In this article we want to cover what input lag is and why is it so important for competitive gaming. A higher input lag time can make a huge difference to professional gamers and most gaming monitors are built to have the lowest input lag possible.
What is input lag – the short answer
Input lag, also known as display lag is the lag between your GPU (graphics processing unit) sending a frame of an image to your monitor and the monitor displaying the frame to you.
This is most needed in gaming displays where the monitor needs to react to your commands via a controller e.g. for console gaming this would be the xbox or ps controller while for pc gaming this would be the keyboard.
Other displays also have a lag such as your TV, but as you are viewing content not partaking in the content creation through controls the picture quality is much more important there than a low input lag.
There are several processes gaming monitors have to go through to turn a command from you playing video games to displaying a quality picture – also known as image processing.
These include, frame interpolation and scaling the size just to name a couple.
The issue in determining how much lag a monitor or tv has is that the manufacturers don’t outright give you the input lag before you buy.
Sometimes they’ll use convoluted metrics to tell you they have a lower input lag under perfect test conditions but sometimes this translates to a high input lag anyway.
This is why researching a monitor and how it impacts gaming performance is crucial before you buy.
What causes Input Lag
There are a few input features that impact input lag, it is both helpful to understand these features when doing your research to get a low input lag but also to understand how you can later try reduce input lag.
In basic terms input lag is caused by the image processing functions of a monitor. The main ones of most monitors include an expensive motion interpolation unit, scaling and converting the images that are interlaced and when the games course resolution is different from the monitors resolution so the monitor has to change it while you are gaming to show it to you on a screen.
You should be able to
- Figure out if your monitor has these
- determine if you can adjust the settings to get the lowest input lag possible
How does input lag effect me
First off if you are only using your monitor or screen to watch TV and not competitive games then input lag shouldn’t be an issue.
Unless you want to your new display to react as quickly as possible to your commands, input lag isn’t important.
The main factor is when you play games, any fast games, fighting games or games that most gamers play where speed is an element to success.
The easiest wat to explain the input lag experience is to compare the experience to a slow internet connection. I can’t think of a gamer that hasn’t had this problem before.
When you’re playing an online game like fortnite or any game mode where there is a multiplayer online component you know what the struggle is like when the picture mode is all over the place, it’s jumping all over the place and you just can’t seem to keep up with opponents who are on a dedicated pc monitor with fast connection.
Input lag is similar except rather than impact how your opponents are moving and the speed at which they seem to fly in competitive games it impacts you.
Whenever you make a move, fire a shot or try defend yourself, if you don’t have a low input lag every action you make can be two slow. Maybe your opponent has already moved, the milliseconds really build up quickly here.
What’s worse is when you are playing a game mode that requires combination moves, input lag makes these a lot more ineffective when playing against someone.
In short, it impacts your pc or console gaming experience in a negative way, if your competition has a lower input lag it will seem like they are always beating you to the punch.
Input Lag Vs Response Time
Response time is NOT the same as Input lag.
Response time has more to do with video processing and picture quality and refers to the speed at which an individual pixel can change from one color to another, which impacts how many frames you can see per second.
While also helpful for competitive gaming, display lag is much more important as generally the time differences between a good monitor and poor monitor can make all the difference for fast paced games.
Note: Monitor companies will give you the response time, frame rate and refresh rate. None of these relate to input lag so don’t be confused.
How to reduce Input Lag
Yes, there are three factors you can take into account when trying to reduce input lag. When buying a monitor, making sure your monitor doesn’t have other issues, and changing some of the settings to see if that will help.
When buying a monitor or TV
You will never find a display that meets all your criteria, but I really believe that most gamers will find a low input lag an essential factor when buying a new display.
The best place to look at input lag when buying a monitor is the reviews by other gamers. As mentioned, companies make it difficult for you to figure out what the difference is between displays so digging in to find what other gamers say is an easy way to tell how good the input lag really is.
You might have to sacrifice some picture quality, but as we said no device is perfect so you have to figure out what you value when putting together a new computer setup.
Checking your monitor for other issues
Input lag is a tricky delay to change once you have a device so it’s better to figure out if there are other delays that can be changed easily.
You should check the following before trying to change the input lag on your monitor or tv as these are easy things to fix:
- Use Game Mode provided by some TV manufacturers – Game mode will change the TV settings to enhance the gaming experience over typical TV settings (although it might reduce picture quality)
- Avoid unnecessary adapters and cables that will slow down computer processes and transmission times
- Use wires not wireless as connection travels faster on cables than it does in the air
- Check how good your network connection is, there are several tools online that can do this easily and compare it to what is good for both the game you are playing and the region you are in
Changing the Settings
The final step to reduce input lag is to check your settings. Some monitors make it easy for you to get the lowest lag possible.
If your monitor has a low input lag setting then you should 100% use this, it’s just a matter of figuring out if your monitor does and what the exact name of it is as it differs from monitor to monitor.
Otherwise, try look at adjusting some of the causes of input lag we discussed above, figure out if your monitor has any specific features to reduce these and that should reduce input lag as well.
It is better to go to the root cause of the problem and play around with various settings to see what works and what doesn’t.
Wrapping Up What is Input Lag
So what is input lag?
It’s really just the transmission time between when you send a control to your display and the time it takes for the screen to show the change.
There are a bunch of processes your gaming monitor has to go through to to make this change and all these add very slight delays that can add up.
To the human eye some of these are hard to see but for gamers who want a competitive edge it is best to try get the input lag as low as possible.
All devices have one and it’s worth noting new consoles are trying to reduce this as one of the next frontiers to gaming technology, until then it’s here to stay and if it is important rather than try deal with the issue it is much easier to get a gaming monitor designed to have low refresh rates, the best motion interpolation and ultimately a low input lag.
If you are trying to game on a TV then get one with a game mode as these settings are built for a gaming environment.