How To Choose The Best TV For Gaming

If you're an avid gamer that wants to buy a new TV, you're in a bit of a difficult position. TV makers in Australia go to great pains to sell their screens' movie- and TV-watching potential, but don't really discuss how they perform with an Xbox One or PS4 or gaming PC plugged in.

You can find a TV that flatters your console, though, and makes big-screen gaming an enjoyable exercise; it's also entirely possible to pick a bad one and be stuck with an inferior experience. Here are three key points that you'll need to address when you're picking out a good TV for console or PC gaming.

1. Does It Have A Game Mode?

The name of this feature is just about the only honest thing that TV manufacturers have settled on in the last few years. TVs' Game modes, by and large, turn off as much image processing as possible — all the edge sharpening and motion blur reduction and colour balancing gizmos that make your Blu-ray movies look good. These features running in your TV's video processing pipeline each introduce their own little delay before the picture actually hits the display.

A good Game mode will turn off all this frippery and deliver a picture that is as close as possible to what your PC or console is outputting. This may sound like a bad thing — and image processing trickery is great for movies, of course — but if your goal is a responsive display, you'll have to give up some eye candy. Important: if you're running your console or PC through a receiver, this will do its own image processing, increasing input lag, if you don't disable it.

2. Does It Have Low Input Lag?

This is something that isn't necessarily represented in specifications on a TV maker's website. Input lag is the absolute bane of gaming — it's the gut-wrenching delay between inputting an action and it being replicated on-screen. Lots of input lag means that when you're playing a quick game, or one that requires delicate input, you're at a disadvantage.

So, your goal is to find a TV with the lowest possible input lag. That should restrict your choice mainly to LCDs, which have faster processing between input and display than plasmas, although there are a few plasmas that perform pretty well. Since input lag isn't a figure that manufacturers quantify in specifications, you'll have to rely on third-party tests. HDTVTest UK's input lag database is invaluable — just find the Australian model that corresponds with the UK listing.

3. Does It Have A Fast Native Refresh Rate?

This isn't an issue for plasma TVs, since their sub-field refresh rates are in the order of 600 Hertz and above. If you're picking out an LCD, you'll want a 100Hz or 200Hz native refresh rate panel — this is the only thing that matters. Almost all TV makers have software frame interpolation functions — Sony's is MotionFlow, Samsung's is Clear Motion — but these waste processing time doubling and repeating individual frames, increasing input lag.

Whether there is a huge difference between a 50Hz native display and a 100Hz native display is a matter of some argument — with TVs, that native refresh rate isn't as simple as you'd think, with all inputs over HDMI coming in at 50Hz in the first place (even your overpowered gaming PC is locked to 50fps). Hardware 100Hz does improve image quality without impacting response times, which is its main advantage over a software frame rate booster.

A Quick Note On Plasma Versus LED-LCD

Plasma TVs have far better contrast and black levels than the vast majority of LCD TVs, and when you're actually watching TV or playing games these two metrics are massively more important than the game's native resolution or the resolution of your display. As a general rule, though, plasma displays have significantly more inherent input lag than LCDs, which makes them less responsive for twitch gaming. I can remember the hell of trying to play Guitar Hero on my 50-inch Pioneer plasma — it's not worth the heartache.

So, while they don't look as good, and while I'm remiss to suggest anyone buy LCD over a beautiful plasma, if you're going to be doing a lot of gaming they're the smarter choice.

What Are Some Good Gaming TVs Right Now?

With those three important points in your mind, go forth and find yourself a new TV. If you need some suggestions, I can anecdotally vouch for the gaming performance of Sony's 2013 BRAVIAs, specifically the W800A and W700A series. Samsung's Series 8 and Series 5 plasma TVs, if you can find them on a clear-out sale somewhere, are only marginally worse in terms of input lag and responsiveness, but give a welcome boost to contrast. I'll be testing plenty of 2014 TVs in the near future, so stay tuned.

Do you have any other suggestions for what to look for when you're picking out a TV to use your gaming PC or console with? Let us know in the comments.

WATCH MORE: PC Gaming News


Comments

    This is great, I'll be in the market for a new TV soon, I'll keep an eye out for the verdict on future TVs :)

    Samsung LEDs with game mode are fantastic, I find no visible input latency at all. I play Halo/Titanfall on a series 6 and series 8 46" LED models with near perfect results. I'm yet to see a plasma that out does them for black contrast too.

      I have a 46" series 7 LED and I couldnt play with gamemode on, made it look terrible, I have clearmotion on clear.

        Like jaggies or something? What game(s)?

          I don't know, I guess it took all the nice filters/motion etc away like the article says, playing on smooth is real bad with lag but I found clear to definately be playable I feel I'm pretty competent in Titanfall/shooters that require twitch gaming.

            I'll give some other modes a go, I know standard and movie suck for gaming, I'll try some others.

              I tried gamemode on Watch Dogs, I did like it, seemed crisp and vibrant but the jaggies got to me, I need that hint of smooth motion you get on clear, have tweaked most of my settings again now.

              Why not pick one of the custom modes and set it up to be perfect rather than relying on the manufacturer's presets?

              That's what I did on my Bravia, I basically removed all of the image processing and so on to get the most pure source as possible, while still retaining a couple of boosters here and there that enhanced the look without sacrificing on lag or anything.

              Last edited 09/06/14 5:04 am

      Really? I have a Samsung series 8 LED LCD and the input lag is horrendous, I estimate it above 50ms, with Game Mode turned on.

      I made a crude input lag meter by running a millisecond stop watch app on my tablet and used the HDMI port on that to show the same thing on my TV. Then got a camera and took shots of both the tablet and the TV at the same time and figured out the difference in time. I was consistently getting 50+ ms.

        50ms input lag is pretty good for screens of that size honestly. Especially through a console with most likely a wireless controller.

        Make sure you're not going through a receiver as well. And wired controllers can help a bit.. but not really much these days.

          Hmm, I thought 50ms would be on the high end. Controller input lag is different to screen input/signal lag though, isn't it. I do use a wired controller though (just because I hate recharging the battery and I prefer the lighter controller).

            But no, 50ms isn't *horrid* for input lag. Its still high and not near competitive levels, but its decent for large screens. I wouldn't play on it, but thats because CRT or smaller, 24" LED monitors just have better performance.

            Input lag as they said is the time it takes for your controller action to send to the TV and happen. It includes the controller sending information to the console, which then displays that information onto the TV. They all play a part in it. That said, Wireless controllers now a days are fine for input lag, but some still swear by wired (I haven't used wired 360 controllers outside of PC gaming, so can't speak from complete personal experience).

    +1 for the Sony Bravia.

      Agreed. Bought myself a KDL42W800A last year, and couldn't be happier with it. The blacks are pretty darn good for an LED panel, and I can't feel any input lag at all.
      My mother used mine for a while and ended up buying three new Sony Bravias for her house last week.
      Big thumbs up for the current Bravia line.

      Yup, got a W900 last year and it's the tits.

    I was still keen on a plasma but JB seem to've pulled them completely from their online store in the last month or two. Might still be some available instore though

      Pana ST60 is awesome. Slight input lag compared to others, but amazing picture. The best TV in the shop.

    Very much looking forward to the follow up article as I've recently started researching my next replacement TV. I run my TV purely in game mode currently, with everything going through the Xbox One.

    I was very curious about the new LG 4k Web-OS as it's the first smart TV software I've seen that isn't god awful, but apparently they have some pretty bad input lag. I wish I could just go out and buy a 65" high quality monitor without any smart rubbish, and without paying 2-3x as much as a TV.

    Given I'd rather spend a bit more money on something that lasts, and my Samsung F81 from 2007 is still going strong and looking great (just using a bit too much power, and pumping out the heat), I wont consider a new 1080p, has to be 4k as I expect it to last 7 years+ again.

    Everyone I know who buys a sub $1500 TV seem to get absolutely horrendous motion blur, not that they seem to notice

      LCD's have motion blur with enhancements turned off. Nothing you can do about that.

        My 7 year old LCD has significantly less motion blur than my friends near new cheapies however. Yes they all have them, but there are significantly worse units out there.

    my bravia is still going strong 6 years on now. it was chosen specifically because of gaming and being a pc monitor.
    i have seen some horrible sets.

      Yep, my 5 year old Bravia is still kicking goals. The quality of sound it puts out is better than most. It's about ready to go to second tv status, I need to convince the wife to upgrade to a new Bravia rather than 'big and cheap'.

    Add, does it have 1:1 pixel mapping, I am unsure why some don't.

    Plus, I watch all movies in 'game mode' I find the processing usually makes 1080P native material look like crap.

      x2 in this, the only time post processing is remotely useful is your favourite game of sportball, even then while it reduced that triple ball effect, it still makes the overall experience look weird.

    Kotaku and/or Gizmodo really should do an article explaining the effects of TV input lag, TV refresh rate, game frame rate etc.

    Using my crude understanding, this is what I'm getting on my Xbox 360 and Samsung LED LCD Series 8:
    TV input lag = 50ms (I think it's closer to 56ms from my crude measurements)
    TV refresh = 50Hz
    game frame rate = 60 fps (being generous)

    At 60fps, the game (i.e. software) generates a new picture every 17ms. TV is running at 50Hz, so it will draw a new picture every 20ms. The frame that the TV draws could be as old as 16ms (i.e. it just missed out on a frame when it drew the previous picture). So the picture I see on the TV could be as old as = 20 + 16 + 50 = 86ms old. This is super old in terms of playing an online game.

    That's not even taking into account network lag/latency/ping whatever you want to call it.

    If my understanding is wrong, please feel free to correct me.

      Author is wrong about the HDMI 50Hz limit - that's NTSC. PAL is 60Hz, allowing the full 60fps from consoles to come through.

        Pal is 50Hz. Ntsc is 60Hz
        It's based off of mains frequency.

    I have the Sony Bravia W900A and it's super sick-wicked. Low input lag, fast refresh rate, 55 inch screen with really great colours, blacks, and whites. Fantastic TV.

      That's the exact same TV that I have, it is indeed the radness. Make sure you have external speakers though, the only downside is that it's so thin the inbuilt speakers are awful.

        5.1 B&W M1 speaker system with the ASW610 sub coming from a Yamaha RX-V 1900 receiver. Sounds awes as a horse. Got the speakers quite a few years ago, and the TV recently from JB for about $1800. Talked them down a bit on the TV and the PS4 I got with it.

      Im baffled everyone can cough out $2400 for a TV.

        Hahahhaha.... If that baffles you, you better sit down... My current lounge TV ran me $6500... Or $100 per inch of awesome...

        It hurts greatly now that you can get the same size for easily $2000 less :-( but at the time it was the best on the market and I still love it (Samsung series 8 if anyone is wondering)

        More then my entire gaming PC, double monitors, desk, chair, Blue Yeti microphone, Xbox 360 and 5.1 speaker setup... for a single screen that would still perform worse than my 24" monitor for gaming (though be much more eye candy).

        *yikes*,

    Seeing some OLED TV's in the fun sections of department stores now, what are those things like for gaming?

    Plasma TVs are the kings of home theatre, there's truly no doubt about that. For movies, they can't be beat.

    As a pure gaming television, I'm not so sure. Plasma technology has come a log way in terms of image retention and burn-in, and there are features implemented (like pixel orbiter in Panasonic Viera TVs) that attempt to reduce it, but the technology is still susceptible to it.

    If you'll only be playing games, hours upon hours, this may be something to consider. HUDs and other static images don't bode well.

    As for input lag, I don't think it'll be much of a problem, period. If you're a competitive gamer, playing a competitive game (CS:GO), it very well could be a problem. But chances are you're not lounging around on your couch in front of a TV, if split-second reflexes are necessary.

    In casual FPS titles on consoles, like CoD, Halo and Titanfal, they all have ridiculously large hitboxes, auto-aim and, just generally massive amounts of leeway when it comes to hitting enemies. A tiny bit of input lag isn't going to hurt anyone.

    So yeah, plasmas handle motion better, have better contrast, black levels and arguably better colour reproduction (better meaning 'potentially' more accurate). LCDs generally have over-saturated colours, which may look better to some people (most people, even) because it catches the eye.

    Plasmas can also be picked up at a fraction of the cost of an LCD of similar 'performance'. It's a shame that even JB Hi Fi seem to have removed Plasmas from their website. The Panasonic ST60 is generally considered the best television ever made, especially price:performance.

      Disagree entirely. I'm no competitive gamer, but I do like to play games that feel responsive.

      The plasma solutions my family decided on are not ideal for gaming in any form of twitch based game (pretty much every shooter ever). They are fine if your playing a more slow paced story driven game, or something that is turn based, strategy etc. That kind of input lag just messes with your muscle memory a LOT.

      I find even if I play for months on the plasma, get use to it, and consider it normal. Moving to my 24" gaming orientated LED monitor, or even further back down to my 34" CRT Box TV thingamajig, I instantly notice the smooth response games give me with that near 0 input lag. Its incredible the difference.

    Sharp produces their own screen in Japan. I wonder why not more people talk or wanna buy them more than the usual brand like Samsung or Sony

    Also... and this isn't about gaming, but for general ownership.
    See how long the TV takes to start, and how long between pressing a button on the remote and the television responding is (particularly channel changes). Having bought a new television last year, I now can't wait to get rid of it because of how long it takes to do anything.

      You could maybe try turning off some of the processing things. Just sounds like the TV you chose is a bit old with its processor and such.

        Realistically, all I wanted at the time was the biggest damn tv I could afford.

        I've learned a valuable lesson... and like all good lessons, it's been expensive.

          Yeh definitely can see your fault there :) Well at least you've learned that cheap and big also = cheap and nasty... aha :P

    Odd I was only looking into this last night, so good timing. :)
    Then again I think that was spurred on by Aldi's Bauhn 50" TV for $555 on sale this week. Yes it's a cheap TV but thought it was a good base to start from to review and work my way up to a TV suitable for hi res gaming. Since a number of games I play tend to have a heap of writing in them, something I find hard to read on my 48" Panasonic plasma TV.

    I'm baffled that it doesn't mention that native 60Hz is the most important thing to have with a TV used for your PC.

    I have a 1st generation LED Samsung Series 6 TV and I only ever get a good picture through HDMI 1 (DVI) and then naming the input "PC" or "DVI PC". The picture quality is outstanding but I cannot use the 100Hz feature. The other 3 inputs and the built in TV tuner look horrible and there seems to be nothing that I can do about it, it literally looks worse than DVD even when the source material is 1080p. I ended up buying myself an Onkyo amp and run all of my HDMI inputs through that to the HDMI 1 (DVI) input on my TV so that all of my consoles and PC look the way they are supposed to.

    I have friends who have TVs that aren't able to display their PC properly because they are only natively 50Hz. It's not just because they are old, I had an older 720p TV that worked perfectly with a DVI input.

    Basically if you're not sure get them to hook a laptop up to the TVs you are looking at with a HDMI cable and try to get it right with the settings if the picture isn't perfect straight away. I had to figure my TV out by myself as the manual and even the internet had no solutions available.

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