Gaming on the Samsung CHG70 FreeSync 2 HDR gaming monitor
In a press release today Samsung announced three new gaming-focused monitors sporting their QLED technology and capable of HDR (high dynamic range) color and lighting. The new models include the ultra-wide 49-inch CHG90, which sports 3840x1080 resolution, and 27- and 32-inch versions of the CHG70, which clock in at 2560x1440. All three of the new monitors support HDR, AMD's FreeSync 2, and feature 144Hz refresh rates.
Courtesy of Samsung, we've had our hands on the 32-inch model of the CHG70 for about a week now, and have been experimenting with different games and videos to see what the new product has to offer. We'll tell you what you need to know about the new monitor and what its special features mean for different sorts of games. Anyone fortunate enough to be attending E3 next week can get a look at the 32-inch CHG70 as part of Ubisoft's booth.
The C32HG70 is a 32 inch, 2560x1440 monitor with a VA panel, 1800R curvature, and 1.07B color support. It features one DisplayPort and two HDMI connections and functions as a USB 3.0 hub via two USB ports on the back. For more details you can check out the full spec list for the C32HG70.
Note: We tested the monitor with both AMD and NVIDIA cards for the purposes of this article, but you'll want a higher-end AMD Radeon card to take full advantage of FreeSync 2.
The 32-inch CHG70 is currently available for pre-order on Newegg for $699.
The C32HG70 is a curved gaming monitor with a matte black bezel and a single, dramatically arched hinged arm. This arm can make the monitor a bit tricky to carry (instructions included let you know to grab the upper portion of the arm and lift, rather than trying to carry the monitor from its base or edges), but provides for a sweet, futuristic look when the monitor is resting on your desk.
The arm also allows the monitor to be easily adjusted vertically through an impressive range of motion (it bends at the "elbow" of the arm), useful for those who care about ergonomics. Many previous widescreen curved monitors, including some from Samsung itself, haven't allowed any height adjustment, so this is a big plus.
The base is made up of a triangular arrangement of feet, rather than being circular as many previous Samsung widescreen monitors have been. These feet provide a great deal of stability, but also mean the monitor takes up a lot of real estate on your desk. This can be an issue if your desk is on the smaller side, but if you're close enough to your monitor that the feet interfere with your keyboard you probably need to back up a little anyway. Monitors this big need to be a bit further back than smaller models.
The monitor's power cord is slim and well-designed, with ends angled in such a way as to make the most out of placement in surge protectors. Monitor controls are accessed through a small button on the back of the monitor, and users can adjust the picture, refresh rate, black equalizer, and volume (for the monitor's built-in headphone jack), and activate optional features including eye saver mode (which lowers the brightness and blue light) . The monitor comes with gamer-friendly built-in pre-sets like "FPS," "RTS," and "RPG," but also allows you to set up to three custom-defined settings you can assign to buttons along the bottom edge of the monitor.
The C32HG70 includes a subtle light on the back of the monitor which you can turn on or off, and which provides ambient white/blue lighting. The color of the light isn't adjustable, and it isn't as dramatic as some of the under-lighting we've seen from other gaming-focused monitors.
Because of the angle of the light it will illuminate the wall behind your desk much more than your desk top itself, so it won't be very useful if your desk isn't up against a wall, but in the right conditions it can provide effective ambient illumination that enhances your viewing without distracting from what you're watching or tainting the colors.
QLED Quantum Dot
The C32HG70 features Samsung's QLED technology, first shown off earlier this year at CES. QLED combines Quantum Dot technology (which has been around for a while but only debuted in its modern form in recent Samsung displays) with an LED panel. In a QLED display, a layer of tiny "quantum dots" is placed in front of an LED backlight. The different qualities of the individual quantum dots generate different colors.
With the latest generation of quantum dots in Samsung's QLED displays, changes to the nature of the dots allow for improved color accuracy at higher brightness levels. Samsung says this new tech produces "125 percent of the sRGB color space and 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color space." This represents a significant improvement over Samsung's previous SUHD displays, and results in better viewing angles and contrast in addition to the more vibrant colors.
QLED's main rival is OLED display technology, and each of the competing techs offer different strengths and weaknesses. One of the main areas in which QLED beats OLED is in maximum brightness, and that's especially important when it comes to HDR-enabled displays.
HDR Gaming and FreeSync2
All of this QLED technology means that these new monitors are ready to support HDR content. HDR stands for "high dynamic range," and monitors and televisions that support HDR are capable of displaying increased color information and greater light/dark contrast than traditional screens. In general terms, if you're viewing HDR content on an HDR-capable monitor you'll be seeing brighter brights, darker darks, and a wider range of colors overall. HDR video appears to have more depth and can look more realistic than traditional video. There's a lot more to learn about the HDR landscape, including the battle between competing HDR standards, but for the purposes of this article it's enough to know that HDR content is more colorful and is generally regarded as looking more "real."
The tricky thing about discussing HDR content is that, unless you actually have an HDR display of your own, I can't really show you what it looks like. There are HDR videos you can watch online, but these will always be exaggerations or rough facsimiles used to illustrate the difference between traditional and HDR video. If you're skeptical there are plenty of testimonials you can find online from people who have used HDR displays, but when reading those you need to keep in mind that not all "HDR" content is at the same level of quality.
These three new Samsung monitors are the first gaming monitors on the market to feature AMD's HDR-focused FreeSync 2 technology. While the original FreeSync is a technology designed to change the refresh rate of your display to match the output of your graphics card (thereby reducing screen tearing), FreeSync 2 aims to bring the same level of support to HDR gaming. Without a FreeSync 2 monitor, HDR gaming on the PC can be a challenging experience marred by latency issues and endless tweaking of both games and hardware. With the CHG70 and FreeSync 2 the experience still isn't perfect or seamless, but it's a big step in the right direction.
The selection of games which actually support HDR on the PC is limited, with highlights including Mass Effect: Andromeda, Resident Evil VII, and Shadow Warrior 2. Getting these games to actually run in HDR can be a challenge, especially with Mass Effect: Andromeda, but both the amount of HDR gaming content and the ease of use is likely to increase as more gamers pick up displays and hardware capable of supporting it.
As of right now PC HDR gaming is a tiny (but growing) slice of the PC gaming pie, but on the console side it's much easier. We hooked our CHG70 up to a PS4 to enjoy some Injustice 2 in HDR, and while the visual quality certainly isn't what we would be getting from a AAA PC game running on cutting-edge hardware, the fact that it worked automatically, without us having to do anything more than plug in the system, was great.
When playing a PC game like Mass Effect: Andromeda in HDR mode, you'll often notice that the game's menus appeal strangely washed out. This is a small price to pay, however, for the enhanced colors you see when you're exploring that game's environments (one of the very best things about Andromeda). Provided you have the display hardware to support it, maxing out the resolution in Andromeda and enabling HDR can take stunning visuals of the game's alien worlds to new levels of vibrance and realism.
That said, during our testing with Andromeda we found that HDR didn't always look "better" in every possible way. Depending on the color tones of a given environment, how bright the sky was, whether we were standing in light or shadow, and other visual considerations, there were times when HDR actually felt like a step down, visually, compared to just maxing out the graphics settings at the highest resolution the monitor would support (and then tweaking things like brightness, contrast, and color manually via the monitor's controls). Most of the time HDR was a plus, but it didn't feel like a universal leap forward for gaming just yet.
In our tests with Resident Evil VII on the PC, the HDR was much less about color (because 70% of that game is some shade of black or brown) and much more about the improved contrast between blacks and whites the CHG70 offers. Exploring the dark corners of the crumbling house at the center of RE7 was a visually tense experience on this monitor, in all the right ways. Illuminated areas felt like small islands in deep, suffocating black seas. The process of getting RE7 to work in HDR was also significantly easier than enabling it for Andromeda, and the game serves as a good example of what HDR gaming can be on the PC.
So is HDR gaming on the PC a thing right now? Barely. But will it be something to watch in the future? Absolutely. All the big players in the display hardware world are working to make HDR better and more affordable, and games are going to follow suit. You'll want to make sure you upgrade to one of the more powerful GPU offerings first, since HDR won't mean much if your frame rates are dragging or your overall graphics are poor, but provided you're already at or near the cutting edge a FreeSync 2 monitor like the CHG70 can be a bit of monitor future-proofing. You'll be ready for HDR gaming when it becomes more widespread, and until then there's a small and growing pool of HDR game and video content to enjoy.
UPDATE: For FreeSync2, Samsung supports a FreeSync range of 48~144Hz.
All three of Samsung's new gaming monitors offer a 144 Hz refresh rate. While in a dream scenario (running some monstrous PC hardware) you'd love to need that refresh rate with a AAA title running at ultra settings in high resolution with HDR-enhanced visuals, in most practical cases maxing out the quality of your graphics means your frame rates won't get high enough to need these elevated monitor refresh rates.
High refresh rates are most relevant when playing a competitive game (most often an FPS) in which visual information that updates as quickly as possible can be the difference between winning and losing. Many professional FPS gamers, for example, will gladly sacrifice graphical bells, whistles, and polish in favor of speed and accuracy. It's in those sorts of scenarios where the 144 Hz refresh rate on the CHG70 matters.
In contrast to FreeSync 2 and HDR visuals, the refresh rates offered by Samsung's new monitors aren't revolutionary or ground-breaking. There are a few gaming monitors out there which are capable of even higher refresh rates, but once you go above 144 Hz you're much more likely to be getting an e-sports focused model which falls short of what the CHG70 visually.
Because these new Samsung monitors are capable of both cutting-edge quality and 144 Hz refresh rates (and 1 ms response times), they have something to offer a wide range of gamers. You can dial up the HDR while playing Andromeda solo and change to more frame-rate-friendly settings when playing that game's multiplayer.
All three of Samsung's new gaming monitors offer "1800R" curvature, a measurement of how dramatic the curve of the monitor's screen actually is. 1800R is one of the most pronounced curves money can buy. Many curved gaming monitors come in at around 3000R, while the most extreme ever to see wide release was Samsung's own CG791, which had a 1500R curve.
These competing curves can be tough to visualize (the measurement has to do with the arc of a circle with a radius of 1800mm), but in my experience there isn't a huge difference between 3000R and 1800R. If you're coming from a flat monitor curves always take a bit of getting used to, and a lot depends on having the monitor the proper distance away from your eyes so that the curve serves its purpose (mainly providing increased immersion). Though these new monitors all have the same angle of curve, their difference physical sizes mean that the visual effects they will provide, and how far away from your eyes they should be on your desk, will vary.
Samsung emphasizes the importance of wide viewing angles with these monitors, and claims all three provide for 178-degrees of quality viewing. In practice it's a little tricky to measure whether or not a viewing angle is acceptable, though fading and loss of focus certainly wasn't a problem for us no matter where we stood within a reasonable range of the front of the monitor. Dead-center in a desk chair is always going to offer the best possible experience, of course, but you could easily line up a few chairs or a couch and get a quality movie-watching experience without anyone feeling like they were being short-changed.
$699 is a competitive price for a gaming monitor which sports the features the 32-inch CHG70 does. FreeSync 2 and QLED represent some of the most exciting developments in display technology right now, and while the landscape of HDR-capable PC games isn't rich today, you can expect that to change rapidly as more HDR-capable gaming displays hit the market.
On the console side we see game developers boasting of "HDR support" as a way to drive sales of their games, and there's no reason to expect the PC side of things will be any different once more consumers have the hardware to really take advantage of the feature. Samsung's press release announcing these monitors boats of a collaboration with EA's DICE to ensure the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront II will take advantage of the HDR power of these displays.
As always with a product like this you need to consider your likely use cases and the power of your system before deciding if it's right for you. Because the CHG70 has the flexibility of both high-level visuals and 144 Hz refresh rate it's a solid choice no matter what kind of gaming you do, and its HDR capabilities become even more attractive if you're looking to explore the world of HDR video content through the highest tiers of outlets like Netflix or via 4K HDR Blu-Ray players.