Comparison: True 4K/HDR Gaming vs. Regular Gaming Page 2

As I expected, the difference with 4K/HDR was far more visible on my LG OLED TV than on my projection system. That said, for a game with a scale this massive, the increased real estate offered by my 11-foot-wide screen provided a more satisfyingly immersive gaming experience. Coupled with the Dolby Atmos sound, Rise of the Tomb Raider ended up being a thrilling, cinematic home theater assault.

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Crash Bandicoot: Color Me Insane
Next up was Crash Bandicoot, an old favorite from my days with the original Sony PlayStation. All three of the original games were recently revamped in 4K/HDR as the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Though not as cinematic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, the scrolling arcade-style game still looked impressive with its newly rendered graphics and enhanced color.

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Comparing HDR vs. no-HDR using the Xbox's output settings, shadow detail was much better overall with HDR, but the real standout was the boost in color saturation and lighting effects. Again, the LG OLED really showed off the difference and was my preferred display for this game. Crash isn't very cinematic compared with Tomb Raider, but it's a game that I can spend hours on and even my kids loved watching me play.

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Revamps: The Master Chief Delivers
Crash Bandicoot isn't the only game to get a recent 4K/HDR refresh. Microsoft did a full 4K/HDR treatment on its popular Halo series as well. A highlight for me was that the refresh was free if you already owned the Master Chief Collection, a set featuring all of the Halo games that was bundled with my original Xbox One S. I was a bit torn when evaluating this set. While I appreciated the immersive nature of the first-person shooter series on my projection setup, there was no denying the obvious image quality benefits afforded by my OLED TV.

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Motorsport Eye Candy
Another HDR highlight (no pun intended, of course), was Forza Motorsport 7. As good as highly immersive games like Halo and Tomb Raider looked, Forza was absolute eye candy on both my projection and flat-panel setups. The racing platform really showcased the HDR format, with sizzling highlights adorning sleek car surfaces, and gorgeous color throughout. Comparing HDR to non-HDR revealed massive differences in contrast in both the environments and the car bodies. If I was going to pick just one game to really demonstrate the before and after benefits of HDR gaming, Forza Motorsport 7 would be a go-to choice.

In-Game Adjustments
Most of the games I played on the Xbox One X during this evaluation included settings to tune HDR performance. In High Dynamic Range Explained I talked about the limitations of HDR, since it is designed as an absolute luminance format that doesn't provide much flexibility for different display capabilities or viewing environments. Fortunately, game makers appear to understand those limitations and offer adjustments to compensate for different screens and room lighting. Had game developers not had the foresight to include these adjustments, the format might have been a no-go early on, as I'm sure much gaming is done in standard family rooms with a high level of ambient light.

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4k Enhanced: Doom For HDR?
As part of my test, I also tried a few of the "4K Enhanced" titles, including the first-person shooter Doom. While the uptick in resolution was noticeable in fine details and edges, it didn't make as big a difference as HDR did on the other titles. Even at 1080p resolution, game graphics look pretty fantastic, and the scaling capabilities of most 4K displays does a good job getting you most of the way there. On a display with high contrast capability like my OLED, games such as Doom with their rich environments and deep shadows looked nearly HDR-like — I probably could have convinced visitors that I was playing in HDR. Microsoft advertises that its "Enhanced" games can also benefit standard 1080p displays through higher refresh rates (games with a high frame rate provide smoother playback and richer detail) and enhanced color. Unfortunately, I did not have a 1080p display in my home during this evaluation to make the comparison.

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Another big deal for gamers is input lag. This is the amount of time, measured in milliseconds (ms), added by a display's video processing, the effect of which is to create a delay between the input from the game controller and a corresponding action onscreen. In the world of competitive gaming, input lag can have a huge effect on performance. Some displays offer Game picture modes, or adjustments designed to reduce input lag. The Sony VPL-VW885ES projector I used, for example, provided a specific Game picture mode, but more importantly an input lag reduction adjustment. But honestly, I didn't have any issues with input lag regardless of the type of game being played when using the projector or the OLED TV. I'm not a competitive gamer, however, so perhaps I'm not sensitive to it.

Put The Controller Down
My experience with gaming in HDR was a positive one. Overall, I found that the benefits of HDR outweighed the benefits of 4K resolution, though both elements combined to make an appreciable difference. Add Dolby Atmos sound (still rare in the gaming world) and the result is an entertainment experience that can only be matched by big-budget studio movies.

For full HDR impact, the projector was no match for the OLED TV, which really delivered on the format's bright specular highlights and rich contrast. I still preferred the more cinematic image delivered by the projector on games like Tomb Raider, but if I was serious about gaming I would probably compromise by putting together a setup that used a flat-panel TV with a screen size larger than 65 inches and also sit closer to the screen.

The Xbox One X delivered exceptional 4K/HDR with the supported titles I had on hand. And while I didn't test it, PlayStation's PS4 console has an intriguing list of HDR-compatible games, and I'm sure the experience would have been every bit as good. Either way, with plenty of available options, 4K/HDR gaming is something I'd strongly recommend to enthusiasts looking to step up their game.

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