How to Make Your TV Better for Gaming

Simply changing a few settings on your TV could improve your gaming skills

Girls playing video games on couch
Michael Winokur/Getty Images

Video gaming isn’t just more popular than ever; it’s also more competitive than ever. The advent of online gaming has introduced a new level of head to head rivalry where every fraction of a second can make the difference between (virtual) life and death. Winning boils down to who has the fastest reactions and, perhaps, the fastest broadband connection. But actually that’s not all. The way you’ve got your TV set up and even the brand of television you’ve bought can have a real impact on that all important kill-to-death ratio. So let’s explore the steps you can take to ensure that if you finish a game in last place it’s down solely to your own failings and not your TV’s settings.

If you’re in the market for a new television you’ll be running a games console on, try and find reviews of interesting models that include an input lag measurement. Input lag refers to the amount of time it takes a TV to show pictures after receiving image data at its inputs, with issues such as picture enhancement features and chipset processing speeds causing drastic differences in input lag speeds between different TV models. (For more information on TV processing, see our guide to buying a new TV).

The Dirty TV Secret That Could Be Spoiling Your Gaming

I know from my own near 20 years of testing TVs that input lag figures can range from as low as 10milliseconds to as high as 150ms - a potential 140ms swing that could easily be enough to ruin your gaming experience. In an ideal world if you're a serious gamer you should try and only buy TVs that measure under 35ms of input lag, as these should have minimal impact on your skills.

My review experience has shown that of all the TV brands out there LG struggles the most with input lag. Its TVs routinely measure input lag of between 60 and 120ms. The problem also affects models in other brands’ ranges that are built around core LG panels.

Sony has tended to deliver the most consistently strong input lag results in recent years, getting as low as 10ms with some of its models - though since one or two Sony TVs have been built around LG panel technology, frustratingly you can’t assume that every Sony TV enjoys low input lag.

Samsung’s 2015 TVs have also so far tested very well - around 20ms - for input lag, and impressively this even applies to its 4K UHD TVs despite the amount of processing required to convert HD console pictures to the TVs' much higher 4K resolution. In previous years 4K TVs have tended to score higher for input lag than HD ones. Since you can’t tell just from looking at a TV how bad its input lag is, though, the bottom line is that, as suggested earlier, you need to look for reviews that include input lag measurements. Naturally I’ll be including these in all my own upcoming TV reviews.

The Tweaks That Can Make Your TV Better For Gaming

Unfortunately making your TV a lean, mean gaming machine isn’t just a case of buying a set with a good input lag figure. The thing is, even TVs that measure well for input lag don’t tend to do so right out of the box. Optimising them for gaming requires some manual legwork in their onscreen menus.

Your first step should be to hunt down and activate your TV’s Game preset, if it has one. Game picture presets are usually designed to minimise input lag by turning off various portions of a TV’s video processors, resulting in input lag measurements far lower than those measured using a TV’s initial picture presets.

It’s worth noting that Game presets aren’t always found in the same menus as other types of picture preset. For instance, on Samsung’s TVs the Game mode is hidden away in the 'General' submenu of the System menu! For more guidance on adjusting your TV, see our feature on TV calibration.

Some TVs simply don’t have a Game preset, though. Also, annoyingly, precious few Game presets go as far in their input lag reduction efforts as they ideally should, leaving elements of lag-inducing processing switched on. So if you’re really serious about optimising your TV as a console gaming monitor you also need to trawl the picture set up menus for bits of video processing that may still be running.

Particularly important to look out for and turn off are noise reduction systems and processing options designed to make motion look more fluid. Less processing-heavy features like dynamic contrast systems and local dimming controls (which adjust the light outputs of different sections of an LCD TV’s lighting) can also contribute slightly to input lag, so I’d recommend turning those off too if doing so doesn’t spoil picture quality too much.

Don't Forget Your Console Settings

One final factor to take into account in optimising the gaming performance of your TV is the signal you’re feeding into it from your games console.

I’ve found that many TVs suffer with much higher input lag if they receive an interlaced signal rather than a progressive one. Don’t worry; this isn’t as complicated a problem as it sounds. All you need to do is access the TV output section of your Xbox or PS4 settings and make sure that the console is set to deliver a 720p or, better, a 1080p signal (the ‘p’ part of this output name stands for ‘progressive’). Avoid any setting options that have an ‘i’ for interlaced at the end. (If you want to know more about progressive video, we've got a guide to it here.)

At this point you’ve done everything you can to give yourself an extra edge over your gaming competitors. All that’s left to do now is fire up Call of Duty, Battlefield, Plants Vs Zombies or whatever your online addiction of choice happens to be and start seeing your name appearing consistently higher on those once-humiliating leaderboards.