I still remember carrying a 13-inch dodgy CRT screen to my first few LANs, so when the prospect of playing a range of games on Hisense's gargantuan 100-inch laser TV cropped up, of course I was going to say yes.
I first checked out Hisense's 100-inch laser TV at CES, ahead of its Australian launch later this year. It was interesting right off the bat, if only because most people don't own or live in spaces that can accommodate an 100-inch TV. And Hisense's monster wasn't really a TV either: it's a short-throw projector, with a ~23kg console sending the image through a dual-colour laser light source to the 100-inch screen.
Big TVs in Australia are on the rise. Every TV manufacturer I've spoken to in the last year has agreed that 75 inches are the most popular model in the country — or at least the model seeing the most growth. Australians might not be buying more TVs than the previous generation, and the rise of mobile phones means houses are less obsessed with having a TV in every room for entertainment. But when we want to buy a big TV, 65-inch isn't the aspiration anymore: it's 85 inches and bigger.
But that's for existing models. Who actually has space for a 100-inch TV — or a projector — and, more curiously, what's it like to game on?
I spent a night in a two-storey house checking out Hisense's laser TV. Because there's not a huge amount of them available in the country, TV manufacturers here generally tend to install the few pre-release units they have in a fixed location rather than shipping them out to people's homes or offices. It also reduces the chance of things getting bumped or broken in transit.
Hisense's TV also comes with a literal white glove service. As part of the $20,000 price tag, Hisense will send the TV with a technician to your house who will unpack, install the wall mount, all the cables, and calibrate the TV to your living room. The packaging also comes with actual white gloves, which is a nice gag.
A key part of the whole unit is the JBL subwoofer and speaker setup, the latter of which is built into the projector unit. The speakers have about 50W of power, with 60W reserved for the subwoofer. It's incredibly bassy and exceedingly good at filling a room, especially if the bass you're pumping out happens to be Streets of Rage 2 or, as I kicked off proceedings, the Wipeout HD remastered collection.
The advantage of the Hisense's laser TV is that it doesn't lose as much brightness compared to a normal projector, thanks to the short throw design. The downside of that is that it isn't really pitched as an alternative to other 4K HDR projectors. It's being pitched as an alternative to other massive TVs that you might buy, but all those other TVs fare much better in the daylight and non-low light situations.
If you're in the perfect environment — lights off, late at night, not a lot of glare or reflections to interfere — then the Hisense laser TV does a bang on job of absolutely filling a room. It took a bit of tweaking on my end with the gamma, colour temperature and disabling a lot of the motion smoothing and noise reduction post-processing that adds extra input delay. Hisense's VIDAA interface doesn't automatically detect the scene or content you're playing, so if you plug in a console for the first time, you have to manually set the TV into game mode — and then it'll remember that input and your preferred settings.
Once everything is up and going, however, it's pretty painless for the majority of casual gaming. I wouldn't be using the laser TV as an alternative to a high refresh rate monitor, but the response time was just as good as any mainstream TV today. Those looking to play hardcore sessions of Mortal Kombat or Smash Ultimate will notice a difference, because you're still dealing with around 20ms of input lag, but it's more than acceptable for the kinds of games that you'd throw up on a TV of this size. The viewing angles are exceptionally good, too.
Mario Kart 8 had no troubles at all, playthroughs of Sonic and Sonic 2 on the SEGA Mega Drive Mini ran without a hitch, Untitled Goose Game held its own (although if you're out of Game Mode, you might notice some strange banding on the wings of The Goose whenever it flaps), and sessions of Uncharted 2 and the remastered Wipeout collection were perfectly enjoyable.
The only real kicker is the loss of brightness you get from Game Mode, something the latest models of OLED, QLED and LED TVs have largely eradicated. On the Hisense TV, however, it's a real problem especially if there's any hint of light.
To illustrate how dire the glare is, here's a shot I took at 9.30am from the first episode of Russian Doll, where the red-haired main character Natasha is looking at herself in a bathroom mirror:
There's no combination of picture settings that can rescue a picture that washed out.
So Hisense is left in a weird situation. On the one hand, if you've got a massive space to fill, one that can't be adequately serviced by a 75-inch or 85-inch, there's an opening for a 100-inch laser TV. Samsung will sell you a 98-inch 8K TV, if you'll fork out $100,000. LG's latest OLED TVs don't go beyond 88 inches, and it'll cost you $60,000 for one of those — unless you want the 77-inch 4K OLED, which also costs $20,000.
But what places are going to want to prioritise size over a screen that struggles so much with the slimmest of light?
The only answer I could think of, funnily enough, was a small bar. They're the venues that wouldn't be open during the day that often, so light is less of an issue. Many small bars have walls or are built on lower floors too, and a large screen acts as a great centrepiece for keeping patrons interested and engaged. Bars like Spawn Point in Sydney use a projector for exactly this; the recently closed Beta Bar in Melbourne had a few spaces where a screen of this size would have fit nicely.
But is that a justifiable enough reason for dropping $20,000 when other QLED or LED TVs don't suffer the same drawbacks? And how many small bars — especially in Sydney's post-lockout law environment — want to be dropping that much on a TV to begin with? Probably few, and the same calculus applies for those in the market for a large screen TV.
It'd still be magical to get four friends around for a super long, lights off 3AM session of Smash Ultimate on a screen massive enough that you might actually be able to keep track of everything on the screen. And getting my arse handed to me in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and returning the favour in Mario Kart 8 was pretty great.