FAQ About TV Settings for HDR Gaming

HDR Calibration post

Why do I need to adjust the calibration HDR settings of games?
All TVs and monitors have different peak brightness and other characteristics. Watching movies or TV Shows with HDR support, you do not think that this content was created on a studio master monitor with characteristics different from your TV / monitor and you do not experience problems, since video files contain metadata that allow your TV to do tone mapping (adapt the brightness of all content to the characteristics of your TV). But in the case of HDR games, the situation is different: this is a direct streaming video signal that cannot contain metadata. That is, your TV showing such a HDR image does not know whether it shows too dark an image or vice versa, the peak brightness is much higher than the capabilities of your TV. In order for the image to look as correct as possible, it is necessary that the peak brightness of the game becomes equal to the peak brightness that your TV is able to show and the black level is also correct for your TV. For this purpose, there are calibration settings of the HDR.

What if I adjusted incorrectly?
The image will look incorrect. If the peak brightness is set incorrectly, the image will be too dim or, conversely, too overexposed. 
If the black level is set incorrectly, then the image may have washed out non-bright colors with low contrast or, conversely, excessively contrasting with excessive saturation.

Why are TV settings important?
TV settings are closely related to HDR game settings. Your TV is now a reference display, under which you have to adjust the settings of the games. But if your TV settings are initially incorrect, then all subsequent calibrations of games will be erroneous. For example: reducing the brightness of the backlight will cause incorrect determination of the peak brightness of your TV, dynamic contrast may cause incorrect determination of the black level, etc.

Why is it better to use different TV profiles (picture modes) in HDR mode for gaming and movies?
You may wonder why HDR movies look great, but HDR games look bad with the same TV settings. Or vice versa, after setting up games, you wonder why HDR movies look bad. There are many reasons. For example, I talked in a video about the concepts of limited/full dynamic range. If your console has an HDMI 2.0 port or your TV has an HDMI 2.0 port that the console is connected to, then the HDR image will be displayed in limited HDR 64-940 mode due to the speed limit. And even manually switching the console settings full/limited may not change this. While HDR video files are always displayed in the full dynamic range 0-1023 and have no problems. That is, the HDR video looks great with a deep black level, saturated colors and bright light sources, but when you turn on the console, the games look with blurred colors, low contrast with the brightness of the entire image. In addition, if your console has HDMI 2.1 and is connected to the TV in the HDMI 2.1 port, but you have activated VRR/120Hz mode, then you can also get a forced limited dynamic range.
Also, most modern TVs have a special game mode that can have additional adjustment functionality or have a lowered input lag that reduces the video signal delay when the controller is pressed. But this is not necessary when watching HDR movies, especially if you notice image deterioration (resolution, etc.) in game mode.

I still don't understand what I should do
  • Make sure that improvements are activated in the TV settings for the HDMI port to which the console is connected (HDMI ULTRA HD Deep Color, HDMI Enhanced Format, Input Signal Plus, HDR10+ Gaming, VRR, etc.).
  • Select the game profile in the TV settings. If your TV has a separate PC Gaming mode, you can try to choose to support chroma 4:4:4.
  • Set the maximum backlight level and disable the option that can automatically adjust the backlight (power energy saving), disable dynamic image enhancement options such as Dynamic contrast, Live Color, motion interpolation, Noise Reduction, etc.
  • Leave the brightness, contrast, and color values in a balanced position.
  • Set the gamma value to 2.2.
  • Depending on how the dynamic range is used (full / limited - see the previous paragraph), set the black level low / high (options may be called differently, for example, HDMI Video Range)
  • Set the HGIG or DTM mode depending on the game.

To adjust the system calibration settings of the console and adjust the in-game peak brightness settings, use the TV mode of disabled tone mapping (HGIG). For games that have a fixed peak brightness that cannot be adjusted, use the Tone mapping mode (DTM). You should understand that when the game settings or system calibration settings require you to adjust the brightness (increase the brightness until the figure on a white background becomes barely visible or set the exact brightness value in Nit), it is assumed that you are doing this in the mode of disabled tone mapping of your TV (HGIG).

My TV does not have the HGIG mode (completely disabling tone mapping). What to do?
If your TV does not have a full tone mapping (HGIG) mode, always uses tone tapping, or you have specifically activated DTM mode, then fine-tuning the peak brightness of the console game does not make much sense. In this case, the symbol may become barely visible on the brightness 1000 / 2000 / 4000 / 10k or even stay clearly visible anyway. The adjustment will be inaccurate in any case, since your TV additionally produces tone mapping (transformation of brightness levels to suit the capabilities of your TV). 
You can increase the value of the slider until the test figur disappears (if possible) or set the brightness to a few thousand nits if required. But do not attach great importance to the accuracy of this step.

I can't find the peak brightness value of my TV
Check on specialized websites such as RTINGS.COM. If the value could not be found, you can use in-game calibration settings of games such as Hitman 3, FIFA, Battlefield 1/V. The games have a pretty accurate slider in Nits. Having made the symbol invisible, you will know the peak brightness of your TV by the resulting slider value. But keep in mind, this is relevant for the disabled tone mapping (HGIG) mode (see the information above).  If your TV can't turn off the  tone mapping, then you don't need to search for the exact peak brightness value of this TV.

TV peak Brightness

The peak brightness of my TV is very low or below the minimum that the game can set
Yes, there may be such a situation. For example, RDR2 or Gears of War 4 have a minimum peak brightness value of 500nits in the settings, but your budget TV has only 300nits. In this case, try the tone mapping modes of your TV, but compare the image in SDR mode. If the game looks no worse or better in SDR mode than in HDR, then there is it makes no sense to use HDR.

How to understand whether the game uses the system HDR calibration settings of the console or uses only in-game settings?
It's simple. Adjust the PS5 or Xbox system settings correctly and look at a very bright area in the game (for example, the sun, lantern, fire, etc.). These light sources should be bright enough and have a brightness close to the limits of your TV. After that, close the game, reduce the peak brightness values in the console system settings and look at the same areas of light in the game again. If they seem dimmer, then the console system settings are used, if they remain the same, then the system settings are not used.

Why adjust the system HDR console settings if almost no game uses them?
The system settings must always be adjusted correctly. It is not always clear whether the game uses system settings. In addition, the game can use system calibration settings but have additional settings in the game.

Why does the game look dim or too bright
There are several reasons on which the final picture depends:
  1. The game itself: the implementation of lighting at the level of game development. If the implementation of HDR in a certain game is not the best, then setting up TV and games will not fix it.
  2. Your TV. The capabilities and characteristics of yours matter. The same game on different TV may look different. In addition, a common mistake: the game uses the system calibration settings of the HDR, you set them in the HGIG mode, but switched to the DTM mode during the game (or vice versa). This is wrong. Another common problem: your TV always performs tone mapping and the images in general (exposure) are too bright/dim always or only in some scenes. This is how your TV does tone mapping. If the game has exposure settings, try adjusting by finding an acceptable value. Keep in mind that in some scenes the images may look good, but bad in others. find a compromise.
  3. Calibration settings of the game. Make sure that you correctly adjusted the calibration settings of the game and did it with the correct TV settings. The brightest light sources (for example, the sun) should be as bright as possible, but at the same time you should perfectly see the details around (sky, clouds, etc.).

Why does the game have washed out colors and low contrast?
As in the previous paragraph:
  1. The game itself may have problems with the black level. In this case, try to compensate for this by using the TV settings or use ReShade app for PC. But the result will not necessarily be satisfactory.
  2. Make sure that you have selected the correct TV settings before setting up the game. A common mistake: the console works with your TV in the limited dynamic range mode, but the range or black level settings of your TV are set to "Full". Note that setting the Auto mode in the console and TV menu will not necessarily work correctly.
  3. If the game has black or gamma level settings, make sure that you have configured it correctly.
Also note that in some games, excessively deep black can cause excessive color saturation.

PS5 HDR Calibration

And yet the test figure should be barely visible or not visible at all?
You should understand: if the figure is visible, its brightness is lower than the peak brightness of your TV, if the figure is not visible, the brightness is higher than the peak brightness of your TV. Usually the adjustment step is not large and the error is not high. Try adjusting so that the figure disappears and look at the bright light source - if there is a large glow around the light source hiding the details, reduce the value. If the light source has become dim after that, increase the value. 

I have set the maximum value on the calibration screen, but I still see the figure
Most likely you have activated the tone mapping mode or your TV always does it. In this case, as written above, precise adjustment does not make sense and sometimes it may not be possible, for example for some QLED TV.

I've done the adjustment, but the game still looks bad
Make sure that the HDR settings of the game are performed correctly with the correct TV settings. The final image also depends on the implementation of HDR in the game, as well as your TV. The game may look different on different TV. If after the calibration settings all HDR games look bad, then the problem is most likely with your TV or its settings. In addition, do not forget to check and install the latest versions of your tv firmware. Perhaps the update fixed some bugs or added functionality.

The image of all games in HDR mode is not impressive. I don't see the difference with SDR
On some budget TVs, you may not see any image improvements compared to SDR. You may not use HDR, but keep in mind that HDR is not only bright even brighter and dark even darker. You see more details in the shadows. In addition, 10bit color or 12bit for Dolby Vision allows you to show less sharp color transitions in the gradient (ladder effect).

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