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How to get the best picture and sound from your PlayStation 5

How to get the best picture from your PS5
(Image credit: Sony)

Despite still being in its relative infancy, Sony’s PlayStation 5 games console is already serving up some stunning gaming experiences. The shift up to more consistent true 4K graphics at both 60Hz and, remarkably, 120Hz is joining forces with wider, better use of high dynamic range and the impressive efforts of Sony’s new 3D Audio sound system to make gaming worlds more immersive and beautiful than ever before.

However, getting the most out of this next-gen console isn’t just a case of plugging the PS5 into your TV and expecting everything to just turn out fine. In fact, between the secondary kit you might need and some of the PS5 set-up tricks you need to familiarise yourself with, getting the maximum impact out of your new console is anything but straightforward.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive checklist of everything you need to do if you want to be sure you’re getting the full value from Sony’s new gaming beast. Starting with potentially the most expensive…

Get the right television

The single biggest source of trouble when it comes to the PS5’s new graphics capabilities is the currently messy television market – or more precisely, the confusing world of HDMI connections.

Getting the best picture quality (4K resolution at 120Hz refresh rates with HDR and, following an upcoming update, support for variable refresh rates) out of the PS5 requires a TV’s HDMI ports to support data rates of at least 32Mbps, and that’s something the vast majority of current TVs cannot do.

What’s more, there’s currently no easy labelling system to help you spot TVs that might be compatible with all of the latest gaming features. Even if a TV claims to be compatible with the latest 2.1 version of the HDMI input, that doesn’t guarantee 4K/120Hz/VRR compatibility. All you can do is try and trawl through a TV’s small print/detailed specs to see if 4K/120/VRR are included.

We can get the ball rolling, though, with some sets we already know support all the latest gaming features. For starters, all of LG’s OLED CX, GX, WX, ZX and upcoming C1, G1 and Z1 models feature four HDMIs with full PS5 compatibility. Samsung’s QLED models from 2020 and QLED and Neo QLED TVs for 2021 all have one or two HDMI ports that support all the PS5 features, with 2021 models from the Q95A series upwards carrying four PS5-friendly HDMIs.

At the time of writing, Samsung’s 2020 TVs aren’t able to play PS5 games in 4K 120Hz while retaining HDR. Samsung has stated, though, that this apparent ‘bug’ will be fixed by a PS5 firmware update.

Sony, ironically, has just one series in its 2020 range, the XH9005s, that support all of the PS5’s graphics features, via a single HDMI port. Thankfully, more Sony models will carry the requisite HDMI support in 2021.

Philips and Panasonic haven't so far launched any TVs with next-gen gaming features, but both brands are set to do so in 2021. Cheaper TVs (and brands) in the UK have so far not embraced next-gen gaming features, but hopefully some will do so this year.

One final point here is that, in theory, the PS5 can support 8K. So if you want to be ready for that, you will need an 8K TV. These are relatively expensive right now, and it doesn’t seem as though 8K PlayStation content is going to become common any time soon.

For more guidance here, check out our rundown of the best gaming TVs you can currently buy.

Make sure you use the right input on your TV

LG OLED65G1

(Image credit: Future)

As noted in the previous section, on some TVs only one or two HDMIs have enough bandwidth to support all of the PS5’s graphics features. So make sure you have your PS5 connected to one that does.

Some TVs help with this by labelling the relevant HDMI(s) as Game or 4K/120, but otherwise, you will need to refer to your TV’s manual.

Use the provided PS5 HDMI cable (or pick a replacement carefully)

Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable certification

(Image credit: HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc)

It’s not just HDMI sockets that need to be able to handle enough data to unlock all of the PS5’s features. HDMI cables also vary in how much data they can carry. So you should stick with the HDMI cable provided with the PS5 where possible, as this is designed to carry all the data the console needs for its maximum performance.

If you really must use a different cable – because the official cable isn't long enough, for example – look for one that carries the official Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable certification that you can see in the image above.

Make sure your TV HDMI port is set up for high data rates

Most TVs now will automatically switch their HDMI ports to so-called ‘enhanced’ modes for high data rates when a 4K HDR source is detected. There are still some budget brands, though (Hisense, for instance) where you need to manually switch HDMIs from Standard to Enhanced in the TV’s menus. It’s certainly worth checking the settings on your TV for the HDMI that your PS5 is connected to.

Set your TV to Game mode

Almost all TVs have a special Game mode setting that reduces the time a TV takes to produce its images. This can make as much as 100ms of difference, which could be a lifetime, literally, in gaming terms. Your TV might automatically switch into Game mode when the PS5 is detected, but if response times matter with the game you’re playing, you should check that it has.

Note that Game mode settings can reduce some aspects of picture quality with some TVs. So if you’re playing a less reaction-based title, such as an RPG, you may prefer the overall picture quality with Game mode turned off.

Check your PS5’s Video Output screen

In the System Software section of the PS5’s System menu, there’s an option called Video Output Information. This brings up a screen telling you what graphics capabilities the console thinks your TV is capable of handling, based on its ‘handshake’ with your TV’s HDMI port. This screen is handy for checking that your console and TV are talking to each other as you’d expect.

This Video Output Info can be particularly useful if you’re trying to feed your PS5 through an intermediary audio device, such as a soundbar or an AV receiver, and on from that to your TV. Many people forget that the PS5 will read the capabilities of the intermediary device’s HDMIs and determine supported graphics output based on that, rather than reading what your TV is capable of. So unless your audio device has full HDMI 2.1 4K/120/VRR pass-through support (which is currently very rare), it could limit the graphics you experience.

The best way around this is to connect your PS5 directly to your TV, and then use your TV’s ARC/eARC HDMI jack (if it has one) to output digital sound from the TV to your audio equipment.

Setting up your PS5

How to get the best picture from your PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5 is proactive about HDR, prompting you to run through a trio of simple HDR set-up screens whenever you attach it to a new TV. The way the screens work, though, is rather questionable.

Before going through this HDR set-up, it's worth checking whether your TV has a menu option called HGIG (HDR Gaming Interest Group) – if so, turn it on. This will make sure that your TV doesn’t try and apply its own automatic HDR optimisation (dynamic tone mapping) processes to pictures that you have already optimised via the PS5’s HDR set up system.

Once done, you can crack on with the console's calibration, but you shouldn't do exactly as you're told. Two of the screens ask you to increase the console’s brightness/peak light levels to a point where you can only just see a relatively dark symbol against a white background. The other one asks you to adjust the console’s black level to a point where a lighter symbol against a dark background remains only just visible. In fact, you should adjust each of these screens to the point where the visible symbol just disappears. In other words, the points at which the first square goes completely white and the second completely black is where you want to set the console.

Even then, not all games are designed to work with the PS5 console’s HDR set-up system, preferring instead to use their own internal HDR calibration screens. Examples of these titles include Dirt 5 and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. You should absolutely go through these game-specific calibration processes and it's worth checking in these cases whether your TV's HGIG setting (if it has one) is better switched on or off.

Another key aspect of gaming performance that requires care is frame rates. As with HDR, the PS5’s process for adjusting the frame rate a game uses varies from title to title. So with Dirt 5, the game’s own internal graphics options allow you to select whether you prefer to prioritise resolution or frame rates (there’s always a graphical trade off associated with switching from 60Hz to 120Hz). With Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, however, you have to choose in the console’s menus whether you want to prioritise ‘Resolution’ or ‘Performance’ (frame rates) before booting the game if you want to get 120Hz.

This ‘Performance Mode or Resolution Mode’ option, confusingly, is found in the Game Presets section of the Saved Data and Game/App Settings submenu of the PS5 itself.

A further refresh rate option of some sort will likely be added when the PS5 is finally enabled for variable refresh rates.

Choose the right audio options

How to get the best picture from your PS5

(Image credit: Sony)

We’ll discuss the PS5’s 3D Audio gaming system shortly. First, though, we should note the mess concerning the PS5’s Dolby Atmos activation options. Specifically the fact that there are two of them: one for streaming apps, and a separate one for the built-in Blu-ray/4K Blu-ray player. The PS5 does not support Dolby Atmos for games.

The first Dolby Atmos option appears in the System/Sound menu, under Audio output. Scroll right to the bottom of this page and you’ll see an Audio Format (Priority) option, that will be set to Linear PCM by default. There’s an option to choose Bitstream (Dolby) or Bitstream (DTS) if you prefer that.

However, when you try and play a 4K or HD Blu-ray disc with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, the console still does not output Dolby Atmos. To make it work you need to press the Options button on your PS5 joystick while playing a film disc, then click the ‘three dots’ icon and choose the Bitstream option under Audio Format.

Unlike Microsoft with its latest Xbox consoles, Sony has decided not to use Dolby Atmos for its premium game audio experience. Instead, it has developed its own new ‘Tempest’ 3D Audio system. It’s up to individual developers whether and how they deploy 3D Audio, but notable titles to use ‘full-on’ versions of it include Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demons Souls.

At the time of writing, the new 3D Audio system can’t be output to any external multi-channel home theatre speaker/AVR system. Currently, it only works via headphones, though Sony has suggested that this will change at some point in the future.

To try out 3D Audio with headphones, first make sure that you have the Enable 3D Audio option in the Audio Output part of the Sound menu activated. Also, when you first use headphones with the PS5, be sure to check out the Adjust 3D Audio Profile option. This plays a ‘babbling brook’ test signal and asks you to pick which of five settings makes the sound feel most at ear level.

You don’t need special headphones to experience the 3D Audio effect – any wired pair will do the job once connected to the DualSense controller – but the quality of the headphones you use certainly impacts how effective 3D Audio sounds. 

As you might expect, Sony’s own Pulse 3D wireless gaming headset, which has been designed for the PS5, is particularly effective – though at £90 ($100, AU$150) it certainly isn’t cheap. However, once you start using it that price actually starts to sound more than fair. 

For starters, it’s able to deliver the 3D audio effect wirelessly; you don’t need to be tethered to the DualSense controller. It also carries nifty high-sensitivity microphones complete with noise-cancelling technology built into the main headset, rather than in the usual mic ‘arm’, as well as providing buttons for mixing the game sound and chat sound, and for monitoring your own voice.

The Pulse 3D is lightweight and reasonably comfortable, and it does an excellent job of getting both a precise and strikingly large sense of space from the 3D Audio system.

If you want a more luxuriously built wireless headphone option and you’d prefer a dedicated mic arm, Turtle Beach’s Stealth 700 Gen 2 (£130, $150, AU$250) could be up your street. Just bear in mind that while good-looking, great for chatting and more comfortable to wear for epic gaming sessions, they don’t sound quite as punchy as the Sony Pulse 3D models. They can’t be jacked into the DualSense controller when they run out of juice, either, but with an impressive 20 hours of battery life, that shouldn’t be a big problem. Plus you can use them while they’re charging.

If you’re on a tight budget, meanwhile, and don’t mind a wired rather than wireless headset, then the Xiberia V20D (£30) are good value.

For a few other possibilities, check out our Best Gaming Headsets 2021 feature.

Brace yourself

The number of things you need to think about and potentially invest in if you want to unlock the full capabilities of your PS5 is pretty intimidating. Rest assured, though, that Sony’s new console is more than capable of rewarding your effort and expense with truly next-gen thrills. Once you’ve experienced it in full, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

MORE:

Read our full PlayStation 5 review

Considering your next-gen options? Here's our Xbox Series X review

Check out our list of the best gaming TVs you can currently buy

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