A few years ago, I wrote a column called What's the ultimate HDTV for gamers? Chalk it up to the pitfalls of good Google optimization, but ever since that column was published, it seems that people have been stumbling upon it in their searches and wishing my old advice was more current. Practically every week I get an e-mail or two requesting that I update it--and so I will attempt to do so.
In three years, a lot has changed in the gaming landscape vis-a-vis HDTV. Back when I wrote the first column, the Xbox 360 and PS3 hadn't arrived yet (the Wii wasn't around either, but that console isn't about HD). And people weren't making a big deal about consoles with HDMI connectivity and 1080p output. Nor did you have many TV manufacturers touting newfangled gaming optimization technology.
The other big difference is that large flat-panel displays have become affordable--or at least more affordable. The high-end, 45-inch Sharp LCD TV I mentioned in my original column cost around $10,000 in 2004. Now you can pick up a similar-size model (say, the Sharp LC-46D62U) for $2,500. And 50-inch plasmas are also way down, and you still have plenty of front- and rear-projection sets to choose from--whether they use DLP, LCD, or LCoS microdisplay technology. In other words, the range of large-screen gaming options has increased dramatically over the last few years, which means we get more e-mails from anguished gamers on the fence about what model they should buy.
Well, before I try to help narrow down your choices, let's get a couple of things straight: first and foremost, the majority of TVs we test do just fine when it comes to gaming. Any highly rated set on our top products list is generally going to match up well with your gaming console. If you're a PC gamer looking to pair up your computer with a TV monitor, having a set with support for 1080p resolution will have a noticeable impact on your picture. Older LCD TVs--and some of today's superbudget LCDs--have a response time of 16 milliseconds or worse. However, the standard for LCD is now 8 milliseconds, and higher-end LCD TVs are able to cut that number in half (to 4 milliseconds) by increasing the refresh rate from 60 hertz to 120 hertz. Today's run-of-the-mill LCD TVs, for example, have improved their screen-refresh rates to the point where motion blur (a sort of comet effect where light trails fast-moving images) has become less of an issue. Perhaps the ultimate bottom line is this: stay away from low-end flat-panel displays, which, not surprisingly, have the biggest performance issues, whether it comes to gaming or movie watching.
Plasma has always been ahead of LCD in terms of response time (today's plasmas are in the 4 millisecond range). Rear-projection and front-projection TVs also haven't had an issue with refresh rates, but video-processing abilities, glare (plasma), the rainbow effects (DLP), and burn-in (plasma) are factors that videophiles and ultracritical gamers bring up. All things considered, the best pure gaming TV in terms of fast response times and good video processing is probably our old CRT standby, the Sony XBR, or that hefty old Pioneer Elite CRT rear-pro set I once had in my living room. But it seems as if the majority of gamers are trying to decide between plasma or LCD, with a smaller minority looking at rear-pro sets.
For better or worse, manufacturers have recognized that plenty of consumers plan on using their TVs not just to watch TV and DVDs but for gaming, and have gone out their way to address potential gaming-related issues with their TVs. Some users claim DLP sets introduce a noticeable lag to gameplay, and Samsung has even admitted that its DLP TVs have a lag issue when using the composite and S-video inputs. In fact, many manufacturers now advertise a "game mode" that's designed to reduce or eliminate such issues. Do they make a difference? Well, that's hard to say. In our naked-eye tests, we didn't feel that TVs that featured a special gaming mode or technology automatically held a noticeable advantage over "standard" models that didn't tout any special gaming capabilities. Sure, aficionados of fast-twitch games like Halo 2 or Gears of War, who are looking for optimal performance measured in milliseconds, might find a grain or two of substance behind those manufacturers' claims. But I've yet to be convinced that the special gaming version of a set is really worth an extra couple of hundred bucks--or even more in some cases.
Do you think TVs with special gaming modes are worth the extra dough?
I told Sharp, one of the makers of said TVs, that I was going to write a column arguing that we didn't think that TVs with special gaming modes had a noticeable impact on gameplay or game quality. I asked for specific examples of where we might see a difference. This is what Tony Favia, Sharp's senior product manager, LCD TV, Entertainment Products Division, had to say in an e-mail:
"[Sharp's] Vyper Drive game mode optimizes reaction time and the picture quality of the TV to be perfectly matched with high-end 1080p-capable video game consoles. Our engineers studied these consoles and carefully crafted the performance of the TVs to be consistent with 1080p output. We don't have any specific recommendations on titles, but generally, the most noticeable difference would be on fast-action game software. With Vyper Drive, the lag between the game console and the TV will be reduced to imperceptible levels. The 1080p resolution (Sharp is the only manufacturer with a 32-inch 1080p panel) and side terminals (including 1080p HDMI and component) are a big benefit for the gamer, and the direct-access Game button on the remote is also a significant convenience."
That's all well and good--and we applaud Sharp's marketing team for having the smarts to differentiate their sets from the rest of the flat-panel pack with cool-sounding technologies like Vyper Drive. But I want a bit more meat. I want someone to give me an AHA moment. And until I get it, my idea of the best HDTV for gaming is going to be a TV that offers excellent performance for the money. With that in mind, here are a handful of sets we've reviewed recently that we think will work nicely as gaming TVs (and home theater sets for that matter, too).
Panasonic TH-50PX77U (50-inch plasma flat panel)
One of the drawbacks of going with plasma for gaming is the glass from plasma TVs is prone to glare issues. With this model, Panasonic includes a special antiglare coating we found effective. All in all, this is a good value for a 50-inch flat-panel TV--and bigger is always better when it comes to gaming--but if you can't afford the 50, you can step down to the 42-inch TH-42PX77U.
Samsung LN-T4665F (46-inch LCD flat panel)
This 46-inch Samsung LCD has a gaming mode, but we were more impressed with the overall picture quality. And despite online complaints of HDMI-incompatibility issues with the PlayStation 3, we had no problems playing games--or watching movies--when we connected it to the Sony console.
Sony KDS-R60XBR2 (60-inch LCoS/SXRD rear-projection).
The XBR version of Sony's 60-inch rear-pro SXRD makes for a perfectly suitable large-screen gaming monitor. If you want to save some cash, you can step down to the non-XBR Sony KDS-60A2020 .
Panasonic TH-58PX600U (58-inch plasma flat panel)
There's no antiglare feature, but this 58-incher from Panasonic's 2006 model line is a solid choice if you want to go bigger than 50 inches in the flat-panel department.
Samsung LN-T3253H (32-inch LCD flat panel)
If you looking for something a bit smaller, this Samsung is currently our highest rated 32-inch model.
Sharp LC-32GP1U (32-inch LCD flat panel)
This is the Sharp model with the Vyper Drive. I'm skeptical about how much of a performance boost it truly offers, but the TV is quite good regardless, although we dinged it a bit for being on the pricey side for 32-inch LCDs. It also comes in a 37-inch model, the LC-37GP1U.
Mitsubishi WD-65831 (65-inch DLP rear projection)
Currently, this is our top-rated large-screen rear-projection DLP set.
BenQ W10000 (DLP front projector)
Do you think TVs with special gaming modes are worth the extra dough? TalkBack to me below.
If you want to go really big--we're talking 100 inches or larger--a front projector is your ticket to gaming nirvana. This BenQ isn't cheap at close to $6,000, but it's actually one of the best performing projectors for the money, so it makes my list.