The constant chase for butter smooth FPS and jaw dropping visuals is half the fun for the technically inclined gamer, so it should come as no surprise that the move to 4K has caused quite a stir in the community.
Ultra HD resolution, in addition to HDR, the next step in color reproduction and contrast, have given Sony and Microsoft a unique selling proposition for their “beast mode” mid generation consoles.
Whether you’re looking to buy an Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, or enthusiast grade PC, you might be wondering whether or not the next evolution of visuals comes at a performance cost.
Does 4K HDR increase input lag? How does it affect framerate?
The short of it: opting for 4K HDR on your PS4 Pro and Xbox One X can increase latency, but it will ultimately depend on the TV or monitor that you are using. Gaming at 4K will also lower FPS in most cases.
Read below for a deeper dive on how the resolution bump will affect your overall experience and how to minimize the impact it will have on your enjoyment.
Does 4K HDR Increase Input Lag?
While a PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, or PC outputting 4K HDR won’t directly affect your input lag, the bottleneck to acceptable latency is your TV or monitor.
What this means is that playing an increased fidelity can increase input lag if you’re using a display that handles the output poorly.
For example, I play on a PS4 Slim and use a Sony X800D (2016 Bravia). While I can’t output 4K, I can do HDR. The end result is an input lag of 33 ms.
Other TVs and monitors will run the gamut in terms of input lag when outputting 4k, HDR, or a mixture of the two.
My TV performs well when outputting HDR, but some 4K TVs introduce latency of 50 ms or more which renders games very difficult to play, especially input intensive genres like fighting games and first person shooters.
Back to the Sony X800D, if I were to output 4K without HDR (assuming I owned a PS4 Pro), the input lag would actually rise to 35 ms. The thing to note is that you might be able to reduce latency if you only output 4K.
Rtings.com is a fantastic resource for this information as every TV they review offers data for input lag when running 4K, HDR, or a combination of the two.
Another important factor is the picture mode you are using on your TV (Vivid, Cinema, Custom, etc.). Not all are created equally, and you are usually going to want to choose “Game” or “PC” mode in order to attain the lowest input lag (you’ll see PC mode on Samsung TVs).
Thankfully, it seems TV manufacturers are recognizing the importance of low input lag. Many models offer low latency and brands like LG are introducing things like Auto Low Latency Mode, a way to automatically cater to video game consoles being used.
These modes usually strip the extra picture processing, so you may find them to look worse than what you’re used to, but it’s well worth the trade off for those who play games.
In reality, the vanilla nature of Game Mode is actually the most true to form picture as out of the box presets are tuned specifically to “pop”, and subsequently appear garish.
Still haven’t bought a 4K and PS4 Pro/Xbox One X?
Definitely do your research and prioritize latency. There’s nothing worse than high input lag when it comes to responsiveness and immersion.
Upcoming TV technologies like HDMI 2.1 will help to further the experience of gaming and watching movies on the big screen by bringing benefits such as variable refresh rate and dynamic metadata HDR.
The Performance Of It All (FPS)
While 4K indirectly affects input lag, the effect on performance is a direct result of the output resolution.
On PC, you’re going to need a beast of a system in order to run games at 4K with stable FPS, especially if you expect keep things running at 60 FPS. Of course, the upside of the platform is that you can dial in settings to your liking in order to hit the sweet spot of performance vs. visuals.
GPUs that excel at 4K gaming, like the RTX 2080 and RTX 2070, cost more than consoles. It really puts into perspective what Microsoft and Sony were able to do with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro respectively.
With the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X you’re given a lot less leeway.
Most games on the two systems offer a choice between better performance or enhanced visuals (aka 4K mode). The latter is the mode to choose if 4K is your priority, and doing so will cap the potential framerate at 30 FPS in majority of games.
All other aspects of graphics being equal, 4K is always going to lower the FPS, whether through instability or hard caps, no matter your platform of preference.
The performance cost of 3840 x 2160 is staggering, which is why a large portion of games on consoles use checkerboard rendering as opposed to native 4K.
Checkerboarding, not to be confused with upscaling, is a very impressive emulation of native 4K and will most likely become the standard going into the next-generation of consoles.
Does 4K HDR Make a Difference for Gaming? Is it Worth It?
A large part of whether or not 4K HDR will be worth it to you will come down to:
- The TV or monitor you are using
- The distance between you and your display
- How susceptible you are to visual fidelity
The truth is, seeing 4K HDR content running on a proper Ultra HD set like an LG OLED is absolutely stunning. But then, quality sets like this cost upwards of $1,500.
In contrast, if you’re gaming on a budget 43” 4K TV and sitting 10 feet away, the extra clarity and advancement in color reproduction isn’t going to look like anything at all.
Some would argue that the HDR standard hasn’t been reached with consumer sets, and those that produce the most impressive results utilize ancillary tech like local dimming, OLED panels, wide color gamut, 10 bit color depth…the list goes on.
Fortunately, much of this tech has trickled down to modestly priced TVs over the past few years, but you’re still going to have to spend a decent chunk of change for the wow factor.
And while PC has a greater potential for native 4K gaming (as much as your budget allows), the HDR implementation is hit and miss.
HDR gaming as a whole has a ways to go, but there are already some knockout examples on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. And that’s its main problem at the moment – the experience is rather fragmented.
Which platform is best for 4K?
On the PC side you’ll get:
- The most potential for native 4K if your wallet is deep
- The flexibility to tune visuals to your liking
- Tons of legacy games that support 4K
Xbox One X offers:
- More native 4K games than PS4 Pro
- Backwards compatible games that support 4K (Red Dead Redemption for one)
- “The most powerful console in the world.”
- 4K/performance mode for most new games
PS4 Pro gets you:
- Stronger first party support
- Arguably some of the best implementations of HDR
- 4K/performance mode for most new games
It’s important to note that if you only care about HDR as a console player, every version of the PS4 has support for the tech, and the more affordable Xbox One S does as well.
If you haven’t bought a 4K capable TV then definitely head over to your local Best Buy to see the newest TVs in person. Yes, floor models are tuned to make TVs look as impressive as possible, but it will still give you an idea as to how good it looks.
There is tons of room for growth with both 4K and HDR, as is the case with all fledgling tech, and holding off until things start to settle may be the best course of action.
In the grand scheme of things the push for 4K HDR gaming has only just begun, and we’re sure to see a much more mature state of things come time for the PS5 and Xbox One Two (Three Four Five…).