Elder Scrolls Online HDR patch

One of the reasons I was anxious to get a PS4 Pro as soon as they launched was that I’d heard The Elder Scrolls Online would support the new hardware with improved resolution (or ‘enhanced details on 1080P screens). It was one of the first games I tried on the new console and when I saw the difference I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Now don’t get me wrong, it was still TESO, but the increased resolution meant more details ‘popped’ and the improved draw distances made the world feel even more alive. Mostly this is all aesthetics though I can spot harvest nodes from further away now.

Of course me being me, soon after I drifted off to other games, but I always come back to TESO eventually.

I did that yesterday and was surprised to see “An HDR video is playing” pop up on my screen when I loaded the game (that’s my TV’s awkward way of indicating it is receiving video from an HDR source). Turns out a recent update added HDR support to the game. I was delighted until I logged in and found the cave I’d happened to log out in was dark. I mean really dark. Dark to the level of having to navigate via the map because I literally couldn’t see the walls.

I went online and found I wasn’t the only one having issues, and in fact even people without HDR TVs were complaining about the game being too dark. So I think Zenimax is going to have to adjust things. That said, for me it was just a matter of tweaking some settings.

Here’s the thing about HDR. First, it’s impossible for me to show you how awesome it is unless you have an HDR display and even then I’m not sure how I, personally, can capture HDR data to share. It’s kind of like 3D or VR; without the right hardware there’s no way for you to see it. Second, it’s still pretty new tech and tends to be fiddly. You see a lot of people talking about how it’s too much trouble; these comments, I have to assume, are coming from people who haven’t experienced it. It is very much worth the few minutes it (sometimes) takes to get it right.

In my TV’s case (a Samsung KS8000) I found that I had to turn on Dynamic Contrast, which is something all the pundits tell you to leave off. With the new patch there’s an “HDR Brightness” slider. With Dynamic Contrast turned off this didn’t appear to do anything. With Dynamic Contrast set to high, moving the slider resulted in noticeable changes though it feel more like “how HDR-ey do you want this” more than an actual brightness slider.

But with Dynamic Contrast set to High I could see in caves again. Given, again, that all the pundits hate Dynamic Contrast, I then tried it set to Medium and still had good results. On Low it’s a wee bit dark. It’s dark in a way that actually feels cool in terms of immersion but maybe too dark to do group dungeon content, not that I ever do group dungeon content.

Anyway once I’d done this….WOW. The Elder Scrolls Online looks like a whole new game now. A lot of colors are brighter, the lighting is amazing and everything just feels more “real” something. It’s really hard for me to articulate what HDR does, but I really like it. Now I’m running around the world and sometimes something will catch my eye (the rays of the setting sun on water, maybe, or a shaft of magical light coming from a relic) and I’ll just stop and gawk. At one point I was looking for the source of glare on my TV screen for a few seconds before I realized it wasn’t glare, but the light from an in-game torch was just THAT bright.

I’m really looking forward to when HDR is more common and less finicky; I can’t wait for more people to get HDR religion :). One of my biggest issues now is, I’m not a TV professional and there are a lot of settings to play with. I generally look up the settings for a TV from some site like rtings.com and use those. But for this Samsung I keep getting conflicting info, and then there are settings for HDR and settings for regular video, AND then there are a few settings on the PS4 that you can mess with. So many variables! I finally say “Heck with it” and I’m letting my eyes decide. Rather than worrying about if the picture is correct or accurate, I’m worrying about whether it is pleasing to me. Still, there are a LOT of settings to tweak and it can be really confusing. I hope it gets easier over time.

Still, totally worth it though. HDR is the real deal.