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How to reduce video game lag in 3 easy steps

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

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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 of parameters to fiddle with, and they don't 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.

1. Turn on Game Mode

A very common feature on HDTVs 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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Most of the time, it's a good idea 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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2. 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.

3. 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. LG, Sony, and Samsung make it even more confusing, as all have different names and brand titles for their motion smoothing settings. They all do basically the same thing, though, and they all introduce some kind of input lag.

Nearly every TV that we've tested for input lag goes from excellent (sub-30ms input lag) to horrible (over 80ms input lag) just by turning motion smoothing on. It may make the picture look a little better, but you'll be less able to control the game and essentially be eliminating any benefit you get from owning a gaming-ready TV.

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 are 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 (like the Nintendo Switch), 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.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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