The gaming industry's influence is growing evermore. Like the way they affected the PC and internet boom, gamers -- especially those playing consoles -- have also gained undeniable purchasing power when it comes to TVs.
The worldwide gaming market is expected to be worth $165 billion in 2020. The console market accounts for 31% of that at $51 billion, according to Newzoo, second only to mobile gaming, and is projected to remain in this position up to 2022.
In South Korea, where gaming has traditionally been centred around PCs, people have also started leaning more towards consoles. According to Korea Creative Content Agency, a subsidiary agency of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the local console market grew 42% in 2018 compared to the year prior and is currently worth around 373 billion won ($310 million).
In an interview with ZDNet, Tae Young Huh, VP and head of Product Strategy at Samsung's Visual Display (VD) Business, said the general perception towards games has changed.
"It used to be parents telling their children to stop playing. But today, games are more positively viewed as a way for friends and families get closer by playing together. Those in their 30s and 40s, or even older age groups, are also more inclined towards playing games as well.
According to Huh, parents in 2019 have an active knowledge of the latest games as they grew up during the gaming boom of the 80s and 90s.
"These parents find games as a meaningful communication tools with their children. We see the gaming market only growing going forward.
"As the world's largest TV manufacturer, we've really focused on resolution and sound for live content so far. But we've added entertainment experience. Most importantly, gaming -- along with the conventional watching experience over the past few years to meet this rising need and offer the best for consumers."
Samsung packed gaming features into their TVs since the debut of its premium QLED brand in 2017. In that year, the company introduced Game Mode that lowered input lag.
"Application of quantum dot allowed us to achieve a colour volume of 100%. And at the same time, we were really seeing an upsurge in 4K, High Dynamic Range (HDR) games for Xbox and PlayStation in the market. It was obvious that games will be growing together with the display market," Huh told ZDNet.
"We expect even higher resolution games in the future coupled with a new demand from gamers for their TVs to offer more than just resolution. These high quality games are designed at 3,000 to 4,000 nit brightness so we really want our QLED TVs to express the original and high standards of the game developers."
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In 2018, the tech giant also strengthened the feature in Auto Game Mode that allowed TVs to instantly recognise when a console was connected to lower input lag. The TVs could also recognise when consumers watched Netflix, Hulu, or Video-on-Demand on their consoles so it could automatically switch back and forth between Video Mode and Game Mode.
"Gaming experience has been of high interest to Samsung for the past couple of years," said Huh. "We believe we have an unrivalled advantage in display portfolio that spans TVs as well as gaming monitors and I would say we approach gaming in an integrated manner."
In the interim, the South Korean tech giant has formed a gaming task force that is made up of those from its various teams ranging from product planning, chip development, hardware, software, to research and development in order to "integrate" their expertise.
"So in 2019, we really wanted to introduce expert game features that have traditionally been on gaming monitors to TV; that is how we developed and deployed Game Enhancer and Dynamic Black Equalizer," the VP added. "Our goal was to move beyond offering a gaming environment on TVs but to enhance and accentuate that experience."
Conventional TVs offer the same resolution and sound regardless of the game genre being played.
"This would have worked in the past, but games are becoming increasingly high quality in resolution and sound," said Huh.
Game Enhancer optimises colour and contrast during game play without needing to increase input lag -- the most important element for gamers. Samsung has its own intellectual property for measuring the brightness and colour of game visuals so it can optimise the resolution of its displays. The Game Enhancer also has an AI algorithm that analyses the audio spectrum of the game in real time to provide optimised sound.
"In a sports game the sound of the crowd will become more ambient; for first person shooters, the projectiles' sound will be magnified depended on altitude and direction; for action games, the character's sound effects are boosted," Huh told ZDNet.
Samsung also introduced what it calls the Dynamic Black Equaliser this year. It differs from HDR, which irrespective of gradation, expresses full detail in accordance with its maximum brightness of a video when it is inputted. HDR therefore remains a visual enhancer, not a performance enhancer.
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"Dynamic Black Equaliser doesn't input metadata like HDR. It analyses video in real time so that for game play in dark environments, it optimises the gradation for visibility. When switching to a bright environment it maintains contrast and accurate colours without colour wash out or restoration. So the goal here is to increase the gamer's performance by allowing them to identify objects better in any brightness level. So in essence, it enhances a gamer's performance," the VP said.
With Dynamic Black Equaliser applied, players will be able to spot enemies in the dark, or in-game items loot strewn on the floor with less eye fatigue.
TV owners can choose not to apply the equaliser by putting the setting to 0 or to 5 to use it to its fullest capacity.
"It is dynamic in the sense that it can analyse different brightness situations differently in real time," Huh added.
Samsung currently offers input lag of 0.0015 seconds. This allows input lag to be within one frame when playing a 60Hz game. The South Korea tech giant's own frame buffer optimisation technology minimises input lag regardless of whether a 30Hz or 60Hz game is inputted, which according to the company, achieves a similar affect as 120Hz. When players are moving left or right, or panning during game play, dizziness is avoided by reducing motion blur and judder.
Huh also acknowledged that consoles would support 120Hz in the near future, and that Samsung has begun making preparations to provide quicker input lag when 120Hz games become widespread.
Much like the demand for bigger screens for conventional TV content consumption, gamers are also leaning towards larger screens.
"Among all out QLED TV models, irrespective of specs, 75-inch so far is proving to be the most popular. Like conventional videos, gamers want the immersive viewing experience that a big screen offers," said the VP. "Like resolution, it is 'never enough' for consumers when it comes to screen size."
Samsung is currently pushing its Q90 4K QLED TV series, its top-tier for 4K models, among gamers.
"The TV is aimed for premium customers, who really want the best for both live TV and gaming as it has full spec game functionality. It is really popular with hardcore gamers as well as those in their 30s and 40s who are these days more open to gaming and have high purchasing power," the VP said.
The lower tier Q60 series, as a value for money model, has been popular with younger people.
"Gamer demand is diverse to say the least. It depends on what kind of games they want to play. Some games are launched only for certain consoles or PC. It depends on their age group. Some hardcore gamers like customisation while others want the TV to do the optimisation for them. So there is no magic function to satisfy them all. Our goal is to find consumer needs and satisfy them together as well as individually."
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Samsung is a close ally of Microsoft. The two companies have been partnered together for the past three years to synchronise the Microsoft's Xbox with Samsung's TVs. Huh declined to comment on the details of future collaborative projects but said technological and marketing cooperation is something the company is continually looking to strengthen moving forward.
Ultimately, Samsung's gaming task force believes the company's push into the gaming industry will also bear fruit in TV innovation in general.
"There is a close relationship between conventional film contents and games. CGI is just one example. All of Samsung's game features are closely linked with our TV's resolution and sound," said Huh.
"We expect this evolution of gaming technology on our TVs to continue up until CES 2020 and for years to come. We really want gamers to say of our line-up, these are the best gaming TV that was ever made. We want to be the provider of ultimate gaming screen, unbeatable performance so that it becomes a key buying factor for consumers when they think of Samsung".
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