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.
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’.
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.
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.
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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