You’ve found a cleft in the rocks—a vantage point, from which you can cover your teammates as they approach the enemy flag. The bolt-action sniper rifle in your hands is fully customized to fit your play style, and it all comes down to this moment. Never one to hardscope, you’re using all 60 glorious inches of screen real estate to survey your kingdom. The valley below is your domain, and anyone not wearing your team’s camouflage is a trespasser. Acting as judge and jury, you shall execute swift judgment upon them.
But wait. Movement. You’re being flanked.
You turn, catching a glimpse of sunlight on metal from among the foliage. An enemy steps around a bulky tree trunk and takes aim at you.
You yank the trigger of your controller, but you’re already dead. Perhaps even before your television could display the opponent strafing into view.
At first glance, a “gaming” TV may seem to be a bit of an oxymoron. Hardcore gamers carry with them a pocketful of complaints about the usefulness of TVs for gaming, ranging from input lag to refresh rate—all factors that powerfully affect the end user experience. These issues were minimal with older generation TVs, but since the introduction of flat screens and high definition they’re the buzzwords at the tip of every gamer’s tongue.
Is the TV doomed to a simple existence as a purveyor of fine shows like Agents of SHIELD and Game of Thrones? If you’re a hardcore console user with a preference for a big screen, are there any options which can satisfy your needs?
The TV still rules the living room, but now the stakes are higher. If you want to reestablish it as the true nexus of entertainment, you’ll need to ensure your setup is effective and versatile. There are plenty of TVs out there to choose from, but only a select few can fill the disparate roles of television and gaming viewscreen.
What Makes the Best TVs for Gaming?
There’s one key distinguishing factor between “gaming” TVs and the flatscreens you’ve been sold for nearly a decade: response time. It represents the latency between when the image is prepared at the source and when it’s displayed onscreen. Resolution is all well and good—necessary for a truly mind-blowing experience. But if the response time is too high, it doesn’t matter how pretty or detailed the image is. You’ll lose the quick draw, every time. High response time leads to what’s known as “input lag.”
Not to mention refresh rate, which works hand in hand with response time to determine when the image is presented to you. If you imagine everything your TV presents as a slideshow of still pictures, flashed before your eyes like a flipbook to produce the impression of moving images, refresh rate represents the number of images per second a TV is able to project. Poor refresh rates lead to excessive motion blur, leaving you struggling to pick out your opponent against the smear of colors on your screen when moving.
Your TV’s contrast ratio is equally as important for the best visual experience—no matter how fast a TV can fan the flipbook of images, it won’t do you any good if what you need to see blends into the background. Being able to quickly distinguish a sniper in the shadows is certainly advantageous. Contrast is usually defined as a ratio because it is the difference in brightness between the darkest blacks and brightest whites a TV can display. It’s difficult to get a straight answer out of manufacturers with regard to this specification, but it’s still worth your consideration. Most TV manufacturers like to list their TVs dynamic contrast ratio, which is the difference between lights and darks in a changing scene, as opposed to the static contrast ratio which represents the difference in a stationary scene. The static contrast ratio is considered to be a more accurate measurement, but as it is usually far less impressive than the dynamic contrast ratio, manufacturers generally list the dynamic ratio when discussing specifications.
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo continue to wage war over your living room, offering the simplicity of prepackaged gaming machines that are guaranteed support for seven years or more. Not to mention Valve’s stake in the fray, with Steam Machines coming to your entertainment center this November, bringing your entire PC game library to your high definition television. The battle lines are drawn, and the real winners should be the gamers.
Consoles are more prevalent now than ever before. If you want to be serious about console gaming, whether that’s via a PS4/Xbox One or Steam Machine, you’ll have to ensure you’re fielding the proper peripherals. The cinematic experience of running a strike in Destiny certainly suffers when it’s restricted to 24 inches of screen space—but is the input lag of a widescreen TV worth the extra room? Pro tip: find a TV with “game mode.”
Game Mode and the Battle of TVs vs. Monitors
TVs vs. Monitors: an age old debate. As we’ve discussed, response time stands in the great divide between the two. When the millisecond response of your average monitor measures in the single digits—and HDTVs often flirt with three—the choice seems clear.
Several big name brands have been giving serious thought as of late about how to mitigate the response time of their televisions, in an attempt to position their TVs as serious contenders for gaming. The biggest change they’ve made is the inclusion of a feature known as Game Mode, which functions exactly as you might expect.
Game Mode culls down the excess that televisions pack in to provide the best visual experience. It’s a no-frills viewing mode meant to coax out the fastest possible image, and in turn reduce the input lag which plagues the TV gaming experience. It’s not perfect, at least not yet, but manufacturers are finding more cost-efficient ways to cram bigger and better processors into our TVs almost daily. It’s only a matter of time before the great divide between monitors and televisions shrinks away into oblivion.
In the meantime, Game Mode is your best shot at becoming a quickscoping MLG pro, bro.
Why Consider Getting a TV with Gaming Quality Specs?
Let’s review the benefits of Gaming Televisions:
- Reclaim the Living Room: Your easy chair deserves to be your Iron Throne, whether you’re watching your favorite show or throwing down in Team Deathmatch. A good gaming TV means your living room is your one stop shop again, just like the good old days. I’m looking at you, 1980s.
- Room for Activities: Monitors just don’t quite cut it in the size department, and they aren’t meant to. They can have their single digit response times, and meanwhile, we’ll enjoy our 50 inch TVs. See Master Chief the way he was meant to be seen—life size.
- PC Gaming in the Living Room: Yes, it’s a big deal—big enough to mention again, devoting an entire bullet point to ensure you can see the scope of what Valve’s working to achieve. Every game in your Steam library will be available to play right in your favorite place in the house on your widescreen TV. They’ve poured tons of money into research and development to produce the Steam Controller, and partnered with big name brands like Alienware and CyberPowerPC to ensure that you’ll have a slew of options to choose from. Valve developed an entire operating system to drive their Steam Machines, based on a branch of Debian Linux—they’re serious about merging the PC and Console worlds, and come November they’ll be another heavyweight in the ring to keep your eye on.
- Full-throttle Game Mode: With a few button presses on your universal remote, you can shift between quality couch gaming and the best movie viewing experience money can buy. Cut the nonsense, and immerse yourself in the premier gaming experience. Why settle when you can have it all?
- Refreshing Contrast: When designed with an eye for gaming, a TV will emphasize fantastic refresh rates and contrast ratios in addition to high definition glory. Never lose the objective in a whirlwind of pretty colors again. Contrast makes things pop, so you can pop those pesky flag-nabbing opponents.
- Fastest Response Times: Let’s face it—TVs struggle to show you what you need to see when you need to see it as a gamer. It’s not fair to miss a shot because you’re reacting to old news. With gaming-friendly TVs, you cut out all the frills to maximize your potential.
Reviews of the Best Gaming TVs
Let’s talk some specific Gaming TVs. As always, all prices and customer review averages are to be considered accurate as of this writing, and may change with time.
1. Sony BRAVIA W950B (<20ms response)
The Sony BRAVIA series has consistently touted some of the best-in-class features, both for media enthusiasts and gamers alike. Stepping up to the plate with the W950B model, Sony continues its reign as the king of top-notch visuals for your home. The magnificent LED 1080p screen projects deep, rich colors thanks to the TRILUMINOS technology and a dynamic contrast ratio measuring a difference of over one million in luminance. Dynamic Edge LED backlights makes for stunning image contrast. It touts crystal clear images in motion with a refresh rate of 120hz, which means that for fast-paced media it will seem as though you’re peering through a window onto the action. Throw in active 3D viewing and internet connectivity, and you’ve got a savory stew of home theater goodness.
The response time is nothing to write home about—that is, until you kick things over to Game Mode, or as Sony has dubbed “Motionflow Impulse Mode,” and then you’ll quickly discover why this is one of the highest rated TVs for gaming (avg. 4.5/5). This baby is optimized for gaming, the input lag drops to below 20ms, on average coming in at 17.8ms. This sort of input lag score rockets the W950B to the top of the pack, making it a contender for the title of best Gaming TV as of this writing. The price tag might seem a bit steep (reg. $1999.99), but the features more than justify the buy-in. Catch it on sale (seen as low as $998.00) and discover why this is the next big thing for gaming in your living room.
2. Vizio E50-C1 (<40ms response)
When it comes to budget HDTVs, Vizio has the market cornered. Their TVs stock shelves in every major retailer, and offer just enough of an edge on the competition to stand out in the crowd. With the E50-C1 Vizio isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel—just to provide decent specs at an excellent price. And luckily for console gamers, it also has one of the best response times of any TV, budget or not. All things considered, netting an average customer review of 4/5 stars is no mean feat, considering that their competition in the budget bracket is often cheaper with similar specs on paper.
Given the price tag, the specifications for the Vizio E50-C1 aren’t too shabby even by mid-range standards: an LED/LCD 1080p screen with a two million to one difference in luminance for the dynamic contrast ratio, 120hz effective refresh rate, integrated wi-fi smartTV capabilities, four HDMI ports, and the big one—less than 40ms average response times.
You can find it in 50 inches for $600-$769 regular price, and of course catching it on sale sweetens the deal even more. If you need to kick your Call of Duty game up a notch on the cheap, you’ll be hard pressed to beat the value Vizio offers with the E50-C1.
3. Samsung UN50J6200 (<40ms response)
Giving Sony a run for their money in brand recognition, Samsung continues to churn out high-quality products at solid prices. No matter which market they elbow their way into—be it mobile phones, computers, or televisions—Samsung gains massive market share in short order, securing their title as a technology giant which is backed by their customers. (avg. customer review 4.5/5)
The only reason the UN50F5000 falls beneath the Vizio E500i-A1 on the list is the 60hz refresh rate. Full disclosure, they claim a “Clear Motion Rate” of 120, which essentially means that they believe the tech under the hood provides an equivalent experience to a 120hz TV, but we’re dealing with raw numbers here. Of course, higher is better for gaming, as the refresh rate affects how many images per second your TV displays. This can have a huge impact on your game; more images per second means you’ll get the visual info you need that much sooner than your opponents. Not to mention that the action onscreen is visibly smoother at higher refresh rates. Nonetheless, 60hz is certainly functional, and the rest of the specifications fall in line with what you might expect.
The UN50F5000 boasts a 50 inch LED 1080p screen, an unbelievable contrast ratio of over five million to one difference in luminance, Wide Color Enhancer Plus for the saturation and contrast, and less than 40ms average response times. All for $1199.99 regular price. Find it on sale, and it could be a screaming deal to rival the Vizio E500i-A1, but even at its regular price point it’s still a solid contender.
4. LG Electronics 60LF6300 (<50ms response)
Like that old friend who’s always there when you need him, no matter how long you’re apart—LG just continues to do what it does best: make good products that always live in the shadow of bigger brands with greater market shares. That isn’t to say LG puts out poor products (avg. customer review 4.5/5) but try as they might, they just never seem to grab the headlines.
Before we get into the specifications, let’s be honest: the “TruMotion” tag they use when referencing the refresh rate scares us too. Plenty of manufacturers have jumped on the bizarre bandwagon of artificially inflating their hardware’s specifications with complicated and frankly misleading calculations. But all indications are that the 60LF6300 is a true 120hz TV, which makes this an appealing choice despite marginally higher response times to the other TVs we’ve reviewed.
Unfortunately, to the best of High Ground Gaming’s ability to determine, LG did not intent for the contrast ratio of this particular TV to be public knowledge. Don’t allow this to dissuade you from what is otherwise a quality gaming TV, though it is certainly a peculiar move on LG’s part.
Front facing is a 1080p LED screen, with passive Cinema 3D technology, integrated wi-fi for Smart TV functionality, and a Game Mode which claims to raise the refresh rate to 240hz. That’s worth an eyebrow raise, but even the base 120hz is guaranteed to provide rock solid performance, justifying the response times of slightly less than 50ms on average.
As always, LG trudges along quietly, bringing the goods without much fanfare to be had. Difficult to find in the wild these days, but worth the search. You can find the 60LF6300 new for around $1800.00, depending on which retailer’s listing it on Amazon, and you might be able to snag a used one for even cheaper if you’re lucky.
Best Gaming TVs: Wrap-up
We hope to have given you an overview of what to look for when searching for the best Gaming TV, as well as the means to analyze whether or not what you find is worth investigating further. Use the aforementioned examples to weigh options you come across in your travels.
Remember: tests by groups other than the manufacturer will always provide a better estimation of real-world response times and TV performance.
May the frags flow freely on your new, glossy HDTV, and may the response times be minimal.