A Guide to Buying a 4K TV for PC Gaming

Alex

One of the best aspects of console gaming is that it’s frequently done from the comfort of a couch. With a dedicated living room gaming PC,  a dedicated Home Theater PC, or a streaming box like a Steam Link or an Nvidia Shield, you can have the same experience while PC gaming with a 4K TV.

Modern 4K TVs, however, have a few tradeoffs when compared with gaming monitors. Typically (but not always),  4K TVs have more input lag, worse viewing angles, and fewer input types than a top-of-the-line gaming PC monitor. But armed with the right information, you can find a suitable 4K TV that works as a gaming screen as well as a home theater display.

Types of 4K TVs: OLED vs LCD

Generally speaking, there are two types of modern TVs: OLED and LCD. LCDs are most common, but increasingly manufacturers are turning to OLED to produce top-notch picture quality.

OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode.” Each pixel in an OLED display is made of a material that lights up when electrified—the more electricity, the brighter the pixel; no electricity, and the pixel is off. This means OLED displays can produce true blacks and an “infinite” contrast ratio, which refers to the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of a screen.

LCDs (liquid-crystal displays), on the other hand, are lit by a backlight, and the color is controlled by a series of polarizing filters. That means LCDs can’t produce true blacks like OLED TVs, but there are several engineering tricks that can get close to deep black, such as local dimming, which dims the backlight in areas that are supposed to be closer to black.

In spite of their superior blacks, OLED displays have a few drawbacks. OLED TVs can’t get quite as bright as their LCD counterparts, for example, and the displays can suffer from “burn-in” where a ghost of a prior image remains on-screen despite what the screen is presently trying to display (sometimes this burn-in can become permanent). Most TVs these days, however, have settings that prevent burn-in by “refreshing” the pixels and evening out the wear that happens from extended periods of use. In any case, it would take hours upon hours of displaying the exact same image to produce anything close to burn-in.

Screen Size

When buying a 4K TV for gaming, you should consider how close you’ll sit to the TV.  There’s a direct relationship between how far you sit from the TV and the screen size. For a truly immersive experience, the TV should fill 30-40° of your field of vision.

In order to find out the optimal size for your TV, measure the distance from your couch to where the TV will be. For example, if you sit 8 feet away from where the TV is, a 55-inch TV is your minimum ideal size. If you can afford a larger screen, go for it. The website Rtings.com has an excellent TV Size to Distance Calculator.

Like all displays, TVs are measured diagonally. But you need to consider the actual dimensions of the TV itself as well. Take a look at where the TV will be placed—is it a large, bare wall? Then a small TV will look unusual floating in an empty space. Conversely, a massive 85-inch TV may overwhelm an apartment. Moreover, is your entertainment center large enough to fit a new TV? If you’re not mounting the TV to the wall, take a look at the specifications to make sure the stand will sit safely on your furniture.

Input Lag

One of the biggest drawbacks of gaming on a 4K TV is higher input lag when compared to typical PC gaming monitors. Input lag is the delay between an electrical input and the on-screen result of that input—for example, the time between a button being pressed and the resulting action showing up on-screen.

For gamers, it’s ideal to have as low an input lag as possible, because low input lag can mean the difference between executing a game-winning move or being outmatched by an opponent. Most people won’t notice input lag under 50 ms, but competitive gamers should look for lag below 40 ms (gaming monitors are typically sub-10 ms, but it’s rare to find that in a 4K TV). When comparing different TVs, 15ms can be a noticeable difference. Check the specifications for settings usually called “Gaming mode,” which modifies the display to minimize input lag.

HDR

HDR (high-dynamic range) is the latest feature in image technology. HDR gives better contrasts and a wider range of colors and brightness, making for more immersive and realistic images on-screen. This feature is common on most 4K TVs, but the implementation is often different—a high-end TV will typically have better HDR than a budget TV.

There are a few different HDR formats, however, and while they don’t make much of a difference for gaming, if you want to also use your TV as a movie or streaming device, you should be aware of a few key differences.

The main formats are HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. HDR10 is the open standard across most HDR-compatible devices, while HDR10+ was developed by Samsung and mostly limited to Samsung devices. Dolby Vision is a proprietary format which content creators and TV manufacturers must pay a licensing fee to utilize. These formats are actually metadata that tells the TV the optimal settings for the best viewing experience. From a pure picture-quality perspective, Dolby Vision is the best, with a vast bit depth and excellent peak brightness.

Future-proofers should note that Dolby Vision supports 12-bit color depth, versus HDR10’s 10-bit depth; this expands Dolby Vision’s color access to over 68 billion colors. However, there are no TVs on the market that can physically utilize the full potential of Dolby Vision—there’s just room to grow.

Still, for gamers, simple HDR10 is all you need to worry about.

When is the best time to buy a 4K TV?

New TV models are regularly introduced at the Consumer and Electronics Show (CES), which happens in early January. That often means retailers start to apply deep discounts on the previous year’s models at around this time.

Look for deals around the Super Bowl, when retailers are trying to capitalize on sports fans upgrading in time for the big game. Black Friday is also a good time to upgrade your TV, but beware that some “doorbuster” TVs are actually special models with reduced features or subpar picture quality.


The Best 4K TV for Nvidia GPUs:

LG C9 OLED

This LG OLED screen has all the picture-quality benefits of an OLED (super-deep blacks, rich colors, and crisp clarity and sharpness) with high-end gaming features like a low input lag of just 13.3 ms and Nvidia’s adaptive sync technology, G-SYNC, which eliminates screen tearing and stuttering (available with a firmware update). The HDR implementation is some of the best, providing rich colors and stunning contrast— with formats including Dolby Vision and HDR10.

The panel is also super-thin (an added benefit of OLED tech—there are fewer filters the light has to pass through).

The C9 is also future-proofed with the addition of HDMI 2.1 on all four ports. HDMI 2.1 improves bandwidth, allows resolutions up to 10K, and allows frame rates up to 120 FPS (but there isn’t currently any device that can output that kind of content).

The Best 4K TV for AMD GPUs:

Samsung Q70 QLED

Although Samsung’s Q70 doesn’t have the inky blacks of the LG, the Q70 utilizes FreeSync, the adaptive sync technology specifically designed by and for AMD cards (in addition to Xbox One X consoles). This TV features a friendly input lag of 14.7 ms and a fast response time to make this a solid choice for gaming. Additionally, the colors on the Q70 are some of the best around, and this TV combats less-than-optimal contrast with full-array local dimming so those dark areas can get as close to pure black as possible.

If this is going to be a mixed-use 4K TV, displaying both streaming content and PC games, you should note that the TV lacks Dolby Vision, which is generally the best HDR format.

This TV also utilizes a VA panel, so the picture quality is best observed right in front; at an angle, you begin to lose some contrast and color depth.

The Best Midrange 4K TV for PC Gaming:

Vizio P Series Quantum X

Vizio’s wallet-friendly TVs have been impressive these past few years, and this particular top-end 4K TV (still midrange compared to the whole market) doesn’t disappoint. The colors on the Quantum X really pop, thanks to its quantum color technology that can display over a billion colors. Like the Samsung, the Quantum X utilizes full-array local dimming to produce deep blacks. Fast response times and a low input lag of 16.6 ms make it a great choice for PC gamers.

The Quantum X doesn’t feature any advanced gaming features like FreeSync or G-SYNC, and the VA panel means the image degrades somewhat when viewed from an angle.

The Best Budget 4K TV for PC Gaming:

Hisense H9F

Hisense is relatively new to the TV-making game, but they’ve come out of the gate with some very good 4K TVs for gaming. The H9F utilizes an LCD panel to produce a wide color gamut with impressively deep blacks, while also handling motion extremely well. An excellent response time is paired with a low input lag of 16.1 ms, making this an excellent budget option.

As with most budget 4K TVs, screen uniformity is an issue, and the H9F is known to produce the “dirty screen effect,” in which solid colors are sometimes displayed unevenly. Also, like the Q70, this TV uses a VA panel, resulting in poor viewing angles.


Conclusion

It’s a great time to consider a 4K TV as your PC gaming monitor. The 4k TV industry has matured to the point where there are plenty of options at multiple price points, each with features that can make for an excellent PC gaming experience.