There’s a lot to love about the new generation of game consoles: solid state drives (SSD) promising near-instant load times, 4K gaming at high frame rates, raytracing, and new services that make console gaming a great value.
However, some of the promised features of the Playstation 5 and new Xbox consoles will only work on brand new televisions, notably variable frame rates higher than 60 frames per second.
Does this mean that your TV won’t work with the new consoles at all? Of course not. In fact, the vast majority of next-gen features will be available to anyone regardless of what TV they own. What new features there are that are exclusive to newer sets also depend on developer preferences. Let’s explore.
You just bought a brand new 4K TV
Do you need a new TV? Not at all. Your TV is probably amazing and, as long as you’re happy with how it looks, don’t spend money you don’t need to. The next-gen consoles will work fine with any TV but because of the new HDMI 2.1 standard, a few of their newer features will only work with new TVs.
If you bought a 4K HDR TV before 2020, you’ll experience 4K gameplay up to 60fps and gorgeous lighting and HDR effects thanks to new raytracing hardware. And you'll of course get every feature not dependent on the display, like rapid load times or Sony’s new 3D audio effects.
Don’t spend money you don’t need to.
What’s so special about TVs in 2020?
2020 is the first year that TV manufacturers have rolled out HDMI 2.1, a new standard that brings more bandwidth and features to televisions that make the connection between a TV and external devices far more intelligent. Because HDMI 2.1 is hardware based, these features simply aren’t available in older models. In 2019, 3 TVs from 2 manufacturers were HDMI 2.1 equipped. In 2020, multiple manufacturers are using HDMI 2.1 across all or most of their lineups. The change has happened that fast.
HDMI 2.1 brings a slew of features that aid every aspect of home entertainment, but most important to gamers are the number of features that make a 4K TV more like a high end gaming monitor suitable even for PC gaming. The standard supports 4K video up to 120fps, double what current HDMI 2.0 offers. It also enables variable refresh rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which instructs the TV to turn off excess picture processing to reduce input latency and dynamically adjusts the refresh rate of the display with the game you’re playing for smoother playback and less judder during frame drops.
Together these three features, 120fps, VRR, and ALLM, will deliver a noticeably smoother and more enjoyable experience in games that are optimized for them. However, it is not a guarantee that most developers will even try to take advantage of 120fps gaming on even net-gen consoles.
Of the games that have announced 120fps support on next-gen consoles, the most notable are the multiplayer modes for Halo Infinite and Gears 5. Now, this is just for multiplayer, where textures and effects are often turned down to give players the best performance possible. Halo Infinite's campaign itself has already been confirmed to run at 4K 60fps.
There's also been confirmation that “Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” running in performance mode, is going to be capped at 60fps. This suggests that many of the cinematic, story-driven system sellers Sony relies on will be prioritizing visuals over raw frame rate. So until we get later in the generation and can see a broader picture of what’s achievable on these consoles, it’s probably best to wait and see if 120fps is even a target developers try to prioritize — as opposed to a focus on improving visual fidelity.
If you're looking to upgrade...
Even though HDMI 2.1 is rolling out in 2020, it is not a clear cut feature to buy. Always do some research to make sure the TV you’re buying has the features you're looking for. A general rule of thumb is to always check the specs page of the store you’re buying from to make sure the TV features both “variable refresh rate” (VRR) and “auto low latency mode” (ALLM). Also, be sure to check that the refresh rate of the TV you’re buying is 120hz, as some budget TVs offer VRR and ALLM but still have a standard 60hz maximum refresh rate.
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If you’d rather shop by brand, Samsung and LG have done the best job of implementing gaming features across their 2020 TV lineups. High-end and midrange models from both companies implement 120hz refresh rates, VRR, ALLM, and the rest of the HDMI 2.1 feature set. Vizio standardized VRR and ALLM across its entire lineup but chose to reserve 120hz refresh rates for its most expensive P-Series and OLED models. TCL’s new 6-series does support 120fps gaming, but only at 1440p resolution, with 4K gaming capped at 60fps.
Ironically enough, Sony has done the worst job of any manufacturer to implement 120hz, VRR, and ALLM in its entire suite of televisions! The company recently launched a “Ready for PS5” promotional campaign for its own TVs, but hasn't actually put the logo on a single TV that's actually ready for next-gen gaming.
Until more games are out on next-gen consoles, we won’t have a clear picture of what performance targets developers are aiming for. At launch, 4K gaming at 60fps seems to be the target for most games, meaning that existing 4K models are more than enough to experience the start of this generation.
TL;DR You should only consider upgrading if you were already thinking of doing so. 2020 is a great year to buy a TV, but so were 2018 and 2019.