Windows 10 gets one of Xbox Series X’s best features

Gears 5
(Image credit: The Coaliton)

Windows 10’s latest preview includes a nifty feature for gamers drafted over from the Xbox Series X – namely Auto HDR support – plus a few other goodies for good measure.

These features have arrived in build 21337, which has been made available to testers in the Dev Channel (and presumably this functionality will be incorporated in the 21H2 update arriving later this year).

As mentioned, the big change is Auto HDR debuting on the PC – albeit still labeled as a preview – following the feature being brought in with the Xbox Series X console (and Xbox Series S for that matter).

What this does is take a normal game in SDR (standard dynamic range) and artificially upgrade it to HDR (high dynamic range), the obvious caveat being that you’ll need an HDR-capable display.

As you’re likely aware, HDR gives an image more vivid colors and a lot more punch in general, so effectively this is a free and substantial visual upgrade for your existing games.

Microsoft explains: “Auto HDR for PC will take DirectX 11 or DirectX 12 SDR-only games and intelligently expand the color/brightness range up to HDR. It’s a seamless platform feature that will give you an amazing new gaming experience that takes full advantage of your HDR monitor’s capabilities.”

Turning it on is as simple as flipping a switch. If you’re a Windows 10 tester using build 21337, just search for ‘Windows HD Color Settings’ and you’ll find the relevant option on this panel.

The below screenshot shows Gears 5 with Auto HDR running compared to native HDR, to illustrate that while the latter is still the best solution as you would expect, the auto feature offers an impressive approximation.

Gears 5 HDR heatmap

(Image credit: Microsoft / The Coalition)

GPU demands

Microsoft is busy adding support for games to take advantage of the Auto HDR feature, and over 1,000 titles already do. The software giant notes that while the feature takes “some GPU compute power to implement, we don’t expect it to significantly impact your gaming experience”.

Although at the early testing stage right now, there’s obviously a chance that greater than anticipated slowdown could be witnessed in some games – or indeed outright bugs.

Build 21337 also gives users more options when running virtual desktops, including the ability to apply different backgrounds across your virtual desktops, and to reorder them in Task View.

File Explorer also has a new ‘compact mode’ which tightens up the spacing between different elements of the interface, and some core Windows 10 apps have been tweaked, such as Notepad, which can now be updated via the Microsoft Store, and not just with Microsoft’s big OS feature updates (this should facilitate more regular updates for Notepad).

As ever, there are a bunch of other minor improvements and fixes, as well as known issues, and you can find the full details in Microsoft’s blog post introducing the new build.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).