Sure, luscious high-dynamic-range visuals look impressive during demos, but does HDR really matter when you’re gaming? That was the primary question I wanted to answer when AMD sent me the Samsung CHG70. It’s one of the first gaming-centric monitors to carry VESA’s DisplayHDR 600 certification and AMD’s bleeding-edge FreeSync 2 technology. It’s also one of the best PC displays I’ve ever used.
Seven monitors currently crowd my office, offering various features and tech specs. None feels half as immersive as the Samsung CHG70 ($700 on Newegg and Samsung.com). This elegant monitor offers vivid, accurate colors at a sharp 2560x1440p resolution, augmented by FreeSync 2 technology that eliminates tearing and stuttering while simultaneously optimizing the video output while handling HDR content. Gaming on it feels like bliss. The bevy of features on offer combined with the CHG70’s massive, curved 32-inch panel makes other displays start to feel, well, a bit flat. It impresses even after migrating from a 4K G-Sync setup, though a few niggling flaws keep it from perfection.
The state of HDR content on PCs isn’t quite as grand. Let’s dig into the Samsung CHG70, FreeSync 2, and HDR video and games on the PC.
Samsung CHG70 specs, features, and performance
The Samsung CHG70 gets all up in your face, to the point of having a learning curve. Stick with it.
When I say it gets in your face, I mean that literally. The CHG70’s stand juts out rather than using a simple vertical orientation, and as a result, the screen sits a full three to four inches closer to a user’s face than other monitors. When first confronted with the display’s massive 32-inch span and aggressive 1800R curvature, I didn’t just feel immersed, I felt engulfed—like a person sitting in the front row of an IMAX theater. For the first day or two, I found myself reflexively leaning back in my chair to escape the gigantic display’s envelopment, especially when editing documents and spreadsheets. It was so searingly white and everywhere.
But the mildly uncomfortable feeling went away after a day or two. Gaming helped attune me to the CHG70’s unique properties—being engulfed in the worlds of Far Cry 5 and Destiny 2 proved wonderfully compelling, and conditioned me to lean into the screen rather than shy away. After that, using the display during everyday tasks seemed less daunting, and I came to appreciate just how superb a monitor this is.
HDR is still in its early days on the PC. Most of the monitors released so far cater to graphics professionals, favoring 4K resolutions, slow response times, and sky-high, four-digit price tags. Not the CHG70. Samsung loaded this display with gaming-friendly specifications and features. The VA (vertical alignment) panel eschews 4K in favor of the 2560×1440 resolution that currently stands as PC gaming’s “sweet spot,” blazing along at a responsive 144Hz with a 1 millisecond “motion picture response time.”
VA panels have better contrast ratios, color accuracy, viewing, and brightness compared to standard TN displays, but often suffer from motion blurring due to poor response times. The CHG70 includes technology to reduce motion blur and it works like a champ. Games felt crisp and never exhibited ghosting or corona effects, though MLG CS:GO pros might want to stick to 240Hz TN displays for peak responsiveness.
Images look stunning on the CHG70, too, even if they aren’t in HDR. Samsung calibrates the monitor for accuracy at the factory, shipping it with a color calibration report in the box. The LED screen is augmented by Quantum Dot technology that allows it to produce more shades of color, and the CHG70 hits 125 percent of the sRGB spectrum. Colors burst from the screen and dark scenes deliver inky, deep blacks. A small joystick on the rear of the screen lets you tweak the monitor’s settings as you see fit.
Flipping on HDR cranks the colors to 11. While the CHG70 tops out around 350 nits of brightness under typical usage, it can spread its wings to deliver up to 600 nits for HDR content, putting the “high” in “high dynamic range.”
The 4K IPS display I’m using as my second monitor delivers bright, clean images but it feels lackluster after staring at the CHG70 all day. The higher resolution still holds some advantages though. Compared to the 4K G-Sync display I’d previously used as a daily driver, text on the Samsung CHG70 can look slightly pixelated and “jaggy” on some characters with long, undisturbed straight edges or curves. It’s most pronounced on larger text, though, and doesn’t detract from the overall experience—especially while gaming. Take note if text accuracy is paramount to your job, though.
The Samsung CHG70 was one of the first monitors with support for AMD’s FreeSync 2 technology, so this already great monitor can be pushed even further if you have a compatible Radeon graphics card.
FreeSync 2 builds upon the foundations FreeSync laid. Standard FreeSync synchronizes the refresh rate of your graphics card with your monitor. Doing so eliminates the nasty screen tearing and stuttering effects that can pop up in games. FreeSync doesn’t require the addition of extra hardware in the monitor, unlike Nvidia’s rival G-Sync, so FreeSync tech can be found in a wider range of displays, and often for cheaper. But in reality, FreeSync quality isn’t universal like it is on G-Sync displays; FreeSync displays only support tear-free gaming in certain refresh ranges that differ from product to product, and many monitors lose FreeSync support underneath that threshold.
Those disadvantages disappear with FreeSync 2.
Next page: FreeSync 2 and HDR continued, state of HDR on PC.
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 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.
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 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.
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
Assassin’s Creed Origins
Resident Evil 7
Hopefully more games roll out with HDR support in the future.
The Samsung CHG70 ($700 on Newegg and Samsung.com) 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.
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.
Brad Chacos spends his days digging through desktop PCs and tweeting too much. He specializes in graphics cards and gaming, but covers everything from security to Windows tips and all manner of PC hardware.