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Windows 10’s busted HDR display support got a whole lot better in the April 2018 Update

For the most part, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update is as mundane as its name, offering few noteworthy flagship features. But it packs some decent enthusiast-friendly improvements under the hood, and one in particular piqued my interest: better high-dynamic-range (HDR) display support. More specifically, improved handling of standard-dynamic-range (SDR) content on HDR displays, something Windows has been woefully weak on.

And it works! Well, sort of. It’s still far from perfect and more of a hassle than it should be, but the Windows 10 April 2018 Update’s HDR behavior is substantially better than before.

PC HDR looks great, but using it sucks

HDR is firmly entrenched on televisions, but it’s still a relatively new feature for PCs, only appearing in monitors over the past year or so. As the term indicates, HDR panels support deep blacks and vibrant colors, emphasizing the contrast and hues in an image. When it works, HDR is straight-up glorious—a more dramatic visual upgrade than moving from 1080p to 4K resolution, for example.

But as I discovered while testing the Samsung CHG70 ($700 on Amazon), AMD’s FreeSync 2 vanguard, and the best monitor I’ve ever used, HDR support is broken in Windows 10.

High-dynamic-range content doesn’t automatically display in HDR. It plays in standard dynamic range by default. You need to head into Windows 10’s display settings and activate HDR to enjoy the enhanced visuals, but doing so plunges all non-HDR content into murkiness, casting a dim, gray hue over everything else. It’s ugly and unusable for standard tasks, so you’re forced to head into the display settings to manually enable HDR whenever you want to watch a video or play a game, then disable it when you’re done. FreeSync 2 displays include technology to automatically switch to HDR when you boot compatible games, then switch back to standard desktop settings when you’re done, but overall, the HDR experience on Windows 10 is a wonky, bleeding-edge mess.

It’s a shame given how seamless HDR is on televisions—or even on PC monitors if you hook one up to an Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro. On anything but computers, HDR just works.

Testing Windows 10’s HDR fix

Microsoft’s big Windows 10 April 2018 Update adds a new option in the form of a “Change brightness for SDR content” slider that doesn’t affect HDR content. (You can find it at Start Settings System Display HDR and WCG settings.) I’d hoped that enabling HDR and cranking that slider would be the mixed-use HDR holy grail we’ve been pining for on PCs.

win10 april 2018 hdr slider Brad Chacos/IDG

The HDR and wide color gamut options introduced in the Windows 10 April 2018 Update include a brightness slider for SDR content.

Nope. But it’s a gargantuan improvement. Seriously: gargantuan.

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