PS5 gets another killer graphics upgrade – but there's a huge catch

Sony is adding an HDR feature to match Dolby Vision… but only if you have a new Sony TV

PlayStation 5 on black and grey background
(Image credit: Sony)

A couple of weeks ago, I explained why Xbox's support for Dolby Vision HDR is kind of a game-changer, and why it's such a shame that the PS5 doesn't also support it. The technology is designed to help your TV and your games console work better together at making HDR games look realistic and detailed, and it's a great upgrade.

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! Except that 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. And that's it.

Boooooo.

The TVs it works with are:
• Sony Z9J (an elite 8K TV)
Sony A90J (arguably the 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 to buy 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 is there a single budget model. Neither of those things is true with the Xbox's Dolby Vision support, because Dolby Vision is a standard support across different manufacturers and prices.

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?

Image showing the difference between tone-mapped HDR and not

(Image credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc; Polyphony Digital)

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).

In other PS5 graphics update news, we're expecting Variable Refresh Rate support to finally be added soon – that's based on the fact that Sony is adding VRR to its TVs at long last through an update. The good news here is that this will work on any TV with VRR support, which is loads of them these days.

Matthew Bolton
Matthew Bolton

Matt is T3's master of all things audiovisual, running our TV, speakers and headphones coverage. He also handles smart home products and large appliances, as well as our toys and games articles. He's the only one on the team who can explain both what Dolby Vision IQ is and why the Lego you're building doesn't fit together the way the instructions say, so is truly invaluable.

Matt has worked for tech publications for over 10 years, in print and online, including running T3's print magazine and launching its most recent redesign. He's also contributed to a huge number of tech and gaming titles over the years. Say hello if you see him roaming the halls at CES, IFA or Toy Fair.