Samsung's glorious CHG70 FreeSync 2 display shows the wonder (and wonkiness) of PC HDR

The Samsung CHG70 is FreeSync 2's vanguard and the best monitor we've used, but HDR is still bleeding-edge on PCs.

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AMD only certifies displays as FreeSync 2 if they include the Low Framerate Compensation (LFC) technology that keeps games silky-smooth no matter how fast they’re running. FreeSync 2 also mandates low latency levels and a minimum allowed dynamic color and brightness range that’s twice as vibrant as standard sRGB displays. These are damned good monitors, full stop. Just look to Samsung’s CHG70 for proof.

freesync 2 vs standard AMD

How FreeSync 2 games behave vs. HDR on standard monitors.

FreeSync 2 also bolsters the performance of HDR games that use the FreeSync 2 API, though we couldn’t feel the difference much in Far Cry 5. Here’s how we described it in our original write-up:

Rendering high-dynamic-range visuals is typically a multi-step process behind the scenes. First, the game performs color tone mapping after the engine renders a scene. Then, when the image is passed to the monitor, it’s tone-mapped yet again to fit the display’s supported range.

AMD’s FreeSync 2 API provides the game with the native characteristics of your monitor, which allows it to match your screen’s properties during the game’s initial tone mapping. That eliminates the need for a second pass, and hence, provides the best image possible while also eliminating lag. Win-win!

Of course, activating HDR makes the Samsung CHG70’s vivid colors and exceptional contrast pop even more, as mentioned in the previous section.

The technology also works as a band-aid for Windows 10’s bad HDR behavior. It makes your games look as glorious as possible by automatically launching in HDR-compliant “FreeSync mode” when you boot into an HDR game, jacking up the brightness and enforcing the wider color space. When you exit the game, it reverts to the standard color space on the Windows 10 desktop.

hdr windows 10 display settings Brad Chacos/IDG

Normally, viewing HDR content requires you to dive into Windows 10’s display settings and manually activating HDR. Doing so shows off the vivid colors and deep blacks in HDR content, but plunges the rest of the desktop into bleak gray shades. It’s gross. In practice, watching HDR videos and playing HDR games on the PC requires you to enable the technology first, then disable it after so the rest of your Windows experience isn’t crap.

The Samsung CHG70 indeed flips over to HDR mode when you boot up an HDR-compatible game and it’s wonderful. I’m not sure if that’s really a function of FreeSync 2, or simply a monitor feature that’s required for certification, though. I swapped the Radeon Vega 64 I used for testing the Samsung CHG70 out for a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti for comparison purposes, and games still automatically launched in HDR mode after I’d activated HDR in-game. It’s a stellar feature either way.

You still need to manually enable HDR to watch videos though. Which brings us to the state of HDR on PCs.

The state of PC HDR

HDR is a known quantity on televisions by this point, but it’s still early days on the PC. Finding HDR content can be a frustrating experience. Most video services don’t support streaming HDR video. Once you do find HDR-equipped games or video, however, the Samsung CHG70 shines—though not as brightly as some of the HDR TVs available, since it tops out at 600 nits of brightness rather than the 1,000-plus nits required for full HDR10 support. (That might be a good thing since this massive screen sits mere feet from your face.)

Let’s start with video content.

netflix hdr Netflix

Netflix is your best bet for watching HDR videos on your computer these days. Many of its in-house series support high dynamic range, including Daredevil, Stranger Things 2, Chef’s Table, Marco Polo, and scads more. Searching for “HDR” reveals most (but not all) available HD content. Viewing it can be tricky, however. You’ll need a pricier four-stream Netflix subscription and a 25Mbps internet connection, HDR-compatible hardware (obviously), and Windows 10. To top it off, HDR only works in the official Netflix app in the Windows Store or via Microsoft’s Edge browser due to DRM limitations.

[ Further reading: Why your home theater PC still can’t stream 4K Ultra HD video ]

YouTube also supports HDR video, but finding it is harder. Any channel can upload in HDR. Searching for “HDR” on the service isn’t helpful though, and full of explainers and other tangential videos on the technology that aren’t actually in HDR. The aptly named HDR Channel is a fine source, though it mostly consists of demo-style videos like you’d find playing on televisions at a big-box retailer. Fortunately, you don’t need to suffer through using Edge to view YouTube’s HDR content. It works just fine in Chrome and Firefox.

The video below looks gorgeous in HDR.

Remember that you’ll need to enable HDR in Windows 10’s display settings (Start > Settings > System > Display > HDR and advanced color) before you can watch these videos. The difference between SDR and HDR is palpable.

HDR games are trickling out slowly too. You’d think more AAA games would support HDR now that the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro both support the glorious visual technology, but even first-party Xbox games like Forza Horizon 3 and Sea of Thieves infuriatingly drop HDR on the PC. Roughly 30 PC games currently support HDR, as chronicled by the superb PC Gaming Wiki. A small sampling:

  • Far Cry 5
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Forza Motorsport 7
  • Battlefield 1
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins
  • Destiny 2
  • Hitman
  • Resident Evil 7

Hopefully more games roll out with HDR support in the future.

Bottom line

The Samsung CHG70 ($700 on Newegg and took a few days to get used to, but it’s an absolutely stunning display. It’s accurate, vivid, and unlike the vast majority of HDR displays, it’s blazing fast and loaded with technology designed to make your gaming experience as fluid as possible. FreeSync 2 is the cherry on top of an already delicious monitor. Samsung did a bang-up job of cramming a ton of value into this $700 display, as weird as that sounds. (Samsung also sells a 27-inch version of the CHG70 for $550.)

You’ll need a graphics card capable of driving 1440p at high frame rates and HDR to put the CHG70 to best use. The monitor pairs perfectly with AMD’s Radeon RX Vega 56 or Vega 64, or the Radeon RX 580 if you don’t mind gaming closer to 60Hz than 144Hz. (Graphics card prices are ludicrous right now.) 

But this monitor also drives home that HDR is still in the growing-pains era on the PC. Finding compatible content can be difficult, and having to manually activate and deactivate HDR in Windows 10 is both aggravating and never explicitly spelled out in instructions or Windows pop-ups. FreeSync 2 fixes that issue with games, but the CHG70’s FreeSync 2 support had some teething issues of its own. Its FreeSync support initially wouldn’t kick in before you hit 72fps, but subsequent firmware updates—practically unheard of for monitors—increased the FreeSync range to 48-144Hz, with lower refresh rates covered by LFC. Make sure you’re rocking the CHG70’s latest firmware for best results.

samsung chg70 bf1 Samsung

HDR nerds might also scoff at the 600-nits brightness, as “true” HDR10 support demands 1,000 nits. Nvidia’s rival G-Sync HDR monitors hit that, and in demos at trade shows, I had to shield my eyes against the brightness of explosions—something I never experienced with the Samsung CHG70. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, to be honest. A searingly bright 1,000-nit explosion going off a few feet from your face might not be comfortable, though we’ll know for sure when Nvidia’s long-delayed G-Sync HDR displays launch in the coming weeks. Samsung’s monitor shines plenty bright enough, with a huge contrast ratio and fantastic color reproduction.

The Samsung CHG70 is a world-class monitor; the best I’ve ever used, and one that offers a ton of value despite its premium price tag. I highly recommend it, but when you start dabbling with HDR, expect some bleeding-edge-adopter woes. Such is life for enthusiasts.

Be warned, though: Once you’ve experienced the majesty of HDR gaming, it’s hard to go back.

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