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What is HDR Supposed to Look Like?

HDR supposed to look like

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So you bought yourself a shiny new HDR TV or monitor. Good for you! But you turn it on, and everything still looks pretty much the same. A sinking feeling of despair washes over you as you think HDR is nothing more than a snake-oil scam. However, it’s not!

There are many reasons your HDR images may not look any better or even worse than a non-HDR display. 

Let’s jump in and see what it is supposed to look like, what could be wrong if it doesn’t, and how we can make your new display look the best it possibly can.

What is HDR Supposed to Look Like?

HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range,” and it is supposed to function just as the name implies. Enabling HDR on a display should extend the range of color and contrast on the panel, giving you a more realistic and nicer-looking image.

high dynamic range

There are a ton of factors that can influence just how good HDR looks on certain content, and it definitely is something that is a personal taste. 

Some people prefer the look with HDR off, while others can’t watch movies without it. The best way to know if it is something you need is to demo it on a screen and see where you fall on that spectrum.

Check out the following HDR YouTube video as an example of what HDR should look like:

The World in HDR in 4K (ULTRA HD)

Is HDR Supposed to Look Washed Out?

HDR content should not look washed out, and if it does, there is a good chance your television or monitor does not properly support this feature. Just because a display claims to have HDR abilities does not mean the implementation is good. 

If your screen has a low brightness and is a cheaper panel, there is a good chance that the HDR image will look quite bad.

But don’t worry. We’ll explain how to fix a washed-out HDR screen in the section below.

Turn on HDR on Windows 10 PC

How to Enable HDR in Windows 10

If you are using a Windows 10 computer and the HDR looks washed out, more than likely, you simply need to toggle on the feature inside of Windows. Let’s see how to do that so you can take full advantage of your high-quality HDR monitor.

Step 1

Click the start button and go to settings (or right click it and select settings in the pop up menu).

Step 2

In the Settings window, click on System.

Step 3

In the display settings, you will see a toggle to turn HDR on under the Windows HD Color section.

Step 4

Turn this option on, and you will now have enabled HDR in Windows.

Doing the above steps should fix any weird-looking images when trying to view movies, videos, or games in HDR.

For Apple devices, this will only work on external displays. You will not see this setting if you have a built-in display, like a Macbook Pro. 

Make sure your TV or monitor is connected and HDR enabled. Once done, you will be able to follow the steps above and get HDR enabled on your Mac.

Turn on HDR on Mac

turn on HDR on Mac

So now we know how to turn on HDR for a Windows user, but what about the Apple fans out there? 

Apple supports HDR, and turning it on is just as easy as Windows. So let’s see the steps you need to take to get it up and running on your Macintosh device.

Step 1

Click the Apple Menu

Step 2

Select System Preferences

Step 3

Select Displays

Step 4

Make sure the High Dynamic Range box is checked. Select it, and HDR will now be enabled if it is not.

How Do You Know if HDR is Good?

Most content is going to gain a noticeable quality improvement with HDR enabled. Both video games and movies will become more immersive, with the deep blacks and bright highlights creating much more enveloping scenes.

If your monitor or television can’t achieve proper brightness, then the HDR image you see will not be very good. Often this occurs if it is a super-budget model.

If that’s the case, it will often look washed out or way too dark. Play around with your display settings to see if you can improve the overall look, but chances are you won’t be able to save the picture from the less-than-optimal screen.

HDR Formats

HDR is in a weird place right now. There are five different HDR formats on the market, and not every format is compatible with every TV. This makes finding the right formats of HDR that line up with the content you consume difficult. 

HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and HLG (What are the differences and which one is the best?)

The Roku Ultra uses Dolby Vision. So does Roku-powered Smart TVs and Apple TV 4k.

The good news, for now, is that HDR10 is the most common format, and it is open source and compatible with every display you will find that has HDR enabled. So you will be able to watch most things in HDR as long as your display is labeled with HDR as a feature.

How Can I Make My HDR Look Good?

If your HDR is not up to par, the following things can help you. While not all HDR content is created equal (there are five standards of HDR, after all), you can do these steps to make sure you can get the most out of your favorite shows, movies, and games.

Buy a Good Display

Sony A90J 65 Inch TV with Dolby Vision HDR

Click the image for more info

The first and most obvious way to get a beautiful HDR image is to buy a high-quality display (TV or monitor) equipped with HDR. 

Buying a budget display is the one surefire way to get bad-looking HDR, which is not worth it in the long run. Do yourself a favor and pick up the slightly more expensive models, such as the Sony A90J , to get a better image that uses the full capability of HDR.

Color Calibration

How To Calibrate Your Monitor

Another extremely important thing to get the most out of your display is a simple color calibration. 

Often, a TV or monitor will not be perfectly color calibrated right out of the box. You will often get a better image by custom calibrating your display by suiting it to your eye or going the scientific route.

You can buy a pricey calibration unit to make it perfect. Or, if you don’t want to go that route, you can often find people online who have calibrated the display you purchased and will put their settings online. 

To do this, type in “your display model – color settings” and see if you get results. Often, you will find exactly what you need to make your monitor or TV really pop!

Frequently Asked Questions

1/ Why does HDR look so dark?

Why OLED or HDR Can Seem Too Dark, And What Does Brightness Really Mean?

HDR works by increasing the brightness of the highlights and deepening the shadows to achieve a greater than normal contrast. However, it can often make the dark areas of a scene a bit too dark. While this would be more life-like, it can often be a bit of a distraction for cinema.

2/ How do I fix dark HDR?

to fix dark HDR

You can adjust your display to get the amount of brightness that suits your eye without deterring from the enhancements afforded by the HDR setting. This will allow you to get the picture that looks the best to you without the frustrating dark sections in your movies or games.

3/ Can I watch SDR content in HDR?

If your favorite shows or movies are not available in HDR, you may not be completely out of luck. 

Many of the top television brands have a way to “upscale” SDR content into HDR that is very close to HDR quality. While it won’t be an exact match to an HDR experience, it will get you most of the way there.

As an example, check out Samsung’s HDR+.  This feature will take a standard dynamic range source (TV, DVD, etc) and upscale it into HDR.  It works quite well, though not as pleasing as a native HDR source.

SAMSUNG 65-Inch Class 4K UHD Quantum HDR Smart TV

Click the image for more info

4/ How do I fix a flashing screen when watching HDR content?

This issue generally comes from having insufficient HDMI cables. HDR content requires a high-speed HDMI cable to send the massive amount of data in a split second to push the HDR content to the display. If your screen is flashing to black, odds are you need a new high-speed HDMI cable.

8K Highwings High Speed HDMI Cable 2.1 48Gbps 6.6FT/2M

Click the image for more info


HDR is designed to give you better overall image quality and enhance your movie-watching experience (as well as your video game immersion). If it is deterring your enjoyment, your display has bad HDR, your calibrated is wrong, or you are not actually watching HDR content. 

Make sure all of those things are working properly to take your entertainment consumption to the next level because that’s the only way you’ll see what HDR is supposed to look like.

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