***Skip to the bottom of this post for the list. ***
Added the LG SM9500 to the list, making it the only non-QLED display to make the cut.
The viewing angle on the SM9500 is superior to the QLED displays because it’s an IPS display, but the blacks, contrast ratio and local dimming are all inferior.
Having gone through all the TV and monitor reviews at RTings.com, I’ve come up with the following list of recommended TVs for emulating retro games.
For emulating retro games, you want to match a CRT’s performance as much as possible. To match or exceed a CRT’s performance on a modern display, you need the following:
-next frame input response (<16ms input lag) at 60fps. -black frame insertion and/or 120+ Hz refresh rates. -very high sustained SDR brightness (at least 500 cd/m2) -black level that is equal to or less than a CRT's (~0.5 cd/m2 is typical) -contrast ratio close to or greater than a CRT's (~15,000:1) -wide color gamut -good color accuracy
Input lag needs to be as close to zero as possible in order to match the input response of these games on a CRT, which is what they were designed to be played on. Likewise, motion blur needs to be as close to zero as possible in order to match the motion clarity of a CRT. For that, you need 120+Hz and software-based black frame insertion and/or adjustable hardware-based strobing.
For emulating CRT effects such as scanlines and RGB phosphors, you need A LOT of brightness; more than what the vast majority of TVs and monitors are capable of. Scanlines alone cause a 50% reduction in brightness. Black frame insertion/strobing 120Hz for 60fps is another 50% reduction in brightness; BFI @ 240Hz for 60fps is a 75% reduction in brightness. If you add the RGB mask on top of that, that’s another ~50% reduction in brightness. Here are the different possible configurations and the resulting reductions in brightness:
-scanlines + BFI @ 120Hz: 75% reduction -scanlines + BFI @ 240Hz: 87.5% reduction -scanlines + RGB mask + BFI @ 120Hz: 87.5% reduction -scanlines + RGB mask + BFI @ 240Hz: 93.75% reduction
I don’t know the precise brightness reduction of the RGB mask, so I estimated it was about 50%, and for scanlines I’m assuming that they’re 1:1, or a 50% reduction in brightness.
CRTs reached a peak of around 180cd/m2 for the brightest CRTs, but 125cd/m2 is a good target if you’re trying to match an average CRT. To match a CRT’s brightness after applying just scanlines and 120Hz + BFI, you need at least 500 cd/m2 sustained SDR brightness, and even that isn’t as bright as the brightest CRTs.
Very few current displays are capable of reaching the brightness levels required. In fact, there is not a single gaming monitor currently available for less than ~$2,000 that has the required sustained brightness for SDR content. HDR doesn’t help us for non-HDR content and applications, such as emulators, but HDR-capable displays tend to have greater SDR brightness as well. The only TVs that meet the necessary requirements are QLED HDR TVs. There is not a single non-QLED display that is capable of meeting all the necessary performance requirements when it comes to input lag, sustained SDR brightness and refresh rates.
Other important qualities to consider are black level, contrast ratio, and color reproduction. The QLED displays are capable of matching or beating a CRT when it comes to black level and contrast ratio. Additionally, all of the listed displays are wide color gamut displays, so they should be able to display the more deeply saturated reds and greens that NTSC allowed for compared to sRGB, and they should be more than capable of reproducing the limited color palettes of 8 bit and 16 bit games.
Another interesting finding is that none of the LG OLED displays make the cut, as all of the 2018 and 2019 models have input lag >16ms, and/or use aggressive automatic brightness limiters (ABL) that prevent them from sustaining the peak brightness levels required, and the burn-in issue is even more severe than what you saw on plasmas.
If one wants to dig a little deeper, it is looking very likely that QLED will be the OLED killer. If they can figure out how to replace the light filter of LCDs with quantum dots, that would result in a 3x increase in brightness or a 3x increase in efficiency, which is game over for OLED. This would also allow such displays to match a CRT’s brightness when adding scanlines + RGB mask + BFI @ 240Hz, effectively outperforming a CRT in all categories except black level.
OLED might live on in QD-OLED displays, at least until “direct view” QD becomes a reality, which would involve replacing the LCD altogether with QDs that are excited by electricity to directly produce light. This would have all the advantages of OLED with none of the drawbacks (greater brightness, better color, same black level, greater longevity). CRT emulation on such a display would match or exceed the performance of a real CRT. Either way, things are looking increasingly dire for LG, which has no plan B for its OLED displays.
Without further ado, here are the best TVs for emulating retro games while using CRT effects. It’s a very tough choice between these TVs, with excellent options available in every price range.
Recommended TVs for emulation (Updated 6/6/2019):
LG SM9500 Samsung Q90/Q90R QLED Samsung Q9FN/Q9/Q9F QLED Samsung Q8FN/Q8/Q8F QLED Samsung Q7FN/Q7/Q7F QLED Samsung Q6FN/Q6/Q6F QLED Vizio P Series Quantum
For more on how QLED works: https://www.cnet.com/news/how-quantum-dots-could-challenge-oled-for-best-tv-picture/
For more on QLED and the future of OLED: https://www.zdnet.com/article/fear-and-trembling-lg-display-faces-the-axe-for-oled-tv-burn-in-and-market-squeeze/