What Game Mode on TV Actually Does
Playing video games has become something more than a hobby for some people in the past couple of decades. From something you would play with your friends, gaming is now a viable profession, and as such, requires some hardware support.
Notably, once the core of the computer is powerful enough, we turn to our peripherals and what we actually look at when gaming, the monitor. However, casual gaming makes up most of overall gaming, meaning that anything goes for a screen, including TVs.
TVs differ from monitors in multiple ways, however, they most notably differ because they have more input lag.
Most modern TVs have a feature called Game Mode, which enables faster image reproduction. Here is what game mode actually does and why you should use it when playing (competitive) video games.
What is Game Mode on TV?
TVs are good at a certain thing, and that is reproducing an image that is pleasing to the eye. However, in most cases, that means using image processing that takes up a lot of power and even more importantly, time.
When you are playing a first-person shooter, the last thing you want is to wait for your screen to make an image more aesthetically pleasing while bullets and explosive ordinance are flying around.
Game mode or PC mode, depending on the manufacturer, turns off image processing which is unnecessary for playing video games, and thus increases the response time of the TV. However, the game mode itself will make most TV screens better, but one should take into consideration all the various components which contribute to the overall input lag.
What is Input Lag?
Overall, the definition of input lag is the time that passes between sending an electrical signal and the occurrence of that signal. However, since we are talking about TVs and screens, display lag (which also falls under the category of input lag) is another thing.
All machines will have input lag because a signal needs to go to the machine, whether a PC or console, and the device in question needs to turn that signal into action. That further needs to be rendered by a graphics card and then it can be sent to a screen to be displayed.
There will always be some input lag even without the screen, but that will be negligible and imperceptible to most people unless the machine in question is not powerful enough to render enough frames and do it stable.
When talking about display lag or input lag, most people have a screen response time in mind, which is the amount of time that a pixel needs to change from one color to the next, which is what monitor companies advertise typically as being 1ms.
This is untrue in most cases. Response time can be important and it is mostly observed and tested in actual gaming monitors where milliseconds do matter because of the intended purpose of the device.
Display lag or input lag, is how much time is needed for a screen to display the received input.
Display lag occurs because of the overall components and processes add up to a sum that we perceive as lag.
They have been determined to be the acquisition of the signal, the processing and the actual displaying of the image.
Signal acquisition used to be a larger problem in the days of analog connectors, as opposed to nowadays standardized HDMI and DisplayPort. There is an imperceptible delay from the modern digital standards.
For TV screens, this is the biggest culprit for input lag. Processing involves edge smoothing, motion smoothing, interpolation, as well as brightness and color processing. Any of these things can add up to input lag, sometimes as much as 70 to 80 ms, which is very perceptible.
Some panels are simply faster than others, like OLED panels, as well as higher refresh rate panels, from 144Hz and upwards. There are tv screens that are as fast as some gaming monitors, though they come at a steep price.
Peripherals and Machine Lag
Using wireless peripherals is going to add some latency due to the nature of the type of signal transmission. However, most gaming-oriented peripherals, especially those made for performance, do not add any perceivable lag.
On the other hand, cheaper wireless controllers, mice and keyboards, will add lag, which can easily be solved with wired peripherals.
When it comes to consoles and computers, their overall frame rate will affect the input lag. 60 frames per second equals a distance of 16.67ms. For a 144HZ monitor and 144 FPS, this is lowered to 6.94ms. Refresh rate and resolution play a large role on the overall input lag, the combination of both impacting it more or less, depending on the hardware.
This is why the components also play a huge role in input lag, from the refresh rate to the devices doing the rendering, to the peripherals, where game mode cannot solve all problems.
What Does Game Mode Do On TV?
With all of this, it is easier to understand that game mode or PC mode disables video processing. However, if some TVs don’t have an explicit game mode, you could disable the before-mentioned processes manually, thus lowering lag by a huge margin.
Even extremely fast OLED TVs like the LG C1 and C2, which have an input lag of around 10ms in game mode, go up to 90ms outside of game mode at 1080p 60Hz refresh rate. You can only expect less expensive TVs to have worse performance when not using game mode.
Even on gaming monitors, the settings play a crucial role, let alone a TV, the purpose of which is not gaming, primarily.
Conclusion and Summary
For most gaming sessions on a TV screen, one should always activate game mode to have decent performance, with almost imperceptible input lag. Outside game mode, all TVs apply image processing which increases the input lag greatly, up to more than 100ms, which is quite perceptible.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that all the components in the signal chain affect the input lag, from the panel type, its refresh rate, the hardware doing the rendering, as well as the peripherals used for inputting the signal.
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