HDR gaming has been hotly anticipated (at least by me) since new of the Xbox One S broke but only recently did the first HDR games start hitting the market. One of the first, Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate, made for the perfect HDR gaming test subject and I have to say it was very enjoyable.
Before we get too far let me breakdown my HDR gaming setup and settings to give you a better idea of how I tested FH3 and so that you can get setup yourself if you have a similar TV.
For this review I hooked the Xbox One S up to my Samsung KS8000 which supports HDR10 (if you didn’t know there are a couple HDR formats but the Xbox One S requires a TV with HDR10 to play/show HDR content).
The Xbox One S does a good job auto-detecting the capabilities of the TV you’re connecting it to. You can check to see if your setup is good to go and if you have the proper settings in place by checkin the taking a peek at picture output and then advanced under settings on your Xbox. If things look good you’ll see nothing but green check marks lettings you know you’re connected to a TV that supports HDR and 4K.
On the TV side of things I went with the recommended settings from RTINGS.com: the special viewing mode was set to Game Mode, the backlight to max, the Smart LED to High and the Color Space to Native. The one thing that gave me some trouble while trying to hook the KS8000 up to the Xbox One S for HDR gaming was not realizing that I needed to set the HDMI UHD Color to enabled for the specific HDMI port I was using in the advanced picture settings menu. One I got that switched on everything worked beautifully.
And yes, the Samsung KS8000 absolutely runs games in HDR while in Game Mode — you don’t have to have it set to HDR+.
Once you’ve got everything setup right you’ll see a dialog box the first time you launch FH3 asking you to adjust the HDR brightness by moving a slider until the white Forza logo just disappears. You’ll also see a notification (on this particular TV) letting you know an HDR video is playing when the FH3 intro starts up.
Now the whole point of HDR video and HDR in gaming is to see a broader range of color. In more practical terms that means that bright and dark areas won’t automatically get clipped to black and white: when everything’s firing on all cylinders you’ll end up seeing and appreciating more details in those areas.
So how does HDR impact the playing experience in FH3? The simple (and annoying answer) is that everything just looks noticeably better. More than slightly better but less less than insanely better. But I’ll be more specific.
Little details like water droplets moving up the windshield when you’re driving through water (not just on the beach, there are several fun lakes to cruise around in this game) look really great. And bigger details like how the surfaces of cars reflect images of their surroundings become pretty jaw-dropping:. Pure eye candy.
And the cars really do look so good in HDR and upscaled 4K in FH3. I’ve driven a Lamborghini IRL and, while driving in a video game can’t match the real experience, what’s cool is that a Lamborghini might actually look better in the game thanks to the reflections and settings.
One particular area where you can really notice the HDR boost is when you’re in a tunnel and there is dark and bright areas on the screen all at once (whether the light is coming from the headlights, the end of the tunnel or glowing fluorescent objects on the cave walls). Here it’s cool to be able to pick out more details where you might not otherwise be able to discern anything.
Same goes for when you are driving down a well-lit road with the sun in the sky and there are lots of shadows stretching across the asphalt.
If I had to pick a favorite scene in this game where HDR really shines it would probably be driving at sunset when the colors and lighting get surreal.
Ironically you might notice HDR more when you switch back to a game that doesn’t support it. When I went from Forza Horizon 3 to Overwatch or Star Wars Battlefront both games appeared a bit more washed out in comparison.
But HDR in gaming doesn’t magically make everything look life-like and more realistic. People’s hair or leaves waving in the wind can still look pretty cartoony. And even with that 4K upscaling on the Xbox One S you’re still going to see some aliasing and jaggedness in places.
But overall I’m really loving my introduction to the HDR gaming experience. I can’t wait for more games to gain HDR. And there’s something really fun about playing what might be one of the best looking console games ever at top settings.
So if you’re wondering if HDR makes gaming more enjoyable (or if it makes a difference) I would say it does. Is it worth upgrading your gaming or home entertainment setup in order to get? That’s a tougher question. On the TV front it’s not a bad idea to get a TV that can handle 4K and HDR: it’s just going to help you future-proof your setup as much as that is possible. On the gaming console front, a game like Forza Horizon 3 would still be a lot of fun to play and would still look pretty great even without HDR. But if you want the best possible console gaming experience then I would say you will feel good going all-in. But remember, the Scorpio is coming next year.
And if you’re wondering if the Samsung KS8000 is a good TV for gaming I’d say it definitely is. The input lag is way under 50ms which means most people wont’ be able to notice and of course it does support 4K HDR content. I reviewed it not long ago on DailyTekk’s YouTube channel if you’re interested in learning more.