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Gran Turismo Sport is HDR's killer app

A game-changing experience.

Gran Turismo has rightfully earned a reputation across the years in pushing the limits of console technology, and after some unconvincing early betas, GT Sport looks like delivering another phenomenal technological masterclass. Earlier this week, Sony unleashed a massive demo version, allowing players to sample a wide variety of events and features. It's opportunity for an early glimpse at near-final code and it's especially impressive for users with high dynamic range displays. Many games benefit from HDR, but with GT Sport, the upgrade is so pronounced and so beautiful, you're clearly not getting the full experience without it.

The majority of our gameplay took place on PlayStation 4 Pro using its high resolution mode - which remains a checkerboarded 1800p presentation with a native 4K user interface. The results aren't as crisp as other PS4 Pro titles or indeed Forza Motorsport 7 on Xbox One X, but it's still a gorgeous looking game in motion and the Pro showcases GT Sport and HDR at its best.

GT Sport offers a remarkable level of detail in every facet of the presentation. The move to PlayStation 4 means that materials, textures and lighting are all amped up beyond what was previously possible. In making the leap to physically-based rendering, the game features more realistic surfaces and objects throughout its environments and across the lineup of cars. Textures are much sharper and more realistic as a result even up-close. The game retains a sense of scale that no other sim racer can quite match - the way its environments stretch out into the distance create the illusion of a large world.

But more than anything else, it's the support for high dynamic range that has left us most impressed. Some games utilise HDR well but clearly, not all implementations are created equal, and many fall short. Gran Turismo has always been a series created to push the boundaries of technology so it's no surprise that HDR plays a huge role in its presentation. And in a world where so many HDR screens offers such a wide-ranging experience, Polyphony Digital is to be commended for its set-up process.

We've put together a full-on HDR showcase video for our Gran Turismo Sport demo analysis. Try to watch it in HDR if you can, it's almost stunning to behold.

GT Sport is in a league of its own offering users full control over the HDR experience. When enabling this feature, a configuration page allows you to match the HDR10 output to your television to get the best picture. If you're using an LG display with reduced brightness when using the HDR game mode, GT Sport allows you to overcome this entirely, but really, every screen will benefit here in that you tailor the HDR level to best suit your tastes and the capabilities of your display. More games could learn from this implementation.

There are several elements which come together here to define this HDR presentation. It begins with the rendering of the sky. The increased colour depth and brightness of HDR allows the sunlight and clouds to exhibit a level of brightness closer to reality. Then there are the head and tail lights featured on the cars. The contrast of high intensity lights with the environment works brilliantly here, again contributing to the sense of realism. Taken as a whole, the end results are vibrant and sharp. There are plenty of nitpicks one could fire at the game if you look closely, including 'billboard' trees and a lack of detail in certain parts of the background, but during the action, it's a beautiful game.

There's more good news - specifically a clear improvement in performance in the high resolution mode compared to earlier betas. Based on our experience, the overall level of consistency here is very impressive, with Polyphony delivering its closest lock to 60 frames per second since the PS2 era. We had a difficult time encountering any slowdown during gameplay, meaning that if it does occur, it should be rare. The races all play back very smoothly at 60 frames per second - a level of performance often missed in the PS3 installments. PS4 Pro owners also get the chance to run replays at 1080p60 - while base PS4 and the high-res Pro mode operate these at 30fps instead. It's not a perfect lock but the results look brilliant - just the tonic after 10 years of top-tier racing games only offering 30fps replays.

However, this brings up an interesting limitation in the game. With PS4 Pro outputting 1080p you can choose to prioritise frame-rate or resolution, which is great, as it's basically allowing super-sampling within the game. When you output at 4K though, prioritising frame-rate is not possible and you're stuck at the higher resolution. In our last GT Sport beta report we were pretty scathing about how modes were being partitioned between users according to the display that they own, with 1080p Pro users getting a raw deal, so the fact that these features have been added is a really good thing. However, since the gameplay is pretty much locked, one extra option that we would love to see is the choice to prioritise frame-rate specifically for replays, allowing the main game to run at 1800p checkerboard while replays are limited to 1080p at 60fps.

The Sin City game that never was Miller light. The Sin City game that never was

Overall then, Gran Turismo Sport is exceeding expectations. The earlier showings of the game didn't quite hit the mark but Polyphony has made great strides this time around, solving many of the issues not just from earlier beta code, but also from prior GT titles on previous PlayStation platforms. The visuals are much better of course, but it's the overall experience that impresses the most. From the slick menu system, the seamless online system and the smart design choices, it just feels welcoming and engaging to jump into. If you're a lapsed fan of the series or new to racing games in general, this could be a great entry point.

And then there's the HDR implementation. We've seen some strong showings from developers before, but GT Sport is the first title we've seen that looks so phenomenal in HDR that it has the potential to prompt a lot of display upgrades. Just remember that a screen advertising HDR may not be fully up to spec - our 4K HDR buyer's guide should hopefully put you on the right track. At its fullest potential, HDR is a game-changer and GT Sport may well be its first killer app.

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