Video games can be played just about anywhere these days, whether it’s on a handheld console like the Vita, 3DS, or Switch, on a cutting-edge PC, or indeed on a big screen TV. People game on their phones and tablets too. It’s a golden age for gamers, without a doubt!

Most people have some experience of playing video games on a TV. Early computers used TV screens as monitors, and consoles like the NES were designed for use in living rooms as well. So it’s a natural target for many gamers. After all, most of us are going to have at least one TV in the house. The thing is, just picking a random TV off the shelf won’t necessarily give you a very good gaming experience. If you are going to use your TV exclusively or largely for gaming, it makes sense to buy one that will give you the best deal in terms of visuals and features. If you already have a TV and don’t need to buy a new one, then go ahead and enjoy it. However, for those looking to pull the trigger on a new idiot box, there’s more than a few important issues to consider.

The Big 4K Resolution Question

The resolution of a TV refers to how many individual picture elements (pixels) are squeezed into the image. The more pixels in the image, the finer the details. A Full HD TV will have a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. That’s pretty crisp! This is the entry-level resolution for PC gaming and many modern console games on standard tier consoles target this resolution. Although, not all of them quite reach it.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a TV at any size that isn’t at least Full HD these days, but with prices coming down there’s a new resolution standard in town – 4K. A 4K image has four times the pixels found in a Full HD image, with a resolution of 3840×2160. The prices for 4K TVs have dropped down enough that you’ll often have to choose between a 4K TV or slightly higher-end HD TV at the same price. So is this a resolution that you should opt for?

There are a couple of factors here to help you decide. First of all, if the TV is less than fifty inches in size and you’re going to sit a fair distance away from it (six feet or more) then you’ll be unable to really tell the difference in real life. Scale up to larger TVs and it starts becoming apparent, but I seriously suggest you go and see a 4K TV in real life and judge whether it makes a difference to you.

The big problem, of course, is content. Watching a 1080p image on a 2160p screen is no better than watching it on a 1080p screen. Yes, 4K TVs have “upscaling technology”, but you can’t add visual information that isn’t there into the picture. That means, unless you know that you’re going to have plenty of 4K content, it might not be worth opting for 4K now.

PC gaming at 4K is only really viable with very high-end machines and, for a host of other reasons, you may be better off with a monitor. Check out my gaming monitor guide for a more in-depth discussion of why this is.

As for console gaming, if you own a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X already, it’s worth getting a 4K TV to make the most of it. They can provide image quality in excess of 1080p, although rarely at the native resolution of 4K. Likewise, if you plan to buy the next generation of consoles early in their life cycle, now would be a good time to make the jump to 4K.

If you plan on using your TV with 4K BluRay or streaming content, then obviously this is a moot point and you should go with a 4K set. Everyone else can safely stick with Full HD TVs for now. Save some money or buy a better quality TV at the lower resolution. Your choice.

The Bright Side of HDR

A far more compelling feature to go for is HDR or “high dynamic range”. This is a new image standard that can display contrast and brightness levels far beyond the previous broadcast standard. Looking at a light source on an HDR screen using an HDR source provides amazing detail, contrast, and color. These factors have a far bigger impact on perceived image quality than resolution, which is why 720p plasma TVs looked better than early 1080p LCD TVs. Deeper blacks and more vibrant colors will do that!

4K and HDR are often paired together, but it is still possible to get 1080p TVs with HDR support. However, HDR alone is worth stumping up for a 4K TV. Completely avoid 4K TVs that don’t have HDR.

Your source device needs to support HDR as well. Most modern GPUs do, but when it comes to consoles only the PS4 and Xbox One consoles do.

Display Technology Tick Box

There are a few different screen panel types available to choose from, which can be confusing. For gaming purposes it doesn’t make all that much of a difference when it comes to TVs, but there are some basic panel technology facts you should be aware of.

The most common type of TV currently is the LED LCD. These are sometimes erroneously referred to as “LED” TVs, but that’s actually a completely different display technology that isn’t really ready for the market yet. It’s also completely unaffordable.

No, an LED LCD is a liquid crystal flat panel that uses LED lights as its backlight. LED screen technology does not generate its own light, so it needs a separate light behind the screen to make the image visible. LCD panels then subdivide into several types as well. However, unlike PC monitors, the panel type is hardly ever advertised and it can be hard to find out which panel is in the specific TV you’re looking into. In general, either a VA (which includes MVA) or IPS panel will do just fine. As long as the TV doesn’t use TN panel technology, as cheaper brands sometimes do, it should be A-OK for living room use.

Moving away from LCD technology for a moment, we have plasma TVs as well. I still have a special place in my heart for this technology – bright, vibrant, and beautiful. However, no one really makes plasma TVs anymore. They’re hot, power hungry, and suffer from screen burn too easily – not really a practical choice for modern gaming needs.

Then we have the cream of the crop – OLED screens. You’ve probably seen OLED technology on premium smartphones. The original model PS Vita also had an OLED screen, replaced with a cheaper LCD in later revisions.

OLED emits its own light and has many blacks and vibrant colors. It combines the best aspect of LCD and Plasma picture quality with none of the technical drawbacks. The biggest problem is that manufacturers have found it difficult to make OLED screens at larger sizes, so the first OLED TVs were insanely expensive. Modern OLED TVs are still very pricey, but the costs have dropped a lot and keep going down. If you can afford a modern OLED it’s by far the best choice.

Ports Ahoy!

Most TVs have two or maybe even three HDMI ports and then perhaps a few other additional options such as HD over composite, regular old single composite, and VGA. If you have quite a few consoles and other devices that you want to connect to a single TV, you may want to opt for a model with more than the usual number of ports, otherwise you may be forced to also buy a switch or contend with regularly swapping out devices.

gaming on tv

Does it Matter if it’s Smart?

A “smart” TV usually has smartphone guts built into it so that it can run apps like Netflix directly. If you’re going to be hooking up a gaming console to it, you may want to save on the smart TV premium since the consoles themselves can run the apps as well. Then again, consoles use way more power even to run Netflix and they’re much noisier than a smart TV, which is fanless and silent. Which one is worth more is something only you can decide.

Hooking Up Older Consoles

If you have any consoles from before the PS3 and Xbox 360, you may run into a slight problem when trying to use them with modern TVs. As you may know, these consoles don’t use HDMI, but come with composite as standard. Go back even further and you may even have consoles that use RF cabling! Some modern HD TVs no longer have some of these older connections. Even for those that do, the built-in upscaling hardware doesn’t do a great job.

There are now mods or specialized converter products that will change the output of many older consoles to properly-scaled HD. So instead of relying on the composite or RF connections on your new TV, it’s a better idea to buy one of those. In fact, I don’t think you should buy a modern TV with those older connections specifically, at least not for the sake of gaming. For some older consoles you’re actually better off trying to find a CRT TV, although that can be a hard task.

Input Latency and Game Mode

Because of the way modern digital flat panels work, there’s a lot of processing that has to go into the image. This post-processing takes time, but the end result is a picture that’s much nicer to look at compared to just the raw output of the panel in question. This is actually one of the reasons that two TVs that use the exact same panel can have drastically different image qualities. It’s the secret-sauce image processing, which is the one thing that major panel makers like Samsung and LG won’t sell to other TV makers alongside the actual panels.

The problem with this is that any processing takes time – mere milliseconds, which doesn’t matter at all if you’re watching a movie. How would you know if the picture sent from your BluRay player made it to the screen a hundred milliseconds late? But gaming is a different story altogether. If the processing is adding a lot of latency, you’ll notice it as a delay between your operating the game control and the actual picture responding to your input.

Modern TVs are much faster at processing than before, so for people who play games that don’t require split-second reflexes or who don’t play with serious competitive intentions, it might not matter. However, any good TV for gaming should include a “game mode”, which switches off some of the processing to tighten up responsiveness. Whatever negative effect this might have on picture quality is usually not something you’d actually notice while gaming, and less lag makes for a better experience.

Refresh Rate

There’s not a heck of a lot to say about refresh rate when it comes to TVs. All modern TVs operate at least at 60Hz. Modern console games never exceed 60 frames per second so that’s pretty much an open and shut case. However, if you want to use a PC on your TV, there’s no point in pushing high frame rates. Also, be wary of TVs that say they run at 120 or 240 Hz. While there are computer monitors that actually do this, in the case of TVs it’s almost always some sort of marketing tomfoolery. They use 60Hz panels and a number of tricks to make the apparent refresh rate higher. This is usually called “motion smoothing” or something similar. It’s not actually taking sources higher than 60Hz and displaying all the frames. So in almost all cases you can ignore claims of “120Hz”. If that matters to you, Google whether that particular model of TV really has a 120Hz panel or not.

Sizing up Your Choice

How big should your TV be for gaming? The correct sizing for a TV is an endless debate. You can find plenty of guidelines online that let you put in how far you’ll sit from the TV, what resolution you’ll be watching, and so on. Then it will spit out a recommended number for the screen size.

Honestly, though, I think there’s a lot of subjectivity here. I almost always go for something a few steps larger than recommended. It makes it easier to play text-heavy games, for one thing. I play a lot of JRPGs and RPGs in general. So I spend a lot of time navigating dense menus. The bigger size is also pretty awesome for anything from racing to first-person shooters.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Buying a TV is a big purchasing decision; one which we generally only make once every few years. The last thing you want to do is get stuck with something unpleasant for years. Gamers in particular can really suffer if they botch the TV selection process, so hopefully you now have a much better idea of the types of choices you need to make for TV perfection when it comes to your gaming needs.