One of my favourite things to do on YouTube is to watch ultimate gamer setups. It’s a fairly unhealthy past time that stokes great fires of envy within me.
Whether it’s a sleek, minimal 65 inch LG OLED Wallpaper TV mated to a Dolby Atmos surround soundbar or a ridiculous RGB PC Battlestation with 34-inch ultra-wide monitor, I love a good setup.
These setups cost thousands of dollars and are out of reach for all but a few. If you’re like me, with familial responsibilities, you simply can’t afford the kind of hardware necessary for a true gaming nirvana.
But fear not.
There are several alternatives that with careful research, patience and sometimes luck, allow you to enjoy a 4K gaming experience on the cheap.
I’ve done some of the legwork and by the end of this article, you should have enough inspiration to get you started on your upgrading your man cave.
The 4K HDR essentials
Last year’s release of the Xbox One X put 4K gaming front and centre in a way that even Sony didn’t.
The age of Xbox One X Enhanced has brought high-resolution gaming to consoles in what was previously the domain of the PC with its ridiculously powerful GPUs.
But what is 4K HDR all about and why should you care?
Basically, 4K is a screen resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels which means a sharper and more detailed picture. We’re just coming out of the Full HD era of screen resolutions of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
4K is approximately four times the pixels of Full HD which has been the staple for most LED TVs and computer monitors for the past few years.
At 4K resolution, you can see much more detail on in-game characters and objects — every last hair strand, cracked leather and every swaying blade of grass.
And what about HDR?
High Dynamic Range means better contrast in the brightest and darkest sections of the image, as well as a wider colour palette. This will give you better separation of the light and dark areas in the picture and boost the colours and details.
Marry 4K and HDR and you get the most stunning picture for your movies and games. Who doesn’t want that? Several current generation games like God of War, Assassins Creed Origins, Destiny 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn all look spectacular when running in full 4K HDR mode.
4K requires some pretty good hardware to play. 4K capable PCs have graphics cards that cost more than either an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro — making these consoles a steal for anyone who wants in.
In addition to that, you’ll need a capable TV to match. After that, it’d be a shame to have dodgy sound ruining your experience so we’ll tackle those core three things first.
A 4K ready gaming console
If you are going to enjoy 4K gaming, then you obviously need the hardware that can output it. At the moment, it’s a two-horse race between Microsoft’s Xbox One X and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro.
These are the only consoles on the market capable of outputting games in 4K HDR. The Xbox One X has the upper hand as the only console powerful enough to render games in true native 4K — a full 3160 x 2160 pixels — although not in all games so far.
The PS4 Pro uses a technique called Checkerboard Rendering which allows its weaker processor to effectively upscale games to display 4K games without actually rendering all 4K pixels.
The details aren’t terribly important. The games still look fantastic but if you want the absolute best, the Xbox has an edge over the PS4 Pro.
- Xbox One X — $650 AUD
- PS4 Pro — $500 – 550 AUD
- Xbox One S – $300 AUD
If you’re budget isn’t that high, the XBox One S is an incredibly good buy. It can’t output games in native 4K but it does upscale and is also HDR capable which can make a huge difference to your visuals.
It’s also a fully fledged 4K HDR BluRay player capable of Dolby Atmos.
A 4K HDR TV
The next and equally important part of your setup is the TV. While 4K sets have been readily available for the last three years, it’s only recently that HDR has become commonplace on anything less than the most expensive TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony.
Running well over the $3000 mark, these TVs are well out of budget range for regular folk.
TVs also come in a dizzying array of types from basic LED LCD’s, ULED’s, QLED’s to OLED — quality of picture and price increases as you go up.
The very best gaming TV’s come from the big three with LG leading with their OLED TV’s, Samsung with their Quantum Dot LEDs and Sony with their chip powered X-Series.
Also, not all HDR TVs use the HDR10 format that is specific to consoles so be wary of that when making a purchase. You will also need to look out for a TV with a Game Mode because, at 4K, the response time of the TV is important.
Anything with a higher than 40ms response time will mean a significant delay between when you press the button on your control pad and seeing an action on screen. This can be incredibly frustrating in higher speed games like shooters and racers so keep that in mind.
There are a plethora of great budget options that can tick the essential boxes but don’t expect to be getting a 65-inch beast. 50 inch is most likely and more than adequate.
The Hisense Series 6 55 inch 4K ULED Smart TV is an exceptional steal at $850. Some other great options in the sub $1000 range are;
- Hisense SERIES 6 – 50in ~ $749, 55in ~ $849
- Sony X7000E – 49in ~ $849
- Samsung MU6100 – 50in ~ $850
- Panasonic EX6000A – 49in ~ $998
- LG UJ634T – 55in ~ $1000
As you can see, there are some great affordable options. Of course, you could also buy pre-owned from Gumtree or eBay. Some of last years models are now much lower in price.
What about 4K Worthy Sound?
A great sound system is the last piece of hardware that you need to consider to complete your 4K setup. No point in having an extraordinary picture with lacklustre sound.
You will have to consider your personal circumstances when choosing whether to invest in a set of surround speakers or a good pair of headphones.
If you have a family like I do, chances are you will be gaming at odd hours. Disturbing sleeping children with large battle cries of Kratos killing monsters just won’t do. Also, a good surround soundbar will very quickly push well into the thousands of dollars.
There are cheaper options as with all things though.
I recommend going with a good pair of headphones so you can isolate your gaming experience without disruption. Some great budget headsets can be had for less than $150 which is a steal comparatively.
Gaming headsets often have a boom microphone so you can chat with your friends. I don’t personally play multiplayer games but if that’s your cup of tea, then a decent microphone is important.
Another thing to consider is wired versus wireless but anytime you go wireless, you add literally $100 to the retail price.
The convenience of going wire-free may be worthwhile. Again, it’s your personal preference. Some great headphones below $150 are;
- HyperX Cloud Stinger ~ $79
- Corsair Gaming HS60 Surround Sound Headphones ~ $129
- Steelseries Arctis 3 ~ $149
- Plantronics Rig 600 ~ $149
Both the Xbox and PlayStation controllers have a headphone jack which you can easily plug any type of headphones so if you already have a good pair, there’s some money saved.
Will You Make the Jump
In as much as I obsess over obscene YouTube ultimate setup videos, I’m surprised that for very little, you can actually get a respectable gaming setup of your own. The biggest hurdle for most has always been the TV but you can now get those for less than $1000.
Factor in the occasional end of year sales, black Friday, payment plans and you can get some awesome stuff if you are patient.
I used to think that with my life full of responsibilities I would never be able to enjoy gaming at it’s finest and I’m sure many of you have felt the same. Now that you’ve seen the possibilities, hit me up in the comments and share your setups, deals and steals.