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Buying a new TV for PS5 or Xbox Series X? Here’s what it should have

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HDMI 2.1 is not as important as you might think

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LG CX television on a pink gradient background, showing a red spiral galaxy Image: LG via Polygon

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are here, and the holiday shopping season is upon us as well. People interested in those next-generation consoles may be wondering if they should buy a new TV to go along with their new gaming system (if they can get their hands on a PS5 or Xbox Series X or S, that is). After all, Sony and Microsoft have packed their respective consoles with all kinds of forward-looking technology that promises to deliver previously impossible gaming experiences, and some of it relies on cutting-edge TVs.

In particular, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X can take advantage of some of the features baked into HDMI 2.1, the latest iteration of the audio/video port. The advent of HDMI 2.1 brings with it a number of significant improvements over the previous HDMI specification, including dynamic HDR, enhanced audio return channel (eARC), and two gaming-oriented features: auto low-latency mode (ALLM) and variable refresh rate (VRR). (For more details on these elements, see our HDMI 2.1-focused article about the new consoles.)

That all sounds promising, but in our opinion, it may be a good idea to hold off on an upgrade if you were thinking of buying a new TV specifically for the PS5 or Xbox Series X.

The main thing to know about HDMI 2.1 is that it’s very, very new. While there are some TV sets going back as far as 2018 that can support certain HDMI 2.1 features, 2020 is the year in which the port started to make any real inroads into the market. Still, few existing TVs offer HDMI 2.1 ports — and even if they do, support for HDMI 2.1 features is kind of a mess right now. Which, again, is why you might not want to upgrade yet.

a PlayStation 5 sitting horizontally next to an Xbox Series X, photographed on a dark gray background Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon

Which HDMI 2.1 features do the PS5 and Xbox Series X support?

At launch, the PS5 and Xbox Series X don’t offer the same level of support for the key video features that are part of the HDMI 2.1 specification.

  • 4K/120 fps: Both consoles can play games in 4K resolution at 120 frames per second — double the usual previous-generation maximum of 60 fps — which requires the vastly increased bandwidth that HDMI 2.1 offers. At launch, there are very few games that can deliver 4K120 output; among them are Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition and Dirt 5.

    Backward compatibility on the Xbox Series X can support 120 fps gaming in certain Xbox One titles, such as Gears 5, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Rocket League. This is certainly possible with PS4 games running on PS5, too, but because of the way Sony handles backward compatibility, it will require more work from developers to make it happen.
  • VRR: Right now, only the Xbox Series X supports variable refresh rate, which keeps a game looking smooth even when its frame rate is dropping below a target of 60 fps or 120 fps. It’s a great option for games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which couldn’t initially maintain a 60 fps frame rate on Xbox Series X and suffered from screen tearing (though a scheduled Valhalla patch will add 60 fps support on both consoles). Sony says that it will add VRR to the PS5 with a future firmware update.
  • ALLM: The Xbox Series X supports auto low-latency mode, which automatically puts a TV into game mode when a game is being played. The PS5 does not, and Sony has not commented about any plans to add the feature.

Do I need a TV with HDMI 2.1 for the PS5 and Xbox Series X?

Absolutely not. The only requirement is that your screen has an HDMI port; both consoles can output video in resolutions as low as 480p.

More to the point, HDMI 2.1 support is where things get really fractured and confusing in 2020. And that’s the best argument for waiting until the TV landscape comes into focus before buying a new display.

While the HDMI 2.1 specification covers new features such as ALLM and VRR, it allows device manufacturers to choose which elements they want to support. The baseline of HDMI 2.1 is the increased video fidelity provided by the bandwidth expansion to 48 Gbps. But most of the HDMI 2.1-specific features don’t actually take advantage of that larger pipe, because they’re not bandwidth-dependent items; they simply have to be built into the firmware of a particular device.

In other words: The presence of HDMI 2.1 ports on a new TV doesn’t guarantee that the display supports all of the gaming-specific features you might want to use with your shiny new PS5 or Xbox Series X. This is why two seemingly identical TVs can have price tags hundreds of dollars apart.

That’s not the only pitfall. A serious issue with the Panasonic-made HDMI 2.1 chipset in many new AV receivers is currently causing display problems with 4K/120 Hz content on the Xbox Series X. Sound United — the parent company of Denon and Marantz — and Yamaha have pledged to fix this issue, but for now, the only workaround is to hook up the console directly to a TV rather than through the affected receivers. A representative for Sound United told Polygon on Dec. 4 that the company “continues to work diligently to nail down a long-term solution for Xbox users who are looking for a 4K/120hz pass-through solution on our 8K AV receivers,” and added that the effort is “progressing nicely.”

(And by the way, here’s a reminder that if you use a receiver to connect your AV equipment, you’ll also need to upgrade it to one that supports HDMI 2.1. It never ends, does it?)

If you absolutely need to upgrade right now, you could go with a cheaper TV that doesn’t have any HDMI 2.1 ports, like the TCL 6 Series. At the moment, the main selling point of HDMI 2.1 — 4K/120 Hz capability — is an unknown quantity with respect to PS5 and Xbox Series X games. A few years down the road, the HDMI 2.1 situation will be more settled in the TV market, and we’ll have a much better idea of how relevant HDMI 2.1 is for gaming.

Get the TCL 6 Series at Best Buy | Walmart

Which TVs are best for the PS5 and Xbox Series X?

Having said all of that, we’re going to present a few picks for HDMI 2.1-equipped 2020 TVs, for those looking to upgrade their screen right now.

The consensus pick for a terrific 4K TV that you can feel secure in buying as a screen to pair with the new consoles is the LG CX. It’s one of the only models on the market right now with a full set of four HDMI 2.1 ports; almost everything else only supports 4K/120 Hz input on one port, meaning that you’d have to keep swapping the HDMI cables from a PS5 and an Xbox Series X if you had both consoles.

The LG CX is a great TV for gaming, with very low input lag, and it supports VRR across a wide range from 40 Hz all the way up to 120 Hz — and that includes G-Sync, in case you want to connect a PC with an Nvidia graphics card. Because it’s an OLED TV, it delivers true blacks for an infinite contrast ratio. One of the downsides of OLED screens is that they can’t get as bright as LED/LCD TVs, so if you’re planning to put your TV in a very bright room, OLED may not be the best choice. And of course, all OLED TVs have a nonzero risk of burn-in.

The CX is on sale at a significant discount for Cyber Monday, with the 55-inch version available for $1,399.99 at Best Buy.

Get the LG CX at Amazon | Best Buy

If OLED isn’t for you, an LCD option in the same price range is the Samsung Q90T. Its picture quality is almost as good as that of the LG CX, with significantly higher peak brightness, and it has lower input lag. But only one of its four HDMI ports supports HDMI 2.1.

The Q90T is on sale at a significant discount for Cyber Monday, with the 55-inch version available for just under $1,300 at both Best Buy and Walmart.

Get the Samsung Q90T at Best Buy | Walmart

The Sony X900H is a solid midrange option, if you’re looking for something around $1,000. It can’t compete with the aforementioned models on overall image quality, but it’s a great TV for gaming, with low input lag. While it has two HDMI 2.1 inputs that can accept 4K/120 Hz content, albeit with some blurring, it doesn’t currently support VRR — Sony says it’s working on a firmware update to add that feature in the future. (Note that the X900H is known as the XH90 in Europe.)

Get the Sony X900H at Best Buy | Walmart

Update (Nov. 30): We’ve updated this article to warn about an HDMI 2.1 issue affecting many new AV receivers.

Correction (Dec. 4): The parent company of Marantz and Denon is Sound United, not Sound Design. We’ve edited the article to reflect this.

Update (Dec. 4): We’ve updated this article with a statement from Sound United regarding the HDMI 2.1 issue with the Xbox Series X.