What Is Input Lag?
Input lag is a delay between the time you press a button on your controller and the time the game registers it. This delay can be especially noticeable when playing first-person-shooters and is the bane of every gamer’s existence. The tricky thing about input lag is it can be hard to pinpoint. Even if your system specs are top-notch, if the device you connect your games console to has poor response times it can affect your gameplay. The experience is similar to playing in the mud. It may not be immediately clear why you’re having so much trouble, but you’re probably having trouble no matter what you try.
Luckily, there are some quick and easy ways to spot and iron out input lag. If your system lag is caused by a device with response times that are too slow or if it is caused by bad wiring, here are some simple troubleshooting steps you can take to improve the picture. After trying a couple of these techniques you may find you have more responsive devices and tighter controls.
What AV Receivers Do
If you're not familiar with the term AV receiver, you might want to look at our what is an AV Receiver article. An AV receiver is not just one component. It's made up of several components and circuitry, including multiple amplifiers, surround sound decoders, multiple sets of speakers, and outputs for several different devices. The processor or "brain" of the AV receiver routes audio, video, and other inputs into one or several output devices. This allows you to play your game console on a large TV, while someone in your house can watch an entire Netflix movie on their computer simultaneously. Additionally, there's a volume and tuning knob that allows commands to change the volume or switch between channels.
Because that processing power is what enables all these features, adding another part to the AV receiver end of the audio/video chain can slow it down. Some AV receivers are better with audio and video latency than others.
Some AV receiver manufacturers have kind of negated the need for video latency adjustment. With HDMI you are getting the same signal twice, once from source to receiver and then again from receiver to TV. This can double the overall latency of the signal. One manufacturer has configured their HDMI output so that the video signal is flipped, meaning that when the TV starts processing the image, it will be displaying the final, complete frame rather than an incomplete frame that starts at the end. This can cut the overall latency in half.
Why Some AV Receivers May Add Input Lag
Video games and console games are among the most popular digital activities among the average American consumer. It represents a massive market. And companies have responded by releasing more HD televisions and gaming consoles than ever in the past. This has resulted in both technologies gaining popularity in the average family home.
In addition, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of video games and consoles used in online gaming, playing movies and watching streaming videos, listening to music, and more.
Retailers have advertised the latest HD televisions and console game players as "gaming" compatible equipment. Meaning you can play games on the television or console, without any lag or latency time.
If your video games present obvious input lag on your television (which is common in older and cheaper models) it will likely steer you to purchase a new HDTV or console. Whether you purchase a new HD generation, or you stick with an older one, there may be some uncertainties about the type of CRT or Screen that will be output. The standard resolution output is normally defined for a lot of devices.
Your best bet is to make sure you get an HDMI cable that will make sure you get the best possible gaming experience.
What You Can Do to Stop AV Receivers From Adding Input Lag
Input lag is the time it takes for a signal to travel from the gaming console to your display device and back to your eyes. Input lag is one of the main reasons why gaming input devices like gaming mice, gaming keyboards, and gaming controllers can improve your gaming experience.
Unfortunately, some home theater receivers add input lag to the mix. This can be a serious problem if you are a competitive gamer because the slight input lag in your console is going to be multiplied by the slight input lag added by the home theater receiver.
My research estimates that home theater receivers add between 20-30 ms of input lag. However, this can basically be eliminated when you set your receiver to pass-through mode. No lag should be introduced then. Combined with setting your TV to gaming mode (if available), this can basically eliminate the issue.
Although this situation is bad, there's good news. If you do your research beforehand, you can minimize the input lag that's added by your home theater receiver.
Change the Settings on Your AV Receiver
One of the big differences between a cheap HDMI cable and a specialty High-Speed HDMI cable is that the specialty HDMI cable is designed to reduce signal loss while also ensuring a smooth transition between the different video resolutions. Since the cheap HDMI cable doesn’t include these advanced features, the image at the other end will be significantly clearer.
It might seem strange that such a small HDMI cable can make such a big difference, but it’s true!
Among the early signals to be lost are those containing the audio output. These are commonly referred to as audio return channels (ARC) because they are designed to allow a direct pathway for audio to travel between your TV and your home receiver or audio system. That’s why if you have an AV system in your home – for example, you have a cable box, set-top box, or video game console connected to your receiver – you might see a delay in the audio.
You can fix this by changing the settings on your AV receiver.
Something else that can negatively impact your picture quality is latency. This is caused by additional processing that happens before the image reaches your screen. This additional processing includes things as frame rate conversion, deinterlacing, audio processing, and decoding of digital components. Set your receiver to pass-through and the issue might just be resolved.
Change the Settings on Your TV
Before buying a game console, like Xbox or Playstation, you need to understand the lag between displaying a signal and receiving the signal on electric monitors. But be aware that it is not necessarily the TV itself that introduces lag, but more specifically the signal processing in the TV.
In many cases, a lag time introduced by the TV can be compensated with a setting called gaming mode (or picture delay), which is an advanced setting on your television.
These settings are normally indicated in ms (millisecond), and the setting is usually found under:
- input lag/game mode
- image or picture setting
- advanced picture
Or under other similar names.
This option will allow you to set the delay mode of the TV and adjust the delay to 0ms, but it will depend on your TV how well this option works.
Bypass the AV Receiver Altogether
If you're not planning to utilize all the receiver's audio and video inputs, you can completely forgo the AV receiver, and instead, run the connection directly from the source's output to your display.
This prevents the display-side lag issue altogether, and it also eliminates the connection's susceptibility to interference. Plus, A/V receivers in their home theater form tend to be bulky, and you'll potentially save some space in your entertainment cabinet by not having it there.
If you're interested in this approach, make sure you're getting a modern 4K/HDR-compatible HDMI connection that can handle the bandwidths (and it should be a recent one; older, inferior HDMI cables can introduce lag).
You won't benefit from HDR and 4K if you're bypassing the receiver, but of course, you're not losing any of those benefits by using the receiver directly. If you have a display device with many inputs available, you can run the "direct" route and use the receiver as a switch to select the desired source.
This method is useful especially if you're using the receiver for surround sound, as you can independently control the volume of each source.
Receivers are made for switching. They can be used to switch between multiple sources of TV signals and can even send those signals to different rooms. But there is more to an AV receiver than just being a quality A/V switching device. They also have the built-in power to amplify and improve the sound quality of any audio/video feed that you connect them to.
Many people who are looking to buy an AV receiver for their home theater don’t understand all of its benefits and would prefer to buy something cheaper and simpler to use. There are a ton of different models for you to choose from, with most of the higher-end brands coming with a receiver built-in. But even if you own a lot of expensive gear that you plan on connecting (DVD player, Playstation, AppleTV, etc.), it might still be worth your while to buy a separate receiver.
In the end, they might add input lag. The trick is to minimize it as much as possible and still get the same high-quality experience.