HDR is a confusing subject, to say the least. On a basic level, it’s a standard that improves monitor brightness, contrast and color range well beyond current displays. It has the potential to punch up movies, games and graphics in a way that’s much more noticeable than the resolution boost offered by 4K.
For TVs and projectors, consumers are mostly concerned with what kind of HDR their set supports, whether it be HDR 10, HDR 10+ or Dolby Vision (that’s another discussion). Dolby Vision is currently the king of those standards, as it allows scenes in films and TV shows to be played back as the creators intended. Regardless of which type of HDR TV you choose, though, you can be sure it meets minimum standards for contrast, color gamut, bit depth (10 bits) and brightness (1,000 nits minimum, but less for OLED screens).
However, PC monitors support HDR 10 only, and most can’t reach the required 1,000 nits of brightness, so other features and specifications are more important. Until late last year, there was no set baseline for HDR TVs, other than that they need to be bright, high-contrast and color-rich.
Luckily, that all changed when VESA unveiled the DisplayHDR standard. There are three certification levels — DisplayHDR 400, 600 and 1000 — with the number referring to the maximum brightness level in nits. Conforming screens must hit those levels, which are much higher than those of most displays put out today, while meeting other goals for color gamut, bit depth and black levels (contrast).
The standard isn’t easy to meet, judging by the fact that only nine displays currently qualify, and only one (the Philips Momentum 436M6) hits the DisplayHDR 1000 mark, putting it on par with HDR TVs. Oddly enough, the standard isn’t as strict as it could be. While it calls for 10-bit color processing, the panel itself can support lower 8-bit color depths at a minimum (16.7 million colors), whereas 4K HDR TVs must output 10 bits (1 billion colors). Yet HDR monitors, measured by square inch, are significantly more costly than the average HDR TV.
Why is that? For one thing, most high-end computer monitors use costly IPS panels, rather than the VA (vertically aligned) QLED or OLED panels used on most TVs. Many IPS panels have contrast below the levels needed to qualify for the DisplayHDR standard (955:1). That’s because they’re made to look great with the lights on — which they generally do — but in the dark, the inferior contrast levels are more obvious.
At the same time, just because a display can’t meet the DisplayHDR standard doesn’t mean it isn’t suitable for your needs. BenQ’s SW320, for instance, conforms to the color and contrast requirements of DisplayHDR but falls short of the brightness requirements. It’s still a good choice, though, if you’re into graphics.
Another problem with HDR on PCs is Windows 10 itself. To use it, you have to enable HDR in the display settings, then disable it when you’re done looking at your HDR movie or game. While the setting makes any HDR-enabled content pop, anything that isn’t HDR looks bad, to say the least. Luckily, if you have a monitor with AMD’s FreeSync 2 or NVIDIA’s G-Sync HDR certification, it will automatically recognize HDR games and turn the setting on, then turn it off when you’re done.
Once you’ve purchased an HDR monitor, you’re of course going to need HDR content for it, too. Other than HDR Blu-ray discs and Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which have offered HDR 10 content for a while now, it’s surprisingly difficult to find elsewhere. HDR YouTube videos are still few and far between, but you can find some to start with on the HDR Channel.
As for games, it’s much easier to find HDR console games for the Sony PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. There are a few dozen that support HDR for the PC, though, according to PC Gaming Wiki. Notable ones include Destiny 2, Far Cry 5, Battlefield 1, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Star Wars Battlefront II, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Call of Duty: WWII.
While HDR TVs are meant to show movies and films to entertain you, you might want an HDR monitor for graphics work, gaming, entertainment or all of the above. So let’s take a look at the top HDR displays and examine their strengths, weaknesses and, most important, price points, so you can find the model that’s best for you.
As with other gaming displays, HDR monitors are divided into AMD and NVIDIA camps. To get NVIDIA’s G-Sync HDR nod, a monitor must peak out at a full 1,000 nits, just like an HDR10 TV. So far, however, no G-Sync HDR monitors have come to market, though several have been announced (we’ll mention those in a moment).
Keep in mind, though, that AMD FreeSync 2 monitors don’t have a brightness requirement for HDR, and many have been on the market for about a year. Several DisplayHDR monitors aimed at gaming are also available. A few other models lacking the DisplayHDR certification could also do the job.
Samsung 32-inch CHG70
Not surprisingly, Samsung uses its own QLED (quantum dot) tech for its 32-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 curved CHG70 monitor. That’s the same type of panel the company uses on its 4K HDR TVs, so it brings many of the same advantages to PC gamers and movie watchers. It’s incredibly bright, being certified to the DisplayHDR 600 standard, it delivers a billion shades of color (10-bit), it supports AMD Radeon FreeSync 2 with a 144Hz refresh rate and it offers a 3,000:1 contrast ratio.
The CHG70 also has a design that pushes the screen three inches closer to your face than most models, which is ideal for gaming. At this point, for $650, the CHG70 is the best HDR gaming monitor you can buy.
HP Pavilion Gaming 32 HDR Display
If you’re looking for a large, bright, relatively cheap HDR gaming monitor with decent refresh times and AMD FreeSync compatibility, check out HP’s 2,560 x 1,440 Pavilion Gaming 32 HDR Display.
It uses VA, rather than IPS tech, allowing it to meet the DisplayHDR 600 standard with 600 nits of brightness, a 3,000:1 contrast ratio, 95 percent DCI-P3 gamut and a true 10-bit color depth (1 billion colors). The 75Hz refresh rate is mediocre, but it does have a snappy 5ms latency. The best part is maybe the price: At $449, it’s a relative bargain for an HDR monitor of any kind.
AOC 32-inch AGON AG322QC4
AOC’s 2,560 x 1,440 AGON AG322QC4 is another certified VESA display, at a lower DisplayHDR 400 level. While it’s the same size and resolution as HP’s model, and also uses VA rather than IPS tech, it’s aimed at a slightly different buyer.
To wit, you get lower brightness (400 nits max), contrast (2,000:1) and color bit depth (8 bits, or 16.7 million colors). However, you do get a stellar 144Hz refresh rate, support for AMD’s FreeSync 2 with variable refresh rate, gaming-specific HDR with lower lag and four milliseconds of latency. So, yes, this is for gaming performance, rather than color aficionados. It’s coming to Europe next month for €599, and should arrive in the US a bit later, for a bit more.
Samsung 49-inch ultrawide CHG90 QLED monitor
Samsung’s CHG90 is an odd beast. It meets the DisplayHDR 600 standard and, thanks to Samsung’s QLED tech, displays a billion colors (10-bit), and has a 144Hz refresh rate and 3,000:1 contrast ratio. However, it has a very unusual 3,840 x 1,080 resolution, which yields an extremely wide 32:9 aspect ratio. It’s essentially two 1080p monitors welded together, making it look almost comically wide.
If you’re into gaming, though, and have $1,000, it’s worth a look. In his hands-on test, Engadget editor Devindra Hardawar found it was fast, with realistic colors and bright HDR elements “that popped off the screen.” He was also “impressed by how immersive the monitor felt,” adding that “it could be very useful for content creators who need to work in timeline-focused apps for video and audio editing.”
Upcoming G-Sync HDR monitors
You’ll soon see a pair of G-Sync HDR monitors from both ASUS and Acer, likely starting with Acer’s 4K Predator X27. Other models include the 4K ASUS ROG Swift PG27UQ and a pair of 3,440 x 2,160, 35-inch curved screens: the Acer Predator X35 and ASUS ROG Swift PG35VQ.
The much-delayed displays will use an NVIDIA reference design and feature a direct LED backlighting system with 384 zones, 1,000 nits of peak brightness, 144Hz refresh rate, 10-bit color depth and HDR10 with a DCI-P3 color gamut.
Those monitors should meet the DisplayHDR 1000 standard when they arrive, if manufacturers choose to have them certified. To say the least, 1,000 nits of brightness is a lot to have so close to your face, and testers have reported that explosions and other gaming visuals are almost too bright. Still, these monitors match the specs for HDR TVs, and if you want the best gaming option possible, you might want to wait for them to arrive.
LG is also set to release the 34GK950G, a 34-inch Nano IPS display with 3,440 x 1,440 ultrawide QHD resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, NVIDIA G-Sync support and 98 percent DCI-P3 color gamut. It’s expected to meet the DisplayHDR 600 certification, but not NVIDIA’s G-Sync HDR certification.
Entertainment HDR monitors
Most folks watch movies on their TV and not their computer monitor. But a fair number of people, especially cord cutters, probably use a single monitor (preferably a fairly large one) for gaming, entertainment and computing alike. Manufacturers have thought of those folks, creating HDR monitors that can handle Netflix, PC or console games and regular computing chores.