Before you buy a new TV, read this first: What 4K and HDR mean for gaming RIGHT NOW.

By Andy Humphreys

With the recent release of the PS4 Pro, many gamers are now making the jump over to a brand new 4K television. But how will your console work with your new TV? Is it even compatible? Let’s have a look at what the terms 4K and HDR really mean, and specifically, how the current crop of game consoles utilize these technologies to provide an improved gaming experience.

4K


What exactly is 4K, anyway?


When we talk about resolution, we’re talking about how many pixels can be displayed on screen. The current high-definition standard is 1080p (sometimes known as ‘Full-HD’) and if you’ve got a flat screen TV, the chances are this is your current level. A 1080p screen is 1920 pixels wide by 1080 pixels high. By comparison, 4K (sometimes called ‘Ultra-HD’ or ‘UHD’) doubles this, at 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high, allowing for many times more pixels to be displayed on screen. A greater number of pixels on the same sized screen means the pixels themselves are smaller, and thus less discernable to the naked eye, removing the blocky, jagged effect that is sometimes present when individual pixels are visible. This produces images that are far more crisp, displaying a much greater level of detail.


4K in gaming:


Currently, the PS4 Pro is the only console that can boast true 4K gaming, that is to say, games that run natively at the full 3840 by 2160 resolution. There are caveats to this, though. The games that give an improved experience on PS4 Pro, called ‘PS4 Pro Enhanced games’ are currently few in number (Sony are promising 50 by the end of the year) and the enhancements themselves differ from game-to-game. For example, the recently released Skyrim: Special Edition runs natively at the incredibly sharp 4K resolution, whereas Titanfall 2 is only upscaled to 4K, meaning it retains its 1080p resolution, but goes through a process of software enhancement to improve its visuals when viewed on a 4K display. This upscaling process varies depending on the game, the result being that some games will look sharper and more impressive than others. Some PS4 Enhanced Games even allow you to run the game at a reduced resolution, but give a boost to the frame-rate for a smoother experience, but again, these settings vary between games.


So, the PS4 Pro has the capability for 4K gaming, both natively and with upscaling, and can stream and playback 4K video content. In addition to Sony’s new console, Microsoft’s Xbox One S matches the PS4 Pro’s ability to stream and play 4K video, and also upscales gaming to 4K. However as the One S is a close revision of the standard Xbox One, it lacks the power to run games at native 4K resolution. The Xbox One, PS4 and PS4 Slim do not offer any 4K features.


Another thing to mention is Microsoft’s already announced Xbox Scorpio console, which has been tentatively scheduled for a Q4 2017 release, in time for next year’s holiday season. Microsoft have made plenty of noise about Scorpio becoming the most powerful console ever released by some margin when it comes out, and have included 4K support in the brief list of features they have currently discussed. Although they have not revealed the exact nature of this support, it would be safe to assume it would at least match the features currently offered by the PS4 Pro.


HDR


What is HDR, anyway?


HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which sounds pretty complex, but it just means that there is more contrast between the lightest and darkest areas of a picture. So blacks are blacker, and whites are lighter, and the result is a much greater level of detail within the image. Also, HDR allows a wider range of colors, so has the potential to show an image that is more vivid, more vibrant, and altogether closer to how the human eye perceives the world.


HDR in gaming:


Perhaps the most important thing to note about HDR is that, unlike 4K, HDR is not a universal format; that is to say, owning an HDR capable TV does not guarantee HDR compatibility with your console.


There are two main HDR standards to worry about: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. HDR10 is the industry standard, with most current HDR content generated in this format. Dolby Vision is HDR10’s main competitor, and is theoretically the superior technology, but is not used by nearly as many companies.


The PS4 Pro is fully HDR-compatible, utilizing the HDR10 format, along with all other PS4 consoles, which were recently updated by Sony in a software patch. Much like with 4K, this means that as long as the game has HDR content, it will be able to be displayed on these consoles. Likewise, the Xbox One S is HDR-ready and supports the HDR10 standard, and, as Microsoft say they have no plans to implement Dolby Vision compatibility in future, we can reasonably assume that their upcoming Scorpio console will support HDR10, too. The Xbox One does not support HDR.


It’s worth making the point again that not all 4K HDR TVs will work you’re your gaming setup. Put simply, if you have a compatible console and want to display your games with HDR, look for a TV with the HDR10 format.


Is it time to make the leap to 4K and HDR?


Although all current content is far from geared towards 4K and HDR right now, there are more reasons than ever to upgrade, and technology is only going in one direction.


If you’re a gamer and currently own an HDR compatible 4K TV, the recent console releases are absolutely for you. The PS4 Pro, although not currently blessed with a huge range of compatible content, has the exciting capability to really improve the way your games display in a very dramatic and noticeable way, especially with games that output native 4K resolution.


The Xbox One S, too, is a viable, more budget friendly option. While sacrificing the full 4K gaming experience, Microsoft’s console is still one of the cheapest ways around to gain the ability to output 4K resolution HDR video, both via streaming and Blu-ray.


But what if you’re currently firmly planted in the high-definition world, with neither a 4K TV or any Ultra High Definition content to play on it? Is now the time to make the transition to 4K and HDR? Certainly, 4K TVs are starting to become the standard, helped tremendously by tumbling prices. Also, online streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are beginning to push 4K content now -- there’s no longer a chronic shortage of content for your shiny new TV.


The deciding thing that makes going 4K viable, at least for a gamer, is the release of the PS4 Pro. Here, for a reasonable price, is the potential to revolutionize your gaming experience beyond the current acceptable standard. If you haven’t already got a PS4, are in the market for a console, and care about 4K gaming, the PS4 Pro is a no-brainer.


Just make sure that if you do take the plunge and purchase a new 4K TV, look for the widely accepted HDR10 standard to guarantee it will work with your console. Get this right, and you will be investing in the future of video content.


Well, for the next few years at least, but that’s about as future-proof as anything gets these days, right?