Sometimes just a few milliseconds separates the winners from the losers

Get interested in serious PC gaming and you’re going to hear the term ‘input latency’ a lot. It’s right up there with the things that eSports pros fear most – and right up there with the best excuses you can dish out when you choke and lose a battle that you really should have won. But what is input latency, and what can you do to avoid it?

Basically, input latency is the miniscule but measurable lag between you taking an action by interacting with your mouse, keyboard or controller, and that action taking place in the game and on the screen. Think pulling a trigger to fire off a shot, pressing a button to jump into the air, or zeroing in with your mouse to to nail that guy before he gets you. 

Input latency affects how quickly you can respond to what’s going on in game, and how skillfully and accurately you do so. It’s important in all kinds of games, but particularly crucial in eSports titles, where a few milliseconds of display can be all it takes to separate a winner from a loser, or the quick from the dead.

Your monitor or TV also makes a big difference. The response time of the panel, the refresh rate and the time spent processing the signal, sharpening, smoothing motion, adding dynamic contrast and processing any HDR data can all introduce or increase input latency. Finally, the network connection between you and the host or server in an online game can also add latency. It’s relatively unusual, but some games, particularly shooters and fighting games, still suffer from painful input lag as inputs are sent to the host or server and the effects calculated on the screen.

Different players will have different levels of tolerance for input lag. 100 milliseconds (ms) is the maximum for most people while 40 to 70ms is generally thought of as acceptable. Under 40ms is good. So what can you do to keep it low?

For a start, ditch that cheap desktop mouse – especially if it uses Bluetooth – and get yourself a good gaming mouse with a higher polling rate and a USB or low-latency wireless connection. Get a decent gaming keyboard while you’re at it, and use USB rather than Bluetooth if you’re playing with a games controller.

Secondly, get a decent gaming monitor – it doesn’t need to be expensive – and see if it has a games mode that removes any fancy processing. You can still use that processing when you’re playing single-player games, where input latency won’t be so important, but switch to the games mode when you’re playing competitively. If you can increase your refresh rate, then you might want to do so, even if it means running at a lower resolution. However, you may need to balance this against the visibility advantages (and eye candy) you get at higher resolutions.

Finally, do what you can to improve your internet connection speeds. Use a wired Ethernet connection, or upgrade your WiFi router and, if necessary, the WiFi on your PC. That way you’ll make sure you’re getting the best, most stable connection. If your broadband connection is slow and unstable, think about upgrading that too. Minimising input latency means doing the best you can across all three factors to stamp out any lag. 

If you want to build a gaming PC with the lowest possible input latency, speak to Alpha Beta PC’s expert advisors, and they’ll help you choose the right components to ensure you have the edge you need.