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Why Do 4K HDR Movies Look Dark on Your TVs? (Windows Laptops & PC)

Why Do 4K HDR Movies Look Dark on Your TVs? (Windows Laptops & PC)

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You’ve been a film fanatic since you were a kid, but you only recently got your hands on a 4K HDR-compatible TV. Ecstatic to start seeing your favorite movies in all their HDR glory, you pull up The Avengers and toggle HDR on. 

However, when HDR is enabled the movie looks much darker than you remember, making it difficult to see certain details on-screen. Thinking something’s wrong with the movie, you try pulling up a different one, but the second one looks just as dark as the first. 

Why do 4K HDR movies look so dark on your TV, windows laptop, or PC? And how can you make them look brighter? 

Keep reading to find out! 

Why Do 4K HDR Movies Look Dark on Your Display?

Let’s discuss a few reasons why a 4K HDR movie might look dark on your display. 

1. 4K HDR Movies Automatically Dim the Brightness Settings on Your Display

At times, your device’s HDR function’s default brightness settings may be darker than desired. Thus, enabling HDR on your PC, laptop, or TV will automatically prompt your screen to darken. 

Brightness on an LG TV is set to a low level

HDR makes images look more intense and defined by enhancing the contrast between the image’s dark and light areas, which can make the image appear darker. 

Many frequent HDR users have discussed their phenomenon in online forums, like in this Reddit thread.  

While this issue is common, it’s not unsolvable, and you can find solutions to it in the following section. 

2. Your Display Might Not Be Suitable for HDR

notification on Roku shows that the TV display is not supported for 4K HDR

4K HDR has become an increasingly popular feature, and thus, many displays proudly boast its capabilities. However, not every TV or monitor labeled “4K HDR” can properly display HDR content, leading to the videos looking darker when this function is enabled. 

In this case, your display may be bright enough to display standard content but may fall short when displaying HDR content as this function tends to make images darker. 

If you’re shopping for a 4K HDR display, bear in mind that this feature requires a minimum peak brightness of 400 nits.  

If your display’s brightness does not meet this minimum requirement, HDR content may appear unusually dark. However, as this is the minimum suggested brightness, 400 nit-TVs may still not be bright enough for certain HDR movies. 

So, if you want to ensure your TV can properly display HDR content, it’s best to look for one that has a brightness level of 600 to 1000 nits.

Brightness levels and HDR can be a somewhat complicated topic to navigate. Luckily, you can head to our detailed article What is the Minimum Brightness for HDR? for more guidance. 

If your current display is only 400 nits or darker, consider switching to SDR to brighten the screen while still maintaining a high-contrast image. 

3. Your TV May Have a Darker Default Screen When Displaying HDR Content

The reality is that your TV’s brightness when displaying HDR content may strongly rely on its default settings. Depending on the TV, the HDR output may be brighter or darker. 

Some TVs, like the LG QNED80, may appear brighter than others, such as the Sony X90K TV. Here, the brightness is simply a result of the TV’s default settings, rather than its overall dark screen or 4K HDR brightness settings. 

comparison of 4K HDR image between Sony TV and LG TV

If you’re not used to watching 4K HDR content on your TV, it may take a while to adjust to the dark image. However, after the first half of a movie, you probably won’t notice the screen’s darkness anymore. 

If the screen’s darkness is still bothering you, try increasing your TV’s brightness settings to offset the HDR’s default settings. You may also want to consider turning off your room’s lights or drawing the curtain to make it easier to see the image on-screen. 

How to Make 4K HDR Movies Brighter on Your Display

You have a hunch as to why 4K HDR content looks so dark on your display, and now it’s time to figure out how to make it brighter. 

Follow the solutions below to brighten your HDR movie in a few simple steps. 

1. Adjust Windows HDR Setting (for Laptop/Windows Users)

If you’re watching HDR content on your Windows laptop or PC, altering your device’s HDR setting can help maintain the screen’s brightness. 

Let’s learn how! 

Windows 10

Step 1: On your keyboard, tap the Windows key before heading to Settings, System, and then Display

select Display in Windows settings

Step 2: Go to Windows HD Color Settings

go to Windows HD Colour settings

Step 3: Choose the HDR-supported display connected to your device from the drop-down menu. Then, ensure the Use HDR option at the bottom of the window is toggled On

toggle Use HDR On in Windows HD Colour settings

Step 4: Head to the HDR/SDR brightness balance section before ensuring you’re opening this settings window on the display you want to adjust the brightness on

navigate to HDR or SDR brightness balance in Windows HD Colour settings

Step 5: From here, use the slider scale to adjust the brightness to your desired level. 

the scaler to adjust the HDR or SDR brightness balance in Windows 10

Windows 11

Step 1: Press your keyboard’s Windows key. Then, launch the Settings menu and go to System followed by Display

select Display settings in Windows 11

Step 2: Navigate to the Brightness & color section and click on HDR

select the HDR option in Windows 11 Display settings

Step 3: Choose your HDR-supported display connected to your laptop or PC before ensuring Use HDR is toggled On

toggle Use HDR to On in Windows 11

Step 4: Go to the HDR/SDR brightness section and ensure the settings window is opened on the display whose brightness you want to adjust

navigate to SDR content brightness in Windows 11

Step 5: Adjust the brightness using the slider scale. 

the scaler to adjust SDR or HDR content brightness in Windows 11

2. Adjust the Brightness Settings on Your TV/Monitor

If you can’t increase the HDR content’s brightness, you can try increasing your display’s brightness instead. This will make your entire TV/monitor appear brighter, which should help you see your 4K HDR movie all that much better. 

TV and monitor settings vary widely depending on the brand and model. To help you out, we’ve listed instructions on how to do this on an LG TV. If you have another TV brand or are using a monitor, you may want to search for how to increase its brightness online or in its user manual. 

Follow the steps below to increase your LG TV’s brightness. 

Step 1: Press your remote’s Settings button to launch the Menu settings screen. 

Settings button on LG TV remote

Step 2: Head to All Settings before clicking Picture

the Picture settings on LG TV

Step 3: Go to Advanced Settings

the Picture Advanced Settings option on LG TV

Step 4: Navigate to Brightness

the Brightness option on LG TV Display Advanced Settings

Step 5: From here, you can either adjust Panel Brightness or Screen Brightness until you’ve reached your desired brightness. 

the Screen Brightness option on LG TV Brightness settings

3. Turn Off the Lights in Your Room

If all else fails, darkening your room will help your TV or monitor look brighter in comparison. Turn off the lights and close the curtains before playing a 4K HDR movie. 

Not only will this decrease the effect of ambient lighting on the screen brightness, but it will also minimize any screen glare, helping the image look more even and diminishing hot spots on-screen. 


a 4K HDR-labeled movie on an Apple TV screen

1. What Is 4K?

4K refers to screen resolution, i.e., the number of pixels that fit a screen.

It’s also known as Ultra HD or UHD. The horizontal display resolution is approximately 4,000 pixels

It should be noted that 4K differs between consumer standards and movie standards.

4K refers to 3840 x 2160 pixels for consumer media and television. However, in movie projection, it often refers to 4096 x 2160 pixels.

This significantly improves quality because it consists of four times as many pixels as the next best display, 1080p. It’s also more than 23 times the resolution of standard-definition television. 

2. What Is HDR?

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is often confused with 4K. In fact, they’re sometimes used interchangeably.

However, this is false.

While 4K refers to resolution, HDR refers to color range and contrast, i.e., the difference between the darkest and lightest tones in any given image.

Therefore, HDR intensifies contrast without overexposing the bright tones or underexposing the dark tones in an image.

HDR creates more contrast than Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) and has more visual impact. Compared to SDR, HDR has more detailed images, better color shading, and more accurate colors.

Therefore, while 4K sharpens an image, HDR ensures it is highly contrasted.

Because of this, 4K and HDR are not mutually exclusive. HDR expands color range and light, and is often available in 4K. 

While not all 4K content is HDR, the content available in 4K HDR is enhanced both in terms of clarity and contrast.

3. Why Does HDR Appear Washed Out?

Watching content in HDR mode on a Windows laptop or PC can sometimes lead to the picture looking duller and more washed out than it usually does when played in SDR mode. 

This is due to SDR applications’ default brightness which, when in HDR mode, is often too dark for users. At other times, the same content may look too bright depending on the device’s SDR settings. 

While this problem is annoying, it’s relatively easy to fix by adjusting HDR and SDR content’s brightness balance via the Windows HD Color Settings by following the above instructions.

Wrapping Things Up

Due to HDR’s contrast-enhancing nature, it’s not uncommon for 4K HDR movies to look darker than other non-HDR content. 

In some cases, this may be a result of your TV or monitor being too dark to properly display HDR content without overtly dimming the screen. However, if your display is bright enough to support this mode, you can make 4K HDR movies appear brighter by adjusting your Windows laptop/PC’s settings or increasing your TV’s overall brightness. 

In some cases, turning off the lights and shutting the curtains may be your best bet at making your display appear brighter. 

What’s your experience with 4K HDR movies looking dark on your display? Which of our solutions helped make your high-res movie nights a bit brighter? 

Let us know in the comments below!

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