Between Black Friday selling and launching new consoles, everyone is talking about buying a new TV this year. Everyone – including our own WIRED reviewers – seems to glorify the virtues of modern boards when paired with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. But do you really need a new TV and if so, what’s so special about these new screens?
If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV, you’ll miss a lot
In recent years, television technology has been in the midst of a major transition with two major improvements in picture quality: 4K and HDR. Without too many technical procedures, they can improve the sharpness, color and overall “pop” image of your TV, and both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are poised to make the most of these technologies. If you still use the older 1080p set, the new consoles will still contain some improvements – see below – but they will feel more like gradual upgrades if you don’t have a relatively new set.
Technically, the mid-generation refreshments of the latest generation, the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, also used 4K and HDR, although the Xbox Series X takes it even further with its Auto HDR feature that adds those bright moments backwards to compatible Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One games. Versions of both disc-based consoles also feature 4K Blu-ray players, which is a nice value if you have a capable TV.
Smoother gaming and fast loading time will benefit any TV
That doesn’t mean these new consoles are wholly about new TV technology. The more powerful hardware inside the PS5 and Xbox Series X can play many games at higher frame rates, which means you’ll get smoother movement and faster controls no matter which TV you use – even if it’s older than 1080p. Some players may not notice or don’t care about the extra smoothness, but I think 60 frames per second is a huge improvement over the last generation’s 30-fps fps. (Some next-generation games will even have the ability to play at 120 frames per second, which may require a newer TV.)
In addition, both consoles have added features that have nothing to do with your TV – like Xbox’s quick resume feature or enhanced PS5 haptics and 3D headphone sound. Both consoles also have super-fast SSDs, which means loading times will be faster compared to the Xbox One and PS4. These features are nice to have even on old or cheap TVs.
The features of HDMI 2.1 are nice, but not urgent upgrades
Finally, if you’ve seen any guide to buying a TV this year, you’ll notice “HDMI 2.1” mentioned as a gaming feature to look for if you’re planning to buy a PS5 or Xbox X series. HDMI 2.1, introduced in 2019, is added. several useful game features:
Variable refresh rate (VRR) allows your TV to “sync” how many times it refreshes per second with the number of frames coming out on your console. This can reduce screen tearing and certain types of stuttering movements. Note that the Xbox Series X may use a less powerful version of VRR called FreeSync on certain Samsung and LG TVs that do not have HDMI 2.1.
Automatic low delay mode (ALLM) automatically switches your TV to game mode when it detects a game signal. This together with HDMI 2.1 Fast frame transport (QFT), can reduce the input delay without having to manually turn on the game mode every time you start the old PlayStation.
Enhanced Audio Return Channel (ARC) allows your TV to send higher quality sound to the receiver or audio tape. This isn’t a game-specific feature, but it’s useful if you want to stream Dolby Atmos through the TV (the PS5 supports Atmos only for Blu-ray discs, while the Xbox Series X supports it in some games).