Microsoft has announced it will bring the Xbox’s Auto HDR feature over to Windows 10. Over 1,000 titles will have HDR support retroactively added, vastly expanding the reach of the feature inside the PC ecosystem.
This is a great announcement for PC gaming. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the current HDR situation on PC sucks. Historically, PC gamers have prided themselves on the superior rendering capabilities and cutting-edge features available for the platform. Heck, demos like Half-Life 2: Lost Coast were available for PC over a decade ago. So why all the problems now?
HDR as implemented by Lost Coast used software algorithms to create the illusion of high dynamic range on standard dynamic range (SDR) displays. The situation today is rather different. The current TVs and monitors that offer HDR support today do so by offering a larger luminosity range and higher peak brightness than conventional panels. There’s a genuine level of hardware support today that didn’t exist 15 years ago, but it’s almost entirely focused on the console side of the industry. Monitor manufacturers have not moved to add HDR as a feature the way TV manufacturers have, and many games that support HDR on console don’t offer it as an option on PC.
Auto HDR for PC takes DX11 and DX12 games and converts them for HDR display on the fly, with no changes required. Future versions of Windows will have a toggle option to enable and disable the feature.
It’s not as good as a native HDR implementation, and Microsoft isn’t promising otherwise. The image above shows a comparison between the luminance of a standard display, how AutoHDR adjusts it, and finally what a native HDR implementation might look like. AutoHDR plays things conservatively, which is preferable to risking a game looking like a blown-out mess.
Auto HDR on the Xbox Series X works beautifully. I’ve never found a reason to disable it. It subtly enhances the look of older games without causing brightness issues. Currently, the feature is only available to Windows Insiders, but anything rolling out to early testers now we’ll get wrapped into the main OS sooner or later.
Bringing AutoHDR to PC should help solve the typical chicken/egg problem that bedevils the rollout of new hardware features. Auto HDR may not offer the same experience as a native implementation, but it will give HDR monitor owners a suite of content they can actually enjoy. This should help speed the adoption of HDR overall, and hopefully, give more game developers a reason to implement native support. You can find instructions for how to join the Windows Insider program and enable the feature here. Keep in mind that Windows Insider builds are not supposed to be installed on your daily PC.