Dec 7, 2017

Do not be scammed into buying a "HDR" monitor.

I've been on the lookout for a HDR monitor for a while now. I love my Sony x900e but lets face it, the input lag is mediocre at best and I definitely cant relax or stream at my desk and enjoy 4k HDR on a 65 in TV. So I began looking. I read an insane amount of articles between CES earlier this year to current. I went to forums. I read through countless amazon reviews and questions. In August it finally hit me. I realized a common yet HORRIBLE theme thats occurred with every major manufacture thats ever produced a "HDR" monitor to date. That is that NONE of them are ACTUAL HDR! Whats worse is that retailers, youtubers, and journalists alike are tricked into advertising and selling FAKE HDR monitors for them. Even our own beloved site is guilty of this! Look at the "Samsung 49-Inch QLED HDR 144hz Gaming Monitor" aka the CHG90. It prominently displays that it has HDR. I assure you. It does not.
In 2015 the UHD Alliance was founded by Samsung, Sony, Netflix, Disney, Panasonic, Dolby, Warner Brothers...basically every major company who deals with creating, providing, or displaying video content. This coalition was formed for a single purpose, create definitions and standards on the behalf of the consumer in order to provide confidence when buying the next generation of video technology. If you've ever seen the "UHD" or "Ultra HD" television, its more than just a neat way of saying 4k...its actual branding that says its met the UHD standards for 4k displays and that we aren't receiving cheap 2k x 2k panels(anyone remember those days?). They created the branding as well as the standard and certification in order to bear the branding for High Dynamic Range(HDR). So what is the standard?
A HDR display is defined by the following standards in order to receive certification:
1) A 10 bit panel.
This is the foundation for what HDR even is. It takes us from 19.7 million color to 1.07 BILLION colors. All those extra colors its what allows us to see insane details in scenes with very dark or light surroundings. Think about being in a trying to spot the enemy. All those extra colors allows you to pick out specific details in the dark environment when previously we mistook rocks and enemies alike among the big blobs of grey and black.
2) 1 ,000 nits peak brightness and less than 0.05nits black level
This ensures that the display can get bright enough and dark enough to display every single shade of the 1.07 billion colors. Anything less results in certain shades of every color being blurred together to the point where they are indistinguishable by the human eye.
Televisions have been meeting these standards consistently for years now. However, believe it or not, when it comes to monitors, manufactures not only miss ONE of these standards for their "HDR" monitors...THEY MISS BOTH! Not only are a vast majority of monitors are not bright enough for the human eye to make out all the additional colors provided by HDR, but the panels aren't even 10 bit to begin with. To put that into context, a VAST majority of "HDR" monitors are incapable of displaying 1.057 BILLION COLORS that, by definition, its supposed to! So how can manufactures sell us FAKE HDR? That part is pretty simple.
All forms of media turned basically turned HDR into a buzzword rather than a standard. Unlike televisions, when we buy a monitor, generally buying online is really the only choice. We don't see the stickers/certification or the HDR certified branding. We are buying based off the buzzword. Thats where they get us.
What Samsung, LG, Dell(insert monitor manufacture here)..have been doing is creating their own brand of HDR. Samsung has "Samsung HDR", Dell has "Dell HDR", and LG has "HDR Pro". Regardless they all mean the same thing. A internal algorithm that makes a poor attempt at tricking people into believing they are seeing HDR. The fact is that their software actually does the OPPOSITE of HDR. They scan every frame and finds light and dark colors and makes them lighter or darker to artificially widen the light and dark gaps on the screen. Afterwards it finds details and textures on the screen and scans the surrounding pixels and changes their color to make the the detail stand out. So, while ACTUAL HDR uses hardware that ADDS a lot more colors and as well as the brightness to distinguish each color better. FAKE HDR actually REMOVES colors and tries to trick people into believing artificially created contrast is what HDR "does".
The other common trick I've seen is by "supporting" actual HDR formats like HDR10. Its very convincing, but still misleading. These companies can "support" these formats all they want...if their monitor cant display anything but 8 bit color and has a 350nit brightness...its STILL NOT HDR!
How the companies actually got us to buy these monitors to begin with is from pure poor and lazy journalism. Anyone who reports on the tech industry knows that we all love the buzzword "HDR". When they go to things like CES 2017 and they visit Samsung, Dell etc.. they will walk through their new monitors and note what they have coming out. They take their notes and were probably even told and wrote down that these monitors have "DELL HDR" or "Samsung HDR" or whatever. However, when they sit down to write an article or make a video for their site or youtube channel. Do you think they use "Dell HDR"? NO! Why would they? That would be dumb! They would to stop and explain what this manufactures specific fake HDR does and how its different than actual HDR. So they say its "HDR capable" and move on. I actually went to 10 different sites about HDR Monitors back in august(what sparked this discovery). In 9 out of 10 articles. More than 80% of the monitors they featured as "HDR" weren't capable of it, and the ones that will be, still aren't out to date.
This trend continues. When it comes to retailers search engines and feature/spec sheets they don't want to have to create a Samsung HDR as well as a Dell HDR field to check off. So its just HDR and thats it.
Lets take a look at evidence of this on our own site. It specifically list the CHG90 monitor as having HDR. However, looking at the specs, it has 350 nit brightness. Even if we go by the OLED/QLED standards for premium displays aka UHD Premium(HDR +) call for a minimum of 500 nit peak brightness and a black level of less than .0005. This monitor hits neither of those specs meaning it can only detail a fraction of the 1.7 billion colors it claims to get. After some digging though, I have verified it has a regular 8 bit panel. I haven't found a single place(even on Samsungs own site) where it states that it supports HDR10 or DolbyVision. This would be a MINIMAL thing to put into the specs if it was actually HDR capable. In summary, this model has failed to achieve ANY of the required specifications. It is no closer to a HDR monitor than the ones I currently have. Yet, interestingly enough, is still advertised as an HDR monitor. This is just ONE monitors...I promise there have been and will more on this site in the near future.
https://www.massdrop.com/buy/samsung-49-qled-hdr-144hz-gaming-monitor
Heres the ACTUAL truth for ALL HDR monitors. As of TODAY, 8/6. There is ONE and ONLY one monitor on the market thats available and for sale that I know of from ANY major manufacture. Its the Dell UltraSharp 27 Premier Color UltraHD 4K HDR10 Monitor aka the UP2718Q. So, Basically from now till late 1st or even 2nd quarter 2018...if you see a monitor that claims HDR......and its not this Dell..you can almost be certain it is not.
Just to point out something about this monitors page on Dell's site... like you'd expect from the only HDR monitor on the market it LOUDLY boasts the format it supports, the 1000nit brightness, the fact that it meets the standard. I point this out because its pretty easy to spot if a monitor is actually HDR or not based off what information is hidden away in the specs. For instance Samsungs own specs sheet on their own site for the aforementioned monitor, It doesn't say what kind of panel it is, 8 or 10 bit or if it supports either of the main HDR formats. Basic info that every actual HDR display would have on it.
Anyway, any input is welcome on the matter. I'm hoping to put together a comprehensive article I can share around the internet to try to keep companies from scamming an extra $100 to $200 from each buyer for a feature they are not actually delivering based off incorrect assumptions and misinformation backed by the media and retailers. This has costed gamers millions of hard earned dollars this year alone. Im just trying to do my best to prevent as many people from being suckered into it as possible.
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Take all of my upvotes. Never knew anything about these but I'm glad I was able to read your run through of this situation before looking at monitors.
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