Are you considering purchasing an HDR monitor? In this guide, we go over everything you need to know on HDR displays and whether or not they will be worth it for you.
If you’re deep into tech, you’re probably well acquainted with the idea that everything you own has to be the top of the line, best performing piece of equipment that you can get your hands on. Losing even just one frame means your rig is little better than a rock.
In all seriousness, though, performance does matter. While you might not need the best gaming computer out there to play some Minecraft, having a decent PC and a good mouse and keyboard are a good asset no matter what you’re doing, be it gaming, art, streaming content, or just browsing the web.
How does this shake out for the monitors we use, though? Outside of questions like, “Does the screen work?” most don’t spend much time considering exactly how good their monitor could be. Does it even matter in the end?
Let’s find out by taking a look at HDR monitors. What can this type of equipment do and is it worth both the hype and the price?
What is HDR Technology?
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. This simply means that the number of colors that the HDR monitor can accurately recreate is larger than the Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) monitor. For a more complicated answer, though, “simply” is the last word you’d want to use to describe things.
To explain, we need to delve into what color is in scientific terms. Human eyes perceive color based on the vibration (or frequency) of light waves. The higher or lower the vibration, the different color it appears to be. That ROYGBIV acronym you memorized in art class wasn’t just arbitrary – the colors of the rainbow represent the different colors of the visible spectrum in order.
Our eyes possess what is known as cone cells, and they take in colored lights, allowing us to differentiate between different wavelengths. However, there’s a catch to this. Simply put, cone cells are only able to interpret lights of red, green, or blue wavelengths, and the other colors we see are just a mixture of these lights. They’re determined by how close together they are within our field of vision. For example, a red and a blue point of light next to each other would probably look like purple to the human eye.
Because of this quirk of human anatomy, computer manufacturers make their screens in such a way as to only project red, green, or blue light in different combinations. These “subpixels” blended together make up the pixels we see on our screens. While the monitors do not technically make the real color wavelength for anything but red, green, or blue light, our eyes cannot see the difference.
What does all of this have to do with the HDR monitor, you ask? Plenty, as the range (or gamut) of the colors a particular monitor can produce is where we get the distinction between HDR and SDR technology.
Most computer monitors are SDR, meaning their gamut is only a small fraction of the entire range of visible light humans are capable of seeing. An HDR monitor, on the other hand, increases that range substantially. While it is still not the entirety of visible light colors, it is a significant improvement over what computers have been working with in the past, giving a richer and more detailed viewing experience with more variation in color depth.
This also applies to the brightness and darkness of colors. HDR monitors can represent colors at almost seven times the brightness as SDR monitors. This gives you more versatility when changing screen brightness for better clarity of color and more vibrancy in what you’re seeing.
What Use Cases Are Good With HDR Displays?
Now that you have a good idea as to what an HDR monitor is and what it’s capable of, it’s time to address the primary concern of anyone reading this: Why should you care? “What’s this fancy monitor going to do for me?” right?
For one thing, this greater depth of color and better brightness options are a major boon for artists. If you create things digitally, what better incentive can you have than actually being able to express the greatest depth of color possible on your screen?
Similarly, those who want to make the most out of watching movies on their computers could also benefit from HDR technology. Movies are typically shot and projected in this format to begin with, so if you have an HDR display, you won’t have to worry about seeing a compromised version of your favorite films.
This is just as true for any other kind of video you might want to watch, too. You’ll be able to get the most out of streaming videos or other media watching them with an HDR monitor compared to an SDR for the same reasons as listed above.
Finally, and what many of you are likely the most concerned with, HDR monitors will also improve the look of video games. In some ways, this is probably their best use, as the dynamic lighting featured in many games and the wide range of colors and fantastic environments mean the HDR technology can really be pushed to its limits, giving a sense of weight and realism to even the most unreal things. It’s also not taxing on your GPU because an HDR display doesn’t raise your graphics settings, you’re just using a more color-rich monitor. So there’s no need for concern when it comes to overworking your PC, Xbox, or PlayStation, all of which are HDR-compatible.
Are There Any Downsides of HDR Monitors?
There are few actual downsides to HDR technology. It’s more accurate to say that, in terms of negatives, it’s the things running in conjunction with the HDR monitor than it is the monitor itself.
Most pressing would be the fact that not all video games will give you the option to render their graphics in HDR. As such, you’ll be entirely beholden to the games themselves when it comes to being able to use your HDR monitor to its fullest potential. As this technology catches on and more games start to incorporate the option, you’ll likely see more come on board. For now, though, you’re a bit limited.
Additionally, a monitor that utilizes a TN (twisted-nematic) panel to render its graphics is not compatible with HDR technology. This has to do with the faster response time that TN panles offer, which allows for better performance, but it comes at the expense of not being able to render the more dynamic graphics properly. Given that TN is the go-to for those in competitive gaming specifically because of the lower response time, an HDR display probably isn’t the best option for hardcore competitive gamers.
Finally, there’s also the price to consider. Monitors that are compatible with HDR tend to run on the pricier side. While they’re certainly a good investment especially going forward as more and more games begin to offer the option for HDR graphics, it may be more prudent to spend your money elsewhere if you’re not overly concerned with this aspect of computing.
Final Verdict: HDR Monitors Are Worth It If You Have the Budget and You Aren’t a Competitive Gamer
HDR monitors are a fantastic display option for serious computer users. Able to render color shade, depth, brightness, and vibrancy in a way that’s almost as real as what you’d see outside your window, HDR technology takes graphics to an entirely new level.
But, should you buy an HDR monitor? If you’re serious about getting the most out of your graphics, the answer would almost certainly be “yes.” When it comes to displaying graphics in as detailed a manner as possible, there’s no better option than an HDR display. This is true for gamers, artists, designers, or anyone who’s just a serious cinephile who prefers to watch on the computer.
That being said, the price and the limitations HDR monitors work under—with regards to slower response times—means that those playing games competitively will likely not want to opt for an HDR monitor just yet. The small dip in performance you’d see in a competitive setting could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Additionally, the price for these monitors is often quite high, so consider how to spend your money first, including whether or not it might simply be better to upgrade your PC itself.