If you just got the 4K HDR monitor for your MacBook and wondering why it is not playing HDR videos, this article is just for you. I recently got a 4K HDR monitor for my MacBook Pro and initially, when I tried to play HDR videos on Netflix, Prime Video or even Youtube, my monitor was just streaming regular SDR videos. While my Macbook is clearly streaming the HDR videos on Youtube and on Netflix as well.
Later on, after doing some research and experimentation, I came across some shocking facts about HDR monitors (that’s what brands tell us) and how you can actually play HDR videos on an external monitor using a Macbook Pro.
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Why Need HDR for Videos? What Makes it Better than SDR?
Okay, if you are asking this, you probably never experienced real HDR videos before. Watching any movie or video in SDR is totally acceptable and there is nothing wrong with that but when compared to HDR, you will come to know what you are missing while watching SDR content. Here is why you need HDR for videos.
1. Enhanced Color Depth
HDR display covers more colors and we, as a user, experience more colors. You will literally see more shades of a single color on HDR as compared to SDR. More color depth means more color data and better picture quality.
You will feel more immersion and engaged with the video when you are watching HDR content. This color depth is also known as the Color gamut. This is one big reason why you need to switch to HDR from SDR.
2. High Contrast Ratio
It might feel like fancy terms to you but in reality, these are very basic things that anyone can tell just by taking a glance at the picture. The high contrast ratio is one of the biggest reasons why tech-savvy people incline toward HDR TVs which are significantly more expensive than normal non-HDR tv. Contrast ratio means the difference between the lightest white and brightest black in the picture quality.
Here is the HDR video you can watch to compare the difference between SDR and HDR. Please note, results are only visible on HDR display.
An SDR video is not able to process the difference between the lightest white and brightest black in a single frame while HDR elegantly handles these differences. A dark scene looks pitch black while white light in that same dark scene looks absolutely bright withholding all the details. You will experience life-like picture quality on HDR.
3. More Brightness
The world of HDR is bright. While you can watch any SDR video at 300 nits of brightness, a true HDR display requires peak brightness from 600 nits to 4000 nits. More brightness means, more light in the picture and better detailing. Every small detail in the picture is clearly visible with more colors that ultimately improve the whole entertainment experience. Most budget-oriented monitors washed away the detailing in the picture when HDR is turned on.
These are very basic reasons that make HDR better than SDR. There are several other reasons that make this a deeper conversation but that is not our agenda today. Let’s get back to our topic.
How to Watch HDR on External Monitor Using Macbook
So if you are looking to get an HDR monitor or already got one for Macbook Pro and wanted to watch HDR content on it, here is how you can watch HDR content on an external monitor using Mac.
1. Connect Macbook to Monitor via USB Type-C Thunderbolt Cable
If you don’t want to miss any chances of playing HDR video, connect your monitor via DisplayPort 1.4 cable. Since there is no DisplayPort on Macbook, you need a Thunderbolt 4 USB Type-C cable for a 4K HDR. While HDMI 2.0 has a max bandwidth of 18Gbps, DisplayPort 1.4 has a max bandwidth of 32Gbps which means it can transfer more data which is crucial for 4K HDR videos. I am using a Thunderbolt USB Type-C to USB Type-C cable which came with my BenQ monitor.
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2. Turn on High Dynamic Range Settings on Macbook
Now for transferring the HDR content from Macbook to the External monitor, you need to tweak some simple settings. To turn on HDR on Macbook, you need to go to System Settings > Display. Click on the external monitor that is shown alongside the main Macbook Display.
Now scroll a little bit and turn on ‘High Dynamic Range’. It will allow Macbook to automatically turn on the HDR when content is available.
3. Turn on HDR on Monitor
Imagine Macbook transferring the HDR content to your external monitor and HDR is turned off on your Monitor. To watch HDR content on your monitor, make sure you turn on the HDR. You can check the OSD menu of your monitor to activate the HDR mode. I am using a BenQ monitor here and when I turn on the High Dynamic Range from Settings, it automatically locked the screen for HDR.
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It is a blessing and a curse at the same time because once you turn on HDR on your Macbook via DisplayPort, you cannot turn off HDR on the BenQ monitor. If you are also using a BenQ monitor with Macbook Pro, you don’t need to turn on HDR on the monitor but if you are using any other brand of monitor, you might need to check the HDR settings of your monitor.
4. Turn off Battery Optimisation
Although this feature is created to optimize the battery life and to keep the battery life healthy but when it comes to streaming HDR, this feature can become an obstacle. If your Macbook is not connected to a power outlet while streaming HDR, it will automatically move to SDR instead of HDR. This is not an issue when MacBook is connected to a power outlet.
To stop Macbook from doing that, you can turn off the battery optimization by going to System Settings > Battery > Options > Turn off the ‘Optimise Video Streaming while on battery’ option.
Once you are done with that, open Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browser on the external monitor and try HDR video on Youtube.com. Safari only plays HDR on Macbook’s main display. If you will open Safari on an external monitor, it will play SDR video only.
If you own an actual HDR monitor and have Netflix’s 4K UHD plan, you will also be able to play HDR movies on Netflix, Prime Video and any other streaming platform.
Why is External Monitor Not Playing HDR?
Now there could be several reasons why you are not able to play HDR video on Netflix, Prime Video or even Youtube. Here are some of the reasons why you are not able to play HDR on an external monitor.
1. No UHD Netflix Plan
If you are able to stream HDR videos on Youtube but not on Netflix, chances are you don’t have a UHD 4 screen plan which is the most expensive plan of Netflix. You need a UHD plan if you want to stream 4K HDR movies on Netflix.
2. Check HDR Settings on Macbook
All the above-mentioned settings are not optional. You must change those settings if you want to stream HDR on the external monitor. Cross-check if any of the required settings are still pending.
3. Change Netflix Playback Settings
Now if you already have a Netflix UHD plan and are still not able to play HDR, you might be required to change the Playback settings on Netflix. To do that, go to Account Settings > Your profile > Playback Settings > select the ‘High’ playback.
Once you are done with that, reload Netflix.com and play any 4K HDR movie on an HDR-capable monitor.
4. Cable not supported
Not every Thunderbolt or HDMI cable is capable to play HDR content. If you are using an old Macbook with Intel chips, it is suggested to use the Thunderbolt USB Type-C cable instead of HDMI cable simply because there is no HDMI port and using a USB Type-C adapter is not recommended for HDR streaming.
If you are using a Thunderbolt USB type-C cable, make sure it comes with at least 32Gbps of bandwidth. You can even use the cable that supports 8K resolution.
5. Monitor isn’t HDR Capable (might break your heart)
Now that is the most shocking part I recently came across and it might even break your heart. Most of the budget-oriented 4K monitors (mostly under $700-$800) that claim to be HDR supported are not true HDR. A monitor is truly an HDR monitor if it is VESA DisplayHDR certified and has a peak brightness of at least 600 nits or more. A monitor is also an HDR monitor if the monitor comes with HDR10 support.
You can check the video stats on Netflix by pressing Shift + Control + Option + D on Macbook. At the bottom of Video Stats, you will see HDR Support either ‘True (media-capabilities)’ or False (non-hdr-display) or False (hdr-disabled). It better be True if your monitor is a true HDR display.
Both HDR and Dolby Vision technologies are made for high-end OLED TVs which are meant to watch movies, tv shows while monitors are mostly meant for working or gaming. You will barely find a monitor that natively supports Dolby Vision but you will find some premium monitors that come with HDR10 support or VESA DisplayHDR 600 or VESA DisplayHDR 1000 certification.
Other than these 2, there is no other sign of the monitor being certified for HDR.
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My Macbook plays HDR videos on Youtube, Netflix, and Prime Video but, unfortunately, my BenQ 4K monitor which comes with HDRi technology does not play HDR on Netflix and Prime Video. However it can play HDR on Youtube but when it comes to Netflix, it clearly shows ‘non HDR display’.
These are some of the reasons that are stopping your monitor to play HDR content through the Macbook. Playing HDR is an expensive affair and there are a lot of things to keep aligned if you want to play HDR from a Macbook to an external monitor.
If you are in the market, and looking for the best monitors, make sure you check out our recommendations and if you want an HDR monitor, make sure it comes with HDR 10 support or VESADisplayHDR 400, 600, 1000 or 1400 certified.
Best Monitor recommendations: