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Best gaming TV: Low input lag and high picture quality

Any delay between your controller and the game can kill you. These are the TVs that minimize lag and maximize picture quality.

The best TV for gaming is generally the best TV for everything else, too. Nailing the basics of picture quality, such as contrast, color, brightness and resolution, ensures games as well as movies, TV shows and other video look good. But gaming performance can also benefit from additional features, including low input lag and, in the case of next-generation consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, advanced input capabilities. 

We cover the best TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X, Series S with 4K, 120fps input and VRR in another list, and many of them appear here too. The TVs below focus on low input lag. How fast you react while gaming depends on a feedback loop between your brain, your fingers, the game controller and the action you see on the TV screen. Delay at any point will diminish your performance and the thrilling immediacy of the playing experience. It takes mere milliseconds for a video signal to travel from your console through the HDMI input on your TV to display on the screen, but too many milliseconds can be noticeable to your brain, or downright deadly to your in-game character. Those milliseconds are known as input lag

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2021 and 2020 TVs' input lag with game mode on and off (milliseconds)

TV Model Year On (1080p) Off (1080p) On (4K HDR) Off (4K HDR)
LG OLED65G1 2021 9.93 81.17 9.97 89.47
Samsung QN65Q90A 2021 10.27 97.37 10.20 70.33
Hisense 65U8G 2021 15.30 126.67 15.37 126.57
Sony XR-65X90J 2021 17.60 159.50 17.30 144.00
Hisense 65R8F 2020 13.37 32.00 13.47 109.43
LG OLED65CX 2020 13.67 88.73 13.73 89.00
Vizio P65Q9-H1 2020 14.77 59.30 14.20 109.63
Hisense 65H9G 2020 15.10 123.37 15.03 136.50
Sony XBR-65X900F 2020 15.50 91.70 15.23 91.27
TCL 65R635 2020 19.97 19.00 18.27 137.40
Samsung QN65Q80T 2020 20.77 90.73 20.37 78.07
Vizio M65Q7-H1 2020 27.57 52.00 27.47 67.80

The top 5 gaming TVs

The following six TVs, featured at the top of the page, deliver either the lowest lag I've measured among the TVs I've reviewed, the best picture quality or both.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the best picture we've ever tested and low input lag -- among other gaming-friendly features -- LG's G1 OLED 4K gaming TV has everything you need for the ultimate gaming experience (and a price to match). 

Note that its lag score here was measured with the special "Reduce input delay (input lag)" setting in the Boost position. Boost is only available for 60Hz sources, so you can't use it with 120Hz games or VRR. With those sources you'll need to use the Standard position, which is still an excellent 13ms.

Read our LG OLEDG1 series review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Significantly less expensive than the G1 from 2021 is this CX from 2020. Its input lag, image quality and gaming features are superb as well, if a step below the G1, but it also costs a lot less -- and still supports 4K 120Hz and VRR.

Read our LG OLEDCX series review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

Another high-end 2021 TV, this Samsung QLED model delivers the best picture quality of any TV we've reviewed that's not based on OLED display tech. It can get brighter than any of the OLED TVs listed here, supports all the next-gen gaming features, and showed lower lag than any 2020 TV we've tested so far.

Read our Samsung QN90A series (2021) review.

 

David Katzmaier/CNET

TCL's 65R635 QLED TV, our favorite gaming TV value of the year, is a few milliseconds laggier than the top three, but you probably won't notice.

Read our TCL 6-Series (2020 Roku TV) review.

 

Super-twitchy gamers might notice the extra 8ms or so compared to the TCL, but they'd have to really be paying attention. This Vizio's gaming claim to fame is a budget price and variable refresh rate.

Read our Vizio M7-Series Quantum (2020) review.

 

What else you need to know about input lag

How to turn on game mode. In most cases, viewing in game mode isn't automatic so you'll have to turn it on manually, and sometimes the gaming monitor setting can be difficult to find. Many use a picture mode called "Game" while some, like Samsung and Vizio, let you apply game mode to any setting. Check our individual reviews for details.

Read more: The best gaming laptop performers of 2021

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

Game mode makes a difference, except when it doesn't. As you can see in the table above, many TVs cut lag substantially when you turn on game mode, but plenty don't. In general, expensive TVs with elaborate video processing get more of a benefit when you engage game mode.

Most TVs' game modes are good enough for most gamers. No matter how twitchy you are, it's going to be tough to tell the difference between 13 and 30 milliseconds of input lag. Many gamers won't even be able to discern between having game mode on and off -- it all depends on the game and your sensitivity to lag.

Read more: Best TVs for 2021

Turning game mode on can hurt image quality (a little). TV makers' menus often refer to reduced picture quality. Reduced picture quality is generally the result of turning off that video processing. In my experience, however, the differences in image quality are really subtle with console gaming, and worth the trade-off if you want to minimize lag for a great gaming experience.

4K HDR gaming lag is different from 1080p. The display resolution you play at has an impact, and since new consoles prominently feature 4K HDR output for games, I started testing for 4K HDR lag in 2018. In general, the numbers are similar to the lag with standard 1080p resolution, but as you can see from the chart above, there are exceptions.

Testing is an inexact science. I use a Leo Bodnar lag tester. Here's how it works, and how I use it. You might see different lag test results from different review outlets, which may use Bodnar or another method.

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What's the best TV for gaming, period?

As I mentioned at the top, the best TV for gaming is one that has the best picture quality for viewing everything else, too. Games benefit from deep black levels, bright highlights and uniform screens just as much as movies and TV shows do. 

Yes, there are other factors, but they don't apply to most gamers. If you play the same game constantly on your smart LED TV and never put anything else on the screen, and that game as a bright static element that stays in the same place on the screen (like a HUD or other status display), you might be at risk for OLED burn-in. But most gamers don't have to worry about OLED burn-in.

If the TV input where your console is connected is shared with other devices and you don't want to remember to re-engage game mode all the time, an auto game-mode feature might be useful. And some cutting-edge PS5, Xbox Series X and PC gamers might appreciate 4K/120Hz input and variable refresh rate.

Most gamers, however, will find that the best TV for gaming is the best TV, period.