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The best HDR monitors for 2020

High-dynamic range (HDR) expands the range of light of a display, making the darkest part of the image darker and the brightest part brighter. Instead of simply boosting the contrast, HDR standards like HDR10 and Dolby Vision produce a greater range of light values across the board, drawing closer to how light behaves in the real world. HDR games and movies simply look more realistic, but you’ll need a high-quality HDR monitor to make the most of them.

Out of our list of the best HDR monitors, our favorite is BenQ’s EX3501R. It’s a fast ultrawide display that looks great, and the price is right, too. However, strict gamers may want something a little more tailored to their needs. 

The following list is a great place to get started if you aren’t sure which HDR display is right for you.

The best HDR monitors at a glance:

The best HDR monitor: BenQ EX3501R

Why you should buy this: BenQ’s HDR monitor has something for everyone, including Ultra HD and a 100Hz refresh rate.

Who’s it for: Just about everyone, though gamers may want something a little more tailored to their needs.

Why we picked the BenQ EX3501R:

It’s rare to find a monitor that ticks all the boxes for almost any user, let alone one that does that and has an affordable price. In BenQ’s EX3501R, we may have found such a unicorn. At 35 inches of beautifully-curved VA paneling, with an ultrawide resolution of 3,440 x 1,440, it is simply stunning. It’s fast and responsive, too, supporting a 100Hz refresh rate and a 4-millisecond response time.

Like other top-tier entries in this list, the collection of high-end features makes the EX3501R great for editing photos, watching movies, and gaming. Its combination of a great 2,500:1 contrast ratio, 300-nit brightness, support for 100% of the sRGB color gamut, and HDR makes it look fantastic no matter what you’re doing. FreeSync support even keeps screen tearing at bay without a performance hit.

Finally, this monitor helps your desk stay tidy thanks to a USB-C connection for power and data transfer, which you certainly want due to its superior speed. You can get all of this for an excellent price, which puts some of the other entries in this list to shame.

If the additional screen real estate gained from the ultrawide BenQ EX3501R entices you, our best ultrawide monitor roundup could provide some additional options.

The best 32-inch HDR monitor: BenQ EW3270U

BenQ EW3270U

Why you should buy this: With a 4K resolution, four adjustable HDR levels, and FreeSync support for gaming, it’s an amazing 32-inch HDR monitor.

Who’s it for: Those who want a standard widescreen display but don’t want to pay an insane price.

Why we picked the BenQ EW3270U:

If you don’t want an expensive widescreen display, your next best bet is BenQ’s EW3270U, a 31.5-inch panel with a narrower 16:9 aspect ratio.

What’s interesting about this panel is that it has a dedicated, physical button on the front for manually adjusting HDR levels. It relies on a Brightness Intelligence Plus (B.I.+) sensor that detects the surrounding ambient lighting along with the on-screen content to adjust the color temperature, brightness, and dynamic contrast. The dedicated button allows you to manually switch between four HDR levels.

Based on a VA panel, BenQ’s HDR display has a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution at 60Hz, a native 3,000:1 contrast ratio, a maximum 300 nit-brightness, and a 4 ms response time. If you’re a gamer, it supports AMD’s FreeSync technology, eliminating screen tearing and stuttering when using an AMD GPU in your PC, the Xbox One, or the PlayStation 4.

For connectivity, BenQ’s EW3270U includes one DisplayPort 1.4 connector, an HDMI 2.0 port, and a USB-C port. A pair of built-in two-watt speakers round out a great HDR display package.

The best 4K HDR monitor: Acer ET322QK

Acer ET322QK

Why you should buy this: The Acer ET322QK is a more affordable option for those who want to save money.

Who’s it for: Savvy buyers looking for HDR on a budget — and those who need a good FreeSync monitor.

Why we picked the Acer ET322QK:

Most of the great monitors on this list are expensive, which can present a problem: Many people can’t spend as much on a monitor as they would on a television. Luckily, the new Acer ET322QK offers an affordable choice. With a delightfully low price at most retailers, you might expect compromise on size and pixel count, but not with this monitor.

The ET322QK is a 32-inch, 4K display with AMD FreeSync support for gamers, though the panel refreshes at the usual 60Hz. The HDR features cannot be used with FreeSync and aren’t the full HDR capabilities that some displays offer today. However, they are still a great upgrade to your viewing experience, allowing you to choose between fidelity and performance as needed.

The Acer ET322QK’s panel has a maximum brightness of 300 nits, which is lower than some but comparable to our top entry. Still, it’s hard to ignore this monitor’s feature set and its bargain price. This might be the compromise budget-minded buyers are looking for.

The best HDR monitor for gaming: Acer Predator X27

Why you should buy this: This is a great solution for GeForce PC gamers looking for 4K HDR visuals and G-Sync support.

Who’s it for: PC gamers with Nvidia GeForce graphics that want the ultimate experience.

Why we picked the Acer Predator X27:

We originally listed Acer’s Predator XB3 as the best HDR panel for gaming, but it’s lack of availability now sees a similar display taking its place: The Predator X27. This display includes the same shield for blocking out the surrounding light, but you’ll only find one specific configuration versus the five Acer lists for the XB3.

The big selling point with this version is its brightness. It offers a typical 600-nit brightness, but peaks at 1,000 nits. It also falls under Nvidia’s G-Sync Ultimate umbrella, meaning it’s one of the best G-Sync displays you can get for eliminating screen tearing and stuttering when gaming with Nvidia GeForce GPUs.

That said, Acer’s display is based on a 27-inch IPS panel with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution at 120Hz, though you can overclock it to 144Hz, so screen tearing won’t be a concern if you can support high enough frame rates, no matter what GPU you have. It also has one DisplayPort connector, one HDMI port, one USB-B port that connects to your PC, and four USB-A ports for adding peripherals, flash drives, and more.

The 4 ms response time on the Acer Predator X27 isn’t stellar, but it should be enough for the average gamer.

The best HDR monitor for Mac: Pro Display XDR

Apple Pro Display XDR

Why you should buy this: This is the ultimate visual experience for any MacOS device.

Who’s it for: Mac owners who want the best of the best at any price.

Why we picked the Pro Display XDR:

If you want the best HDR display for your Mac designed by Apple, you’ll get a premium experience for a premium price. Apple introduced the Pro Display XDR in 2019, a 32-inch display with a massive 6,016 x 3,384 resolution (60Hz max) and a sustained brightness of 1,000 nits. If that’s not bright enough, it peaks at a crazy 1,600 nits, making it the brightest desktop monitor we’ve seen to date.

XDR is short for Extreme Dynamic Range and aims to rise above the HDR standard. The display’s extreme brightness level is part of this XDR effort, along with support for 1.07 billion colors and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also includes a custom controller to properly handle all 20.4 million pixels and the 576 LEDs filling the backlight layer for the ultimate XDR visual experience.

Finally, Apple’s XDR panel boasts True Tone technology, which adjusts the colors for the best viewing experience in any environment using two ambient light sensors. For connectivity, it includes one Thunderbolt 3 port (via USB-C) and three standard USB-C ports.

Unfortunately, if you want the best of the best for your Mac, the Pro Display XDR starts at $4,999. That price does not include the $999 Pro Stand or the $199 Vesa mount adapter. While this is expensive, it’s still far cheaper than a lot of other professionally-targeted displays.

Research and tips

How do I know if my monitor supports HDR?

The manufacturer will tell you, as HDR is a major feature. If it’s included in the feature set, you’ll see it displayed on the packaging, in the list of specifications, and perhaps even with a sticker somewhere on the monitor itself.

One factor to look out for with HDR displays is that they typically offer a higher peak brightness than standard monitors, which usually rest between 250 and 350 nits. Not all HDR is created equal, however, as some screens are far better at supporting HDR than others.

We recommend paying attention to the Vesa DisplayHDR standard. It’s currently the only HDR certification process for displays, ranging from DisplayHDR 400 displays, which have a peak luminance of 400 cd/m2 but aren’t certified for HDR, to DisplayHDR 1400 displays, which have a peak luminance of 1400 cd/m2 with exceptional local dimming. You won’t find a DisplayHDR certification on all displays, but if you do, that’s usually a good sign.

Also, pay attention to the different varieties of HDR. Netflix, for example, supports Dolby Vision and HDR10, so if you watch a lot of Netflix, you’ll want a display that supports one or both of those standards.

Does HDR improve non-HDR content?

A monitor that supports HDR won’t provide the improved colors and greater contrast of HDR content if it’s displaying standard dynamic range (SDR) content. That said, HDR monitors do tend to have greater brightness than non-HDR displays, so it’s possible that the overall improved quality of the technology inside the screen, outside of its HDR support, will provide a better image. However, that is not guaranteed.

Windows 10’s support of HDR has been lackluster in the past, but its approach has grown better recently, with more options for control and better image improvement. Still, it’s always smart to experiment with disabling and enabling HDR features for your favorite activities so you can see the difference firsthand and make your decision.

Do you need HDR?

Whether you need HDR depends on what you plan to do with your monitor. For working, managing spreadsheets, writing emails, or taking conference calls, it’s probably not worth upgrading. After all, paying more for an invisible difference in quality isn’t ideal. But if you like to watch a lot of movies and TV on your display, HRD could be a worthwhile investment. And if you’re a gamer, the technology holds much more promise.

There are other features worth considering, like higher resolutions and high refresh-rates. If you play games with HDR support or access HDR movies through streaming services or UHD HDR Blu-ray discs, HDR is arguably one of the most critical factors for any new screen upgrade.

What brightness level is best for HDR?

Brightness levels and HDR work hand in hand to deliver the best image results, which means more brightness is better — although that can also raise the cost of your monitor. At the lowest end, at least 300 nits is recommended for proper HDR performance (which is also what Windows 10 currently recommends for base specifications).

However, you are likely to see better results with monitors that can provide 600 nits of brightness or higher. At these levels, the HDR really has room to shine and will be much more noticeable.

Is HDR good for gaming?

Yes. In addition to high refresh rates, HDR can make the most significant impact on your gaming visuals. Then again, it’s not supported by all games, making this a hit-or-miss solution. Make sure to verify that the games you want to play do support HDR. Common (and recent) examples include No Man’s Sky, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Days Gone, Mortal Kombat 11, Red Dead Redemption 2, and DMC5. This isn’t an exhaustive list, however. For these games (and others), you’ll see an impressively dramatic benefit in visual quality with HDR turned on.

Though HDR monitors are currently the latest and greatest technology, it can be tough to narrow down the features you want. Depending on your needs — and whether you game, watch videos, or both — one of our top picks might be the perfect solution.

Does HDR work on 1080p displays? 

HDR isn’t related to pixel count in any way. Instead, HDR is about the quality of the pixels, not the number of them. In short, HDR should work on a 1080p display. However, there aren’t many 1080p HDR displays. The BenQ EW277HDR, for example, is basically the EW3270U we recommended, though smaller and without 4K support. That particular monitor is out of stock with most retailers, and it’s one of only a few 1080p displays that supports HDR.

As a premium feature, you’ll typically find HDR support on 4K displays, so although it’s possible to find a 1080p monitor with HDR support, the options are slim. To be clear, you need a monitor that supports HDR. 1080p HDR is possible, but just having a 1080p display doesn’t mean it supports HDR.

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