Earlier this month while I was pounding the pavement at CES, the annual consumer electronics industry trade show, I made my usual stops to see all the new and wonderful TVs hitting the market this year. Among the new OLED TVs and MiniLED models, I noticed a new trend this year: many brands were paying more attention to the needs of gamers and putting their new gaming-centric technologies front and center at the show.
I have been covering the TV market for several years now, and although I understand the needs of consumers when it comes to watching TV, I have to admit that I’m a bit in the dark about what a gamer looks for when they’re considering a new rig. Luckily for me, I work with a bunch of category experts that were willing to lend their time and expertise to help me walk through this. I cornered our resident PC analyst and PC Monitors pro, both of whom have written extensively about gaming in the past, and forced them to answer my questions about the importance of TVs in a gaming world. But first, a quick summary:
What is changing?
Several TV brands, including popular names such as LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio, and more, showcased new or updated gaming-centric features at CES this year. Many of these features are coming in the form of an automatic gaming mode, which allows the TV to detect when a console or PC is sending data to the TV and change the settings accordingly. Other manufacturers have a Game Mode setting that must be switched on manually when playing games.
Some brands introduced variable refresh rates for their TVs this year, which sync the frame rate of the TV to what is intended by the game, resulting in smoother motion. A few brands even highlight the inclusion of gaming-specific dynamic refresh rate technologies, specifically AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync. Input lag, which is the length of time between when a gamer pushes a button and when the action changes on-screen, is another important consideration for gamers. Many TV brands are focusing their efforts on response times of 5ms or less, with some even achieving the gold standard of less than one millisecond between action and reaction.
People have been playing console games on TVs since the days of Atari, so why has it taken until 2020 for the TV industry to place an emphasis on serving the needs of gamers? There are several factors involved, some of them more subtle than others, but one of the reasons is that the machines powering these games have been getting more complex over the years. Consoles themselves have become more powerful and gamers need a TV that can keep up with the needs of the game; TVs need to reproduce graphics, provide fast reaction times, and create an immersive environment. For many years, TVs were able to keep up with or exceed the needs of console gamers, but as consoles become more advanced, TVs need to adapt if they want to attract serious gamers. And let’s not forget PC gamers, which can bring additional power, especially in custom-made rigs; many players like to hook their gaming towers to their TVs for larger-screen play, which has the added benefits of less strain on the eyes and a more comfortable seating arrangement. TVs need to meet the performance standards of PC monitors in order to capture that segment of the market.
A second reason for the newfound attention to gaming relates to the first but goes beyond the computing power of consoles. Every year, game designers produce richer, more realistic worlds with colors, shading, and movement that are as close to real life as possible. TV manufacturers have been in the business of reproducing those images for decades. With the arrival of wide color gamut, faster refresh rates, local dimming, and HDR, TVs have become better suited than ever to display these images to their best advantage. This is important in games where visual standards can make or break a gaming experience. As one resident expert explained, “If you’re playing a game and you need to walk through a dark tunnel, you want the dark spots to be dark without a lot of light bleed that can obscure the picture, and you want the screen to be able to reproduce visual details that can give the player an advantage.”
A third aspect is the explosion in popularity of gaming over recent years. Gaming used to be more of a niche activity, but this is a group that is loyal to their products and is willing to spend money for a good experience. And it’s growing– PC gamers have been driving growth in the PC monitor market for several years, and the increasing popularity of esports brings new fans into the fold all the time. Naturally, the TV industry sees that growth and wants a piece of that pie.
Is it Worth it?
Ultimately, every gamer has to decide for themselves how to prioritize their spending. The consensus from gamers around the office seems to be that they would not rush out to buy a new TV just to have a better gaming experience. However, if they’re shopping for a new TV anyway, the inclusion of gaming specs would definitely sway their purchase decision. Fast response times are definitely on the top of the priority list, so TV manufacturers take note: the gamers are paying attention and if you bring it, they will buy it.
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