You can connect a games console to any TV with an HDMI input, but certain features – such as FreeSync, high refresh rates and variable refresh rates (VRR) – mean some TVs are better for gaming than others.
In this guide we'll explain what these gaming-focused features do, and pick out some TVs that have them, so you can choose a gaming TV that will do the best job of displaying Call of Duty, FIFA or Fortnite.
The high-quality graphics and fast pace of video games demand a TV that can keep up with the action. Here are some of the most important features to look out for.
FreeSync is a technology developed by one of the biggest graphics card producers, AMD. It's designed to reduce some of the unpleasant image issues that can occur when playing video games, such as screen tearing and judder.
Screen tearing is where the picture appears to split horizontally as if it's been cut in half, with one section moving independently from the other. It often happens while panning the camera, which is something you do loads while gaming.
Judder usually happens when the frame rate is inconsistent. If a game is supposed to be 30 frames per second, but sometimes drops to 20 when there's too much happening for the console to cope, then the game can seem to drag. FreeSync recognises this and compensates, dynamically adjusting the frame rate so the stutters are less obvious.
There are three versions of FreeSync:
There are two big names for graphics cards and graphics technology. Where AMD has FreeSync, its rival Nvidia has G-Sync.
Both FreeSync and G-Sync do broadly the same thing: reduce input lag and screen tearing, and help to maintain a stable frame rate.
Even TV connections get updates, and version 2.1 for HMDI is important for gaming.
It's all about compatibility with other features, such as high refresh rates and variable refresh rates – more on those below. If you connect a games console to an older version of HDMI, you'll still be able to see the game you're playing but you won't be benefiting from those extra features.
Sometimes all the HDMI ports on a TV are 2.1 and sometimes it will just be a few of them. They are rarely labelled, so check the manual to see which is 2.1 so you can connect your games console to the right one.
Frame rate, usually expressed as frames per second (fps), is a big deal for gamers. It's basically how many times the screen refreshes every second, measured in Hz. The more times the screen refreshes the picture, the smoother it will look.
Games tend to be either 30 or 60fps on consoles (PC games can be pushed well into the hundreds) but the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S have some games that go up to 120fps. To see those games in all their smooth glory, you need a 120Hz TV.
Some TVs have 120Hz panels, but will restrict the resolution if you want to play at this frame rate. Some will cap the resolution at Full HD, while others support 120Hz at 4K.
8K content is capped at 60Hz regardless of what TV or console you have as it's a limitation of HDMI 2.1.
Maintaining a smooth frame rate is vital for enjoyable gaming. Imagine watching a film where every few seconds the action stutters and stalls like stop-motion animation. It's the difference between watching a modern CGI monster and Ray Harryhausen's slightly less realistic mythical beasts in Jason and the Argonauts.
A constant back and forth between different frame rates creates this kind of judder, and it's not uncommon. As the action in a game heats up and the console is burdened with displaying multiple effects and complex enemy AI, it can struggle to keep up and frame rate is usually the first casualty.
VRR sees this coming and compensates by copying frames to fill in the gaps the console can't process in time. VRR is something that is included with FreeSync and G-Sync, so isn't always mentioned separately on TV spec sheets or website listings.
With gaming being such big business, many TV manufacturers have introduced gaming modes to their TVs. This is usually in addition to movie and sport modes – it's a quick way of adjusting several settings at once to get the best picture for a specific type of content.
For gaming this can mean any number of things. Game mode on TVs might, for example, adjust settings to reduce input lag, so the TV reacts more quickly to button presses on the controller. Or they might adjust contrast to emphasise details in darker areas, so you can more easily see enemies and items to pick up.
Some TVs automatically shift to game mode as soon as they recognise a signal from a games console; others will need you to change it manually.
As with all picture settings, you should tinker and adjust them so the look of your favourite games works best for your requirements. Don't assume that whatever the manufacturer thinks looks best is necessarily best for you.
We've picked out three TVs that have the right features to make them a great gaming option – on paper, at least. Use the links to head to the full reviews for each one to see if the sound and picture quality make them good all-rounders.
These models were released in 2020, but are still available. We'll add good choices from the 2021 releases once we test them. TV prices are correct as of 4 May.
The 55-inch OLED55C14LB ticks all the boxes for gaming. It supports advanced HDR formats, too, including Dolby Vision IQ, which can adjust contrast based on the brightness of the room.
You only get the one HDMI 2.1 input, which isn't ideal if you want to connect a PlayStation 5 and a Xbox Series X/S, but it does have all those vital gaming features and few extras. It has an ultrawide gaming view which narrows picture vertically, but gives you way more width, so you can see more of the world around you. It's good for first-person shooters, where seeing more of you surroundings helps you spot enemies sneaking up on you.
If you want a Samsung QLED with four HDMI 2.1 inputs then try the QE55QN95AATXXU.