Monitor tech has come a long, long way in the last few years. We’ve seen ultra-high refresh rates (like in Alienware’s 240Hz AW2518H). We've seen variable refresh for smoother gaming via Nvidia G-Sync (and AMD’s competing FreeSync tech). We've seen full-array backlighting and 1,000-nit brightness for excellent HDR output (in Dell’s UP2718Q, for example), among many other advances.
But while monitors have undoubtedly improved in myriad ways, the high-end models always seem to be prohibitively expensive—especially when compared to the gobs of screen real estate you can get by going with a similarly priced HDTV. That’s why, last summer, I swapped my 28-inch G-Sync-equipped Acer XB280HK monitor for a 49-inch Sony XBR49X900E TV.
Scandalous? Maybe to some PC gamers. But clearly I’m not alone in my desire for a really big PC screen, as evidenced by Nvidia’s announcement of its so-called “Big Format Gaming Displays” (BFGDs) back at CES 2018 in January. (We’re still awaiting availability and pricing on those, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see BFGDs sell for north of $3,000.)
BFGDs Aren't TVs, and Most TVs Aren't Great for Gaming
That said, the Nvidia displays (which will be sold by Asus, Acer, and HP) really are 65-inch monitors, and not TVs. They sport 120Hz refresh rates and G-Sync support, and they don’t have a built-in TV tuner. Many TVs are non-starters for serious gaming (due to input lag and refresh rates that are usually locked at 60Hz). But if you’re the type of gamer who wants to just enjoy your game—rather than amassing every hardware advantage to out-frag the quick-clicking teenagers of the world—a properly chosen TV can deliver a great gaming experience.
Plus, a TV can deliver the goods for other types of content better than any similarly priced monitor, because 4K HDR content just looks better on a big screen—especially when you aren’t sitting a foot in front of the panel and leaning in.
In my experience, a (very) big screen also makes for less eyestrain when working on productivity tasks. There is a whole lot of screen real estate available for documents, spreadsheets, and Web pages when your display is both 4K resolution (3,840x2,160 pixels) and you don’t have to ramp up Windows Scaling higher than 100 percent.
At that setting and resolution, a UHD screen is the same as stacking four 1080p screens in a 2x2 grid (minus, of course, the middle bezels). The same is in some ways true, of course, of smaller 4K monitors. But if the screen isn’t large enough to see things such as small text and UI details, all that extra real estate is useless—unless maybe you do your computing with the assistance of a loupe. The 27-inch 4K LG screen I’m writing this on, for instance, looks great. But Windows (rightly) suggests that scaling should be set to 150 percent. Dropping it to 100 percent makes onscreen text really tough to read unless I lean in close and squint—not great for my eyes, or my spine. I leave the scaling at 150 percent, and even then, things are sometimes smaller than I’d like.
A well-chosen 4K TV solves that text-size problem, and it excels in other areas, though you’ll of course need serious desk/wall space. My 49-inch Sony TV at home—which I’ve mounted to the wall for easy access to the rear ports and to move it back a bit from my desk—gets nearly as bright as current high-end HDR monitors. (Reviews peg the XBR49X900E at a bit under 1,000 nits.) HDR content, of course, looks great, and I don’t need a recent-model PC connected to the screen to watch protected content. Netflix and Google Play support are baked into the TV’s smarts—and I’ve recently added to that by plugging in an Amazon Fire TV.
I also personally have zero issues with gaming performance, as the input lag on the Sony XBR49X900 is quite good for a TV—Rtings.com pegs it at about 34ms in Game Mode. 2016’s Doom reboot is about as frenetic as my gaming gets, and it looks gorily great and plays just fine. And as I noted in my recent post about the excellent game They Are Billions, most of my gaming interests lean toward real-time strategy, with the occasional RPG thrown in when something grabs my interest. If you’re a competitive online gamer, you’re almost certainly going to want a dedicated monitor with speedier response times.
All-Around Performance and Value
Really, though, what sold me on the idea of using an UHDTV as a monitor—and the Sony XBR49X900E in particular—is its ability to do many things surprisingly well, and at a reasonable cost. At about $900 as I write this, my chosen TV-made-monitor is far from cheap. But it saves me the serious additional cost of having an expensive monitor and a pricey good-looking TV. It’s excellent for productivity work and surfing the Web—especially when I come home from work after staring at my “puny” 28-inch 4K office monitor all day.
And my Sony TV even works well for photo editing. I’m no professional photographer, but I do have a travel blog and accompanying Facebook page where I share my images and experiences—primarily from several trips to Northern Scotland. After a couple of calibration tweaks, I’ve been very happy editing photos on this screen—especially given I can catch up on Ash Vs. Evil Dead in a big window while working, or tinker with how an image looks in the Web interface on my site, while looking at alternatives at the same time.
So, while monitors continue to advance, and some like Samsung’s recent 49-inch ultra-wide GHG90 are also getting massive, I think I’ll stick with my big-screen TV. And given that TV prices continue to fall (and my eyes certainly aren't getting any younger), my next monitor will probably be a TV, as well.
My only real complaint? TV companies don’t seem to make high-end TVs below the 49-inch class these days. I originally wanted a 43-inch TV for my monitor replacement because my home workspace is a bit cramped. But I couldn’t find a model in that size range last year with solid HDR abilities, low input lag, and accurate color. That’s okay, though. I’m extremely happy with the performance of the 49-incher I bought last year. I just push my chair back a few extra inches, pull my keyboard drawer forward, and get lost in the pixels.