Everyone may be talking about 4K, but HDR is
arguably a bigger improvement to picture quality on your TV or computer monitor.
HDR means more detailed images,
better color, and highlights that really pop—and while your Roku or Apple TV
may handle HDR with minimal effort, your Windows PC is a more complex beast.

Microsoft has had some growing pains with HDR
over the past few years, and while it still isn’t quite as easy as it should
be, the feature is much more usable than it was in the early days of Windows 10. If you
have an HDR-capable monitor—or you’ve hooked your PC up to your 4K HDR TV for
some living room gaming—here’s how to make sure your games and movies are taking
full advantage.

What You’ll Need

Much like with other devices, every link in
the chain—from your PC to the display—has to be HDR-capable. That means you
need:

An HDR-Capable TV or Monitor

Not all HDR is created
equal—cheaper TVs and monitors may not be able to get bright enough, or use
local dimming to get dark enough, to really take full advantage of HDR. If your gaming monitor says it’s “HDR400,” for
example, that means those highlights can only reach 400 nits—when something
like 1,000
is really the ideal. For lower-end HDR displays, it may not be worth
the trouble.

Acer Predator X27Acer Predator X27

An HDR-Capable Graphics Chip

That means an Nvidia GTX
950 or better, AMD’s Radeon R9 380 or better, or—if you’re running Intel’s
integrated graphics—a 7th-generation Kaby Lake CPU or later.  Note that these are the bare minimums, and
higher-end cards will be able to handle better output settings (more on that
later). You can see a more complete list of compatible cards at Rock Paper Shotgun.

A Quality HDMI or DisplayPort Cable

While you don’t necessarily need special
“4K” or “HDR” cables, you do need one that is built well. Cheap or defective
cables can sometimes cause problems with high-bandwidth signals like 4K HDR. I’ve seen it happen, even with “High Speed”
HDMI cables from reputable brands, so if you run into issues, it may help to
have an extra certified cable on hand. DisplayPort is ideal if you’re on a
monitor, but if you only have HDMI ports, that’ll work in a pinch.

HDMI and DisplayPort cables

An
Up-to-Date System

Windows first brought HDR support
with the 2017 Fall Creators Update, but things have changed, and this
guide relies on the latest version of Windows 10 (1909) if you want to follow
along.  I also highly recommend updating your graphics drivers. Even
though mine were fairly recent when writing this guide, updating them to the
latest version fixed some problems I had along the way.

Once you’re sure you have the necessary
hardware, it’s time to dig into some settings.

How to Enable HDR in Windows 10

Before you head into Windows’ settings, you’ll
want to tweak a few things in your TV’s settings. Somewhere, you should find an
option to enable HDR color capabilities—LG calls it “Deep Color,” Samsung calls
it “Input Signal Plus,” and other manufacturers may have their own names.

Some TVs may turn this on by default when they
detect an HDR signal, some may not—you may need to check your TV’s page on Rtings.com to see what settings you need.

In addition, some TVs treat PCs differently
than other inputs when they’re labeled as such—so if your PC is plugged into
HDMI2, go into your TV’s input settings and make sure HDMI2 is labeled as “PC”
for best results.

Now it’s time to tweak some things in Windows.
Open Settings > Apps > Video
Playback
and click on Windows HD Color Settings. If your display supports
HDR, you should see a switch that says Play HDR Games and Apps on this
page—flip that on, and you should see the HDR badge pop up in the corner of
your screen.

HDR settings in Windows 10

You’ll also want to flip the Stream HDR Video
switch on, if it isn’t already. The Windows desktop will appear dim, but you
can scroll down and move the SDR Content Appearance slider all the way to the
right to alleviate this somewhat.

In my experience, this should be all you need.
Some people recommend opening the Nvidia or AMD display settings and changing
the color output to 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 if you’re on a TV, but in my experience, the
RGB color format looks better.

If you have a video card and TV capable of
HDMI 2.1—or you’re using DisplayPort on an HDR monitor—you can change the
output color depth to 10-bit instead of 8-bit, which may improve things, but
HDMI 2.0 can’t do 10-bit RGB and still send a 4K HDR signal at 60Hz. Feel free to experiment with these settings
and see what works best for you, but I find that the defaults actually give the
best picture on my HDMI 2.0-based PC and TV.

Now that you’ve confirmed HDR is working in
Windows, you have two choices: you can either leave HDR on all the time, or you
can manually turn it on before you hop into an HDR-capable game or movie. Some people find HDR on the desktop to be unbearably
dim or washed out, even with that slider cranked all the way up. Since my
living room PC is used exclusively for gaming, I’m fine leaving it on all the
time.

Play PC Games in HDR

Next, it’s time to get HDR running in your
games. The PC Gaming Wiki has a great list
of games that support HDR
, so find a game on that list and start it up.
Open its graphical settings and ensure HDR is turned on.

Tomb Raider Settings HDR

Some games, like Shadow of the Tomb Raider,
require HDR to be turned on in Windows’ settings before launching the game. Some,
like Mass Effect: Andromeda, will automatically switch Windows into HDR mode
when you launch the game, which is really nice if you don’t want to keep it on
all the time. Other games still may not even show you the HDR option in their
own settings until Windows’ switch is flipped on.

When in doubt, look for that HDR badge in the
corner of your screen—if it’s an auto-switching game, you’ll see it pop up when
the game starts. In cases like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, you can switch HDR on
and off in the game’s settings to see if it’s working.

Use a scene that has both dark, shadowy areas
and bright highlights, like the sun streaming through a window in a dark area.
In scenes like that, the difference between HDR and SDR is quite noticeable.

Watch Movies and Other Videos in
HDR

Streaming HDR video is, sadly, just as clunky
as playing HDR games. Not only do you need HDR turned on in Windows, but if you
want to stream HDR content from a service like Netflix, you’ll also need to
purchase and install Microsoft’s HEVC Video Extension for $0.99 from
the Store. (I had to restart my PC after installing it, too.)

Once you have HDR turned on and the HEVC
extension installed, you should be able to stream HDR content from services
like Netflix. Note that Netflix’s HDR is currently only supported in Microsoft
Edge or in the dedicated Netflix app from the Microsoft Store.

Netflix the Witcher HDR

You’ll know HDR is working properly if an HDR
badge appears in the movie’s details when you click on it—if you don’t see a
badge that says HDR, you’ll need to do some troubleshooting. (Dolby Atmos and
Ultra HD 4K don’t count—if you see those badges without an “HDR” badge, HDR
isn’t working.)

Other apps, like YouTube, may have similar
requirements, but you’ll have to look up each individual service’s instructions
if you want to stream in HDR. If you have local HDR movies—say, those you ripped from a 4K Blu-ray—you should
be able to play them in an HDR-capable video player like VLC, even without the HEVC Video
Extension installed.

What to Do If You Run Into
Problems

There are many issues you may experience while
trying to use HDR in Windows 10. I ran into black screens, purple screens, HDR
not wanting to turn on, and other quirks throughout the process. The solution is often dependent on what model
TV you have, what settings you’re using, and however the universe is feeling
that day. But if you run into trouble, here are a few things worth trying:

Try
another HDMI cable

As I said earlier, even high-speed
cables from good brands may have problems, so it never hurts to try a spare. If
you’re on a PC monitor, you may also try switching to DisplayPort instead of
HDMI, or HDMI instead of DisplayPort, to help narrow down the source of the
problem. (On a TV, you can use a DisplayPort-to-HDMI
adapter
if necessary.)

TV ports

Try plugging
into another port

Some TVs and monitors may have
certain ports for 4K HDR, and if you’re plugged into the wrong one, you won’t
get the full bandwidth required. In addition, if you’re using a home theater
receiver, it may not be fully capable of 4K HDR at 60Hz. You’ll have to plug
directly into the TV and send the audio out to your receiver through a TOSLINK or other cable.

Update
your drivers

Seriously, did I mention that you should
update your drivers, even if they’re recent? Check and make sure you have the
latest version installed, or even try a beta version, if any are available.

Check
your TV’s settings

Your TV may still need another setting
tweaked in one way or another for HDR to work properly or look good. Again,
search Rtings.com for your TV and see what
they recommend doing.

Update
your TV’s firmware

I haven’t run into this issue
myself, but I have heard of certain TVs needing firmware updates in order
to render HDR properly in PC mode. If you haven’t checked your TV for software
updates in a while, it may be worth going into the settings and seeing if there
are new firmware versions available.

Hopefully, Microsoft and game developers will
improve the experience as time goes on, but for now it’s a bit hit-and-miss,
and can require some futzing to get working. But depending on the game, the
results can be well worth it, especially if you have a good display capable of
those deep blacks and bright highlights.

Further Reading

Gaming Reviews

Gaming Best Picks



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