This review is a sponsored content item, originally authored by Mark Henninger for AVSForum.com.
What makes a TV great for gaming? With today’s PCs and consoles supporting 4K resolutions plus HDR, the answer is not as simple as low input lag. These days, if you want to get the most out of the latest games, you’re going to need a TV that can display the rich colors, crisp contrast, and captivating detail contained in 4K HDR titles. The TCL 55″ P-Series is a perfect example of such a TV.
The explosion in popularity of HDR (high dynamic range) is one of the biggest AV-related stories of 2017. HDR is a big deal because it uses 10-bit video that offers smooth gradations as well as more vibrant color compared to SDR (standard dynamic range) video that is 8-bit.
HDR images contain more tonal detail—especially in highlights and shadows—than SDR. In deep shadows, the fine gradation of 10-bit video lets you peer into the darkest corners. And bright highlights are the star of the HDR show, where torches and lights and lasers and the sun all benefit from an intensity that SDR video lacks.
But the truth is that not all great games are available with HDR as an option. Indeed, only a small handful have activated the feature that’s far. But this TCL has advantages that extend beyond HDR. It’s also a tremendously good 4K SDR TV, meaning that it does justice to games rendered at 2160p resolution, which it can handle at up to 60 fps—even with HDR.
Gaming versus Movies
While the needs of gamers and home theater enthusiasts overlap—great picture quality is a key ingredient for both experiences—there are significant differences in terms of viewing habits. For example, often gamers sit closer to the screen than someone who is watching movies, which makes the added detail offered by 4K easier to see on a 55″ screen. Plus, gamers tend to sit centered to the screen, which takes maximum advantage of the VA LCD screen technology used by the TCL.
Even if we stick with 4K capable gaming platforms, not all games are available in 4K, and not all PC rigs can handle 4K resolution at reasonable frame rates, a good gaming TV needs to upscale from 1080p well without adding input lag, which this TCL can do. Of course, upscaling is a useful feature for movies as well—the HD Blu-ray catalog is huge and affordable—and it’s worth mentioning that this TV is also great for movie watching.
I used the TCL 55″ P-Series with two gaming systems: One is a DIY Windows 10 PC with a Core i5 CPU (3.30 GHz), 1GB SSD, 32GB of RAM, and a Gigabyte AORUS GTX 1080 graphics card. The other is the PS4 Pro. Both platforms offer 4K output and HDR, making them suitable sources to feed the TCL.
4K HDR games represent the current state-of-the-art in video game graphics and are the gold standard to judge image quality on modern displays. For this, I relied on a several flagship titles: For PC I used Mass Effect: Andromeda (which supports Dolby Vision as well as HDR10). On the PS4 Pro I played Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Horizon Zero Dawn—both stunning titles in terms of HDR visuals, although they are locked at 30 fps.
Mind you, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Forza Motorsport 7 in HDR or PC, which has the potential to be one of the best looking games ever—if not the best.
When it comes to SDR (standard dynamic range) games, it’s fair to say I spend a lot of my gaming time in the world of Grand Theft Auto 5 online, which I play on both platforms. I also recently bought Madden 18, which offers 60 fps 4K graphics on the PS Pro, but currently no HDR.
Additionally, I played a few arcade-style games ranging from Super Stardust Ultra and Sonic Mania, to Stern Pinball Arcade, Galaga, and Pac Man. I enjoy playing old-school classics, especially when they look as good as they do on the TCL.
Because it offers a high native contrast of 7800:1, games look spectacular on the TCL 55″ P-Series screen. The TV’s high native contrast and color volume means that it can deliver a compelling gaming experience for both SDR and HDR. Furthermore, the 72-zone FALD TCL 55″ P-Series is able to use local dimming when in game mode.
In HDR game mode, I measured lag as low as 6.5 milliseconds (top of screen) and 14.1 milliseconds (middle of screen). For SDR game mode, lag was 10.3 milliseconds (top of screen) and 14.5 milliseconds (middle of screen).
Notably, the TCL has favorably low lag times, even when it’s not in game mode. If you want to bias your gaming experience toward image quality, as opposed to low latency, you can opt to turn off game mode. Latency is still not bad, measuring 26.4 ms at the top of the screen and 34 ms at the middle of the screen.
A primary difference between having FALD turned on or off is seen in the measured contrast of a 3 x 3 ANSI checkerboard pattern. Without local dimming, I measured 7800:1, but with FALD active I measured 13,100:1. The more difficult 4 x 4 ANSI pattern measured 7900:1 without local dimming, and 10,850:1 with it. But because the native contrast of this TV is so high, I found little reason to turn off game mode. For an LCD TV at its price point, the TCL 55″ P-Series renders satisfyingly deep blacks when viewed head-on, as gamers typically do.
Now, if you’re short on time, let me get straight to the point: If you purchase this TV to play video games on a current-generation gaming platform, you will not be disappointed. You will have an excellent experience on Xbox or PlayStation or Nintendo or Nvidia Shield. Moreover, if you happen to have a PC or console that can output HDR, 4K, 60 fps graphics, then you are going to love what this TCL does to get the most out of it.
I can tell you in no uncertain terms that this is the best value out there for a 55″ TV that has what it takes to make the most of the latest, greatest games in 2017 and beyond.
So first things first—it works with HDR. Perfectly. When I switched from SDR to HDR in game settings, it always made the switch without a glitch—and just about instantly, too. One thing I think people will appreciate about this TV is it offers dark and bright room HDR settings, which allows you to tailor the picture to your viewing environment. On many TVs, HDR is a one-setting, take-it-or-leave-it situation. Not so this TCL, and that includes Dolby Vision as well as HDR10.
I found the TCL was adept at rendering motion. Games outputting 60 fps in 4K showed tons of detail, even when there’s lots of motion. This made for some impressively detailed animation in Madden 18, which often approached photo-realism although the extra punch of HDR was missing—I’m already spoiled by the HDR titles!
The good motion handling was helpful in providing the pleasures of old-school seizure-inducing rapid-scrolling Sonic Mania, which is definitely old school in it’s pixelated glory. The low lag feels good playing this title, which moves along at 60p on the PS4 Pro.
S0… Horizon Zero Dawn is a remarkable looking game. Played in HDR 4K, scenes had an apparent depth to them that can be directly attributed to the TVs contrast and high color volume—a measure of WCG capability. Switching from SDR to HDR was consistently eye-opening, the added richness of HDR created a depth to the image that makes it look much more realistic.
While the action in Horizon Zero Dawn is locked at 30 fps, the detail I saw in 4K when sitting five feet from the screen rivals what I see from a PC running a good 4K graphics card. Clearly, this game makes the most of what the PS4 Pro offers