How to Make Your TV Better for Gaming

Simply changing a few settings could improve your gaming performance

A teenager playing an Xbox game on a TV.

 

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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 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 effect on that all-important kill-to-death ratio.

The culprit is input lag. Input lag refers to the amount of time it takes a TV to show pictures after receiving image data at its inputs, with factors such as picture-enhancement features and chipset-processing speeds leading to 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

Input lag ranges from as low as 10 milliseconds to as high as 150 ms — a potential 140 ms swing that could easily be enough to ruin your gaming experience. Serious gamers buy TVs that measure under 35 ms of input lag, as these should have minimal impact on the player's performance.

LG seems to struggle the most with input lag. Its TVs routinely measure input lag of between 60 and 120 ms. 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 — but a few Sony TVs have been built around LG panel technology, so you can’t assume that every Sony TV enjoys low input lag.

Samsung’s recent TVs have also so far tested very well — around 20ms — for input lag, even for 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 you need to look for reviews that include input lag measurements.

The Tweaks That Can Make Your TV Better For Gaming

Making your TV a lean, mean gaming machine isn’t just a case of buying a set with a good input lag figure, though. 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 minimize 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 don’t offer a Game preset, though, and many of the ones that do aren't as aggressive in their lag-reduction efforts as they should be, leaving elements of lag-inducing processing switched on. So if you’re really serious about optimizing your TV as a console gaming monitor you also need to trawl the picture-setup 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.

Don't Forget Your Console Settings

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

Many TVs suffer much higher input lag if they receive an interlaced signal rather than a progressive one. To adjust this setting, 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.