How to Buy the Best Gaming HDTV
Display is everything so you need to know how to buy the best gaming HDTV you can. It’s not just important that you have the biggest monitor to play games on, it’s also important that you buy the best gaming HDTV. A gaming HDTV must be fast enough, feature rich enough and economical enough to show movies, games and possibly even the Internet. Fishing through the sea of HDTV features however can be difficult, so in this how to we’re going to talk about which features really matter for gaming and how to pick the best television to suit your needs and budget.
Table of Contents
- Step 1: Preparations
- Step 2: Understanding HDTV Features
- Step 3: Identifying Your Needs
- Step 4: Selecting the Optimal HDTV Size
- Step 5: Shopping for Your HDTV
This is not an all encompassing guide to gaming HDTVs, the goal of this walkthru is to help you buy the best gaming HDTV for your needs. There are different requirements if you’re only looking for a set to show off your PS3 Blu-Ray collection. Even then however following this guide will still net you a television that has good video performance. FileFront will also not endorse any particular HDTV brand in this procedure.
Step 1: Preparations
Before we can dive into the selection process of acquiring a new TV for your gaming needs there are some simple questions you need to consider. These will seem a bit obvious to most of you but it’s important to mention.
Firstly, buying a gaming HDTV is much like buying a car. There are lots of options out there and lots of features and even more manufacturers and sales to lure you in. Recognize that marketing and buzzwords and terminology used in the marketplace are not always “apples to apples” between product lines or HDTV makers. The numbers are often cooked to slant buyers toward a specific choice and looking at HDTVs in a “big box” store is also a deceptive business. Caveat Emptor.
Before you dive into the deep end of the shopping pool you need to consider a few basic questions:
- Where are you putting this TV?: Consider that contrast and black levels are more important in brightly lit areas.
- Is it going in the basement?
- Your bedroom?
- On the back porch in bright light?
- How far are you sitting from the HDTV?: The closer you are to a large HDTV the worse it looks. Measure the optimal viewing distance and decide on size based on those numbers.
- How much can you afford to spend?: It seems like a silly question, but knowing your price range can help determine which features are optional.
- What devices are you hooking up to the HDTV?
- Does it support my PC/Laptop?
- Old non-HDMI Xbox 360 or Wii?
- How many HDMI connectors do I need for my PS3, Cable and 360? etc.
- How many people will be watching me play or playing with me?: If you’re a big co-op split-screen player you don’t want a small HDTV
- Do you use a home theater receiver?: Optical output is pretty standard on HDTVs but if you dont have a receiver with optical in you need to make sure the TV can handle more traditional audio output as well.
With these questions answered or considered, it’s time to move onto a discussion of what features gaming HDTVs offer and what they mean to gamers in particular.
Step 2: Understanding HDTV Features
HDTV features are a minefield of terms and misdirection. Gamers looking to buy the best gaming HDTV need to worry about a few key parts of the whole muddled HDTV specification mess, but it never hurts to know just what all those flashy terms pasted all over the advertising and TVs mean.
First here are the features most important to gamers buying an gaming HDTV:
- Refresh Rate: Refresh rate is the number of times per second the HDTV will redraw/update the picture on screen. Most sets on the market today offer 60hz (60 frames per second) or 120Hz and 240Hz even 400Hz refresh. Movies display at about 48Hz in theaters but video game consoles can take advantage of the faster refresh rates.
- Input Lag: Response time is key for video game redraw. Ensure that you look for a set with a very low lag time, unfortunately this is not one of the features that is well advertised by most HDTV makers.
- Resolution: At its roots HDTV resolution is the same as PC Monitor resolutions – the higher the resolution the better clarity. 1080p default resolution is 1920×1080@60hz. Higher resolution can lead to sharper images on larger screens and in the display of text on consoles
- Video Inputs: The connections you use between your console and your HDTV can make all the difference in clarity. The PS3 looks best when connected using its in-built HDMI, the 360 can be connected via HDMI or Component video cables. The Wii connects using Composite or Component cables and does not output a HD signal but does benefit from higher resolution HDTVs.
- LED LCD: Some newer (and currently more expensive) HDTV sets use a hybrid approach to LCD display. Using Light Emitting Diode, the LED LCD has an overall better light and black level control than traditional LCD systems. Black levels become very important when watching darker images where poor black tones wash out and cause a muddled image.
- Contrast:Contrast ratio represents the levels of granularity the HDTV supports when dealing with light and color variance. The higher the contrast ratio, the better the image should be. Contrast ratios on HDTVs are some of the most made up numbers in the market. Sets advertise 10000:1 or 8000:1 contrast and rarely deliver a real difference. Also contrast can be impacted by the viewing location of the TV. Dark spaces with low ambient light look better for lower contrast sets, but HDTVs in open spaces under direct light benefit from higher contrast ratios.
There are a lot of other terms and technologies in HDTVs today including 3D that can add a lot of cost for little real value. If you are considering a 3D HDTV purchase you need to research the cost and technology used to generate the 3D effect and make sure you’re willing to pay $300 to add or replace your 3D glasses every few years or when they break. Currently 3D is a risky investment for consumers, even though the PS3 is 3D compatible and Sony is making a strong push for 3D content in gaming and on Blu-Ray disk.
If you’re interested in the other terms used in HDTV technology, here is a handy glossary.
Step 3: Identifying Your Needs
So now you know the key questions and some of the important features of HDTVs the next step is to really identify what you need.
LCD, LED LCD or Plasma?
Initially the HDTV market broke down into plasma vs. LCD technology. Plasma generally has a better color and black control but runs a bit hotter and more expensively. Plasma is a good choice for really big screens, in fact most HDTV makers have stopped producing plasma sets in smaller screen sizes. The bad reputation of plasma expiration after 3-5 years early on is now mostly a myth.
LCD is by far the most prevalent option but you have to be careful to buy a good LCD – do not consider a HDTV that does not output 1080i at minimum and is preferably 1080p. There are still some of the smaller (32-42″ sets) that only have 720p/1080i output.
LED LCD is the new hotness and really pays off when it comes to boosting color levels and black control. LED LCD is almost as good as plasma when it comes to these factors but it is a premium priced tech right now.
It never hurts to have an extra HDMI though so really consider buying a set with 4 for future expansion. (Who knows.. Nintendo could actually make a high-def gaming system before you replace your TV)
If you plan to connect a VCR or DVD player you’ll likely need Component or Composite connections, the Wii is also Component or Composite based.
HDMI sends audio and video to the HDTV so make sure you have an Optical audio output for your home theater receiver. Optical audio offers the best sound quality.
Do you want to play music or media off a hard drive directly onto the TV? Consider buying a gaming HDTV with an Internet connection option or USB feature. Many newer TVs are Internet enabled for Netflix streaming or YouTube play without a computer or console.
Step 4: Selecting the Optimal HDTV Size
Remember when we talked about gaming HDTV location being important? Well here is the hard fact – gaming HDTVs look like junk if you sit too close to them. Ensuring you’re as close as possible to the optimal viewing distance can greatly effect your feelings about HDTV.
The formula for determining the optimal distance of the screen from the viewer is:
Minimum Viewing Distance: 1.5 x screen measurement
Maximum Viewing Distance: 2 x screen measurement
Here’s a handy chart for you:
|Screen size||Viewing distance range|
|26″||3.25 – 5.5 feet|
|32″||4.0 – 6.66 feet|
|37″||4.63 – 7.71 feet|
|40″||5.0 – 8.33 feet|
|42″||5.25 – 8.75 feet|
|46″||5.75 – 9.5 feet|
|50″||6.25 – 10.5 feet|
|52″||6.5 – 10.8 feet|
|55″||6.9 – 11.5 feet|
|58″||7.25 – 12 feet|
|65″||8.13 – 13.5 feet|
|70″||8.75 – 14.75 feet|
Consider this chart as a guideline, there are other factors – like practicality involved in buying and placing your TV. If you are playing with others viewing angle and size are also important to consider when choosing the size of the screen.
Step 5: Shopping for Your HDTV
You’ve identified your requirements. Know how much space you have and what you’re going to connect to your new gaming HDTV. Now it’s time to do the hard work – finding the right price for your model.
Buying the best gaming TV without looking at it first is hard to do, but this doesn’t mean you should run right out to Best Buy and buy the first HDTV that catches your eye. Research is key to getting the most for your money. Visiting Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. allows you to see the TV in action but beware of techniques used to fool you. Best Buy for instance keeps most of the TVs in a dark space and often feeds the same video image to every HDTV on the wall. This can mislead you easily if anyone has modified the sets or frankly has not modified or tuned them for the display area they are in.
It helps to research the model and find reviews and options, but don’t treat them as gospel. TV reviews are highly subjective, there are a lot of factors – like the reviewers eyesight that can tile or color reviews online. Also it’s not uncommon for online reviews to be planted by the HDTV company’s involved.
Ask the helpful sales staff to let you adjust the TV. Check to see what mode it is in and where the contrast, brightness and other levels are set. To be fair, reset the TV to a default or “Normal” display mode and judge it based upon those results. Do the same for every TV you compare.
Since gaming requires HDTVs to rapidly redraw the screen take special notice of any blurring or distortion on the HDTV during action scenes. If you can convince the sales staff to show you some action movie footage this is a good way to judge the set’s gaming performance.
Making the final purchase does not have to be in a store however. Once you get a feel for a HDTV you should search for the best price on the model. When buying consider tax and shipping charges from online retailers as a part of the total cost, and delivery charges from local stores. Also any cables needed ( and NO ONE needs Gold Plated HDMI cables) should be added as well.
Getting the best HDTV for gaming is a bit of a long process and requires some homework but there is nothing quite like the first time you invite your buddies over for split-screen Halo or Resistance on a truly superior TV.