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LG C8 OLED on pink background
The LG C8 OLED 4K TV.
LG via Polygon

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Black Friday 2018’s best 4K TVs for gaming

If you’re looking for gaming-specific sets, these are our top picks

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You’ve got a PlayStation 4 Pro and an Xbox One X, but maybe you’re not getting everything out of them that you should.

To really experience everything Sony’s and Microsoft’s mid-generation powerhouses can do, you need a 4K TV, one with support for HDR and wide color gamut. But if you really want to see everything the way it was intended to look — the way it was mastered at the studio, the way it’s been shown to the bosses and investors, the ideal scenario — you need more than any old 4K TV.

You need a great one.

Buying a great 4K TV is hard, and it’s even harder to sort out the Black Friday gaming deals out there. There’s an army of options, a litany of confusing terminology and, to be honest, a lot of misleading marketing about what makes a TV good. You can either spend far, far too much of your time researching it all (and keeping up to speed on everything in order to make yourself feel worse about your eventual purchase), or you can be efficient, and get one of these TVs.

These screens are (mostly) not cheap. They’re not entry-level TVs, and they’re not impulse purchases. They are amazing displays that will provide a fantastic viewing experience for years to come, regardless of new advances that come along. These are the screens that Microsoft and Sony made 4K consoles for, and if you’ve got the money, they’re more than worth it.

A 4K TV for everybody: LG C8 OLED

LG’s OLED screens have been considered something of a gold standard for televisions for several years now, and 2018’s sets continue to impress. The LG C8 OLED sits in the middle of LG’s OLED lineup, but it’s easily the most recommendable model, with the best collection of features and performance for the money.

OLEDs are revered for their “perfect blacks” and “infinite contrast ratio.” This sounds like marketing jargon, so to clarify: OLED displays discretely power every pixel on the screen, which allows the set to turn off individual pixels that are determined to be black. Over the last two years, in addition to their excellent contrast ratios and wide viewing angles, LG has also improved the color performance of its OLED screens, making them recommendable with few caveats.

However, there are some drawbacks. First of all, OLED TVs are susceptible to burn-in and image retention in certain circumstances, so owners should research how best to take this into account so as to avoid damaging their display permanently. Second, while new OLED screens have gotten brighter in the last two years, they still don’t quite consistently hit the brightness levels that HDR is designed for. This can also be an issue in bright rooms, where glare can be a problem.

In addition, gaming performance is worse with the LG C8 than with the other displays mentioned here: 4K HDR signals register input latency of 29.4 ms with game mode enabled, per Rtings. That’s not amazing for a 2018 television, but it’s still very playable.

That said, if you have a new Xbox One X or PS4, or, honestly, any video game console, it’s unlikely you’ll find any real nit to pick with the C8. On Black Friday in 2018, the LG C8 should be on sale for around $1,700, a fairly steep discount. That $1,100 price premium over the TCL set listed below gets you a pretty amazing television.

It’s not your only option, though.

A 4K TV for Xbox One X owners: Samsung Q9FN (2018)

While the LG C8 is a fantastic television with unrivaled black levels and excellent contrast, it’s not the only option — and what’s more, if you do a lot of your gaming on an Xbox One X, it might not even be the best one.

Samsung’s Q9FN (a 2018 model, not to be confused with 2017’s Q9F) doesn’t have blacks that are quite as deep as the C8’s, and its viewing angles aren’t as wide. What it does have is one of the brightest screens of any TV, perfect for bright rooms, as well as some of the best, broadest color reproduction of any consumer-level display. Its picture is by all accounts fantastic, which is attributable to full-array local dimming, a feature that allows the television to more specifically control light in a large number of zones around the screen. Its measured input latency, per Rtings, is 18.2 ms in 4K with HDR enabled under the game mode setting. That is excellent.

At the time of this writing, the Q9FN is actually more expensive than the C8 at comparable sizes, and unlike the LG TV, Samsung’s display lacks support for Dolby Vision. However, for Xbox One X owners, it provides a pair of connected features that make it an attractive option: variable refresh rate and auto low-latency mode.

Variable refresh rate has been a thing on computer monitors for years, known as G-Sync from Nvidia and FreeSync from AMD. Currently, the only TVs that support variable refresh rate are a select group from Samsung’s 2018 lineup. The feature can be an impressive benefit, especially on Xbox One X titles with frame rates that move between 40-60 frames per second. Digital Foundry ran tests on the feature back in April, and while there were caveats, the results were often quite good with titles such as Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. Autumn games like Battlefield 5 and Hitman 2, which try to target 60 fps but may struggle to reliably hit that mark, seem particularly well-suited to the technology.

Samsung’s 2018 televisions also include a feature called auto low-latency mode, which is currently functional only on Xbox One X and S consoles. With it enabled, your Xbox One console will inform your compatible television when it’s playing a game, which will in turn enable game mode on the display.

Why does this matter? Because with linear content like movies and TV, ideally, all the fancy image processing that your display is capable of will be working to render the image as perfectly as possible. This takes time, which adds latency, making all of that processing less than ideal when you’re playing a game.

This is what game mode on televisions is for, but for most sets, you’ll have to either keep game mode on all the time, compromising your movie watching experience, or manually enable game mode every time you play a game, which is the kind of inconvenience that slowly starts to stack up in your brain (or maybe that’s just me). If you’re dropping a lot of money on a TV set anyway, auto low-latency mode is a pretty nice quality-of-life improvement to go along with your phenomenal picture quality.

If the $2,999.99 price of the Q9FN is too steep, but the added Xbox One-specific features are attractive, Samsung’s 2018 Q8F display offers excellent black levels thanks to its own full-array local dimming, and offers almost-as-good color performance to go with the gaming-oriented features — all for a lot less money at $2,299.99.

Oh, and the 2018 Samsung Q-series televisions include a great built-in Steam Link app that supports resolutions up to 4K. This works best if you’ve got a PC running elsewhere in your house to drive games at that level of detail.

A 4K TV for everybody on a much lower budget: TCL R617/615

I’m not going to limit this to people willing to spend $2,000-plus on a television, because that’s not for everyone. But you can stick to your budget and still have an option for a great 4K TV.

The 55-inch TCL R617/615 is a good, easy-to-recommend choice for games and movies in 4K on a budget. It outperforms just about every other TV in its price range, and a number of TVs well beyond it. It’s not “good for its price” — it’s a good TV. The R615 is a Best Buy-exclusive version of the display that sells for a bit cheaper, but comes with an RF remote that requires line of sight to function. The R617 — which includes a fancier voice-enabled remote — is as close to a universal recommendation as you’re likely to find across TV review sites in 2018: It’s favored at Rtings, CNET and Wirecutter.

The R617 has really good peak brightness, which is important for HDR. It’s got a pretty good contrast ratio and good black uniformity. It’s a TV that does a good job of getting the results that 4K content is supposed to achieve. It also supports both HDR10 and the better-but-slightly-less-prevalent Dolby Vision format.

Its input latency is really good, and it’s good without qualifications. Per Rtings, for 4K gaming at 60 Hz set to 4:4:4 with HDR enabled — which you’ll want for the best color reproduction on an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro — input lag is 19.6 ms, just a hair more than on the Samsung Q9FN (for a fraction of the price).

And unlike on some other budget TVs, every input on the R617 appears to offer the same performance, rather than low latency being limited to one port — which, on many TVs, has HDR disabled. In addition, the Roku smart TV platform powering the R617 is really quite good.

Some caveats and frustrations: Most entry- and even mid-level TVs have mediocre built-in speakers, and the R617 is no exception. It also only has three HDMI inputs, which could become an issue if you’re a multiplatform player. The other, more expensive sets discussed above offer a much wider color gamut, and display less banding in gradients. These are things many people will never, ever notice. But they’re worth mentioning.

Harder to miss are the R617’s poor viewing angles. Per Rtings’ measurements, brightness and color reproduction begin to degrade noticeably 17 degrees away from its center point. If you’re in a large room with a lot of seating to the sides of the screen, people away from that middle space are going to have a much worse viewing experience. All LED screens are bad at this, it’s true, but the R617 is somewhat more bad at it than other, more expensive displays.

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