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The best 4K TVs for gaming

4K, HDR, and low input lag are must-haves for a great gaming TV. These are the best.

These are exciting times for the bleeding edge of gaming TV hardware. Consoles and PCs are transforming the way games look by offering support for both native 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) graphics. And we’re finally starting to see the once ‘gaming blind’ television market embracing more and more features designed to attract gamers, with lower response times and sets that play nice with our PCs.

Traditional monitors may be built from the ground up to deliver optimal gaming performance and features, but they’re not generally very big. Televisions, on the other hand, are getting bigger and bigger with every passing year, with 55-inch models now considered mainstream, and 75-inch models starting to creep into affordable territory. The best gaming TVs now offer performance in the ballpark of PC monitors—and what they may lack in super high refresh rates they make up for in color quality and size.

The one problem with taking your gaming hobby to the next, big-screen level is the overwhelming number of TV choices out there. Many of the main brands just keep on making more and more TVs, with smaller and smaller differences between them. With this in mind, we’ve made your life easier by picking the current best TVs for gaming across three different price points.

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The best high-end TV for gaming

  • 4K Resolution
  • Wide ranging HDR support
  • Stunning contrast
  • High frame rate support
  • Potential for ‘screen burn’
  • No variable frame rate support
  • It’s expensive

OLED technology has been transformed as a gaming display option over the past two years. The OLED class of 2017 finally started to tackle the technology’s previous brightness, noise and response time issues. And now the new 2018 series has continued that journey in outstanding style, combining a whole new level of game friendliness with OLED’s traditional contrast prowess.

Looking at that proud contrast tradition first, the key thing about OLED technology is that every pixel in an OLED screen produces its own brightness and colour. LCD screens, by comparison, have to share external light sources across many pixels.

This means that OLED screens can deliver almost infinitely more localised light control. In fact, a totally black pixel could potentially sit right next to a bright white pixel, with all the sensational contrast implications that implies. 

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The best midrange TV for gaming

  • 4K Resolution
  • Extremely punchy HDR pictures
  • Ground-breaking LCD contrast
  • Numerous gaming features previously only found on monitors
  • Not quite as intense as OLED TVs in dark scenes
  • Limited viewing angle
  • No Dolby Vision HDR support

Samsung’s grudge match with LG’s OLED technology has stepped up a gear with the launch of Samsung’s new QLED technology.

This uses a proprietary take on LCD Quantum Dot colour technology that sees each Dot clad in a metallic sheath so that it can be driven harder. And when you drive a Quantum Dot harder it pumps out more brightness and colour intensity, making it better able to handle the extra light range and wider colour spectrums associated with the high dynamic range picture technologies now available from the Xbox One S/X, PS4/PS4 Pro, and PCs with sufficiently powerful graphics cards.

After a slightly underwhelming QLED debut in 2017, Samsung has come back swinging for 2018.  Particularly important to the Q8FN is Samsung’s switch from all edge-based LED lighting last year to a direct lighting system (where the LEDs sit directly behind the screen). This immediately helps the Q8FN deliver a much better contrast performance—especially as the direct lighting has been allied with local dimming technology, where hundreds of clusters of LEDs can be made to output their own light levels, independent of neighbouring clusters.

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The best entry TV for gaming

  • 4K Resolution
  • Exceptional value for a direct-lit LCD TV
  • Good HDR support 
  • Handles dark scenes extremely well for its price
  • Frustrating Android TV Smart engine
  • Not the brightest TV for HDR viewing

Although Sony’s X900E LCD TV series came out in 2017, they’re very much still available. And handily, their relative age means they’re still available at massively reduced prices. 

In fact, if you snap one up now, you’re truly getting an upper mid-range big-brand TV for the price of an entry level one.

The key to their success is that despite their affordability, they use direct LED lighting with local dimming—like the Samsung Q8FN. There aren’t as many ‘dimming zones’ as you get with the Q8FN, but having this sort of backlight configuration at all is remarkable for such an affordable TV.

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How we test gaming TVs

In assessing all of the main TVs around for their gaming capabilities, we focused on four main performance elements. 

First, input lag: how long a screen takes to render image data received at its inputs. This is critically important to gamers. Input lag was checked with HDR, SDR, 4K and HD game feeds to check there were no major anomalies between different sources (there weren’t with any of our selected TVs).

We checked input lag in two ways: using a Leo Bodnar input lag measuring device, and photographically, where we split a video feed of a running timer into the TV we’re testing and a reference BenQ gaming monitor, take a photo, and then see how far the time reading on the TV was behind the reading on the reference monitor. 

The photographic method enables us to spot potential moment to moment variations in input lag that some TVs suffer with, and which the Bodnar device doesn’t provide.

Next, we considered contrast. How well a display is able to reproduce the darkest and brightest parts of a gaming image is essential to a truly satisfying game experience. Especially now many games are supporting the expanded brightness range associated with HDR. As part of the contrast assessment, we also looked for issues such as flickering brightness levels and backlight ‘blooming’ around bright objects.

As part of the contrast testing, we measured each TV’s peak light output using an X-Rite i1 Display Pro light meter. This lets us know how far a set can go towards achieving the sort of extreme brightness levels HDR gaming is capable of.

Colour performance was also carefully scrutinized, paying attention to the richness, balance, consistency, freedom from striping noise and authenticity of the tones being shown. Pretty much all HDR material also carries a wider colour range than the old standard dynamic range format we’ve been stuck with for so many years. This can have a transformative effect on game graphics, making them look both more lifelike and more dramatic/three dimensional.

Finally, we looked a motion and sharpness. We mention these together as to some extent they’re related. If a TV suffers badly with judder or blurring when you’re panning around in Fortnite or hurtling into the scenery in Forza Horizon 3, that’s going to affect the picture’s sense of sharpness significantly. We also studied ultra-detailed but relatively static 4K game graphics looking for signs of softness, shimmering noise, ever-enthusiastic edge-enhancements, grain or any lack of depth and three-dimensionality that might be caused by a TV being unable to deliver enough color finesse to ‘match’ the number of pixels in the screen.

Other TVs we tested

Having put dozens of TVs from all the big brands through their gaming paces over the past six months, here are a trio which fell just short of making our ‘top three’.

Samsung QN55Q7F

The QN55Q7F is one of Samsung’s 2017 TVs, but at the time of writing it’s still available—and at a discount price, too. It’s a consummate gaming screen in most ways, thanks to its incredible brightness, ultra-rich colors and class-leading sharpness. It also delivers very low input lag in its Game mode, and thanks to the remarkable ambient light filter you get built into all of Samsung’s top-level QLED TVs, its pictures lose practically no impact at all even if you’re gaming in a very bright room. The only reason it didn’t quite make the top three is that its combination of edge LED lighting an extreme brightness mean that dark scenes can look rather greyed over.

Sony XBR-75X940E

This 75-inch TV combines direct LED lighting with powerful local dimming to deliver a stunningly colorful, contrast-rich gaming image. Combine this with the sheer enormity of the screen and it’s hard to think of any other TV which gives you a more immersive gaming experience. Its input lag with HDR content is slightly high at 40ms, though, and we really don’t like its Android TV operating system. Plus a 75-inch screen really does take over your room. If you want to take your gaming experience to practically cinematic levels, though, this is TV for you.

Samsung UN49MU7000

Despite being one of Samsung’s cheapest TVs, this 49-inch TV delivers more impact with HDR and wide colour games than any other TV at the same price point. Its relatively compact size may make it a winner if space is at a premium in your house, too, and its input lag comes in at only around 20ms. In the end, though, despite its aggressive pricing its lack of contrast and color richness compared with the Sony X900E series pushed it out of the top three. 

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