If you want to make the most of your video games, you need to match them up with a great TV. But what makes a TV gaming-ready, and how do you find the perfect TV for the next console generation?
Update, 10/18/22: Checked content for accuracy, product availability, and dead links.
Before we get into what makes a TV gaming-ready, we need to keep in mind that the best TVs are future-proof. The next console generation is right around the corner, and it’s set to be filled with beautiful 4K HDR games. So, if you want to make the most of next-gen gaming, you should try to find a future-proof 4K HDR TV.
The thing is, cheap 4K HDR TVs (and especially OLED TVs) tend to fall short in refresh rates and latency (the most important aspects of a gaming TV). If you aren’t prepared to drop $700-$2,000 on a gaming TV, you may have to settle for a 1080p TV, which is decidedly not future-proof. Or, you could do a little window shopping, save up some cash, and buy a future-proof TV a few months from now.
This article is going to dig into the details of what makes a TV great for gaming. These details are worth reading, but they can be a pain to dig through on-the-fly while you’re shopping.
So, here’s a quick list of the specs that you should look out for while shopping for a new gaming TV:
- Latency/Lag: The best gaming TVs are low latency. Ideally, you should only buy a gaming TV that has a latency of 30ms or less.
- Hz/Refresh Rate/FPS: Unless you’re a competitive gamer or an FPS-fiend, a 60Hz TV will be fine. Otherwise, aim for 120Hz.
- 4K and HDR: Again, if you can afford to buy a future-proof 4K HDR TV with low latency and a comfortable refresh rate, then do it.
- OLED: If you’re committed to 120Hz, skip OLED TVs. Otherwise, it’s worth buying one that offers low-latency and a comfortable refresh rate.
- Video Inputs: Don’t forget about HDMI, RCA, s-video, and coaxial inputs! Buy a TV with the inputs that you need.
Without further ado, let’s get into the details.
Before worrying about image quality or resolution, focus on finding a low-latency TV. Latency (or lag) is the time that it takes for your TV to display an image onscreen. When gaming, a ton of lag can ruin your ability to react to obstacles or enemies.
Most TVs have about 60ms of latency, which is considered pretty high for gamers. Hardcore gamers tend to aim as low as possible (some swear by 13ms TVs), but we suggest getting anything under 30ms.
Why are we mentioning latency before resolution or image quality? Well, because cheap 4K HDR TVs are burdened with a ton of latency. If you’re in the market for a $200 gaming TV, you might want to skip 4K and HDR and focus your money on a low-latency 1080p TV. (In this situation, it may be worth saving up to buy a future-proof TV. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on next-gen 4K HDR gaming).
That said, if you’re comfortable spending anywhere from $700-$2,500 on a gaming TV, then you can have your cake and eat it too.
Gamers spend a lot of time talking about refresh rates (or frames per second, or Hz). Some people think that refresh rates are nonsense and that the human eye can’t see the difference between 60FPS and 120FPS, but that’s nonsense. The human brain can react to changing visual stimuli in a millisecond—or 1/1,000 of a second.
While high refresh rates are great, you may not need a 120Hz TV. High refresh rates are usually a trade-off for raw visual quality, and there’s a good chance that you’re already comfortable with 60 FPS or less.
If you’re a competitive gamer, or you’re already used to 120Hz displays, then a new 120Hz TV is probably worth your money. But if you’re just a garden variety nerd that wants a pretty TV (like me), then don’t stress too much about frame rates (even with a 120Hz TV, you can choose to stick with 60 FPS).
While the PS4 and the Xbox One X support 4K, most of their games are capped at 1080p. But as we mentioned earlier, we’re headed into the next generation of console gaming, and you should aim to buy a future-proof TV.
So long as your new TV is 45″ or larger, a 4K screen is worth it. Under 45″, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K. While a 4K TV may not be useful for your current games (unless you’re a PC gamer), you’ll thank yourself for buying a 4K TV when the next generation of consoles comes around.
As for HDR, it’s always worth the money. Unlike 4K, which is a measure of resolution, HDR is a measure of contrast. HDR creates an image with dark blacks, bright whites, and well-defined details. It’s noticeable on any screen size, it will be a part of the next console generation, and it’s already supported by the current get Xbox One X and Xbox One S (and maybe even your PC).
Of course, depending on your budget, 4K and HDR should come second to latency.
An OLED screen is capable of turning off individual pixels, and it doesn’t use a backlight. This results in a high-contrast, super crisp image, and the “true black” picture that everybody raves about.
But the gaming community tends to stigmatize OLED TVs. See, OLED screens are more susceptible to burn-in than typical LCDs, which is a problem for gamers that spend 10+ hours a day with a Fortnite character in the center of their screen.
There’s also the issue of screen blur. Some gamers are committed to 120Hz high framerate displays, but OLED TVs can suffer from screen blur at refresh rates that are higher than 60Hz. This is an inherent issue with OLED displays, as the LEDs take a few milliseconds to turn on and off.
That said, if you don’t care about refresh rates, and you don’t leave your TV on long enough to cause burn-in (most TVs have a sleep mode, anyway), then feel free to buy an OLED display. You’ll appreciate the increased color depth, and the screen won’t feel “laggy” or “clunky,” it’ll just feel normal.
But if you already know that you can’t live without a 120Hz display, then stick to LCD (or wait a year or two for 120Hz OLEDs to catch up). A 60Hz TV may seem normal to other people, but if you’re used to the higher frame rate, then you’ll hate the difference.
If you need a bunch of HDMI inputs, then try to find a TV with a bunch of HDMI inputs. Otherwise, you’ll have to buy some HDMI switches. There’s a lot of wiggle room here (your budget may restrict you, or you may get caught up in a great discount), but you’ll always appreciate a few extra HDMI inputs.
And of course, if you plan to run old consoles that require RCA, s-video, or coaxial inputs, see if you can find a good TV that still features a few legacy inputs. Just don’t go too far out of your way, as RCA to HDMI converter boxes are pretty dang cheap. Old consoles don’t take advantage of modern TV specs, so they won’t look much different on your new TV. But, you can still play old consoles on new TVs thanks to upscaling.
Practically every major retailer sells TVs. So, there’s no reason to list every store that sells TVs. Instead, we’re going to give you a few TV shopping tips that should help you find a new gaming TV at a great price:
- Window Shop: Once you know what kind of gaming TV you want, use the search filters on Best Buy, Amazon, or any other website to look for your dream TV.
- Read Reviews: Look at the reviews for any TVs that interest you, and pay close attention to any negative reviews. For bonus points, look up TV reviews on YouTube or Reddit (Google search the make and model of a TV with the word “Reddit”). This way, you can see what nerds have to say about whatever TV you’re interested in.
- See TVs In Person: Even if a TV has impressive specs or a ton of great reviews, you should try to see it in person before you buy it. Check out the showroom floor at Best Buy or another electronics retailer and see how your dream TV looks in person.
- Discounts: If you’re patient, then you can save a ton of money on a good gaming TV. Use Slickdeals to track any TV that you want to buy at a discount, or simply wait for a major sale (like Black Friday) to roll around.
Of course, if you don’t have time to wait for a great TV deal or hit a showroom floor, reviews are your best bet. If you’re worried that you’ll be disappointed in whatever TV that you buy, investigate the return policy before you buy it, or hunt for a better gaming TV.