Wednesday, 27 February 2013

HDTV for gaming: A consumer's guide.

by Dave Lamb

I’ve decided to put my years of home cinema calibration and setup to good use and provide the readers of 103% with a guide to picking the best HDTV for gaming. In this guide I’ll show you how to pick the very best HDTV to help you to get the most out of our beloved video game consoles.

Modern games boast some of the most beautiful CG graphics. A good HDTV can help bring out the best in them.

Screen size

The very first step anyone should take when selecting a TV is choosing a screen size.  The table below shows the recommended viewing distances for different sized screens.

It may seem like these recommendations provide a large screen size for your room. However, such TVs are geared towards creating an immersive cinematic experience. The biggest complaint among TV buyers is that they wish they had bought a bigger set.

LCD vs Plasma 

There are two major television technologies on the market currently and they are LCD and Plasma. Plasma TV’s have phosphors that create the image on the screen and light up individually, whereas LCDs are a liquid crystal screen that does not self-illuminate and requires a separate backlight.

Plasma has a number of benefits where picture quality is concerned. Their motion resolution is higher which means images do not blur when moving across the screen quickly. This makes games like Sonic Generations a lot clearer as the levels speed across your screen.  They also have deeper black levels and can be viewed from the side without colours becoming washed out. The only downfall of plasma is that they can’t give off as much light as an LCD. This makes them unsuitable for environments with a lot of natural light such as a conservatory. As long as you have something to control the light levels in the room like curtains or blinds, this isn’t a problem. Overall the many advantages of plasma outweigh their one downfall making them better performers for gamers and cinema lovers alike. 

An example of LCD motion blur on the left compared to the clear motion of plasma on the right.

Unfortunately if you want a screen of a size less than 42 inches you’re stuck with LCD due to manufacturing limitations. Some of you may also have heard of OLED screens. These are essentially the Holy Grail for home cinema fans as they provide better picture quality than both LCD and Plasma. There’s a few popping up on the market this year but you’ll need very deep pockets to purchase one of these sets. 

The image on the left is an example of the poor black levels on LCD screens, whereas the image on the right demonstrates plasma’s superior performance.

Input lag

Now, Input lag is something not a lot of people know about until it causes them a problem.  It’s best described as the delay between the television receiving a signal and it being displayed on the screen. It’s caused by Image processing which takes time and therefore adds some degree of delay.  This causes an issue for first person shooters and rhythm games such as guitar hero as they require fast reflexes. It causes the image on your screen to be slightly behind the real time events so you may find it difficult to pull off a headshot in Halo.

The LCD TV here is displaying around 40ms of delay compared to a lag free CRT monitor. Older CRT TV’s have zero input lag as they use analogue systems compared to the digital sets of today which require processing.

It is generally considered that input lag of around 30ms or below is acceptable. The best sets have around 16ms and the really bad ones can have around 120ms of delay.  You might be reading this and assume you can walk into a store and ask for a TV with low input lag and have a life of hassle free gaming. Unfortunately this is not the case. Manufactures don’t publish these figures so it’s left to you to go digging around reviews to retrieve this information.

Professional Reviews

So far I’ve recommended you buy plasma if you can, with a low input lag. My final piece of advice is to choose a set with the best picture quality according to professional reviews. Two excellent websites for this are and These websites use professional equipment to test TVs against industry standards. They also always measure input lag which is great for us gamers. A lot of people go by reviews on websites like CNET but they do not use a scientific approach and rely more on subjective opinions. The websites above will test a TV from every angle and provide you with the information to choose one with excellent picture quality.  

A chart measuring a TV’s colour performance. The white triangle represents the TV’s performance whereas the other triangle is the standard the TV should be achieving. 

On modern TV’s sound quality isn’t amazing. This is because sets have become so slim it is impossible to fit a decent pair of speakers inside. If you want great sound you’re going to have to shell out for external speakers.

  • Select your screen size according to viewing distance.
  • Go for a plasma if you can.
  • Find a set with low input lag.
  • Search professional reviews for one with great picture quality.
  • You will need to get some decent speakers for the beat sound.

So what’s an example of a great set for gaming? I recently purchased the Panasonic TX-P42UT50B after I read the review on HDTV Test here. It’s a plasma which is relatively cheap, has an input lag of just 16ms and provides excellent picture quality.

If you’re looking for a decent pair of speakers to pair with your TV I’d recommend the Creative GigaWorks T20 Series. They’re inexpensive speakers that will drastically improve your sound quality compared to your TVs’ inbuilt ones.

Update 2014: Unfortunately Panasonic are withdrawing from the plasma market due to the cost, bulkiness and high power consumption of the screens. The technology is beginning to disappear so the market will be saturated with LED LCD displays until OLED comes down in price over the next 3 years. Fortunately, Sony have made some amazing gaming TV's over the past year, which have the smallest amount of input lag I've seen. Check out the W6 range if you're looking for a great gaming TV. 

Hope you’ve found this guide useful. Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section below and make sure you check out my next guide on how to set up your HDTV for gaming

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