I am getting a super late start this morning because I am still in holiday mode at least until I go back to work tomorrow morning. Then thankfully I have a short two day week before I get back into holiday mode for a four day weekend. One of the things that I did over the break was obsess over 4k televisions and drive my wife insane. We both do this thing when we are researching a purchase, where we slowly shift into a mode where we cannot seem to talk about anything other than the thing we are delving into. Then at some point the other one is like “just buy the fucking thing already” so we don’t have to think or hear about it anymore. For me this tends to be technology… and for my wife this tends to be things like cars but regardless we have both had to go through this cycle for the other one. This time around it was my desire for a better monitor for my PC upstairs. For the last several years I have used a pair of 23 inch mismatched monitors and a separate television in another area of my office for all of my gaming consoles. The idea that got planted in my head is… what if I could use the same “monitor” for both purposes.
What lead me down the path of using a television as a monitor is the pricetag. Most of the televisions that I looked at were in the 300-400 price range for a 43 inch 4k panel, and the equivalent monitors are 700-1000 with a 200 dollar premium added on if you want G-Sync for your Nvidia video card. At this point most televisions and monitors are both IPS LCD panels, often times manufactured in the same plants so I wondered how much difference could there possibly be. The reality is that a Television and a Monitor are serving different purposes and as a result they have mutated into very different beasts. For the most part a Monitor focuses on precision of making sure that everything on the screen is pixel perfect and has an extremely high refresh rate. Televisions however are focused on trying to provide a smooth viewing experience and as a result have a bunch of software hacks to try and make the picture look better than it actually is. All of these things however get in the way of what we want from a gaming display, so as a result I focused on some very specific things.
The first problem with a television is that it has a significant amount of input lag as compared to a monitor. While this is a stat that is just part of the default specifications block on a monitor, it is nowhere to be seen on a television. As a result you have to rely on third party sites that have done the testing to determine what the input lag is for a given television. This will end up producing some really unexpected results. You would think that all of the televisions in a specific product family would be very similar, but there are a lot of cases where the 40 or 43 inch television in the range has double the input lag of the 50 or 55 inch television. There are lots of sites out there if you just google “television input lag” but an example of one is RTings.com. It will take some digging to narrow down which specific site has the test data for the television you are looking at. Ultimately this narrowed my search down to a few television models.
When you look up the refresh rates for these you see that the LG is 12.7-12 ms depending on mode, the TCL is 14.6-15 ms depending on mode, and the Samsung rounds out the pack as the slowest with 19.8-20 ms input lag. Now if you compare this to a monitor… those generally have 5 ms or less input lag. Basically I wanted to get this as low as possible so immediately I started leaning towards the LG panel. When you compare price wise… this fluctuated significantly over the course of the weeks I spent researching this. At the time of writing this… you can find very similar prices on each of them…
The Samsung 43 has a MSRP of $379.99 but I could not actually find it being sold anywhere for that. Best Buy has it for $499.99 currently and Amazon only has it available through third party sellers. As you can see already… the deck was sorta stacked in the favor of the LG panel and this only became more so when Target last week was running a deal on Cartwheel that gave an additional 10% off on all televisions which took the pre-tax price down to $297. We have a bad habit of letting gift cards just sit around unused and we happened to have a stack of smallish target cards like the $5 ones you get from using the cartwheel app. All total this took the final price that I had to pay out of my pocket down to around $250 post tax.
The next gotcha with these televisions is that they state they can run at 120hz, but the reality is that this is a psuedo “motion rate” that requires you to use some of the interpolation technology while viewing television and movies to actually achieve it. If you are going to run this as a monitor however you are going to be turning all of this off and running in “Game Mode”. The reality there is that you can run 4k at 60hz and 1080p at 120hz… but only if you use the right cable set up, which was my next big challenge. With a monitor you would be relying on display port cables to get your best picture quality, however none of these televisions have that option. They instead have HDMI 2.0 which is in theory good enough, but you need to make sure you are using a 4k rated high speed HDMI cable. I happened to have a display port to HDMI cable laying around, but as it turned out it was not 4k rated. What ended up happening is that I got a washed out picture and Windows was only able to run the display at 30hz, making it a completely unacceptable experience.
After trying a few cables I had laying around I found a Amazon basics high speed cable that I had ordered some time ago when I hooked up my 8 way HDMI switcher. This allowed me to get the full 60hz but cased a lot of display issues. I could have lived with it but all of the text on screen had for lack of a better term… a red glow of about one pixel beyond the text. After a lot more research the suggestions all pointed to the problem being that the HDMI ports on the back of my Geforce GTX 980 were not capable of pushing that much data without artifacts. The solution appeared to be getting a highly rated Display Port to HDMI adapter to get the clearest possible signal out of my video card and then again relying on the high speed HDMI cable to finish the transit to the television. I hooked this all up last night and the results were immediate and breathtaking. Now I legitimately cannot tell a difference between the 23 inch secondary monitor and the 4k television serving the role of monitor. For those wanting to go down this same path… I highly suggest checking out the following parts.