s HDR is called Dolby Vision. The Vesa HDR Standard is the easiest one to understand. With the Vesa Standard, when there’s a three-digit number next to the abbreviation, the number represents the maximum nits (brightness) the HDR adds. I’ll recommend some specifications a little later.
To read more about that, take a look at our HDR 10 vs HDR 400 article.
How Does HDR Work With Games?
Even if a monitor supports HDR, the game and the graphics card have to support the feature too. Most modern games will have a setting in the graphics options for HDR. Not every game has it, and only a handful are able to use it correctly. Most games use a variation of HDR which is not the same as true HDR.
Needless to say, the experience you get from gaming with HDR will vary depending on the type of HDR used and how the game implements it. Good HDR will improve the range of colours in games. The range of colours is determined by the developers and artists.
For some games, the enhanced colour and brightness can really improve the scene quality. However, with other games, the HDR can wash out the colour in scenes by changing the colour profile too much. For example, if there are bright areas in a game, such as sunlight, the HDR can enhance the sunlight so much that it adds a kind of bloom effect that covers other details in the game.
The quality of HDR will depend on the monitor you choose, how it implements the technology, and how the game developers designed the visuals. Generally speaking HDR greatly enhances the colours in games.
HDR also works best on displays that use full-array local dimming (FALD) or OLED. Most monitors don’t support full-array local dimming but it is available on newer TVs.
Is HDR Worth it for Gaming?
HDR is worth it for gaming because it adds a new level of realism and vibrance to the colours by increasing the contrast range. However, not every game implements it correctly and there’s a slight performance impact. Regardless, in my opinion, it’s worth getting an HDR display not only for games but also for watching movies.
Having said that, there are some important things you should consider.
You might have seen displays advertising many different types of HDR, such as HDR 400 or HDR 600. What you need to know is the number after HDR represents the number of nits, the maximum brightness of the HDR on display.
You might assume that the more nits the better, but it depends on how you use the display. In fact, having an ultra-bright HDR monitor can actually be painful on the eyes after long periods of use. Notice I mentioned monitors, bright HDR TVs can get away with having more nits because they’re further away.
On the other hand, there are people who can benefit from HDR 1000 or higher monitors, such as creative professionals. However, for the average gamer, sitting in front of a 1,000 nit monitor is not comfortable.
Enable HDR on Windows:
Some games look great with HDR but in others, the colours look way over saturated. It can be difficult to find the right level of HDR. If the game doesn’t have an HDR feature in the graphics settings, it will use Window’s HDR, which is not the best. In fact, most people agree the HDR implementation on Windows is terrible. It looks washed out and has a strange tint.
If you’re using an Nvidia graphics card here’s a quick check that you can do to enable HDR. Open the NVIDIA Control Panel, and under Display, select Change Resolution. Make sure the colour output depth is set to 10 BPC or higher (the highest your display supports) and the output dynamic range to Full.
Full-Array Local Dimming (FALD)
Generally, for the best HDR result, you want a display that is capable of full-array local dimming (FALD). FALD dynamically controls the backlight of the screen using dimming zones. The end result is much more life-like visuals because the blacks are darker.
The problem is there are not many monitors that support FALD, it’s mainly found on TVs. You can play PC games on an HDR TV too, but it might be a bit of a hassle.
HDR Looks Better on Consoles
It’s common knowledge that the HDR implementation on consoles is much better than on Windows. Even the last-gen PS4 HDR is better than Windows. So if you have a console, either a PS5 or Xbox Series X, you will benefit from buying an HDR-ready 4K TV.
When it comes to HDR, it’s one of the few cases where games look visually better on consoles than on PCs. The reason for that is mostly because of Windows’s poorly implemented HDR. Even on Windows, HDR looks better than the regular SDR, but the HDR on consoles is much better than Windows. If you’re primarily a PC gamer, that’s one point to consider.
HDR Performance Impact
While not a major performance impact, enabling HDR on will usually drop the frame rate by about 10% which is not very noticeable. However, if your machine already struggles to output a stable frame rate, enabling HDR won’t help the performance.
HDR Monitor vs HDR TV:
Generally, monitors that implement a true-version of HDR are very expensive, not very bright, and don’t include FALD. On the other hand, HDR TVs are more reasonably priced, have a much higher maximum brightness, and do have FALD.
To summarize, the HDR experience is usually much better on an HDR TV than on a monitor. For the best experience, I would use a console with an HDR-compatible 4K FALD TV.
Games that Support HDR:
Currently, there are not that many games that support true HDR. Here is a quick list of some popular titles that support HDR:
- Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Origins, and Valhalla
- Battlefield 1 and V
- Call of Duty Modern Warfare
- Cyberpunk 2077
- Doom Eternal
Most games released after 2017 use some version of HDR. Older titles are sometimes updated, especially remastered editions, to include HDR compatibility. Bear in mind, most HDR-compatible games look better on consoles than on PC.
The reason for that seems to be on Window’s end because it requires more configuration to set up. If you want a good HDR experience, it might be better to use your HDR monitor with a next-gen console because consoles support HDR out of the box.
HDR and Graphics Cards:
As mentioned earlier, not every graphics card is compatible with HDR. The main issue is not with the graphics card hardware but the ports. HDR only works on HDMI 2.0 connectors, DVI does not support HDR, and DisplayPort only supports it from DisplayPort 1.4 and onwards. Make sure your graphics card supports either HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.4.
An Easy Guideline for HDR:
If you’re left scratching your head with all these terms, I don’t blame you. The world of HDR is very complicated, and there’s lots of misinformation out there. Not to mention the visual quality is subjective too. Either way, to simplify it for you, I put together a short guide that will help you get the best HDR experience from games.
For the best HDR experience:
- Choose a monitor that has HDR-600 or higher.
- Make sure your graphics card has the required ports (HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.4)
- Double-check if your favourite games are compatible with True HDR.
- Run the game at 1440 or 4K
- Use an OLED (preferred) or IPS Monitor
- Enable G-Sync or AMDS FreeSync
If you can meet all of those requirements, the visuals in your games will look incredible. You could also consider connecting your PC to an HDR-compatible OLED TV. OLED displays tend to deliver the best colour quality and accuracy when compared to other types of panels.
The Downside to HDR:
The most obvious downside to HDR monitors is the price. These monitors are very expensive, some cost more than an entirely new computer. There are entry-level monitors that have some version of HDR, but it’s not nearly good enough.
One notable True-HDR monitor is the Acer Predator X27. At the moment, TVs deliver a better HDR experience than monitors, and they’re cheaper too, although that might change in the near future.
The Bottom Line:
To summarize, HDR can add new life to the visuals on games, but it comes with a price. My suggestion is to look for monitors that have the features you really need and want. HDR is more of a side feature that’s nice to have but not completely necessary.
Even if you do have an HDR monitor, not many games, especially on Windows, implement it properly. Another option would be to go with an HDR-compatible 4K OLED TV.