High Dynamic Range (HDR) Video is a game changer for movies, TV and video games. Microsoft̵
How Auto-HDR works
HDR video is a step forward for display technology. It uses a wider range of colors and bright highlights to create a more realistic, natural looking image. There are a handful of competing HDR formats, but the Xbox Series X and S use HDR10 by default. (Dolby Vision support will arrive sometime in the future.)
To display HDR video, you also need a TV that supports it. If you’ve bought a TV in recent years, chances are Microsoft’s HDR implementation will work fine. However, if you’re buying a TV specifically for gaming, make sure HDR is on your list of must-have features.
Auto HDR is a technology developed by Microsoft for the Xbox Series consoles. It uses artificial intelligence to convert a standard dynamic range (SDR) source into an HDR image. This is made possible by Microsoft’s use of machine learning. It trains the Auto-HDR algorithm to have a good understanding of what an image should look like.
This function is mainly used to enhance an SDR photo with HDR highlights. For example, the sun and other direct light sources will be noticeably brighter than the rest of the image, just like in real life. Increased brightness can also really make colors stand out, creating a more vivid image.
The feature is available on a variety of titles, including original Xbox and Xbox 360 games, as well as Xbox One games presented in SDR. Games that have already implemented HDR are not affected by Auto-HDR as they use their own implementation of “true” HDR.
RELATED: HDR format comparison: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG and Technicolor
First calibrate your Xbox
One of the most important aspects of a good HDR presentation is a precisely calibrated display. This tells the console what your TV is capable of in terms of highlights and black levels. Fortunately, there is an app for that!
First, you need to make sure your TV is in game mode. With your Xbox Series X or S turned on, tap the Xbox button on the controller. Then use the bumper buttons to select Power and system> Settings> General> TV and display settings. From there, select “Calibrate HDR for Games” to start the process.
Follow the on-screen instructions to adjust the buttons until everything looks just right. If you ever switch to a different TV or monitor, you will need to run the HDR calibration again. If you adjust settings on your TV, such as brightness or picture mode, you may also want to run the calibrator again.
Once your TV is calibrated, it’s time to fire up some games!
RELATED: What does “Game Mode” mean on my TV or monitor?
How does Auto HDR perform?
In our testing, Auto-HDR generally worked well. Some games worked better than others, but nothing we encountered made us consider disabling the feature. However, your experience may vary depending on the title you are playing.
In general, the photo was more punchy with more contrast. Surprisingly, Auto HDR doesn’t suffer from too many of the “fake HDR” problems you often see on TV. You might get a strange in-game character with eyes that glow a little too much, or a user interface (UI) element that is a little too bright.
Jeffrey Grubb of Games Beat (see video below) and Adam Fairclough of YouTube channel HDTVTest revealed that most games reach a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits. This level of brightness is comparable to what most modern televisions can reproduce. It’s also something Microsoft can always tweak in the future as the screens get even brighter.
If your TV cannot reach the maximum brightness of 1000 nits, the picture will be displayed in tone mapping so it does not exceed the capabilities of your screen. You won’t miss out on a lot of detail if you own an older TV or OLED, though, as neither achieves the same peak brightness as the latest LEDs and LCDs.
This feature makes almost all older games look better, which is why Microsoft has Auto-HDR enabled by default. However, the company turned the feature off for games that didn’t fit well with the technology. These titles are rare, but they do include some classics, such as Fallout: New Vegas.
If you’re having trouble rendering a game, make system-level changes in the HDR calibration app first to make sure everything is set up correctly. Adjusting the in-game gamut can pose even more problems, so it’s best to leave that as a last resort.
In some cases, Auto-HDR is truly transformative. In combination with upscaling the resolution and a solid frame rate, the added eye candy, contrast and peak brightness make for a much more enjoyable experience. It even makes some games released 15 years ago look modern.
However, it is not for everyone; if you have a hard time with it, you can always disable the feature at the system level.
How to turn off Auto-HDR
If you don’t like the Auto-HDR effect, or if you have problems with a particular game, you can turn it off. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do this game-by-game, so make sure to turn it back on before playing anything else.
To turn off Auto-HDR, turn on your console and press the Xbox button on your controller. Select Power & System> Settings> General> TV & Display Options> Video Modes and turn off Auto HDR.
You must restart all currently running games for your changes to take effect.
You can also do this if you prefer to play a game in its original, unaltered state. If you find certain highlights (like UI elements) that stand out more than they should be distracting, you can also fix this by turning off Auto-HDR.
Breathing new life into old games
Auto-HDR is a great feature available at launch to help Series X and S tread water at a time when new games are scarce. If you already have a library of Xbox titles, or if you just go with Game Pass, Auto-HDR applies a welcome coat of next-generation paint to older titles.
Wondering which Xbox console is right for you? Be sure to check out our comparison.
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