Only a week ago, I wrote about how Xbox’s support for Dolby Vision HDR is something of a game-changer, because it helps to make sure that any TV that supports Dolby Vision gives you the most realistic possible visuals from your console. And I said it’s a big shame that Sony hasn’t said anything about supporting the feature on PS5, despite supporting Dolby Vision on its TVs.
Well, now Sony has announced that it will be bringing a new feature to PS5 called ‘Auto HDR Tone Mapping’, and it basically does exactly what Dolby Vision does in games – yay! But you’ll only be able to use it if you have a ‘BRAVIA XR’ TV, which means the five highest-end models from Sony’s 2021 TV range.
The TVs it works with are:
• Sony Z9J (an elite 8K TV)
• Sony A90J (arguably be best OLED TV on the planet right now)
• Sony A80J (a slightly more affordable OLED)
• Sony X95J (Sony’s highest-end 4K LCD TV of 2021)
• Sony X90J (the crowd-pleasing mid-range 4K TV)
This is pretty limiting, and not just because you might not want a Sony TV. It means, for example, that there isn’t a single 43-inch TV that will work with the PS5‘s Auto HDR Tone Mapping feature. Nor a single budget model. Neither of those things is true with the Xbox’s Dolby Vision support.
The feature is coming in an update to the PS5 and to these TVs. Sony says that it will be “Available by the end of 2021.” It will arrive alongside a less interesting feature called ‘Auto Genre Picture Mode’, which means the Sony TV will switch between its gaming mode or movie mode depending on… whether you’re gaming or watching a movie.
So if you’re thinking of getting both a PS5 and one of these TVs, then the Auto HDR Tone Mapping is a seriously great bonus – but it’s infuriating that Sony has decided to make it so that buyers of its own TVs get a better visual experience than if you bought a different brand. That isn’t how consoles are supposed to be – they should be agnostic of your TV.
What is tone mapping, and why do I care?
The image above is Sony’s illustration of what HDR tone mapping does, and demonstrates it as well any number of words could: HDR tone mapping makes sure that the maximum brightness and darkness of the images in the game is calibrated to what your TV is capable of showing.
Think of the deepest black that the game creates in its images as 0%, and the brightest highlight as 100%. The problem is that your TV might not be capable of showing darkness as low as 0% or lightness as high as 100%. Maybe your TV’s full range is actually 10% to 90%.
When the PS5 creates its image, it doesn’t know that your TV can’t manage the full HDR range, so it sends out everything, and so your TV crams anything above 90% to the brightest level it can, and anything below 10% gets brought up to the best dark tone it can. In both cases, it means any detail is lost.
What happens with the Auto HDR Tone Mapping, though, is that the PS5 and TV talk to each other, and know exactly what they’re both capable of when it comes to HDR range. And now, the PS5 can make sure that the picture it puts out only ranges from 10% to 90%, so that every part of the image is visible in the way it should be. No lost details.
This is exactly what Dolby Vision does for games too – but in that case, the Xbox can do it with any TV that has Dolby Vision support, including those from LG, Sony, Hisense, TCL, Philips, Panasonic, Vizio… all the big players apart from Samsung, really (which has has never supported Dolby Vision).