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.