Low Latency/Input Lag HDTV for Gaming

Low Latency/Input Lag HDTV for Gaming

Recently I went through the overwhelmingly difficult task of buying a new HDTV. Being an keen gamer (mostly Xbox 360 FPS games) I wanted to make sure that I got one good for gaming.

My requirements for the TV:
Needs to be full HD (1080p) – which almost every modern TV has these days
Needs to have a low input lag – to make gaming responsive

I do not really care about 3D TV features (there isn’t much shown in 3D that is worth watching just yet – most people who have 3D either don’t use it, or find that it is underwhelming – having said that, I was very impressed with the latest Samsung’s 3D – but still there is little content); I also don’t care about the apps that are on the TV. For watching movies and TV I use a variety of online resources and can easily connect my laptop to the screen. (Samsung’s app system seems to be more advanced from Sony’s though).

A few years ago, I won a Samsung 50″ Plasma in a UK Halo tournament. Excited to get it home and play on it, I found I felt out of control of the game. I couldn’t understand it and it was hard to explain, but it felt sluggish. After a small amount of research I found input lag from the Xbox to the TV was probably the issue. This means that when you move or shoot with the controller, it take a small amount of time (tens of milliseconds) for the screen to show this.

I grew up on CRTs which have little to zero input lag and have been used to it my whole life.

As an example: imagine aiming to the right and then shooting a target. Once you move on the controller, the screen wouldn’t update quick enough, so my brain would tell me I needed to move, then it would show up on the screen and I would see that I was in the correct place, then I would shoot on the controller, however that wouldn’t show up for a small while, by which time my reticule had moved passed the target because of the over-compensation for the slow response and I would end up missing.

I ended up selling the TV and bought a new computer with the money! I stayed on my CRT for as long as I could.

This time I was determined to not have the same problem. I conducted a lot of research online, but noted there seemed to be not much on display lag. The web also suggested that input lag was so insignificant that gamers would not have a problem with all modern TVs. Still weary, I expressed my concern to the sales guy (who shall remain nameless) in an electronics store. He expressed that TVs do not publish screen lag anymore as “it is just a war with numbers”.

Convinced by his expertise because he works in a TV store, we discussed the different options. Samsung, to my knowledge, have the same components as Sony TVs which are known to be expensive. According to a lot of people, you are simply paying for the brand when it comes to Sony, and so you should stay away. THIS IS NOT TRUE!

I proceeded to purchase the latest Samsung, with 3D included. The idea would be that with 3D there is a faster processor, so there should be less lag – right?! WRONG!

I don't know how we fit it in, but we did!
I don’t know how we fit it in, but we did!

I took the TV home and felt the same problems. Even using different inputs and settings there was still an overwhelming problem (PC mode is meant to be the quickest – ahead of Game mode – but both did nothing noticeable). Recently, I have been playing on a Dell 24″ monitor with next to no lag and so this TV was unbearable. A painful repackaging occurred and I took it back; along with my Xbox 360 to the store to test there.

I spent a lot of time looking at input lag tables online (a few of which are linked here):

The lists are hard to compare as they use different methods to test. I spent a lot of time checking that the lists were consistent with each other (at least in terms of where each TV came relative to the others). The lists are by no means complete, and there are very few models that are tested on multiple lists to confirm that they are consistent with each other – but in most places they seemed to agree and it was good enough for me to get an idea of what was good.

The conclusion from these lists was that Sony KDL models tended to be at the top of them – fairly consistently. My decision was made to try this Sony Bravia system to see if it made a difference. Several reviews suggested that the gaming mode on Sony ripped out a lot of the processing and so they could respond quicker than other TVs. Albeit losing a bit of quality – something I don’t really mind – as long as I don’t die on every encounter because of my poor setup.

I knew that Sony was more expensive in general but continued to compare Sony models within my price range (£500-600). Heading down to the store with my Xbox was a fun experience. I tried 4 or 5 TVs, most of which were Sony Bravia. We played with the settings in store to see if anything felt better.

I discovered a nice trick to test the lag, even if not with a calibrated piece of equipment or particularly accurate and measurable. If you take the audio output from the Xbox directly (for one speaker) to a portable speaker (that an electronics store has plenty of) and the other audio line goes to the TV, you can actually hear the difference in the sound. Even something as simple as moving through a menu or shooting a gun once in game, if there is just one click. You will hear it direct from the xbox through the speaker, and also through the TV after it does all the video processing and syncs them back up. The delay is easily audible and it sounds as if two shots are fired instead of one.

Testing my Xbox 360 in store!
Testing my Xbox 360 in store!

I tested the latest W805 from 2014 which seemed to have a significant difference between the sounds. This model has 3D with it, so we tested the W705 which is marginally cheaper but doesn’t have the 3D associated. I didn’t check with any detailed calibration, but it sounded better than the 805 and felt a little better – which agrees with one of the tables of lag times.

Finally I was suggested to try last years model (a W65) which seemed (although maybe I was getting tired) to be the best out of them all, with only a very small delay between the sounds. It turns out that this older TV has no 3D and is actually cheaper than all of the others as well as cheaper than the original Samsung I bought.

Sony Bravia with game mode seems to be the best range of HDTVs for gaming. These are the best I found, and although not perfect, the best I can see on the market. The best solution is to use a monitor, but they don’t normally go that big and, since we were getting a new TV for TV anyway, it seemed sensible to get this one.

Also, don’t believe everything you are told by the sales guy, they are just trying to get their commission.

3D might mean a faster processor, but it doesn’t mean less input lag.

See what is out there and do your research on them before doing an impulse buy. Make sure you check it out in store and perhaps sit on your decision for a few days at least.

Don’t be scared to take your games console into the shop and try it out – the sales staff will actually enjoy it as it gives them something different to do! I would suggest that they might know about this stuff, but my experience has been that no-one really knows about it!

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