Dolby Vision for games has officially landed on Xbox, bringing Dolby’s proprietary HDR approach to a new medium. Today we’ll explore what all the fuss is about and what you need to enjoy Dolby Vision for games in your living room.
Bringing Dolby Vision to Games
Dolby Vision is Dolby’s proprietary format for high dynamic range (HDR) video content. It’s one of a handful of formats through which you can experience brighter, more colorful, and punchier images that take advantage of the latest display technology.
HDR is now a standard feature on most new TVs, with HDR10 being the dominant “baseline” format. There are many benefits to HDR video: a wider color gamut, better shadow detail, 10-bit color, and eye-catching highlights that take advantage of the higher peak brightness on the latest compatible displays.
Metadata included in the HDR container tells the TV how to render an image, including how bright to get. With HDR10, peak brightness is defined as a static maximum value for the entire presentation. Dolby Vision improves on this with dynamic metadata, defining peak brightness on a per-frame or per-scene basis. This gives content creators greater control over the image displayed on the screen.
Dolby Vision also has other benefits, including a maximum peak brightness of 4000 nits (as opposed to 1000 nits in the HDR10 container), as well as being compatible with 12-bit video sources. At present, no consumer displays can reach 4000 nits or display true 12-bit content, so the format is ready for the next generation of TV technology when they arrive.
Dolby aims to bring the advantages of its HDR format to games through Dolby Vision for games. For gamers, there’s more to it than an expanded dynamic range and more colors on screen. Dolby Vision for games also aims to solve the ongoing problem of HDR calibration for games.
On the Dolby Vision for games website the company promises that gamers can “say goodbye to adjustment sliders” because “games automatically map to your Dolby Vision display as you play, so you’re always seeing the full picture.”
HDR is something that gamers have struggled with since there is little standardization between titles. The HDR Gaming Interest Group (HGIG) formed for this very reason, but few games support the tailor-made HGIG mode. Those that do still require calibration and a TV that supports HGIG.
Simplified calibration is possible because Dolby acts as a middle-man, helping ensure that the image displayed on the screen is an accurate portrayal of the creator’s vision.
What You Need to Enjoy Dolby Vision for Games
Dolby Vision for games is, at the time of writing in May 2021, in still the beta phase of testing on the Xbox platform. Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S consoles are (at present) the only consoles that support the format. Sony has yet to announce Dolby Vision for games support on the PlayStation 5. Dolby Vision could in theory land on Sony’s platform with a software update, but there are no plans for it.
To enjoy Dolby Vision for games you’ll need a Series X or S console and a TV or monitor that supports Dolby Vision. Microsoft has yet to announce support for the format coming to Windows, so PC gamers will have to make do with HDR10 and HGIG for now.
Teething issues have appeared as Dolby Vision for games begins to roll out. While the format is theoretically compatible with HDMI 2.1 compliant displays in full 4K resolution at 120Hz, many models (including the latest LG OLEDs) only support 4K at 60Hz right now. Vincent Teoh of HDTVTest reports that LG is working on a patch for the company’s newer TV models as of May 2021, like the C1 and G1. Hopefully, LG will also bring that update to older models.
Due to the MediaTek chipset used in some Dolby Vision-capable TVs (including Sony’s 2020 and 2021 models), 120Hz gaming at 4K resolution won’t be possible on some models where enabling Dolby Vision disables 120Hz support. If you’re affected, you can still play games at 4K resolution with 120Hz enabled using HDR10.
Unfortunately, Samsung TV owners won’t be able to use Dolby Vision for gaming because the South Korean tech giant doesn’t support the format on any of their displays.
Find Out If Your TV is Compatible with Dolby Vision
You can check whether your TV is compatible with Dolby Vision for gaming using the Xbox preferences. Turn on your console and press the Xbox button to reveal the guide. Use the bumper buttons (LB and RB) to tab across to the “Profile & system” tab. Scroll down and select Settings followed by “TV & display options.”
Next, select “4K TV details” and the Xbox will report what modes are supported by your TV. If you have green ticks across the board, you might as well enable 120Hz right away. Back out of the menu then select “Refresh Rate” and set it to “120Hz” if you haven’t already done so.
Which Games Support Dolby Vision?
While Xbox Insiders are still figuring out Dolby Vision, some have noted that the technology can be applied system-wide to all games as a pass-through container for HDR titles. It’s not clear whether this provides an improvement over simply using HDR10 with Microsoft’s Auto-HDR booster.
For the best results, games will need to be optimized for Dolby Vision. The technology has so far made its way into Microsoft behemoths Gears 5 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, as well as indie racer Wreckfest.
TechRadar reports that “games that offer native support for the technology provide far more impressive results than those that simply use it as pass-through.”
This suggests that while Dolby Vision for games can be used as a container for other HDR content, you’ll want to look at optimized games for the best results. As many game boxes and digital store descriptions now include markers for HDR10 and Dolby Atmos support, expect to see the Dolby Vision featured on boxes and marketplace listings before long.
It’s also worth noting that just because you’ve enabled 120Hz support on the at Xbox system level, that doesn’t mean all games will use it by default. Many games that support 120Hz modes have a toggle under the game settings. Often this setting is titled “frame rate” or “performance” mode since it prioritizes smooth gameplay over visual splendor.
The Future of HDR Gaming
While HDR support came to last-generation consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the implementation left a lot to be desired. It is hoped that Dolby Vision for gaming will deliver a new standard of HDR with a foolproof setup process for a truly next-generation experience.
Not got a Dolby Vision TV and looking to upgrade? Check out our guide to buying a TV for gaming.
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