HDR offers vastly improved image quality through brighter displays with massively expanded dynamic range. To use it, you’ll need to use an HDR-compatible monitor and I’ve created this page to help answer a lot of questions about which options to consider. We’ll look at general considerations and then options for three possible scenarios choosing a monitor: Apple laptop, Windows laptop, and external monitors (for Apple or Windows).
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Important HDR considerations
There are several considerations for an HDR monitor:
- Peak brightness (in nits, aka cd/m^2).
- This is the single most important criteria for HDR display. If the monitor doesn’t get bright enough, it will offer at best a mediocre HDR experience in anything other than a dark room.
- The absolute minimum for HDR support is 400 nits. A monitor at this level will offer about 1 stop of HDR when viewed at half brightness. That can offer a good experience when viewed in a dim room, but you wouldn’t get much benefit if the screen is near a window or outdoors. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t get very excited about any 400 nits monitor, and many of these monitors still fail to offer a true HDR experience.
- 600 nits is a noticeable step up over 400, but still just a decent HDR experience. I wouldn’t buy a new monitor just to get 600 nits. It’s just a nice bonus if you have it (and you’ll need to limit your brightness to about 50% of maximum to see real HDR benefit).
- 1000+ nits is where HDR gets truly exciting. Anything in this range will look excellent for HDR in a range of viewing conditions.
- Deep blacks
- HDR quality is ultimately about achieving a greater dynamic range, and having a washed out black (not truly black) reduces dynamic range. How much you benefit from deeper blacks depends on your ambient environment. A bright room (or one with bright lights) will reflect light on the screen and may significantly reduce the apparent value of deep blacks.
- Most monitors use a backlight to illuminate multiple pixels This is known as a “transmissive” display because the light is transmitted through the pixels (rather than emitted from each pixel individually). The LCD restricts the light to create pixels, but it cannot block 100% of the light, so black pixels are not truly black.
- The best transmissive displays use “local dimming”. These use more than one backlight so that dark areas in the image may use a darker backlight or perhaps turn it off entirely. This allows for much darker blacks as it reduced bleed through, and often allows for true black in pixels which are not near bright pixels. This also may show “blooming” where black pixels near bright pixels show as grey because those pixels share the same backlight. There are many variations of this approach and those with <100 zones don’t offer a lot of benefit. Look for “full array local dimming” (FALD) with ideally 500+ local zones.
- Some monitors (such OLED or future “micro” LED displays) are “missive” displays which emit light directly from the pixel. These monitors offer true black and significantly improve dynamic range (particularly when viewing in environments without bright ambient light). You may see such monitors marketed as having “infinite” contrast (since you’re dividing the brightness white pixel by a black pixel that is considered to be 0 nits).
- How does the monitor look with a reference image?
- There are so many considerations that there is no substitute for seeing the monitor yourself.
- If you are comparing monitors in a store, use Google Chrome to view my tests and example HDR images. Be especially sure to use test #8 to check the HDR headroom. This shows the real HDR benefit at the current monitor brightness (and SDR content brightness for Windows).
- Check system settings to ensure HDR is enabled in Windows or the display settings for an HDMI monitor on MacOS.
- Check that the SDR content brightness is 0-50 (if this slider is set too high on a 400 nits monitor, you won’t have any HDR headroom at all).
- Check that the monitor settings (brightness, etc) are reasonable.
- Non-HDR considerations:
- Look for a monitor which covers most or all of either the P3 or Adobe RGB gamut. Most HDR images will still look with a limited sRGB gamut, but don’t limit yourself to colors from the ’90s.
- You can experience HDR at any resolution and 4k resolution isn’t very important for photography with even 32″ monitors. Unless you’re editing 4k video, this is a place to consider saving some money.
- If you are going to evaluate images for print with your HDR monitor, all the standard considerations apply in terms of even illumination, etc. That said, I’ve made a lot of large prints using a budget monitor with proper calibration and profiling. Learn more about considerations for printing with HDR workflows here.
- High refresh rates are helpful for gaming, but not important for photography – and you may need use less than the maximum refresh rate in some setups to use HDR.
- HDR monitors are definitely a bit of an investment. Costs should start to come down as volumes increase in the coming years. The general range in late 2022 is about $500 – $3000 for most consumer options (but you can find $300 options and spend $35k on an HDR reference monitor).
- If you’re on a tight budget, you might wait a while or purchase a 400-600 nits monitor if you will be able to use it at half brightness.
- If you have a larger budget, get a 1000+ nits monitor for an outstanding display. The benefits of HDR increase substantially with these brighter monitors.
- GPU / video card / codec
- Microsoft customer support indicated that there is no specific GPU or video card requirement to enable HDR in Windows 10 or 11 so long as you have an HDR monitor.
- I’m not 100% confident that there aren’t exceptions to that, but I am not aware of any at this time.
- Apple explicitly lists their compatible HDR hardware here.
Apple HDR laptop
If you use Apple computers, their laptops make it very easy (and cost effective) to get into HDR. They’ve been shipping with HDR monitors back to 2018 (see the support list). So nearly any new or used laptop should support HDR, but you should check the list.
More significantly, any of their displays branded as “XDR” (such as the M1 MacBook Pro, recent iPads, etc) is outstanding. These displays offer peak brightness of 1600 nits or more. And they are very cost effective relative to other options. An entry level MacBook Pro costs the same as the typical external 1000+ nits screen. Of course the external screen is larger, but you’re getting an incredible HDR screen with these devices. This is an ideal way to get into HDR.
The MacBook Air offers 400-500 nits, which is great if you own one or need a laptop for other reasons, but I wouldn’t upgrade a laptop solely for the screen if it doesn’t offer at least 600-1000 nits.
Windows HDR laptop
The Windows laptop ecosystem is much more mixed/limited than what you’ll see at an Apple store today, so you’ll need to do more homework to find a suitable display. An external HDR monitor is probably the best option for most PC users at this time. There are some Windows laptops offering high levels of HDR display (I have not tried any of these and recommend further research on all your needs before you purchase any laptop):
- ASUS ROG Flow X16 GV601RW, (see latest price at Amazon)
- DisplayHDR 1000 certified
- ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo 16 GX650RW (see latest price at Amazon or B&H)
- DisplayHDR 1000 certified
- ASUS ProArt StudioBook 16 OLED Laptop H7600ZM-DB76 (see latest price at Amazon or B&H)
- DisplayHDR 600 True Black Certified
There are a handful of options at lower HDR specifications, but as with the MacBook Air, I wouldn’t buy one of these models solely for the display.
External HDR monitor
External monitors are of course required for desktop computers or for seeing images on a large screen when working with a laptop. Unfortunately, price points for the best HDR monitors remain quite high, but there are already several great options. I’ll offer some specific options to consider below, but first let’s take a look at the most important considerations.
I do not own the following monitors nor been able to evaluate them for an extended period of time, but believe they are well worth considering based on their specifications and/or my experience with them in stores. I’m including my rationale as to why I feel they are interesting, so that you may help determine if any of these are ideal for your needs:
- Best in class: Apple Pro Display XDR ($5-6,000; see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 1600 nits makes this an ideal option for HDR.
- Additionally it offers 32″ size, wide color gamut (99% P3), 6k resolution, 1600nits, Dolby Vision, great accuracy (ΔE < 1), .
- This monitor integrates extremely well with Macs and I’ve great feedback from a friend who uses it extensively for HDR. One particularly nice Mac feature is the ability to set specific SDR and HDR brightness values (the M1 / M2 MacBook Pro’s internal XDR display offers this as well). You get what you pay for, this is a truly excellent monitor.
- It works with Windows, but not all features/controls may be available. So you might use it secondarily with a PC, but I would not purchase it specifically for use with a PC.
- Excellent: ASUS ProArt Display PA32UCG (~$3,500; see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 1600 nits makes this an ideal option for HDR.
- Additionally it offers 32″, wide color gamut (98% P3), 4k resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, Dolby Vision, great accuracy (ΔE < 1), ProArt Hardware Calibration
- While I have not seen this model yet, I have seen its sibling which is optimized for gaming and already would consider that an excellent option (whereas this model is optimized for photography).
- This appears to be a great option to consider for anyone with a high budget. That said, reviews on its 27″ sibling aren’t good and I would want to make sure I bought with an option to return to make evaluate it before before committing.
- CAUTION for MacOS: Please see the comments section at the bottom of the page. There may be some driver limitations when using this or similar ASUS monitors with MacOS at this time. Please be sure to test or buy in a way you can easily return if you are using an Apple computer, or contact ASUS support for more information to confirm before you commit to this product.
- Very good: ASUS ROG Swift PG27UQ (~$2,500, see latest price on Amazon)
- 1000 nits peak brightness
- Also offers 27″ size, wide gamut (97% P3, 99% Adobe RGB)
- Note this monitor is more optimized for gaming, unlike the ProArt listed above.
- Very good: Apple Studio display (~$1500-2300, see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 600 nits
- Also offers 27″ size, 5k resolution, wide gamut (98% P3). There are various options for stand and a nano-texture option to reduce glare from bright ambient lights.
- Very good: BenQ EX2710U (~$900, see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 600 nits
- Also offers 27″ size, wide gamut (95% P3), 144Hz refresh rate
- Very good: LG 27GP950-B (~$800, see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- DisplayHDR 600 certified
- Also offers 27″ size, wide gamut (98% P3), 144Hz refresh rate
- Very good ASUS ProArt PA328CGV (~$700, see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 600 nits
- Also offers 32″ size, 165Hz refresh rate, good gamut (95% P3)
- Budget-friendly: LG 27UP850-W (~$500, see latest price on Amazon or B&H)
- 400 nits
- Also offers 27″ size, good gamut (95% P3)
In general, anything with a 1400 or 1000 nits DisplayHDR certification list will likely offer impressive HDR. Anything certified at lower brightness levels may be a good option for use in darker or controlled environments.
==> Be careful with the low end of the market, there’s definitely some junk out there with “HDR” slapped on the box. I recommend going to a store to compare the best and worst HDR monitors. Viewing my HDR tests and images on Google Chrome is a quick way to see for yourself.
I would be careful with gaming monitors for photography as they may show color fringing in fine details (such as text), may have curved monitors (which can cause more reflections from ambient light), and generally aren’t designed with photographers needs in mind. However, if you do a lot of gaming and photography is just one consideration for you, a gaming monitor may be a great choice. A few to consider:
- Very good: 34″ (curved) Dell Alienware QD-OLED Gaming Monitor AW3423DW (~$1200, see latest price on Amazon)
- 1000 nits
- Also offers large 34″ screen (curved), high refresh rate for gaming (175Hz, but I’m not sure the max allowed when HDR is enabled)
- Very good: 32″ (curved) Odyssey Neo G7 HDR2000 Curved Gaming Monitor – LS32BG752NNXGO (see latest price on Amazon)
- Claimed 2000 nits, but rtings.com puts it closer to 1000
- Also offers 32″ screen (curved)
- Good: 27″ Sony INZONE M9 (~$800, see latest price on Amazon)
- 600 nits
What's your experience?
There are far too many displays for me to try much of what’s on the market. Please comment below if you have extensive experience using Photoshop / Adobe Camera RAW with any of the above or other HDR monitors. I’d love to hear your impressions.