Gaming monitor vs. TV: Why a TV could be your next gaming monitor

We said it at CES, but now that we’ve started testing new 2020 TVs, it bears repeating: Your next gaming monitor should probably be a newer 4K HDR TV. This is certainly true for console gamers and I would argue for most PC gamers as well. The console versus PC argument will no doubt rage on, but when it comes to developments in display technology, it’s time to rethink what you consider a monitor.

Due to certain advances in TV technology over the past few years (and especially a few we’re going to see later this year), I feel compelled to suggest that you seriously consider one of a handful of TVs for your new gaming monitor.

The gaming monitor’s legacy

Alienware gaming setup

The chief reasons gaming monitors have made more sense for PC gamers and competitive console gamers in the past are: Response time, variable refresh rate, input lag, and pixel density.

Gaming monitors have long had abilities TVs didn’t or at least performed better in some of those key areas. But on the other hand, gaming monitors haven’t been able to offer the kind of picture quality you could get with some TVs. Only now are gaming monitors expanding color gamuts with quantum dots, implementing mini-LED backlight tech, or going OLED for its killer black levels and amazing contrast.

But those fancy gaming monitors come at a cost as high as many TVs, and they still aren’t as big or as beautiful as a TV. As for so-called big-format gaming displays (BFGDs)? As far as I’m concerned, those are now irrelevant. They were already ridiculously expensive.

TV evolution and HDMI 2.1

With some newly announced screen sizes coming from LG and Samsung in particular, along with full-spec HDMI 2.1 support, some TVs are coming through with the response time, variable refresh rate, low enough input lag, and high pixel density most folks need. They also come with the incredible picture quality, premium HDR performance, and larger screen sizes that benefit gamers who want a display that can do more than just display games.

Before I proceed, allow me to make a side note: If you are hardcore gamer — and I mean really hardcore, where a 4 to 5ms input lag is absolutely essential because, yes, you are just that good — then stick with a monitor. I’m not trying to change your mind.

A TV made for gaming?

LG CX-Series OLED
LG CX-Series OLED Matthew S. Smith / Digital Trends

LG’s new CX OLED comes in a 48-inch size that I think bridges the gap between desktop and living room. It’s big enough for a small living room, but not so huge that you can’t sit back from a desk and be enveloped by it.

The CX’s 4K resolution at 48 inches offers about 92 pixels per inch (PPI), which I admit is nowhere close to the 163 PPI you get from a 27-inch monitor, but it is also 48 inches, so you can sit a bit further back, get the immersion, and get the detail.

Plus the CX OLED offers both FreeSync and G-Sync variable refresh rate up to 120Hz, which no other TV can claim right now. There’s a reason that Nvidia is G-Sync certifying this TV folks: They believe in it.

*Editor’s note: The C9 OLED models from last year can do almost everything the C10 OLED can do this year, but there’s no 48-inch version. 

Next-level TV performance

The LG CX OLED’s input lag is coming in at 13ms in game mode with both 1080p and 4K HDR inputs. That’s the best we’ve seen from a TV thus far. As for response time, it’s OLED, so it’s virtually instantaneous. Nothing can beat it, save for an OLED gaming monitor.

The icing on the cake is LG OLED picture quality, which is highlighted by superior color mixing, perfect black levels, excellent contrast, and perhaps most importantly, killer HDR performance. I will dig into that HDR performance more in a moment, but before I do, I want to step away from LG’s CX OLED for a minute because there’s another strong competitor out there in the form of Samsung’s QLED TVs.

Whereas that 48-inch CX OLED is going to start at $1,500, Samsung offers several QLED TVs at smaller screen sizes which cost much less but will require some trade-offs. Samsung’s Q60T, for instance, is available in a 43-inch screen size, but it lacks full array local dimming, so its backlight could be distracting for some. Also, only the top-tier Q90T offers a 120Hz panel, so only that model can support frame rates up to 120fps. Otherwise, all other QLED models offer Freesync VRR up to 60 fps, which is where current console games tend to max out anyway.

Next-level picture quality

LG CX-Series OLED
LG CX-Series OLED Matthew S. Smith / Digital Trends

Back to gaming in HDR. The TV examples I’ve listed here will all do HDR gaming well, with the more advanced models offering the most stunning results, but the LG CX OLED has an ace up its sleeve.

If you haven’t heard about HDR Gaming Interest Group (HGiG), go check it out. The benefit to gamers is that TVs that support HGiG can toggle so that either the TV maps HDR with its processing chip, or it allows the console to do the tone mapping. So far, on the games I’ve tested this with, LGs dynamic tone mapping is better than the Xbox One X’s. But there are some games where this feature may come in handy.

I’ve heard of some cases where the HDR performance of some games looked like garbage, and that was because the console and the display were not in agreement about how things should be handled. Some game developers design their games to look best when rendered entirely by a game console. The LG CX offers options so that the HDR gaming experience is always the best it can be.

After making some custom HDR adjustments in Forza 4 Horizon and Rocket League, I’m here to tell you the HDR difference is stunning. With perfect black levels, the image is so rich and so much more colorful, I can’t imagine not getting this kind of picture quality any time I play. It’s intensely amazing.

But … burn-in?

It wouldn’t be a discussion about gaming consoles, PC gamers, OLED, and QLED if we didn’t address one obvious potential problem: Burn-in.

I can see how burn-in could be a problem if you play hours upon hours a day of the exact same game. And I can see folks doing that. Just like I see some folks watch Fox News, CNBC, or CNN for eight-plus hours a day every day without ever changing the channel.

Yes, you can burn in an OLED, and if you think you might do that, then don’t spend the primo dollars to make it happen. Just go with a Samsung QLED or stick to gaming monitors. I’m not trying to convert folks who might damage a TV.

I do, however, want to let those who have less particular needs and didn’t already know that TVs are slowly making gaming monitors less and less relevant. It’s true this year, and it will be even more true next year.

We’ve turned a corner, folks. TVs make awesome gaming monitors now, plus, they’re a TV … a display that can do more than one thing and which more than one person can enjoy at a time.

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