UPDATE 19/11/16: Samsung has updated its UHD TVs to allow for low-latency game mode to run concurrently with HDR, and this necessitates a number of changes to this article and its purchase recommendations. We've also added the LG B6V OLED display, which offers a phenomenal experience for under £2,000.
The Xbox One S brings the HDR experience to gaming, in addition to supporting the latest 4K video formats and standards - and where it leads, others will follow. PlayStation 4 Pro embraces the same technology, and of course, next year's Xbox Project Scorpio is a given. Meanwhile, Nvidia has already demonstrated HDR-compatible upgrades for PC gaming. Some of the demos we've seen look pretty impressive, but in order to take advantage of this new format, most users will doubtless require a brand new display that has the technology to handle both UHD resolution and high dynamic range.
In fully supporting the new UHD formats, there are several key factors that need to be considered. Ideally a display should conform to UHD Premium standards (full details in the sidebar) in order to provide the most accurate HDR presentation. This essentially lays down the minimum requirements for colour reproduction and contrast performance for both LCDs and OLED UHD screens, so HDR material is displayed as close to as intended as possible. And of course, a low level of input lag is an absolute must to ensure that videogames feel responsive to play.
Now, achieving all these standards is impossible at lower price points - and even some higher-end models struggle to get perfect performance, so a few compromises are inevitable when choosing your next display purchase. For example, colour, contrast and dynamic range vary between models and panel types. OLED display technology is the current king of the hill here, but the current price premiums can be crippling. However, even accepting that some compromises may need to made, a low level of input lag remains essential when gaming, and finding a display that keeps latency to a minimum while supporting HDR can be a minefield.
So just what are the best 4K HDR screens for gaming? To prepare ourselves for the new wave of high dynamic range console and PC gaming, we decided to put our money where our mouth is. We would assess a range of potentially viable screens, and at the end of it, we would be buying the screen that ultimately offers the best balance of performance, features and low latency. To that end, our local Sevenoaks Sound & Vision allowed us within their showroom to road-test every single UHD screen they had available, where we would specifically measure latency with a Leo Bodnar lag tester.
We came back with some interesting results, along with a shortlist of display's suitable for gaming for both HDR and regular SDR content. It's by no means a complete list, but good recommendations can be made for both entry-level and higher-end price points.
Samsung KS7000: The best mid-range HDR screen for gaming
- Screen Size: 49 to 65 inches
- Price Point: £999-£1599
- Buy from Amazon with free shipping
Previously we ruled out the KS7000 (known as the KS8000 in the US) owing to a lack of support for game mode running concurrently with the HDR mode, resulting in a mammoth 100ms+ latency during HDR gaming. We're happy to report that this has now been resolved, with class-leading latency at just 22ms. However, HDR in game mode requires manually increasing backlight strength, and reducing it again when returning to SDR content - which is not ideal.
In many ways, it surpasses our previous mid-range 4K HDR gaming champ - the Panasonic DX750. Peak brightness is the required 1000 nits, with 94 per cent DCI P3 coverage, making it UHD Premium certified and allowing for punchier specular highlights and more accurate colours. However, it still uses global dimming, meaning that dark elements in mixed scenes can appear washed out and lacking contrast. Side-by-side with a screen supporting local dimming and there's a night and day difference - but this technology is out of reach in this market sector.
The KS7000 is the undisputed king of the mid-range 4K HDR market sector, but there are still areas where the Panasonic DX750 has the better of it: build quality, for starters. The screen isn't screwed together, it uses glue, and this can result in the back plastics detaching from the front. This has actually started to manifest on the review sample sent to us by Samsung's PR agency.
Panasonic DX750: A solid mid-range performer
- Screen Size: 50 to 65 inches
- Price Point: £850-£1600
- Buy from Amazon with free shipping
With regards to overall price/performance ratio, the Panasonic DX750 immediately stood out during our testing, and it's the display we ultimately chose for HDR duties at the Digital Foundry office, as at the time, Samsung's KS7000 couldn't run HDR gaming with game mode working. Panasonic's game mode offers up a respectable 43ms input lag and can be used with HDR without degrading picture quality at all. All the core video processing remains intact and we get a natural HDR presentation combined with responsive controls. The panel also offers up superb black levels for an LCD that appear suitably inky in low light conditions, and delivers a colour gamut that only falls a little short of UHD Premium standards (86 per cent DCI P3).
The display ticks many of the boxes we are looking for, it's enough to deliver a solid HDR experience. However, the edge-lit design means that the screen is not capable of accurately dimming dark areas found in scenes with both bright and dark content visible at the same time. So content with mixed brightness can look washed out in darker scenes, but this also applies to most HDTVs with limited dimming capabilities. Peak brightness is also limited to just over 500 nits (rather than the 1000 specified for UHD Premium), meaning that specular highlights won't appear as provinces compared to on UHD Premium sets. For the price, though, it's the one of the best HDR displays for gaming, and it's possible to have low input lag while displaying accurate images after calibration. It's well worth checking out, but we'd recommend taking a look at it alongside the Samsung KS7000 before dropping the cash.
Panasonic DX902: Low input lag, high-level performance
One of the promising performers is Panasonic's flagship DX902 set, which hits all the required standards and delivers a fairly quick 38ms input lag in the true cinema preset, with and without game mode activated. As with all of Panasonic's 2016 range, game mode works in conjunction with other picture modes (such as cinema) allowing for accurate images and HDR with low input lag.
Dedicated gamers should be able to enjoy most titles without the experience feeling compromised. A VA panel gives us deep blacks, while the use of FALD (full array local dimming) should help with maintaining these when bright and dark images are on screen at the same time when using HDR. The dynamic backlight implementation isn't without drawbacks such as occasional banding or haloing in demanding content, but is the only way for an LCD TV to handle the increases contrast of HDR without sacrificing black levels.
The downside, is that you're looking at around £2,700 for a 55-inch screen, which is the smallest size for this model. And for that kind of money OLED becomes a viable option - such as the LG B6V. Or you could go high-end and pick up the E6V instead, if money is no object.
LG B6V/E6V: The OLED state of the art
- Screen Size: 55-65 inches
- B6V Price Point: £1999-£2999
- E6V Price Point: £2999-£4500
- Buy from Amazon with free shipping [?]
LG's E6 sits just below the top of the range and delivers a vastly superior image to the Panasonic DX902 due to featuring incredibly deep black levels with excellent colour accuracy and contrast. It also supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. Game mode provides a very respectable 33ms response time for regular content, though this goes up to 64ms in movie mode, so there is the potential for HDR gaming to feel a touch sluggish for those sensitive to input lag. That said, the outstanding contrast levels on offer mean that standard range content can almost appear as impressive as a true HDR presentation, and as a TV for standard range (SDR) gaming, it's quite possibly the best available right now.
The B6 has recently received big price-cuts and a 55-incher can now be had with change from £2,000 - and some aggressive bargain hunting and negotiation could get you this screen for £1,800. It lacks the 3D support of the E6 and its soundbar, but otherwise it's very similar. Some tests actually show HDR input lag significantly reduced too. Our very own John Linneman bought this for his 4K HDR upgrade, and has nothing but good things to say about it.
Panasonic DX700: Low input lag at entry level prices
Not everyone has thousands to spend on a new UHD TV, though, and it's between the £800-£1500 price point for 40-55-inch screen where most purchases are likely to be made. It's possible to grab some real bargains by opting for an entry-level HDR display, although inevitable the experience won't be as impressive compared to UHD Premium branded sets, you can get a decent HDR experience, but not one that shows the true potential of the format. The Panasonic DX750 is our top pick of the bunch in this price bracket, but the DX700 is a cheaper alternative.
It delivers similar performance in a few areas and shaves off around £300 of the price: it comes with a VA panel delivering deep blacks and input lag comes in at 41ms with game mode, true cinema and HDR enabled. Colour gamut also covers 86 per cent of DCI P3. However, the compromise comes in the form of just 350 nits of peak brightness, limiting the impact of HDR - it doesn't go much brighter than regular HDTVs and the use of edge lighting means only specular highlights and dark scenes really benefit from the new format. Viewing angles are also limited, which is something to bear in mind.
LG UH850V: Dolby Vision and HDR10 in an affordable package
The LG UH850V offers up 48ms of latency in cinema mode, which should provide a fairly responsive gaming experience when using HDR. It also delivers around 500 nits of peak brightness, and the colour gamut hovers around 90 per cent of DCI P3, so HDR can still provide an upgrade over standard range content. Dolby Vision is also supported, giving users more choice in terms of HDR content to watch However, contrast is limited by an IPS panel, which only produces greyish looking blacks and limits dynamic range in mixed contrast scenes. However, viewing angles are generous and this makes the display more suitable for off-axis viewing.
Why HDR might not be the right tech for you... yet
It's worth bearing in mind that once you have an HDR capable TV in hand, expectations should be managed in terms of the kind of upgrade on offer with many displays. For example, entry-level sets are unable to really show off the full capabilities of tech owning to LCD backlight limitations and lack of direct local dimming. You simply cannot make dark areas appear darker when there is mixed content on-screen with edge-based dimming, partially limiting higher dynamic range to brighter scenes. FALD (full array local dimming) does a much more convincing job and the results can look excellent. However, occasional halos or banding can be an issue with more difficult content, and this something only a self-emitting pixel display - like OLED - can avoid.
Outside of gaming, there's the issue of how HDR content is actually authored, and how this effects the experience across various viewing environments. HDR material itself is mastered to be displayed in a low light environment, making it unsuitable for viewing in bright daytime conditions. When HDR content is displayed, the backlight needs to be maxed out in order to display the increased brightness range for specular highlights, while the baseline white level is capped at a much lower 120 nits.
This is fine when viewing in a dark room, but in bright environments it's impossible to bump up the backlight any further in order to raise the baseline light output for normal details - essentially, all the headroom available during standard range content is being used to display highlights, so cannot be used to create an overall brighter image. As such, outside of bright highlights, HDR content with look dimmer than a standard range presentation when viewed in daytime conditions. To cut a long story short - if you game a lot in the day-time, the chances are that HDR will actually produce a worse image based on the technology currently available.
|LG E6V||LG UH850V||Panasonic DX750||Panasonic DX700||Samsung KS7000||Samsung KS9500|
|HDR Support||UHD Premium||Yes||Yes||Yes||UHD Premium||UHD Premium|
|Colour Gamut (DCI P3)||96%||90%||86%||86%||96%||96%|
|Black Level (nits)||0.000||0.084||0.029||0.046||0.030||0.014|
|Peak Brightness (nits)||640||550||500||350||1000||1200|
So with that in mind, we get the feeling that HDR is designed primarily for dedicated AV enthusiasts rather than the average viewer, and of course the limitations in current panel technology obviously played a part in creating the mastering standards. And as a result, those who are expecting to gain the benefits of HDR during daytime viewing may be disappointed, limiting the mass-market appeal of the technology.
That said, there's no doubt that HDR is a game-changer in the appropriate conditions, with wider colour gamuts and expanded dynamic range helping to deliver a much bigger upgrade to picture quality over the raw increase in pixel counts alone. However, it's early days for the HDR format, and it's clear that both hardware and content providers are still getting up to speed in terms of how best to implement the technology across a range of different displays. On top of that, providing a low input lag picture mode with HDR is something that clearly hasn't been factored in with this year's line-up. Of course this is likely to change as soon as the number of HDR-enabled games increases, though it may take some time.
For those not interested in HDR, the Samsung KU6400 (KU7000 in North America) offers up great 4K performance at a low price point. Extremely low input lag, deep blacks and good colour accuracy all provide a solid experience. The KU6000 (KU6300 in the US) is the cut-down option, with a standard rec 709 colour gamut (the KU6400/KU7000's is slightly wider) and a direct backlit display rather than an edge-lit set-up.
Right now options are somewhat limited for gamers in need of a low latency screen for HDR. And balancing out a good ratio of price versus performance alongside the different panel types and standards (which can dramatically affect HDR performance) isn't as easy as it should be. The Panasonic DX750 hits the sweet spot for displays around the £1000 mark in terms of both screen size and feature set, while the LG UH850V provides a good alternative for those who prefer the wider viewing angles of an IPS panel. However, although manual backlight adjustment is a pain, the KS7000 is now offering the best mid-range package.The worst PS4 game we've ever played Grrrrr.
In terms of higher-end models the Panasonic DX902 stands out as an excellent choice delivering solid performance in many areas. Alternatively, more casual gamers and those not too sensitive to input lag would do well to check out LG's E6V OLED (or perhaps the cheaper B6). At 64ms input lag is certainly tolerable for more casual HDR gaming, and you get the added benefits of superb contrast and native black levels that exceed even the best Plasma HDTVs. However, for this looking at the high-end but still a view to saving money, the LG B6V seems like a better bet - lower latency in HDR mode and an incredible picture.
Of course if HDR isn't of importance, there's a much larger selection of excellent displays with low input lag. Most of Samsung's 2016 line-up features under 25ms latency with game mode enabled and feature VA panels for dark black levels. The KU6400 and KU6000 stand out here with very good performance at low prices, and there are some remarkable deals on entry-level models. Those who prefer the wider viewing angles provided by IPS panels would be wise to look at the LG UH850V, which achieves a respectable 31ms in game mode. Meanwhile, those looking for a replacement for the excellent Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas should certainly check out LG's range of OLED screens. Game mode in the E6V is decent at 31ms, and performance in other areas is vastly superior to even the best LCDs on the market.
Many thanks to Sevenoaks Sound and Vision for allowing us direct hands-on access to every display tested in this article.