Best TVs for Gaming Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar's round-up of the best 4K TVs for PS4 and Xbox you can buy for any budget in 2019.
If you've yet to game on a 4K TV using Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, you're missing out. While these are understandably luxury products that not everyone can afford, those who have the budget should absolutely treat themselves to the best-looking console experiences you can get.
And while this might've cost you an arm and a leg five years ago when 4K was just hitting its stride, these days you can get a 4K TV that doubles as an excellent gaming screen for less than the price of a console… as long as you buy one during Amazon Prime Day or wait until the Black Friday deals season.
Why invest in a 4K setup in the first place? Mid-cycle hardware upgrades have given us consoles capable of outputting both 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range (HDR) for all your video and gaming needs. Not only that, but newer LED-LCD and OLED TVs have lower input lag thanks to new Auto Low-Latency Modes.
Even more reasons to upgrade your gaming TV
So what exactly does a TV need to be able to do these days to unlock your full gaming potential? Let’s start with arguably the most basic requirement: 4K.
Resolution revolution: The Xbox One S outputs all of its games in 4K, achieved via surprisingly good built-in upscaling.
The PS4 Pro outputs games in 4K too, using a mix of upscaling and in-game enhancement. The Xbox One X, meanwhile, has been designed with enough power to drive more games than ever before with native, game engine-integrated 4K support. Yes, you can still get non-4K Xbox One and PS4 consoles, and the Nintendo Switch isn’t interested in 4K either. And yes, non-4K games will have to be upscaled by a 4K TV, so won’t be totally ‘pure’. However, upscaling is remarkably good on the best 4K TVs now, and can be done without adding significant delay to the time it takes a TV to render pictures.
4K resolution can be transformative, especially on big screens. And basically 4K is just the way everything is going now (both in the gaming and video worlds), so not being set up for it with your new TV just doesn’t make sense.
Change your range: Sitting right alongside 4K in today’s video world is high dynamic range (HDR) technology. This delivers pictures with a much wider light range than the standard dynamic range pictures we’ve been living with for decades in a bid to get the pictures we’re seeing on our screens looking closer to the way our eyes see the real world.
The Xbox One S supports HDR on some of its games, and via some of its streaming apps. The same situation applies for both the PS4 and PS4 Pro, and naturally the Xbox One X will deliver HDR too. Most people would say that HDR done well delivers more impact than 4K, especially on small screens.
The only problem is that HDR puts a lot of pressure on a TV, since it demands both much more brightness than SDR, and better contrast so that the extra brightness and deeper blacks can potentially share the screen simultaneously. In fact, HDR done badly can look worse than SDR done decently well; something to think about if you’re considering buying a very cheap TV.
Let there be light! One of the most important elements of a good HDR performance is brightness. Many movies and games target 1000 nits or so for their brightest elements, so if you have a TV less bright than that it won’t unlock HDR’s full potential. Especially in a video game environment, where graphics can be more stark in contrast terms than ‘real life’ tends to be.
It’s perfectly possible for TVs to deliver great HDR pictures without reaching 1000 nits and more of brightness. This is particularly true with OLED screens, for instance. But the darker a screen, the harder its processing is going to have to work to try and figure out how to resolve picture information in HDR areas above its capabilities.
Lag? Lame! If you’re a really serious gamer – especially when it comes to reaction-based online games – you need to care about input lag: The time it takes for a particular TV to render image data received at its inputs. Obviously you’re looking for low numbers if you don’t want to be shot in the face by an opponent your TV hasn’t even shown yet!
Again, manufacturers don’t tend to provide input lag figures in their provided specifications. However, we generally measure input lag on the TVs we test. Also, I’ve provided the input lag measurements for all of our recommended TVs.
Roger that – over and out: Sound design has always played an integral part in a great gaming experience. It’s getting taken to another level these days, though, with the arrival of surround sound gaming. In fact, the Xbox One S and Xbox One X consoles even support Dolby Atmos: Dolby’s most advanced sound system yet, which introduces a height channel and ‘object based’ precision to the soundstage.
With impressively good timing, LG is about to roll out support for Dolby Atmos over HDMI to its 2017 OLED TVs (some of which ship with integrated sound bars) any moment now. Also, while integrated Atmos support isn’t found elsewhere yet, this year has seen a surge in TVs featuring really powerful sound systems. So unless you’re thinking of investing in an external sound system, it will certainly pay you to have sound as well as picture quality in mind when you buy your gaming TV.
Things to pay attention to are whether speakers are facing forwards (as this will almost always give you a more direct, clean sound); rated power output; whether there’s a dedicated bass speaker (often found on a TV’s rear); built-in soundbars; and the number of individual speakers used.
The best gaming TVs of 2019
OK, now that the essential buying advice done and you're an AV expert, let’s now pick out our selection of the best gaming TVs you can currently buy, taking in a combination of price and sheer quality.
While we'd really love to recommend Samsung's higher-end Q90R flagship QLED TV as the best gaming TV – it's really not a practical purchase for most gamers on a tighter budget. What we'd recommend instead is the Samsung Q70R QLED TV that has many of the Q90R's best features at a price more in line with what a gamer would be willing to pay for a new TV.
That said, despite sitting lower down in the QLED line-up, the Q70R includes the same comprehensive smart platform, extensive connections, and cutting-edge features found further up the range. This isn’t the flashiest-looking TV that Samsung has ever made, but if your funds are limited the Q70 is a bright, bold and beautiful 4K QLED screen that’s worth checking out.
Read the review: Samsung Q70R QLED TV
While the LG C9 OLED doesn’t have nearly as much HDR-friendly brightness as Samsung's QLED lineup, it’s stunning when it comes to the other end of the brightness story, delivering gorgeously rich, deep black colours completely free of the sort of clouding issues that LCD TVs suffer with. Also, while OLED can’t yet go as measurably bright as LCD, the way the darkest pixel in an OLED picture can sit right next to the brightest with no contamination between the two gives the C9 OLED a lovely luminous quality that’s particularly effective during dark game settings.
Gamers, meanwhile, will be delighted to hear that unlike its previous two predecessors, the C9 OLED no longer dims the picture down heavily when running in its low-latency HDR Game mode. It also supports 120fps gaming at HD resolutions, full 4:4:4 PC colour, and a superbly low input lag figure of under 20ms.
Read the review: LG C9 OLED
Short and sweet, the X900F Series are brilliant mid-priced 4K TVs that work nicely with Sony's consoles. Every one of the improvements Sony has introduced over and above last year’s already excellent X900E series – better processing, more brightness, slightly more backlight dimming zones, improved motion performance – delivers the goods, resulting in picture quality that humbles many more expensive TVs.
Its Android TV system and some generally minor backlight clouding stop it short of perfection, but for gamers looking at a 65-inch screen it’s one of the best TVs money can buy.
Read the full review: Sony BRAVIA XBR-X900F
If you have deep pockets and a checkbook filled with blank checks, we’d tell you to reach deep and shell out for only the best 4K TVs on the market – LG’s crazy-thin OLED W8 or Samsung’s ultra-bright Q9FN QLED. But that’s not always realistic: for the vast, vast majority of us, our budget to spend on a 4K UHD TV is limited to somewhere under $1,000 – and often it's even less than that.
To that end, it’s absolutely fair to say that the TCL 6-Series is the best TV you can possibly get in this price range. Its performance per dollar is unmatched and its picture quality – despite a few minor flaws – will truly impress you.
Said simply, if there’s a better value 4K TV on the market, we’ve yet to see it.
Read the full review: TCL 6-Series (R615, R617)
Panasonic’s latest LCD TV might not be as bright as most of its rivals, but it does have a rather cool trick up its sleeve: new digitally enhanced backlight technology that adjusts the angle of each pixel to reduce the usual light clouding problems associated with LCD technology. This gives you dark gaming scenes more uniformity, making it easier to remain immersed in the action.
The 50EX750 also stands out from the crowd for gaming with its outstanding 10ms of input lag when using its gaming mode. Frustratingly you actually get comfortably the best picture quality from the 50EX750 if you use its Dynamic picture preset – but you could always stick with Dynamic for most of your gaming and only switch to Game when you’re playing something where reaction times are really important.
A little more buying advice for the road…
If you want to learn more about shopping for gaming TVs, we've added a bit more info below. Read on to level up your AV knowledge skill!
Bits and B.O.B.s: Connected to the HDR point, you might want to think about your gaming TV’s bit depth. The best HDR experience requires a 10-bit screen able to support 1024 values of each RGB colour – otherwise you will get an inferior colour performance, including, possibly, colour striping where you should see subtle blends. Most premium HDR TVs these days are 10-bit, but it’s far from a given at the relatively affordable end of the TV market.
The Xbox One S and PS4 consoles automatically assess the bit-depth of your TV and select the optimum HDR video output accordingly. The Xbox One S even provides a description of your TV’s capabilities under 4K TV Details in its Advanced Video Settings menu. The Xbox One X will presumably do the same.
To be clear, it’s entirely possible for an 8-bit TV to deliver a good HDR colour performance if they have a strong video processing engine. But 10-bit panels certainly have an immediate advantage.
One other point to add here is that some TVs – including high-end Samsung models – actually support 12-bit colour management/processing, even though their panels are only natively 10-bit. The Xbox One S and presumably Xbox One X both provide Colour Depth boxes in their Video Fidelity settings that let you select the maximum bit performance for your particular TV.
Colour purity: Another advanced setting but important thing to consider for the ultimate gaming visuals is chroma subsampling.
This video compression term refers to a TV’s colour purity, and is usually written in such terms as 4:4:4 and 4:2:0. These numbers reveal how many pixels colour is sampled from in the top and bottom rows for every two rows of four pixels. So with 4:2:0, for instance, colour is being sampled from two pixels in the top row and no pixels in the bottom row.
From this it follows that the bigger the numbers are, the purer the colour performance will be, as there’s less ‘guesstimating’ of what colours should look like. The problem is, full 4:4:4 colour support requires a lot of extra image data, and so cannot be handled by the HDMI connections or processing of all TVs.
In truth, the differences in picture quality between 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 and even 4:2:0 aren’t usually enormous. They can be more pronounced with gaming graphics than video, though, so it’s worth trying to check what a TV you’re thinking of buying can support – even though it’s not information regularly carried in TV spec lists. The latest consoles are pretty good at detecting the optimum chroma subsampling a TV can support, automatically adjusting their outputs according.
It’s something that can cause annoying ‘handshaking’ issues with some TVs, though, so both the Xbox One S and PS4 Pro now provide subsampling ‘limiter’ options in their video output menus (‘Enable 4:2:2’ on the Xbox One S, and 2160 YUV4:2:0 on the PS4 Pro).
Frame rate handling: Now that the Xbox One X is almost here and promising native 4K resolution games running at 60 frames a second, make sure that whatever TV you buy has the latest specification HDMI sockets. If it doesn’t have at least one HDMI socket built to the v2.0a specification, it won’t be able to receive 4K resolution at anything higher than 30 frames a second.
Fortunately far more of this year’s 4K TVs do feature HDMI 2.0a sockets than in previous years, but it’s still something that’s worth double checking – especially if you’re buying a particularly cheap TV.
The new HDMI 2.1 standard will no doubt become the benchmark for high-end gaming in time, but we're yet to see it really rolled out across commercially-available sets.
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