Between black friday sales and launch of new consoles, everyone is talking about it buy a new tv this year. It seems that everyone –including our own WIRED reviewers– tout the virtues of modern panels when paired with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. But do you really need a new TV, and if so, what about those new displays?
If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV, you’ll miss a lot
In recent years, television technology has gone through a big transition with two main improvements in picture quality: 4K and HDR. Without getting too technical, these can improve the sharpness, color, and overall “pop” of your TV’s picture, and both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are ready to make the most of these technologies. If you’re still using an older 1080p bundle, the newer consoles will still have some improvements – see below – but they’ll be more like incremental upgrades if you don’t have a relatively recent bundle.
Technically, the mid-cycle updates of the last generation, the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro, also used 4K and HDR, although the Xbox Series X takes it a step further with its Auto HDR feature which adds those brilliant highlights to the Xbox backwards compatible, Xbox 360 games and Xbox One. The on-disc versions of both consoles also contain 4K Blu-ray players, which is a nice added value if you have a capable TV.
Smoother gameplay and fast loading times will benefit any TV
This does not mean that these new consoles are entirely about new TV technology. The sturdier hardware of the PS5 and Xbox Series X can play many games at higher frame rates, which means you’ll get smoother movements and more responsive controls no matter what TV you are on. you are using, even if it is an older 1080p TV. Some gamers may not notice or care about the added smoothness, but I’m of the opinion that 60fps is a huge improvement over the 30fps gameplay of the last generation. (Some next-gen games will even have options to play at 120 frames per second, which may require a newer TV.)
Plus, both consoles have added features unrelated to your TV, like the Xbox’s Quick Resume feature, or the PS5’s enhanced haptics and 3D audio for headphones. Both consoles also come with super-fast SSDs, which means load times will be blazingly fast compared to the Xbox One and PS4. These features are nice to have, even on older or inexpensive TVs.
HDMI 2.1 features are great, but urgent upgrades aren’t
Finally, if you’ve seen TV buying guides this year, you’ll notice that “HDMI 2.1” is mentioned as a gaming feature to look out for if you’re planning on buying a PS5 or Xbox Series X. HDMI 2.1, introduced in 2019, add some handy game features:
Variable refresh rate (VRR) Allows your TV to “sync” the number of refreshes per second with the number of images produced by your console. This can reduce heartbreaking screen and some types of motion stuttering. Note that the Xbox Series X may use a less powerful version of VRR called FreeSync on some Samsung and LG TVs that don’t have HDMI 2.1.
Auto-Low Latency Mode (ALLM) Automatically puts your TV into Game mode when it detects a game signal. This, coupled with HDMI 2.1 Fast frame transport (QFT), can reduce input lag without you having to manually activate Game Mode every time you turn on the old PlayStation.
Enhanced Audio Return Channel (ARC) allows your TV to send higher quality sound to a receiver or sound bar. This is not a game-specific feature, but is handy if you want to pass Dolby Atmos through your TV (the PS5 supports Atmos for Blu-ray discs only, while the Xbox Series X supports it in some. games).