Digital Foundry: the best 2018 4K TVs for HDR gaming

With the widespread availability of the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro along with some highly powerful PC graphics hardware, there are more ways than ever to enjoy games at 4K with HDR. That makes it a great time to check out the latest crop of high dynamic range 4K televisions, which offer improved performance and new features at similar price points to their 2017 predecessors.

When looking at a 4K HDR TV for gaming, one of the most important metrics is input latency, which measures how long it takes for your buttons presses to translate into in-game actions. The best 4K HDR TVs offer input latency of around 20ms, average models around 30ms, and slower screens react in 40ms or more; generally a difference of about 15ms between two screens is noticeable. However, you’ll only accomplish these speeds by engaging gaming modes, which go by different names on different televisions.

As well as input latency, we’ll also be looking at how these televisions handle motion, their peak brightness figures, which HDR formats they support and the strength of their built-in smart TV interface. Of course, price is a prime consideration as well. Right now, more expensive OLED sets start at around $2100/£2000 for a 55-inch display (though expect prices to drop around Black Friday time) while LCD models at the same size can cost less than half of that amount. There are also even cheaper options that provide relatively poor HDR but still deliver a lot of screen for the money.

Apart from making our TV recommendations, we’ll also give our take on whether this is a good time to get a 4K HDR TV for gaming and what new features you might expect from TVs to be released in the future. We’ll also give a quick rundown of the four major panel types used in 4K HDR TVs – OLED, QLED, VA and IPS – so you have a basic idea of what their typical strengths and weaknesses are.

So these are our top recommendations for gaming-friendly 4K HDR televisions in 2018, including budget, mid-range and high-end options. Use the quick links below to skip ahead, or read on for the full selections.

LG C8 OLED: the best 4K TV for HDR gaming

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LG’s C8 model is our top recommendation, thanks to its gorgeous OLED display which features excellent motion processing, very low input latency (~21ms in its gaming modes) and better peak brightness than its 2017 predecessor. While 4K HDR content is where the C8 sings, the television also handles lower-resolution content with aplomb thanks to excellent upscaling and full OSSC and Framemeister compatibility for retro gaming. The LG TV’s webOS software is also arguably the best on the market, thanks to an intuitive and responsive interface that includes easy Wiimote-style selection and rapid multitasking.

Pros

  • Relatively affordable for a large OLED display
  • New black frame insertion enables better motion processing
  • Very low input latency when using gaming modes
  • Excellent scaling for lower-resolution sources

Cons

  • No option for filter-free 720p or 1080p upscaling
  • No variable refresh rate (eg FreeSync) support
  • Minor stuttering when playing 24-fps content

Panasonic FZ952/FZ950 OLED: the best-sounding 4K TV for HDR gaming

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The Panasonic FZ952 is the closest offering to LG’s C8 OLED, thanks to its use of an LG panel with excellent input latency (~22ms) and better scaling for 1080p sources. However, while HDR10+ is supported, neither Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos have been included here. The set’s Firefox TV software is clean and well organised, but the interface lacks the fluidity and speed of LG’s webOS alternative. However, Panasonic does include an integrated soundbar and a backlit remote with their TV which helps justify its higher price – somewhat. Unfortunately for American readers, Panasonic left the US market in 2016.

Pros

  • Excellent motion handling
  • Very low input latency in gaming modes
  • Near-perfect scaling for 1080p sources
  • 120Hz input option at 1080p
  • Integrated soundbar

Cons

  • About 15 per cent more expensive than the LG C8
  • Firefox TV OS is clean but slow at times
  • No Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos support
  • Not available in the US market

Alternative option: The Sony AF8 OLED is another strong competitor to the LG C8 and Panasonic FZ950, boasting another beautiful LG screen and slightly better motion handling for low-fps content. However, the Sony TV suffers from noticeably worse input lag than the LG C8 when playing non-HDR games at 60Hz (~47ms vs ~21ms at 1080p and ~31ms vs ~21ms at 4K), making it less suitable for fast-paced titles. With HDR enabled though, this difference disappears. It’s also a little dimmer than the C8 or the FZ950 and can be more expensive in some markets. Another point of the differentiation is the Android TV OS, which offers an unparalleled selection of apps but can be slow at times.

Samsung Q9FN/Q9F QLED: the best non-OLED TV for 4K HDR gaming

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While OLED TVs are impressive, they are expensive and may be prone to burn-in in extreme cases. They also can’t match the brightness of high-end LCD displays. If you’ve decided against OLED for whatever reason, Samsung’s QLED TVs are a good alternative. The flagship-grade Q9FN we’re recommending here sports truly excellent brightness, peaking at over 1700 nits in HDR content, while great local dimming allows for contrast ratios of nearly 20,000:1. Input lag is also a strong point for this television with HDR content at 4K responding in an impressive 22ms while game mode is enabled. FreeSync support is included too, which is handy when playing games on the Xbox One or PCs with an AMD graphics card. Of course, this TV does have some minor flaws as well, including mediocre viewing angles (as is typical of non-OLED TVs) and an occasionally laggy Tizen smart TV interface. Still, given its strengths, the Q9FN makes a compelling argument against OLED given its lower price point.

Pros

  • Excellent brightness in both SDR and HDR modes
  • Excellent input lag, particularly for HDR (21ms vs 22ms)
  • Good motion handling with black frame insertion
  • Variable refresh rate (FreeSync) support on Xbox One and PC
  • No risk of burn-in

Cons

  • Black levels and viewing angles don’t compare to OLED
  • Tizen OS is intuitive but can exhibit slowdowns

Sony Bravia XF900/X900F VA: the best mid-range choice for 4K HDR

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The XF900 is Sony’s third-tier television, offering excellent features and performance at a mid-range price point. As we’ve seen on other Sony TVs, motion handling is a strong point with rapid pixel response times and black frame insertion. Contrast is also excellent, with a good local dimming implementation that raises contrast to around 5700:1. Gaming at 4K works well too, thanks to low input lag – around 24ms for both SDR and HDR content. However, games at 1080p offer noticeably higher response times, around 41ms, although still not high enough to be a significant drawback. The TV does suffer from relatively poor viewing angles, with colour shifts evident if you’re sitting off-centre. Finally, the Android TV operating system on board works well for the most part, but its home screen is consistently slow to load and animations can occasionally stutter.

Pros

  • Low input lag for 4K gaming, both SDR and HDR (~24ms)
  • Excellent motion handling
  • Good contrast ratio (5000:1) with local dimming
  • Mid-range price point

Cons

  • Relatively high input lag for 1080p gaming (~41ms)
  • Android TV interface is slow to load and occasionally choppy
  • Degraded image quality when viewing the TV at an angle

Samsung NU8000 VA: the best value 4K TV for HDR gaming

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Samsung’s NU8000 is an excellent choice for 4K HDR gaming for those on a tighter budget. The TV boasts some of the best input lag we’ve seen for a 4K HDR set and includes deep blacks for excellent contrast as well – even if it’s not quite as good as an OLED TV. This TV’s lower price point is evident in its disappointing viewing angles, which result in colour shifts if you’re sitting even slightly off-centre, and its implementation of local dimming is lacking as well. Motion handling is solid though with the option for black frame insertion. The Tizen software that Samsung includes on this set is also not ideal, with occasional home screen ads and annoying slowdowns on occasion. Finally, the cheapest 49-inch model doesn’t support FreeSync, so we would recommend the 55-inch model or larger if you’re going to be using this television with a PC or Xbox One.

Pros

  • Excellent input lag at 1080p or 4K with SDR and HDR content (~18ms)
  • Good contrast ratio for a VA panel (5500:1)
  • Good motion handling with black frame insertion
  • Variable refresh rate support (FreeSync) on 55-inch and larger models

Cons

  • Poor local dimming
  • Disappointing viewing angles
  • Tizen OS is intuitive but can exhibit slowdowns and sometimes includes ads

TCL R617 VA: the best budget 4K TV for Americans

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TCL is well known for its budget televisions in the US, and for good reason – it has some of the best in the business, delivering mid-range features at cut-down prices. The R617 we’re recommending here is perhaps the best example with a 55-inch 4K HDR screen costing less than $600. With that, you get input lag that’s among the best we’ve seen as long as game mode is enabled (~18ms) whether you’re gaming in SDR or HDR at 1080p or 4K. Other benefits include a clean and sensible Roku TV interface, excellent contrast (~6000:1) and good motion handling too. However, this TV does exhibit the typically narrow viewing angles of VA panels, making it less suitable for sharing a film with friends or indulging in couch co-op. Another potential issues is the grey uniformity, which can make scenes with motion appear a little cloudy. However, this does vary from panel to panel, so you may not find it to be an issue. While TCL do offer television sets in Europe, the R617 doesn’t appear to be one of them – shame.

Pros

  • Excellent input lag with game mode enabled (~18ms)
  • Top-notch contrast for a VA panel (6000:1)
  • Excellent brightness regardless of content

Cons

  • Not available in Europe
  • Very limited viewing angles
  • Grey uniformity issues on some units

LG UK6300 IPS: the best small 4K TV for HDR gaming

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For anyone that wants a small TV for 4K HDR gaming that offers a great size vs price ratio, the LG UK6300 is a good option. It’s available in Europe and the US – unlike our TCL budget pick – and it’s available as small as 43 inches, which is a good fit for smaller spaces like bedrooms or offices. The IPS panel offers low input lag, at 12ms in game mode, even with 4K HDR content. Viewing angles are also a point of pride here, with better results than even more expensive VA TVs. The downside to this kind of panel is that contrast is subpar, with relatively low peak brightness values and blacks that look more like grey, which limits the effect of HDR content. The IPS panel also uses four subpixels, RGBW vs the standard RGB, which reduces clarity for fine details like text, making the UK6300 a poor choice as a PC monitor. Still, if you’ll use this TV primarily for console or PC gaming, this could be a great shout despite its limited HDR capabilities (It’s worth mentioning that PC monitors can work well in this role too, so check out our picks for the best gaming monitor of 2018.)

Pros

  • Superior input lag (~12ms) in game mode
  • Better viewing angles than VA TVs
  • Clean and responsive webOS smart TV interface

Cons

  • Poor contrast results in overly bright dark scenes and doesn’t do HDR justice
  • Grey uniformity issues produces a cloudy picture in some scenes
  • Relatively poor colour accuracy out of the box

Is it a good time to buy?

As we mentioned in the intro, it’s a great time to upgrade to a new TV, as major HDR standards have emerged and best-in-class OLED TVs have become more affordable than ever. However, technology will continue to evolve, and you will eventually need to replace a TV bought in 2018 with a later model. Usually upgrade cycles are driven by new features, and one likely candidate for the next one is HDMI 2.1. This new standard includes 8K 60Hz and 4K 120Hz support, both of which could be brilliant for games – the former for slower-paced titles like strategy games or RPGs, and the latter for faster-paced shooters, battle royales or fighting games. Other features, like better HDR and variable refresh rates are also on the cards. The HDMI 2.1 specification has been finalised, but the first TVs aren’t expected to arrive until 2019 – early 8K TVs out now are limited to 30Hz, which is good for cinema and not much else. More importantly, consoles or gaming PCs capable of running games at 4K/120 or 8K/60 are still years off too. In the meantime, expect to see high-end features like backlighting dimming and high contrast to trickle down to more affordable models, but relatively few major changes elsewhere.

Display types

With the death of plasma displays, there are two major display types used in modern displays: LCD and OLED, with LCD representing the lower and mid-range of the market and OLED the high-end. LCD displays can be broken down further too, into IPS, VA and QLED displays. Here’s what you need to know about each one, in order from cheapest to most expensive.

IPS: These monitors provide good viewing angles and improved colour accuracy compared to monitors using VA panels. However, some IPS panels, particularly older ones, can suffer from slower response times, making them worse for fast-paced games. Another potential issue is ‘IPS glow’, where the monitor’s backlight is visible in dark scenes.

VA: A type of monitor panel which tends to occupy a middle-ground between IPS and cheap TN displays in many respects. These panels generally offer the best contrast, backed with good response times and colour reproduction. However, viewing angles and colour gamut may be limited compared to IPS and OLED.

QLED: This confusingly-named panel type from Samsung is essentially a VA panel that has been upgraded with quantum dots, allowing the monitors to produce slightly wider viewing angles than standard VA panels, plus higher brightness levels and wider colour gamuts. However, as is typical for a VA display, motion handling can be subpar.

OLED: This high-end display tech uses organic light-emitting diodes which produce what is arguably the best picture. Contrast is a strong suit, as individual pixels can be turned off completely to create a true black, rather than the very dark grey that other monitor types can produce. Viewing angles are also impressive, ensuring the picture from a 45-degree angle looks as good as the screen viewed dead-on. HDR is also well catered for, thanks to the ability to see extremely light and dark areas side-by-side. However, OLED can be expensive, its brightness can’t compete with traditional LCDs and motion handling can be poor on some models. Image retention or burn-in is also a concern, although it is unlikely to occur through normal use, even when gaming.

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