The Best 4K TVs for Gaming

Game on!

by Steve Withers Mar 23, 2017 at 7:53 AM


  • If you're a gamer, regardless of whether you own a PlayStation or an Xbox, one of the most important aspects of any TV review is the input lag.
    The input lag is simply the time it takes a TV to render the image on the screen but why is it important? Well the lower the input lag, the shorter the delay between you doing something on the controller and your actions appearing on the TV screen. The input lag of a TV isn't the only factor of course, there can also be delay associated with the controller itself, your internet connection and your own reactions, but the lower the input lag on your TV the less you have to worry about. As a general rule of thumb, a lag lower than 40ms is considered to be good and roughly equates to a single frame of a 30p game (33ms), although at 60p you're looking at a frame every 17ms, so a lag of 20ms or below would be ideal.

    In the past TVs have had very high input lags, especially as the amount of image processing increased, so to address this the manufacturers developed dedicated game modes. These modes bypass all unnecessary processing, in order to keep the input lag as low as possible. Over the last few years all the TV manufacturers have included game modes on their new models, to varying degrees of success. When we review TVs we always test the input lag in any available game mode using a Leo Bodnar lag tester and we also play games on the TV to get a feel for how the display actually performs in reality.

    Until recently all these input lag tests have been based on a standard dynamic range (SDR) signal but, in the last year, the situation has been complicated by the advent of Ultra HD 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) gaming. The PlayStation 4 and XBox One both support HDR gaming, whilst the PS4 Pro adds 4K to the mix, which requires an additional game mode to be included on the TV. How this is implemented does vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, some have a game mode that you can turn on or off regardless of whether the source is SDR or HDR and some have separate game modes for SDR and HDR sources. And, as we shall see, some manufacturers have yet to implement a game mode for HDR.

    Here at AVForums we now test for input lag with both SDR and HDR signals (with the addition of an HD Fury Integral), so we will update this list periodically as we build a more detailed database of HDR lag times for each manufacturer. However, for the time being here are the current best TVs when it comes to input lag for SDR gaming.

    Samsung


    When it comes to input lag the undisputed kings in 2016 were Samsung, who managed to get their times down to an average of 21ms on their KS range last year. That should be low enough for even the most demanding of gamers and the low measurements were consistent across all the Samsung TVs that we reviewed in 2016 from the flagship KS9500 to the entry level KS7000. Which model is best for you will obviously depend on your budget and preference with the KS9500 offering a full array direct LED backlight but using a curved screen. The KS9000 and KS7500 both use edge LED lighting and a curved screen, whilst the KS8000 and KS7000 are also edge-lit but use flat panels. Since these are Samsung TVs they all use LCD panels, so image retention or screen burn won't be an issue and, although their optimal viewing angles are limited, since you'll be gaming you can sit in the centre of the screen and benefit from the deeper blacks and better contrast performance of the VA technology. Aside from the low input lag, the other useful feature that Samsung offer gamers is that their game mode can be used with both SDR and HDR sources, which helped make Samsung the manufacturer of choice amongst gamers last year. It will be interesting to see how their 2017 models compare when we test them this year but Samsung have certainly set the bar very high, or low, depending on how you look at it.

    Hisense


    The next name on our list of the best TVs for gaming is the new kid on the block – Hisense. The Chinese manufacturer has only been in the UK market for a few years but they're already beginning to make an impression. We reviewed three of their TVs in 2016 and we were impressed with their overall performance and price, as well as their input lags. We measured the M7000 at 38ms, which is below our 40ms threshold for optimal gaming but we measured the K5510 at 32ms and the almost identical M5500 at an excellent 31ms. Apart from Samsung, these are the lowest measurements that we saw last year and you can also select the game mode with both SDR and HDR content, which will no doubt appeal to anyone looking for a good value gaming option. As with Samsung these Hisense models are LCD TVs with VA panels, so there's no issues with image retention or screen burn and, as long as you sit at the centre of the screen, the black levels and contrast performance are also excellent. Hisense have been improving year-on-year, so we're excited to see how their TVs will perform in 2017.

    LG


    In terms of input lag last year, LG were hot on the heels of Hisense with their 2016 OLED TVs. We measured the G6, E6 and the curved C6 at 34ms, which is excellent, and the B6, which uses a slightly different System-on-Chip (SoC), at a respectable 38ms. Of course the big selling point of these TVs are their OLED panels, which means incredibly deep blacks, a superb contrast performance and very wide viewing angles. However OLED TVs can't go as bright as many of the LCD TVs when it comes to HDR gaming and there is the possibility of image retention and, in the worst case, screen burn caused by long hours of gaming. LG have gone to great lengths to mitigate any risk of screen burn but we have certainly seen image retention when gaming for long periods with static heads-up displays, so bear that in mind. Initially LG's OLEDs didn't have a dedicated game mode for HDR, which resulted in very high input lags when HDR gaming but the manufacturer has now addressed this with a firmware update. However the B6 update took longer than the C6, E6 and G6 updates because, again, it uses a different SoC. At a recent LG press event were were able to test the new W7 and E7 OLED TVs and the input lag was just 21ms for both SDR and HDR gaming, so it looks as though LG will be giving Samsung a run for their money in 2017.

    Sony


    Sony delivered some great TVs in 2016 but their input lag performance was a bit strange in terms of measurements. We found that the lag would cycle between 54 and 37ms in the case of the XD94 and 52 and 35ms in the case of the XD93, however if you turned the local dimming off then the input lag stabilised at 35ms for the XD94 and 37ms for the XD93. These are certainly good performances and as a general rule of thumb we'd always recommend turning off any unnecessary processing to get the input lag as low as possible. The ZD9 also had an input lag that cycled when the local dimming was on but the range was only between 47 and 42ms and the lowest measurement we were able to achieve was 42ms, which is just above our 40ms threshold. However it looks as though Sony have improved their input lag performance this year, with the first 2017 model that we reviewed – the XE90 – delivering a 32ms input lag. As with the Samsung and Hisense models, the Sony TVs all use VA LCD panels, so there's no issues with image retention or screen burn and, as long as you sit at the centre of the screen, the black levels and contrast performance are also excellent. Sony also offer a game mode for both SDR and HDR sources, which means if they can keep the input lag in the low thirties, their TVs are sure to prove popular with gamers.

    Philips


    We reviewed a number of Philips TVs last year and overall they performed well in terms of their input lag. The best measurement was for the higher-end PUS8601, which delivered an input lag of 35ms, whilst the lower-end PUS6501 and PUS7101 both produced lags of 36ms. The higher-end PUS7601 managed a lag time of 38ms and all these measurements, whilst not as impressive as Samsung, are certainly comparable to the competition and below the threshold of 40ms. These Philips TVs also use LCD TVs with VA panels, so again there's no issues with image retention or screen burn and, as long as you sit at the centre of the screen, the black levels and contrast performance are also excellent. The most recent Philips TV that we have tested was the the POS901F which is their new OLED TV and this was a little disappointing in terms of input lag because despite having a game mode for both SDR and HDR, the result was 55ms. That's too high for serious gamers, so let's hope that Philips can get the lag times back down to the low thirties with their 2017 models.

    Panasonic


    Of all the major TV manufacturers, Panasonic has been the most disappointing in terms of input lag with their flagship DX902 delivering the best performance with a measurement of 35ms. Whilst this is a decent number the rest of the Panasonic range weren't as good with the DX802 delivering 44ms, the DX750 also producing a number of 44ms, the DX600 measuring 50ms and the DX700 producing a disappointing 55ms. These measurements are all above the 40ms threshold and some are even above 50ms which would be considered too high by many serious gamers. On the plus side Panasonic have dedicated game modes for both SDR and HDR sources and their VA panels won't have any issues with image retention or screen burn and, as with the other LCD TVs mentioned, the contrast performance is very good as long as you're sat in the centre of the screen. However Panasonic are in danger of falling behind the competition, with most now producing input lags in the low thirties and some in the low twenties. We would like to see Panasonic raise their game in 2017 when it comes to the input lags on their new TVs.

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