TVs for gaming

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Are some TVs better suited than others to use with games consoles? Barry Street reports

TV gaming has become hugely popular now, mainly among males aged from about eight upwards. In some households (like my sons’) the TV puts in more hours with games than on broadcast programmes and movies. For game display, TVs are not all equal…

Choices

For most buyers the choice of screen is between plasma and LCD, and then among the many makes and models in each of these categories. In projectors, DLP types are better for movies than games. Plasma screens are subject to phosphor burn (don’t believe otherwise until you see no disclaimer in the product guarantee!) and thus not best suited to games with stationary on-screen picture components or users who pause games for more than a few minutes at a time. On the credit side, plasma pictures blur less on fast motion than LCD ones, and usually offer a wider viewing angle, while LCD is generally credited with sharper still images. The choice, then, depends to some degree on the type of games played, eg ‘shooters’ need good contrast while football needs good motion rendition – and the number of players in the room. In general, good broadcast and disc-play performance, in terms of black level, motion smoothness etc., equates to good games image rendition.

All games except the current Nintendo Wii (to be updated this year) use an HDMI connection, so a TV with four of these ports is recommended. Where the Smart TV function is to be used by a gamer a wide-ranging web browser is useful for access to sites offering games, updates and stuff uploaded (onto YouTube and others) by fellow gamers. Screens with game modes are better than those without: they reduce processing delays (see below) and optimise other aspects of the display for use with games consoles.

Processing delay

Unlike the old CRT sets, all thin-screen TVs impose a delay, quite apart from the screen response time itself (4 to 20 ms or more for an LCD) in bringing the image to the viewer’s eye. This may be up to 100 ms/5 fields in some sets and picture modes, rendering a fast-reaction game virtually unplayable. Delays of 20 to 40ms go unnoticed by most game players, but more than this can be frustrating with games like Call of Duty, Street Fighter and Rock Band. To put these times into perspective a human eye-blink lasts about 300ms, and the image transit time from eye to brain is about 50ms.

A TV in game mode has a delay of around 20 to 40ms, half as much as in, for instance, a typical movie mode. It seems to be generally held amongst expert gamers that the 100Hz modes are good for playing, and that currently Samsung’s Motion Plus mode is good for judder-free reproduction of fast-moving game action. Sharp’s Aquos models with Vyper Drive are also well regarded.

In TVs without game modes, usually older ones, there are various ways to reduce processing delays. First, switch off fancy video processing modes. Find out the ‘native’ screen structure and scanning (usually progressive) system, and set the game console’s parameters to match: this saves processing time, particularly in de-interlacing incoming pictures. The Xbox 360, as an example, generates a 720p image as a basis for display. If the TV’s screen operating mode is uncertain – though it should be shown in the specification – try different game settings to achieve minimum time lag combined with best sharpness and motion flow.

If the TV can be fooled into thinking it’s seeing an input from a computer it assumes that all the image processing is being done on a graphics card, and sets up a straight-through-to-screen path having minimal delay. Use of a VGA input, where equipment and connections permit, achieves this; in some TVs an HDMI input, usually the HDMI 2 port, can be assigned a PC role in the TV’s installation menu.

Game enhancements

Three-dimensional games are appearing in increasing numbers, and can be a selling point for 3D screens. At present plasma panels often appear to give less image crosstalk, while LCD screens are capable of brighter 3D pictures in the face of the dimming effect of viewing spectacles.

Most TV games have dramatic and stimulating surround soundtracks which the tiny stereo speakers built into thin-screen TVs cannot begin to do justice to. The number one accessory for TV gaming, then, is a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 7.1 surround system for stunning realism.

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