The feedback loop between your game controller, your brain, your fingers, and the action on the TV screen is a delicate cycle. Any delay can diminish the thrilling immediacy of playing. Or, in some games, get your character killed because the game doesn’t respond to your reactions quickly enough.
With online games at least, the biggest source of those delays is latency between your console and servers on the internet, which is largely out of your control. But another source of lag, for all types of games, is introduced by the TV itself.
It takes mere milliseconds for a video signal to travel from your console through the HDMI input on your TV to appear on the screen, but too many milliseconds can be noticeable to your brain, or downright deadly to your in-game character. Those milliseconds are known as input lag.
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Happily, most TVs have a picture mode specifically designed to minimize input lag, generally called game mode. One of the tests I perform for every TV I review for The Techy Trends measures that lag. I also like to consider gaming experience, viewing angles, picture quality, screen size, contrast, brightness, color gamut, frame rate, smart features, and support for high dynamic range content.
Here are the 2018 and 2019 TVs I’ve tested so far, ranked for input lag. Lower numbers are better.
The first column links to the full review, the second to a retailer selling that particular model. Note that The Techy Trends may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
What else you need to know about input lag
How to turn it on. In most cases, game mode isn’t automatic so you’ll have to turn it on manually, and sometimes the setting can be difficult to find. Many use a picture mode called “Game” while some, like Samsung and Vizio, let you apply game mode to any setting (Samsung buries it deep in the menus, as seen below, while Vizio calls it “Gaming Low Latency”). Check individual reviews for details.
Game mode makes a difference, except when it doesn’t. As you can see, many TVs cut lag substantially when you turn on Game mode, but plenty don’t. In general, expensive TVs with elaborate video processing get more of a benefit when you engage game mode.
Most TVs’ game modes are good enough for most gamers. No matter how twitchy you are, it’s going to be tough to tell the difference between 15 and 30 milliseconds of input lag. Many gamers won’t even be able to discern between game mode on and off — it all depends on the game and your sensitivity to lag.
Turning game mode on can hurt image quality (a little). TV makers’ menus often refer to reduced picture quality. Reduced picture quality is generally the result of turning off that video processing. In my experience, however, the differences in picture quality are really subtle, and worth the trade-off if you want to minimize lag.
4K HDR gaming lag is different from 1080p. The resolution you game at has an impact, and since consoles like the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X prominently feature 4K HDR output for games, I started testing for 4K HDR lag in 2018. In general the numbers are similar to the lag with standard 1080p resolution, but as you can see from the chart above, there are exceptions.
Vizio’s Input 5 is weird. The fifth HDMI port on the Vizio P-Series and PQ TVs (both 2018 and 2019) have different input lag characteristics than its other inputs. It’s superb for 1080p gaming, but can’t accept 4K HDR sources. No other TV maker we’ve tested has different lag and capabilities for different inputs.
Testing is an inexact science. I use a Leo Bodnar lag tester. Here’s how it works, and how I use it. You might see different lag test results from different reviews outlets, which may use Bodnar or another method.
What’s the best TV for gaming, period?
In my opinion the best TV for gaming is one that has the best picture quality for everything else, too. Games benefit from deep black levels, bright highlights and uniform screens just as much as movies and TV shows do.
Yes, there are other factors, but they don’t apply to most gamers. If you play the same game constantly and never put anything else on the screen, and that game as a bright static element that stays in the same place on the screen (like a HUD or other status display), you might be at risk for OLED burn-in. But most gamers don’t have to worry about OLED burn-in.
If the TV input where your console is connected is shared with other devices and you don’t want to remember to re-engage game mode all the time, an auto game-mode feature might be useful. And some cutting-edge PC and Xbox One X gamers might appreciate variable refresh rate. Auto game mode and variable refresh rate are found on Samsung’s 2018 TVs, and many appear on other 2019 TVs with HDMI 2.1, including sets from Samsung, LG and Sony.
Most gamers, however, will find that the best TV for gaming is the best high-end TV, period.
I’ll continue to test 2019 TVs for input lag as I review them.