How to best manage input lag on Xbox Series X|S

The best ways to lower input lag:

  • Always choose Game Mode on your TV (other modes can have more than 1/10 of a second of input lag)
  • If you’ve been having spikes of input lag that seem strange, switch to a wired controller
  • Microsoft optimized the official wireless controller for latency, but it can still be prone to interference
  • Choose Performance Mode over Quality Mode (30 FPS has double the input latency of 60 FPS)

I’ve had the Xbox Series X for about two years, and in that time it’s been mostly smooth sailing when it comes to input latency. There’s been a little weirdness at times (I’ll get to that below), but for the most part, responsiveness has come down to:

  • The display I’m using
  • The type of controller I’m using
  • The game I’m playing

Dialing in your display

shady sidewalk with sun poking through in The Division 2
Next-gen updates to games like The Division 2 and Destiny 2 have resulted in much more responsive gameplay for those playing on the Xbox Series X

The display you’re using is the biggest factor in determining input lag. Even when all other factors are perfect, using a laggy display can quickly kill the experience. Most of my game time on the Xbox Series X has been with the Sony X800D. It has input lag of about 35 milliseconds (ms) when I’m using Game Mode, but outside that mode it can go up to as much as 49 ms (as reported by RTINGS and alantechreview).

And that’s the first factor to stay on top of – always switch to Game or PC Mode on your TV when playing on your Xbox. If you look at RTINGS input lag chart, you can see that outside of Game Mode, TVs can have as high as 150 ms of input lag. That’s over 1/10 of a second and will be seriously felt while playing games (especially genres like shooters).

Certain newer TVs have started shipping with a gaming centric feature called Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). It’s supposed to automatically default to Game Mode when a gaming console is detected. The Xbox Series X|S should acknowledge the feature with nothing required on your part, but it’s always worth double-checking that your TV is on Game Mode.

Wireless interference

In my experience, it’s your controller that can introduce input wonkiness. It’s rare, but there’s been times when my wireless Xbox Series X controller has gone off with a mind of its own. Microsoft put a lot of attention towards making their controller fast and resilient to interference for the new generation of Xbox. Their proprietary wireless protocol (Xbox Wireless) is supposed to use a “higher frequency than traditional 2.4 GHz Bluetooth” (Windows Central). Again, a great benchmark for something like gaming.

But wireless…is still wireless. And if you live in a denser neighborhood or apartment complex, there’s going to be all sorts of wireless frequencies beaming every which way. I haven’t been able to reliably reproduce the insane increase in input lag I’ve experienced, and I can’t say exactly what the weak points related to Xbox Wireless are. I do know that it’s prone to interference, just as any other wireless device is.

The solution is simple – always use a wired controller if you want low input lag with no interference. Microsoft has admitted as much saying, “While wireless is better than ever, when a controller is wired, the team implemented the ultimate solution: as soon as a digital state changes, the data gets transmitted. No more blaming the controller when you don’t get off that final hit in a fighting game.”. Despite their improvements to Xbox Wireless and the Xbox Series X controller, wired is still the way to go (especially if you’re noticing weird input lag).

Moving to primarily using a HyperX wired controller has brought nothing but consistency for me. It’s highly responsive and hasn’t given me any unusual delayed inputs.

Performance vs. quality

starfield new atlantis constellation walkway
It’s amazing how well Starfield runs on the Xbox Series X, but it’s definitely not a responsive feeling game

Some games are going to have more latency than others by design. When I’m playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, it feels worlds ahead of something like Starfield in terms of latency (especially at 120 FPS). And it makes sense – higher frame rates mean less overall input lag. All it takes is a little math to see why:

  • 30 frames per second = 1 second / 30 frames = 33.3 milliseconds of latency
  • 60 frames per second = 1 second / 60 frames = 16.6 milliseconds of latency
  • 120 frames per second = 1 second / 120 frames = 8.3 milliseconds of latency

The takeaway is to always lean towards a higher frame rate when playing on the Xbox Series X|S. Most games are releasing with different graphics modes, and choosing “Performance Mode” will always have a higher frame rate (usually 60 FPS).

Unfortunately, some games like Starfield don’t offer this option (it’s kind of amazing that it runs as well as it does). These games will always have more input lag if they’re running at 30 FPS.

Adding it all up

Other than switching to Game Mode, you can’t exactly lower the input lag of your TV without going out and buying a new one. And that’s why using a wired controller and picking Performance Mode is always the best bet if your Xbox has been acting up. The input lag of your TV, controller, and graphics mode you choose are additive, and you’ll want to reduce latency wherever you can.

Also, if you’ve figured out which wireless devices tend to disrupt the connection of the wireless Xbox Series X controller (and make it act up), definitely let me know in the comments.

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