2022 is a FIFA World Cup year and more consumers than usual will be looking for a new TV over the next few months. It will serve them well to have a general idea of the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today – as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV is placed in will affect image quality – before even looking at e-shop listings or retail shelves. People who are after what many call “the cinematic experience at home” should also decide how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting before settling on any specific model and probably save a lot of money by choosing between a 4K TV and an 8K TV model, as the latter still command a price premium.
It’s only after consumers have made those decisions that specific use cases can be discussed. Different types of TVs can do a better job than others when it comes to sports viewing, to film watching or playing video games. All the important questions to ask when picking up a sports-friendly TV are already answered, those looking for a “cinematic TV” have their own checklist to process and now… it’s gaming time: all new TVs can display modern video games, but there are certain features that need to be supported in order to make the whole experience as smooth as the latest PlayStation5, Xbox Series S/X or PC titles deserve. Let’s break it all down.
Gaming TVs are all about fast screens, modern HDMI ports and low input lag
Choosing a TV set that’s a good match for a modern gaming system is not as complicated as it is for either sports or movies. That is because there are three very specific features a television must offer in order to qualify as a “gaming TV” in 2022. There’s no wiggle room, no “ifs” and “buts”: a TV set will either have those capabilities or not. If it doesn’t, it will still be able to display games “just fine” but it will not be a TV that should be matched with a PlayStation5, an Xbox Series S/X or a high-end PC. If the gaming system in question is a PS4, Xbox One S/X or a midrange PC, then many more TV models can do the job nicely. But these models will not be future-proof, which a new TV should strive to be.
The first requirement for a gaming TV in 2022 is the inclusion of at least one HDMI version 2.1 port. That port will allow modern home entertainment systems or powerful PCs to take advantage of game-specific technologies such as VRR, ALLM, HGIG and QMS. To be honest, the one function that’s actually a game-changer (huh) is VRR, or variable refresh rate: this one keeps frames sent to the TV by a gaming system in sync with the TV screen’s refresh rate, so motion is silky-smooth, control is more accurate and aiming easier. When talking about TVs this is almost always HDMI VRR, but a number of available models also support G-Sync and FreeSync, equivalent standards for nVidia and AMD graphics cards on PCs respectively. Needless to say, the more extensive the support a TV offers to these standards, the better.
Almost all televisions that offer at least one HDMI 2.1 port – ideally more than one, many of them offer up to four – also support games displayed in 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second or 8K resolution at up to 60 frames per second (these are 8K TVs obviously). This takes care of the second requirement: more and more games will be reaching 120 frames per second in the future, so TVs that sport 120 Hz screen refresh rates will display those perfectly.
What not all these TVs necessarily do is meet the third requirement: low input lag. This is, simply put, the exact time it takes a TV to display an action triggered by a player’s controller – so, obviously, the lower the input lag, the better (the more responsive a game “feels” when played on that TV).
There are certain kinds of games that absolutely need input lag to be kept to a minimum - such as multiplayer shoot’ em up games or fighting games – in order to be played properly and enjoyably. Input lag of around 30 milliseconds used to be acceptable just a few short years ago, but most modern TVs now offer special Game Modes of operation (turning off almost all picture processing) that can take input lag down to 10 milliseconds or lower. Not all of us need response times of mere milliseconds (hardcore gamers or e-sports professional players do), so an input lag of 10–20 milliseconds is considered to be good enough for just about everyone.
More things gamers should keep in mind when picking up a gaming TV
Apart from the three main features of a modern gaming TV – VRR support, an 120 Hz screen and low input lag – every consumer interested in gaming should be looking for, there are a few other things worth keeping in mind. Screen size, for instance, is important in gaming: large TVs are impressive, but they make taking in every bit of game information displayed – e.g. indicators or other data usually placed at the corners of the screen – more difficult for the player. Consumers who intend to game often on their TV should go for a screen diagonal that allows for comfortable viewing of the whole screen from their usual sitting spot.
As far as display tech is concerned, OLED TVs and QD-OLED TVs are generally considered to be better than LED/LCD TVs for gaming because of the practically instant response of their screens, their perfect blacks and excellent contrast that proves helpful in many kinds of games. Gaming is the one use case, though, where bright picture elements always displayed on the same part of the screen for long periods of time can potentially cause burn-in to OLEDs, so players should be aware of that. LED/LCD TVs, of course, do not have such issues. As an added bonus they do get brighter, which is handy for several other kinds of games too.
Then there is the small but not unimportant matter of extra functionality to consider: having realized that more people game on their TVs than ever before, manufacturers have added to a number of their recent models specific functions useful in that particular context. Some have added different styles of “Game Menus”, for instance, which display information about resolution, refresh rates, frame rates etc. as well as offer direct access to important options and settings. Samsung even broke new ground this year by adding cloud gaming services support to some of its TV models: that means that Xbox Game Pass or nVidia GeForce Now subscribers can play games without having connected a gaming system to these TVs at all: nothing to install either, just games playable via the Internet through specialized servers Microsoft or nVidia maintain all over the world. Talking about redefining the term “gaming TV”, no?
At the end of the day, most modern televisions worthy of being called “gaming TVs” are usually good enough for almost every other use case – certainly for sports and general viewing, probably for movies too – so there is that. Does this mean that the most capable “gaming TVs” on the market tend to be on the expensive side? Yes, kind of, but… hey: who’s to say what price should anyone be putting on entertainment anyway?
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line