It’s time to step up your living room gaming experience.
By Jason Cross
Updated July 2017.
With the PS4 Pro on the market, HDR gaming and 4K video on the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, this might be a good time to consider upgrading your gaming TV. Now that 4K TVs have finally become relatively affordable, that big quality leap over 1080p doesn’t have to decimate your bank account.
There are many qualities to consider in choosing a good TV. Color accuracy, contrast, color gamut, viewing angles, power utilization, screen reflectance, smart TV features, and more. Since we’re primarily concerned about gaming here, it is crucial that each TV we recommend have a “gaming” mode with low input latency (ideally, 35ms or less). As HDR is so important for games, all our TV picks have to provide this low input latency while in 4K 60Hz mode with HDR enabled. That’s something many older 4K TVs really struggled with. The site RTings has a good chart of available TVs showing measured input lag in various modes.
Outside of playing games on 4K capable consoles like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, where can you find 4K and HDR content? You won’t get it from your cable or satellite hookup. 4K and HDR content lives primarily on streaming services. Most new Netflix original series and movies, (outside of animation and kids stuff) are in 4K, some with HDR as well. Many Amazon Prime Originals are also in 4K, again with HDR in some cases. YouTube has a surprisingly large amount of 4K content, too. And Microsoft’s game streaming service Mixer can stream in 4K, though you won’t find many 4K streams yet. Streaming in 4K requires a pretty good internet connection, as Netflix recommends at least 25Mbps.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
We’ve broken down what to look for in a 4K HDTV below, why HDR matters, and several excellent models to consider. But the bottom line? The Sony 900E is your best option. Great specs at a great price make it an excellent option for most gamers looking to upgrade. Read on if you want to know more!
To watch it you need a streaming box or console capable of streaming in 4K, or you can use the integrated smart TV app. The Xbox One S and Xbox One X support 4K streaming apps, as does the PS4 Pro, but the last time we checked the YouTube app on the Xbox platform still needs an update to enable it. You can also use streaming boxes like the Roku (Roku Premiere only does 4K but not HDR, while Premiere+ and Ultra do both), a 4K-capable Android TV box (like the Nvidia Shield TV), or the Chromecast Ultra. At the time of this writing, there is no 4K capable Apple TV. Of course, if you don’t want to stream, you can buy 4K UHD Blu-ray discs. This is the costliest option, but provides the best picture and sound quality. The Xbox One S and Xbox One X support the format, while the PS4 Pro does not.
A quick note on HDMI: You’ll need HDMI 2.0 compatible ports (on your console, receiver/switch, and TV) to take advantage of 4K 60fps HDR goodness. You may see cables labeled as “4K certified” or something like that, but that’s nonsense. There are only two real types of HDMI cables: Standard Speed (with and without Ethernet) and High Speed (with and without Ethernet). As long as you have a High Speed cable, you should be good to go. That doesn’t mean all cables are the same, but you shouldn’t pay a lot more for a bunch of marketing.
Making sense of HDR
High Dynamic Range is a technology that greatly increase the range of brightness levels displayed by your TV, making a bigger difference between the brightest bright areas and darkest dark areas than non-HDR technology. It’s a huge upgrade in visual quality, and one of the best things about 4K TV sets. But it’s also a little complicated.
There are two major HDR standards supported by TVs today: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Most 4K TVs that support HDR have support for HDR10, with a select few of the higher-end sets supporting Dolby Vision. When it comes to gaming, HDR10 is all you need, as that is what is output by the PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One S, and Xbox One X. A TV that supports Dolby Vision would only be useful if you have a standalone 4K Blu-Ray player or a streaming media box with Dolby Vision support; it will not give you HDR gaming with your console.
With the exception of a couple of brand new (and hard to find) Sony TVs, all HDR-capable HDTVs are 4K TVs. For all practical purposes, there are no 1080p HDR TVs. So if you want to buy an HDR capable TV set to play PS4 or Xbox One S games at 1080p, you’ll be buying a 4K TV. Hey, it’s good to be future-proof anyway, right?
It’s also important that the peak brightness of an HDR TV be quite high in order to produce a big difference between dark and light areas in HDR mode. If a TV supports HDR but isn’t very bright, you won’t really see much of an improvement in image quality.
Every 4K TV in this guide supports HDR10, and has sufficient peak brightness to make it look good.
Sony X900E – Best Overall
Sony’s X900 series can be a little confusing. First you have the X900E at sizes ranging from 49 to 75 inches. But there’s also the X930E (55 and 65 inches only) and the X940E (75 inches only). Overall, the X930E and X940E are nice upgrades. They’re much brighter, which is great for HDR, and they have really low input lag. However, they also cost hundreds or even thousands more than the X900E at a comparable size. And while you give up a little bit of picture quality (especially peak brightness) and the input lag is just a little worse on the X900E, it’s still a great 4K TV for gaming and well worth the money. For most gamers, the price premium of the X930E or X940E will just be a waste of money.
If there’s a real shortcoming for gamers on the X900E, it’s the mediocre sound quality. If you’re picky about audio, you’ll want to use headphones, a sound bar, or a receiver and speakers.
Another Great Option – Samsung MU9000
Last year’s Samsung KS9000 was a great overall option for gamers looking to upgrade to a 4K set. It had really low input lag and great image quality with high peak brightness, a wide color gamut, and low screen reflections. The MU9000 is this year’s replacement for that line, and it’s just as good. There are some minor improvements to image quality, but nothing to get too excited about.
If you happen to find the KS9000 still on sale and steeply discounted over the MU9000, that’s probably your best bet. Odds are, they’re going to be hard to find, and the MU9000’s price-to-performance ratio is still quite good. It’s got enough features and picture quality to satisfy all the non-gamers who just want to watch movies and TV, too.
Sony X800D – 4K on a Budget
Yes, you can get a 4K TV for less than Sony’s X800D ($640 for the 43-inch model, $800 for the 49-inch). But you don’t want to. Those cheaper sets often don’t have HDR support, and for many games HDR is going to improve image quality more than the higher resolution of 4K. Some cheaper sets do have HDR, but the brightness and contrast are so poor that you can barely notice.
If you’re going to bother upgrading from your 1080p set at all, you want a certain measure of picture quality, not just any old panel with 3840×2160 pixels. Sony’s X800D is probably the most affordable readily-available TV that meets those minimum standards while still offering low input lag.
This is technically last year’s model, and has been replaced by the X800E. But the X800D is still easy to find, and it’s actually better. It’s got higher peak brightness, better contrast, less motion blur, and a wider color gamut. The newer model is a small step backward, and a little more expensive, too.
TCL P607 – A Bigger Screen on a Budget
A 55 inch 4K TV for only $650? Yup! And it has impressively low input lag while displaying 4K HDR content in gaming mode, too. Naturally, you don’t get a big 4K TV like this at a price this good without a few conceits. Off-axis color shifts are noticeable and enabling game mode will turn off local dimming, making the contrast just a bit worse (it’s still impressive for the price, though). And if you really care about sound quality, you’ll want to use an external sound source like a sound bar or headphones. Like we said, you don’t get everything at a price this low.
Overall color accuracy, sharpness, and motion blur are really quite good. Especially for a $650 4K TV. You may be tempted to go for the even cheaper TCL S405 (the 49-inch model is under $400!) but you really shouldn’t. While that TV technically does support HDR, the peak brightness of the TV is so low that you won’t notice much of a difference. Good HDR can drastically improve image quality, so you want a set that does HDR well like the P607. It really is a no-brainer at this price, delivering picture quality that is on par with TVs that cost hundreds more.
The TCL P607 is currently only available in a 55-inch model, but 50-inch and 65-inch versions are coming later this year.
Samsung MU6300 – Another Affordable Option
While the Sony X800D offers better picture quality, it maxes out at 49 inches. If you need a bigger TV on a budget, consider Samsung’s MU6300. The 55-inch size is around $800, and it’s available in 65 and 75-inch models, too.
The worst part of the MU6300 is that it doesn’t get terribly bright, but the really dark blacks help it achieve a great contrast ratio that will keep HDR content looking good, especially in a dark room. Samsung’s other, pricier models offer better picture quality, with higher brightness and a broader color gamut. But if you’re looking for a good 55-inch gaming TV under $1,000, you get a lot of bang for your buck with the MU6300.
Best High-End 4K TV – LG C7
If you want the best image quality for gaming (or other fast-moving action like sports), you want an OLED TV. Unlike LCD panels, OLEDs emit light from the pixels themselves instead of using a backlight. That means a nearly infinite contrast ratio (since black pixels are literally off) and there’s no flickering backlight. Also, OLEDs switch color many times faster than even the best LCDs, so pixel response is super fast and there’s no motion blur at all. OLEDs also have really excellent viewing angles, so the colors and contrast don’t look weird if you’re off to the side on the far end of the couch.
The LG C7 supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR modes (Dolby Vision matters more for movies and TV content than for gaming), and has a screen coating that does a really great job of cutting down screen reflections.
The downside? It’s really, really expensive. You’re going to spend about $2,800 for the 55-inch model and $4,000 for the 65-inch one. If you can still find last year’s LG B6, you might save hundreds of dollars without sacrificing much at all in the way of quality or features. But as the B6 is rapidly becoming hard to find, we’re giving the crown to this year’s model.
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