Up For Debate - Are HDR monitors just a gimmick?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, Aug 25, 2019 4:00 PM

With the race to 4K leaving us dizzy and rather poorer than we’d intended, monitor and TV manufacturers need to dig deeper into the ever-shrinking list of reasons why we should upgrade our displays. You see, once you’ve got a fantastic 4K telly, what the heck are they going to sell you next? 8K’s coming eventually of course, but there’s a dearth of content and we’re truly, deeply into the quandary of diminishing returns. 

So they’ve turned to HDR, or High Dynamic Range. HDR is all about better pixels, rather than more pixels. The actual process is fairly easy to get your head around. HDR offers a greater dynamic range of colours than SDR (Standard Dynamic Range), meaning whiter whites, more vivid colours, great colour bit depth, and a resulting image which should more closely resemble the colour range the human eye sees at. 

Cutting through all the technical doodads, HDR can allow a display to output at a much higher brightness than a standard monitor. Too bright, in fact, but an HDR display will seldom display at the maximum possible brightness. This brightness can be manipulated to deliver more vivid colours, more detailed shadows and highlights, and smoother colour gradations and tonal shifts.

And, I happen to believe it’s really important to the future of high-quality panels, although massively muddled by different standards and implementations which can massively vary the quality of the end product. You have to muddle through HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, Technicolor HDR, and all sorts of competing standards. For now, it appears the industry is settling around HDR10. 

But go and take a look at a high-end display (something in the $2000+ range) and the colours are frankly mind-blowing. They are so many leaps behind this bog-standard Samsung 24” monitor I’m using right now it’s unreal. But, unfortunately, it's both impossible for demonstrate this to anyone using a standard SDR display, and there are a ton of displays with crappy HDR implementation. Some don’t use the full colour range, others lack the correct brightness. This can lead to an image which looks over-saturated; they’re faking HDR rather than delivering the real thing.

There’s an argument to be made that HDR is just as important as the jump to 4K resolution in terms of image quality. A fantastic 1080p HDR display looks better than a cheap 4K monitor to my eyes, although your priorities are obviously going to vary. The good news is you’re not really going to have to choose between the two going forward as any decent 4K display should support HDR these days.

The downside to an HDR display is that support is patchy at best, particularly on PC.  You’ll be needing an HDR-compliant display with an IPS or VA panel (TN doesn’t support HDR). The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have kind of standardised the HDR procedure to a degree, but because HDR is still only used by a niche of PC gamers it doesn’t necessarily get the same treatment. 

It’s also a fact of life that HDR will introduce input lag. There’s additional computation going on from your display and it will affect response times for both TV or a monitor. The more you pay, the lower the response time. As a result, if you’re the sort of person who dials down all the settings to gain a competitive edge in an online game, HDR will not work in your favour. Response times could be affected and frame rates could also take a hit.

On the content front, this is all wholly dependant on the application too. Red Dead Redemption 2? It doesn’t even user proper HDR, it’s a jury-rigged approximation and it looks better turned off. God of War though? GOD OF PHWOAR MORE LIKE. The bottom line is it’s unpredictable from game to game and it’s finicky messing around with the tuning. But when the stars align and you see HDR in its true form, it’s readily apparent this is the future standard we’re heading toward. It is far more than a gimmick; this is not Nvidia’s 3D Vision all over again. Good HDR makes a game look better, whether that’s in imitating lifelike imagery or displaying fantastical scenes.

For now, I’d say HDR is absolutely worth it for console gamers, where support is now largely standardised. For PC gamers, it’s a trickier proposition. There are a lot of variables to account for depending on your hardware and software configuration which can still make it a pain. When it does work though, there’s little doubt it’s the superior experience.

So what are your thoughts on the matter, do you think HDR is a great advancement for monitor tech, or is it just another gimmick to try and sell you new displays? Have you got an HDR monitor yourself? Let us know below!

Have you got an HDR display?

Do you think HDR is just a gimmick?

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06:51 Aug-27-2019

Well yes but actually no.


My S10+ has an amazing display. I watched videos that have HDR content and it does look amazing. It makes a difference and that's what i love. Plus the camera can record HDR10+ video and i gave it a test drive. It looked so good!

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14:55 Aug-29-2019

My Note 9 has a HDR10+ display too. HDR movies (so far I've watched The Matrix, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse and tested Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) looked absolutely epic. I'm sold on the tech for sure, but need a 65"+ OLED HDR TV now - and they're pricy. Anything less than OLED is a waste of time, IMO.

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19:10 Aug-29-2019

I didnt think anything would be pricey for you sir! :)
On a more serious note, oleds have dropped in price by a lot. LG oleds are actually cheaper than samsung's top qleds. I would say anyone looking at high end can easily buy oled. The only thing that would hold people back is concern about burn in. And if you want a brighter tv.

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08:53 Aug-30-2019

dont forget to look to see if they are true 4k movies or just upscaled. the dark knight trilogy is downscaled to 4k because parts of the movies were filmed with 6k, 8k and imax cameras. the files were saved as 4k. most of the mcu was filmed at 4k and saved at 2k.

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10:08 Aug-30-2019

6k and 8k is a digital format as far as I am aware dark knight was entirely on film and scanned in imax 4K and then downscaled for the smaller formats plus truthfully speaking 6K and 8K cameras are a joke Bayer RGB counts each colour as one

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10:12 Aug-30-2019

individual pixel whereas True RGB 4:4:4 counts all 3 colours as 1 single pixel. your not getting more data your simulating extra data by running an algorithm to fill in the data using the neighboring colour and depth. Bayer RGB 4:2:2

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16:33 Aug-31-2019

Actually it was done on film but not scanned to imax since IMAX is a camera, not a scanner. IMAX would use 70mm film. Film to digital is higher resolution. The dark knight trilogy masters are 4k, not 2k like most others.
https://4kblurays.com/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.indiewire.com/2018/07/the-dark-knight-imax-christopher-nolan-film-1201985173/amp/
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.comingsoon.net/movies/features/968355-how-the-dark-knight-revolutionized-imax/amp


Also the digital Panavision cameras are 16bit cmos sensors that are full rgb.
I've been dealing with this stuff probably longer than you've been alive.

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05:35 Aug-27-2019

HDR strongly depends on a camera that mirroring real life dept of realism

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20:38 Aug-26-2019

When I run my PC to my tv, the different options to get it right are crazy but given time, it makes everything look clearer. I mean everything. From my desktop to webpages to all games. It opens up wide color gamut which was a stop-gap a few years ago and most games use that with with no change in latency. The difference hdr makes with a movie is amazing. Everything else looks grey and washed out in comparison. Watch an hdr movie on a sdr rv and then and hdr tv and it'll change your mind. I think hdr was a bigger deal then 4k. The Xbox one s added hdr and got a GPU clock increase to account for the difference.

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20:41 Aug-26-2019

As for simulating hdr, apple does it on their phones. Some monitors are 8bit with some kind of quad pixel or phosphor change that gives more colors but it's still not true hdr. Have to be careful about things like that.

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01:52 Aug-27-2019

Actually, (just for anyone browsing comments) when I was reading stuff before while on the market for a tv, a lot of the geeky guys on forums swear that this is one of the things you can overlook. What matters is how well it displays gradient. And that there is no possible way to test whether a TV has a true 10bit panel.

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15:18 Aug-27-2019

The problem people have with the hdr stuff being displayed on the iPhones is that you can still see color banding from it's display.

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19:15 Aug-26-2019

I have an HDR TV, the UE40NU7190. Not exactly "high end", more like entry level 4K TV. The HDR branding seems like it's complete bs. I don't think there's a WOW factor here if I'd compare it to something like an IPS panel. Probably becuase this doesn't even have the HDR 400 or higher branding, it's just HDR. It's also pretty dark at daytime, especially when watching movies (impossible!). This has been the worst purchase I made, besides the disappointing edge lit tech instead of direct backlight and the amount of telemetry it wants to send. Never again

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13:05 Aug-26-2019

HDR is not a gimmick. When I got my Note 9 with a HDR10+ display - I was instantly sold on the tech! Now I'm looking into buying a HDR TV, but it HAS to be OLED, for obvious reasons.
It's nearly impossible to show people what HDR is without showing the tech in person. That image there in the article absolutely fails to deliver any logical arguments to HDR because it's still displayed on an SDR screen (and things don't look like what they're trying to make it out to be).

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13:06 Aug-26-2019

It's just one of those things... when you get a hold of a great HDR OLED display and watch some well-mastered HDR content - you'll be sold on the tech instantly. But until then - no charts or pictures shown on normal displays will make any difference, because you simply won't be able to SEE the difference.


Games...? I'm not convinced they're all well-made for HDR, but I would favor high refresh rates first and foremost. I can only imagine what things would look like on a HDR OLED screen, but it has to be high refresh or no sale for me.

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08:34 Aug-26-2019

I've got a Dolby Vision 12Bit screen (please do note LCD not OLED)and the colours are mind blowing watching Netflix or any true 4k content on it is a killer Cant use it for gaming unfortunately no matter how much I try, anyway if you can fi

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08:36 Aug-26-2019

find yourself a OLED screen to game on you will have your mind blown rest assured the colours the shadows details will pop and you'll not be able to look at your standard monitor with any respect what so ever....that is until Burn In steps

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08:39 Aug-26-2019

to ruin the party and trust me it is very much there no OLED panel is safe from it. so the only other solution is MICRO LED wherein you get both the infinite contrast and LED based long life but the technology is atleast 5,7 years till it h

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08:42 Aug-26-2019

till it hits mainstream TV at 55 inches with 4k resolution even then itll be atleast 4-7 THOUSAND dollars at least so we are stuck with Standard led monitors for the foreseeable future. That being said i expect to see HDR implementation to

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08:45 Aug-26-2019

be very much different in the future than it is today now a days its all about peak brightness and darkest blacks in the same scene with some colors being Converted Neon lights to give a vibrant feels. its a easy and cheap way to fake HDR

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08:47 Aug-26-2019

What you can expect in the future is the HDR panel will have the same brightness as they do now max 600nits (1000 is useless) but increase in contrast currently we have 1000, 3000 for high end screen but expect as high as 5000 and possibly

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08:50 Aug-26-2019

7000-8000 if a certain Korean company known for its OLED tv's succeed if this happens you will be getting superior colours the high resolution textures vs Ultra will be a night and day difference and lighting in games will be massively reva

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09:19 Aug-26-2019

revamped to make use of it (inset crap ton of god rays) no idea if Ray Tracing will come in handy here. but the main reason why this may be a big deal is that the cost of this hypothetical panel is supposed to be about 500-700$ but itll be

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09:22 Aug-26-2019

IPS with a 4:4:4 RGB configuration 1080p 60fps monitor only with 5ms input lag and will need a really high end card as it is currently aimed at graphic professionals and editors. in movies you can expect a main camera to shoot content norma

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09:44 Aug-26-2019

normally as flat as possible with an extra 5 sets of camera there only to capture video colour at various dynamic ranges. SOMETHING like a Traditional HDR photograph with multiple captures. but this is was a experimental shoot no idea if it

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09:45 Aug-26-2019

it'll ever be used commercially. very technical and cost wise expensive

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06:25 Aug-26-2019

I got a IPS monitor and I keep it at the lowest brightness, otherwise it hurts to look at it. HDR is gonna be at full brightness? I better enroll myself in some Blindness associations.

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13:12 Aug-26-2019

My IPS goes pretty bright and I keep it high. My Note 9 goes even higher and I love it. My gf keeps her screens dark.
Weird how humans prefer different things :D

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23:27 Aug-25-2019

When It comes to Gaming Monitors,yes,100% just a gimmick,the price for "true hdr" it's too expensive and not a lot games support it. For TVs on the other hand ,I'd say no,there are plenty of movies/videos that support it and look so much better with HDR

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22:44 Aug-25-2019

yes and no. :)

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23:05 Aug-25-2019

.......

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22:40 Aug-25-2019

for Single player games
yes as i usually enjoy the looks focus more on graphics


in mp games not really i dont pay attention to small details

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20:11 Aug-25-2019

I don't think HDR will forever be gimmick. But two things need to happen for it to go mainstream. First is implementations need to improve to actually in some cases not just barely support the lowest bar, because some are not really HDR experience. Second is the price, once HDR comes to budget oriented monitors, since if you want good implementation today, you have to pay hefty premium,...

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20:13 Aug-25-2019

... otherwise you get a monitor that is barely any better experience than non-HDR, due to lackluster specs, doing some minimal bar things, maybe even not having everything up to spec, considering things I saw in some reviews from Hardware Unboxed. So overall, we need quality implementation that is obviously better for reasonable budget, not only extremely expensive tier.

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18:33 Aug-25-2019

||They are so many leaps behind this bog-standard Samsung 24” monitor I’m using right now


Wait that's a good way of describing exactly my monitor xD Even though I got it working at 77 Hz

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18:13 Aug-25-2019

HDR in essence is not a gimmick,
but various "stages" of HDR and stuff like HDR-ready make it a gimmick, because probably majority of affordable monitors/TVs aren't true proper HDR;
for games it's definitely not worth, as the low latency/lag and high refresh rate are much more important than wider colour spectrum;
last but not least, let's not forget most of the content isn't yet even HDR, so if screen is artificially making things nicer, it's a fake HDR effect again...

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19:32 Aug-26-2019

I believe that most cheap HDR screens use old tricks to make HDR content look HDRish, like playing with the backlight (the most annoying feature ever when you have black bars on the screen)

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17:30 Aug-25-2019

Movies look natural on my basic display. Probably gimmick like most high-end things.

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17:19 Aug-25-2019

it's not necessarily a gimmick but the price of these HDR pnael especially in high res, low response time and high refresh rate are priced at cosmic level so whenever I want one of these I look at the price and the wish is no more lol

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16:51 Aug-25-2019

Imo HDR on monitors is currently a gimmick as almost any monitor not worth a kidney (and even some that do), is pretty lacking in HDR capability.
TV is the only way to do HDR content, and even there its kinda like raytracing. Still better off waiting for it to be more mainstream. You can have a decent experience of it right now, but you have to pay up for it, and content is lacking.

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23:30 Aug-25-2019

I completely agree when it comes for monitors, but for TVs it's for mainstream as pretty much every big movie will have it and also other content like Youtube Videos (tho not as often)

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16:29 Aug-25-2019

Well definitely not if used properly, but they don't use it properly, HDR for the consumer market is currently used to saturate colors on monitors and TVs so hard, to make them pastel like, unnatural, bright and shiny, which for some things does look better, like games with more cartoony graphics, but 99% of the time it's just crap. You can calibrate the monitor/TV to compensate for it, but it's still not that great. Same with many cameras btw.

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16:21 Aug-25-2019

Not a gimmick, its similar to the RTX it makes lighting slightly better for a price premium. For a gaming monitor expensive HDR monitor vs high frame rate monitor, frame rate wins every time.

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16:13 Aug-25-2019

The cloud in the top right looks better to me in SDR...

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