This weekend people who purchased the Ultimate Edition of Forza Horizon 3 have access to play it, and that means people are experiencing the first major showcase of HDR gaming. While there were reports of HDR support in the Xbox One version of NBA2K17, Forza Horizon’s Australian environments is the perfect showcase for the format and leads to unbelievable jaw-dropping results.
Most 4K HDR TVs will automatically switch over to HDR mode when Forza Horizon 3 launches. Despite some strange conspiracy theories online, this doesn’t affect “response time” with gaming. On TVs, HDR mode is simply another picture setting where the TV automatically adjusts the color and brightness levels to the correct settings for HDR video (the “Game” mode is the same, neither affects response time).
But even then you may need to make some internal adjustments within Forza Horizon 3 for optimal HDR playback. As my Sony 850D maxes the brightness in HDR mode, I needed to reduce Forza Horizon’s 3 internal brightness to the lowest level based on its calibration and then there is an internal brightness adjustment for HDR that you may need to crank a little higher.
Once correctly calibrated, there simply isn’t a better looking video game on any console or PC. Those who bought the digital version of Forza Horizon 3 also receive a Windows 10 version. I loaded up the Windows 10 version of the game and set everything to “Ultra” and ran the game at 1080p (I don’t have a 4K PC monitor). While the game does look impressive on the PC in Ultra running at 1080p/60, the Xbox One version running on the S in 1080p/30 with HDR turned on looks better. On a correctly calibrated HDR display, it’s almost literally a night and day difference between the two.
HDR makes all the difference in the world. In addition to the overall lighting looking much more realistic and natural, with amazing shadowing on display in the jungle sections of the maps, the high-end direct lighting is what really shows off HDR in my mind. From smaller lights such as artificial lights on the cars to the blinding natural light of the sun, on a true 4K TV that’s correctly calibrated you won’t be able to find more realistic looking environments in a video game.
My jaw hit the floor when I was playing a race during a sunny day and a rain storm began. The road became realistically slick and the sunlight reflecting off the wet road was stunning. You also get a similar effect during sunset on the coastal sections of the map with the sun reflecting off the ocean.
I think Microsoft chose the perfect game as a showcase for how great HDR can make a game look. Gears of War 4, out in just a couple of weeks, will also support HDR but that game’s tone and setting isn’t as vibrant as what you’ll see in Forza Horizon 3.
To experience HDR you do need an Xbox One S and a newer model 4K TV that supports HDR10 (virtually all do – Dolby Vision is rarer). If you’re running the Xbox One through a receiver, that device would also need to be able to pass through 4K HDR video. There are a few receivers on the market now that can, and Sony makes a pretty good one for about $300.
The market for HDR gaming is relatively small now as the format didn’t become prevalent on 4K TVs until just this year, but for those with a television that can support it they’ll be in for a real treat as more games begin to support it.
Note: While some sites are attempting to do screenshot and video comparisons to illustrate the HDR difference, such things are actually detrimental to showing off HDR. Unless you have a HDR display, your normal computer monitor simply can’t show off how different HDR looks. You need to see it for yourself.