If you're an enthusiastic PC gamer, there is a legitimately good reason to buy a new Ultra HD TV. Consoles look good at 4K, but it's PCs that do the most to show off the potential of the new display tech. Last Friday, I played Project CARS on LG's new curved Ultra HD OLED TV, in glorious 4K. (4K and Ultra HD are the same thing, of course -- it's all just a marketing term for the 3840x2160pixel resolution standard.) Bandai Namco was running a special preview of the racing title, now due to be released in March next year, to show off the LG TV's gaming abilities, so I went along to give a Formula 1 car a test drive around Mount Panorama.
First things first: it looked beautiful.
This is the kind of thing that triggers entirely irrational purchasing decisions, forcing me to spend all my money straight away like water rushing out down a drain.
Pictures don't do it justice, especially when captured on a smartphone in the fast-fading afternoon light, but you'll have to take my word for it. This was probably the best-looking racing game I have ever seen, being displayed on what I am certain is the best TV I have ever viewed. Resolution is only one small part of the overall picture quality race, but as gamers the world over know from the ongoing PS4 versus Xbox One polite debate (and the constant PC master race smugness), it does matter. It matters big time.
LG is really pushing gaming as a reason to pick up one of its dozen new Ultra HD TVs being released between now and Christmas, and it's all about that screen resolution. Four times the detail of a comparable Full HD panel is a pretty good reason to pick a new TV, even if you were just planning on watching upscaled TV and Blu-rays, but if you have a source capable of creating native resolution 4K content, you'd be mad not to. And a PC gaming machine is the perfect 4K device.
In the week before, in the process of writing my review of the 65-inch $9999 LG EC970T, I spent a day sitting in front of the TV with my gaming rig -- running one of Nvidia's brand new GTX 980 graphics cards, along with an Intel Devil's Canyon i7-4970K CPU -- and playing Tomb Raider and Metro: Last Light. These are pretty good looking games, and they look even better in 4K, but Project CARS really is something else. The experience of gaming in 4K on a huge TV, rather than a monitor, is a revelation. I strongly recommend it.
Of course, you have to have a sufficiently powerful gaming rig to handle playing modern games at Ultra HD resolutions. 3840x2160 is a lot of pixels, and if you're used to playing on a 1080p panel then it might just bring your PC to its knees performance-wise. But as PC gamers and PC enthusiasts know, upgrades are a part of life, and if you're the kind of gamer that doesn't balk at spending a couple of thousand dollars on a pair of graphics cards or monitors, then the (roughly 30 per cent) price premium of Ultra HD seems to pay for itself when you consider the advantages.
Buying a $9999 TV is, on my salary, not exactly realistic. (I have an excellent Pioneer KURO that will last a little while yet, too.) $9999 is out of reach for a lot of people -- although I reckon that LG will sell more 65-inch EC970Ts than it can get its hands on for quite a while; it really is an amazing TV, guys. But that particular OLED TV serves as a halo product for the rest of the LG range -- and a demonstration of what 4K gaming can be -- and there's one particular screen I have my eye on and my wallet open for.
When LG announced its new TVs, two models stood out to me. One was the $9999 EC970T, but the other was the entry-level UB800T, the absolute cheapest model in the company's Ultra HD line-up. It's a 40-inch panel, and it's only LED edge-lit rather than back-lit or OLED, and it only has a 50Hz native refresh rate, but it has a 4K resolution, and it's only $999. Less than a thousand dollars for a 3840x2160pixel display, with the best pixel density of any TV you can buy in 2014? I'm sold. As a PC gamer looking for a new TV, with good speakers and HDMI input for my PS4, I honestly think I'll go out and buy one when it's out in November.
There's one thing that stops me from placing a pre-order for the UB800T, and it's input lag. Smart TVs have, as a general rule, made a little sacrifice in the lag between an image being created (by a PC, by a Blu-ray player, whatever) and it being processed and displayed on screen, in order to hook up an overlay of Smart TV info and let you run apps, browse the 'net from your TV and so on. (All of this is superfluous if you have a PC plugged into your TV and a good wireless keyboard and mouse, by the way.) The UB800T is running LG's older NetCast Smart TV system, and I hope that's not a problem for its input lag and display response times. I'll have to try it first hand to find out for sure.
Input lag is one of those things that can be quantified, but that you really have to experience in person to see how it affects you. As an aside, I'm playing my PS4 at the moment on an older 55-inch panel that has a huge amount of lag, and it's more than a little frustrating. But let's be fair -- that, and the (moderate) extra price bump associated with Ultra HD, is just about the only impediment I can point to as a reason not to get yourself an Ultra HD screen, if you're planning to buy or already have yourself a powerful PC gaming rig.