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HDR10 Plus Gaming: a Dolby Vision Gaming rival launching in 2022
Samsung checks every item on the must-have list, but will the market follow?
It's no secret that the majority of new technology is imperfect and that, in almost any such case, it takes time to iron out all the kinks. High dynamic range color in modern video games has proven unusually problematic. The "static" version of it, HDR10, is still hit-and-miss because of the way games themselves use it and dozens of different types of TVs interpret it, while the "dynamic" version of it, Dolby Vision, is even worse, as it can be properly handled by a smaller number of TVs after careful tuning only. It's no coincidence that just a handful of TVs out there can technically display Dolby Vision color in modern PS5/XSX/PC titles (let alone with VRR or 4K/120 Hz enabled) and that there is actually not a single game built from the ground up with Dolby Vision in mind: it's just a difficult kind of tech to implement.
Samsung has refused to support Dolby Vision in TV shows and movies for five years now, so it's no surprise that it chose to do the same last year when Dolby Vision Gaming was announced. The company does recognize the need for dynamic HDR color reproduction in modern games, though, so - exactly as it did with HDR10 Plus for shows and films - it plans to offer an alternative: HDR 10 Plus Gaming. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like, although Samsung seems to have done its homework in order to hit the ground running compared to Dolby's lengthy development period for Dolby Vision Gaming.
HDR10 Plus Gaming is essentially an extension of the current HDR10 Plus standard: it is adding features that PCs or home entertainment systems can make use of in order to display modern games in a fluid, color-accurate way. It will support Variable Refresh Rate at up to 120 Hz, Automated HDR Calibration and Low Latency Source Tone Mapping: the first is self-explanatory, while the second is most probably based on the HGIG standard (Samsung is a member of the HDR Gaming Interest Group). Most HGIG implementations from other manufacturers left much to be desired in terms of color accuracy, so it will be interesting to see how good Samsung's will be.
The third, Low Latency Source Tone Mapping, is meant to ensure that the "aligning" of the color palette of compatible games to the capabilities of the TVs used to display them does not add extra processing time (latency). Samsung claims that it's developing two ways of doing this, one for "local game machines" (PS5/XSX/PC) and a different one for "cloud gaming" (streaming services like nVidia GeForce Now or Xbox Cloud Gaming). It's worth noting that the Koreans are currently developing a cloud gaming service of their own, specially designed for Smart TVs, so that may have something to do with all this.
Samsung promises that HDR10 Plus Gaming will be ready to use in TV models the company will be introducing in 2022. It's not known whether 2021 Samsung TVs that offer HDMI 2.1 connectivity and HDR10 Plus compatibility can be updated via software to support HDR10 Plus Gaming at this time. The same goes for current TVs from other manufacturers that offer the same features and could, theoretically, be upgraded to support the new standard, such as Philips, Panasonic, TCL or Visio.
The elephant in the room, of course, is none other than content support. There is no point developing a new standard if it's not used widely enough to matter - and Samsung's HDR10 Plus has not yet secured the kind of support the company was probably hoping for in films and TV shows (compared to Dolby Vision). In order for HDR10 Plus Gaming to not go down the same path, the Koreans will have to work closely with home entertainment manufacturers and game developers… and that's a tough crowd to please. Microsoft may well update their Xbox Series S|X to include HDR10 Plus Gaming support, even Windows 11 in order for PCs to do the same, but it's not easy to imagine the Americans developing HDR10 Plus Gaming compatible games from scratch (even Dolby Vision Gaming right now is "added" after the fact). Sony will obviously never support HDR10 Plus Gaming on the PlayStation5 (they do not even support Dolby Vision Gaming yet).
So the challenge Samsung actually faces with HDR10 Plus Gaming is not matching Dolby Vision Gaming feature-per-feature, but finding a way to gain the kind of content support that will make this new standard relevant. It's not going to be easy but, for the sake of competition that would ultimately help both competing standards, here's hope that the Koreans make it.