For all Nintendo Wii U, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Sony PlayStation 3 fans—and those who plan to snap up the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles when those ship in November—here are some suggestions that can help you buy the best TV for playing games.
Which TV technology should I consider?
For gaming, a plasma TV generally will outperform an LCD. Plasma sets tend to have deeper black levels (which make for better contrast), and they don't have the motion blur and limited viewing angle associated with LCD sets.
A potential downside, though, is that many plasma sets suffer from image retention: When images are displayed onscreen for extended periods, say a few hours, they can temporarily leave behind a faint imprint. For most TV content, this isn't much of a problem. But many games use static images—health bars, head-up displays, and onscreen radars, for example—so image retention can be an issue. Newer plasma TVs do a decent job of minimizing this problem, but if it does occur, it may take some time to get rid of the persistent image.
So for this reason, I would recommend buying an LCD TV with an LED backlight. If the TV is mainly used for gaming, the viewing angle shouldn't be too much of a stopper, as most gamers will be close to the center of the screen. It'll matter only when you're playing with a group of friends around the TV.
What should I look for in an LCD, then?
Some features can minimize some of the issues discussed above and enhance your gaming experience.
Refresh rate: Different TV brands call this feature different names; it basically reduces the blurring effects associated with motion. But since it's adding processing to the image, it can also increase motion lag. If you play casually or watch movies and shows on the same TV, I'd recommend a TV with at least a 120Hz refresh rate.
Local dimming: This feature, which can also go by different names, dims the LED backlight on darker areas of the screen. When this feature is working well, you won't really notice that it's doing anything at all. You'll simply have an image with deeper black levels while maintaining the brighter parts of the image as well.
Game mode: Some TVs have a game mode that reduces input lag (which means there's less time between pressing a button and the action appearing on the screen ) by cutting out some form of processing. I haven't tried this feature on every TV, but when I have tried it, the overall quality of the picture was reduced—and for me, it isn't worth the trade-off. You could actually reduce the lag time without using Game mode by turning off some of the features that unnecessarily affect picture quality, such as digital noise reduction and edge enhancement.
If you do purchase a TV that has a game mode, try it out and see if the reduced lag time is more beneficial to you than the change in picture quality.
How big should I go? If you're a competitive player, you may want to get a set with a smaller screen: You'll be able to react faster, because you won't be looking around a large screen. And typically, smaller screens have less input lag.
I personally prefer a bigger screen, though; it helps to enjoy the visuals. So if you play casually or use the same TV for gaming and watching movies, I'd recommend at least a 50-inch screen.
What about 3D?
This is completely optional, but 3D can enhance your gaming experience. When you're playing platform games, for example, 3D makes it slightly easier to determine the distance of a gap you're trying to cross.
Some 3D TVs also offer Dual Play, a feature you can use with a multiplayer game that is normally shown in split screen, and make it appear as a full-screen game to each player wearing the requisite 3D glasses. Resolution is reduced, though, and not all games will support this feature. Also, bear in mind that you should take frequent breaks from playing video games to relieve strain on the eyes—and this is even more important when you're viewing 3D.
If you're shopping for a new TV, you can find our free buying guide and latest TV Ratings at ConsumerReports.org.
Will 4K improve my gaming experience?
Both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are expected to support 4K. Games won't (yet) come in 4K, but any HD content incluuding games can benefit from a 4K display as well.
In our TV labs, we've noticed a slight improvement in detail for HD content that has been upconverted from HD to 4K. An additional benefit of 4K is that you can sit closer to the screen and have a larger television without seeing the pixel structure. This might improve your gaming experience, because small text and far-away objects can be easier to identify with the enhanced detail.