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How to Prevent Game Lag in 3 Easy Steps

Turn on the right modes, and turn off the bad settings for smooth, lag-free gameplay.

It's 2012, and TVs are more complicated than they've ever been. Basic picture settings like brightness, color, and tint are nothing new. But now there are dozens upon dozens of parameters to fiddle with, and they do not always play well with video games.

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Game consoles are subject to a potential problem called input lag. In short, Luigi jumps a few milliseconds after you tell him to. This is a huge problem in games that require split-second reaction time, and it's even worse if you're playing online.

Luckily, there are a few common culprits behind input lag, and a few easy fixes.

Turn On Game Mode

A very common feature on HDTVs from the last few years is a setting called Game Mode. High-end TVs began to offer this feature back in the mid-2000s, and now it's trickled down to just about every TV on the market.

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You should always enable Game Mode before you play a video game. Sometimes it's an option under "Video Mode," a preset picture setting. Sometimes it's a standalone setting that you can toggle on or off. It usually turns off motion-smoothing modes (see below), and pumps up the brightness and color saturation. Find it, and use it.

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Turn Off Any Kind of "Reduction"

New TVs come with at least a few reduction settings. They usually sit in their own sub-menu within a sub-menu, so it's tricky to find them—and once you do, it's a toss-up whether the TV will even explain the setting.

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There are tons of names for these settings: Noise Reduction, Mosquito Reduction, NR Reduction, and MPEG Reduction are all likely candidates. Whatever they're called, they always increase input lag.

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Anything that alters the signal between your console's video output and your TV screen can cause input lag, so turn it all off, at least for starters. If you decide that you really need a certain feature, like flesh-tone enhancement, play the game without it at first, and then turn it on—you might notice that it affects response.

Turn Off Motion Smoothing Modes

One of the most controversial topics in TV-land right now is motion smoothing, which uses interpolation and frame-skipping to lend a more life-like look to video content. In other words, it makes everything look like a soap opera.

The words hertz and refresh rate get thrown around a lot. Generally speaking, higher refresh rates (measured in hertz) add to the soap-opera effect. LG, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and even Philips all have different names and brand titles for their motion smoothing settings: "TruMotion," "CineMotion," and "Smooth Motion Plus" among them. But they all basically do the same thing, with varying degrees of intensity.

For single-player games, motion smoothing can actually make games look better. Sports games in particular can look as fluid as real life. But if you're playing a game online (especially a competitive multiplayer game) turn any and all motion assistance off. Along with an iffy internet connection, it's a major cause of input lag—don't put yourself at a disadvantage.

Game Mode (see above) will often automatically disable motion assistance, but it's smart to double-check.

Game On

Think of it this way: Advanced HDTV settings the middle-men between the console and the picture. Sometimes, they just get in the way. Until game consoles come with their own built-in screens (or if TVs themselves become the consoles), the best plan is to turn off any "assistance" features that your TV may be foisting on the picture by default. You can always turn them back on for your roommate's Rambo marathon.

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