Ask LH: How Much TV Input Lag Is Too Much?

Dear Lifehacker, I am currently in the market for a new TV. The new TV will be used for gaming, Blu-ray movies, watching TV and movies on Apple TV and watching Netflix and other streaming services. One big thing I’m finding hard to get my head across is input lag. So my question is, what is classed as “bad” input lag? The TVs I’ve looked at some have 37ms of lag, while others are lower or higher. I’ve been told that anything higher than 30ms is not good. What is considered an acceptable amount? Thanks, Telly Hunter

Dear TH,

To briefly outline the problem for anyone wondering what input lag is, it’s the delay between a picture being generated by a source application, and the actual presentation of that image on your screen.

Of the scenarios you’ve outlined, it’s the gaming side of things where input lag has the potential to be a problem. In a non-interactive medium such as TV watching, whether streaming, Blu-Ray or free to air, the fact that you have a split-second of delay between choosing a file to watch and actually watching it won’t matter at all. Whereas in gaming, the difference in input lag can have a definite effect on how responsive you feel a game is, and, in the case of competitive online games, the difference between winning and losing — maybe.

The issue with input lag is that it can be something of a sensitivity issue; some gamers are particularly fussy about input lag, while others don’t find it notably affects their overall performance. It will vary depending on the title you’re playing and whether you’re playing online, where netcode lag can also play its part.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that many TVs have specific “game” modes that switch off other screen processing features to minimise input lag, so be sure to check the specifications for this on TVs you’re considering to buy.

In terms of input lag, lower response is better, but 30ms is particularly fussy. If you can get a TV at a price/feature point that suits you with sub-30ms input lag, then go for it, but anything up to around 50ms should be fine for “most” gamers. It’s a subjective thing, however, and that means your best bet is to test it out yourself if feasible.

One thing you could try is checking if your TV retailer would be happy with you bringing in a console (or small form factor PC) to plug into a TV prior to purchase. Most large screen buys aren’t for small amount of money, and if you explain that you’re particularly worried about how it will handle input lag, they may be willing to let you experiment to find the perfect TV for you. You’re more likely to get that kind of service out of a higher-end retailer than a mass market merchant, however.

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