In-depth input lag review

The short story is that the Sharp E77U series will give you 2 frames of lag (480i composite), potentially down to less than 1 frame of lag (1080p hdmi), when the AV mode is set to GAME. If you wish to know more and see the actual measurements, read on.

Update, April 15, 2010: I have run new tests on this TV as according to the Input Lag Wars! thread on avsforum.com. Here are my results. Note that
 Fine Motion Enhanced
Dynamic Contrast
Measured lag vs. CRT monitor
off
off  17 ms
on off  17 ms
off on  20 ms
on on  19 ms
* Note: On a game running at 60 fps, 1 frame = 17 milliseconds

If you would like to review the input lag test pictures or calculations yourself, you can download them at the bottom of this page.




Background

I recently decided to finally replace our broken Samsung HDTV with a new LCD TV. I was looking for a set around 52" and under $2000 and came across the Sharp LC52E77U (specs). It was cheaper than similar TVs and since it's part of their new 2009 lineup and has all of the newer features (120 Hz, 10-bit panel, etc...), after checking it out at a nearby store, I decided to buy it.  

I play games a lot, and the input lag caused by the image processing in HDTVs is the biggest selling point for me. I don't play games a whole lot, but when I do, I want it to be 100% lag-free. People say, "with gaming mode turned on, the lag is imperceptable," or, "humans can't detect under 100ms." Balderdash. I notice even the tiniest bit of lag and it is extremely detrimental to game playing, especially in fast-paced games (Smash Bros., any space shoot-em-up) or rhythm games (DDR, Guitar Hero). Although at this point I think nearly all manufacturers advertise gaming modes that reduce lag to imperceptible lag or remove it completely, NONE actually do it. Samsung, especially, is the worst.

I've spent a lot of time researching this problem. I was originally going to replace the old Samsung last year, but I got an opportunity to study abroad in Japan for a year, so I've waited until now. I've researched the gaming lag in both English and Japanese, and though the Japanese results were better (they had actual lag measurements, similar to here), the Japanese models are all different and often irrelevant. What I did find. though, is that among the HDTV manufacturers in Japan, Panasonic, Sharp, and Mitsubishi seemed to produce the most lag-free televisions with input lag down to only a few frames. Mitsubishi was the best with several models that had only 1-2 frame lag times.

After testing multiple displays, Panasonics and Sharps seemed to be the best here in America, but since I wanted an LCD and not a Plasma, I decided to go for Sharp. My conclusion is that the Sharp AQUOS E77U series is the best possible LCD for gaming. Additionally, the Sharp AQUOS E67U series comes in smaller sizes and is equipped with Sharp's "Vyper Drive" gaming mode specifically to reduce input lag, so I would expect that it should perform similarly or, perhaps, better than the E77U's. Read below for my measurements and conclusions.


Tools

For starters, after seeing some nice input lag measurements done by Japanese game enthusiasts, I decided to make a really nice app to accurately measure the input lag of HDTVs. Here is a screenshot preview of my testing app:

It was created in Flash and you can download it in RAR format or ZIP format. It comes with two versions -- 60 Hz and 120Hz -- and with a stand-alone flash player to view them with. Anyone who is able and willing, please supplement your personal HDTV input lag experiences with this or a similar app in the future so we can have real numbers for TVs instead of subjective, "I don't feel any lag," opinions.


My Setup

Input lag is caused by mainly four things, two of which are controllable, and two of which are uncontrollable. The two uncontrollable factors are any video processing that the TV does and some anti-ghosting measures explained in detail here. The two controllable factors are upscaling and deinterlacing. Thankfully, most current-gen HDTVs come with some form of "Gaming Mode" which should reduce or eliminate the two controllable factors. Additionally, it's always best to try to input signals to your TV that match the native resolution of your TV. For instance, if your TV is natively a 1080p television, you should try to input at least a 1080i signal into your TV. That eliminates the need for the TV to upscale your video to its native resolution. Better yet, input a 1080p signal into your TV which will eliminate the need for the TV to deinterlace the video, as well. I've been told that deinterlacing takes much longer than upscaling, so given a 1080p TV and the option to input a 1080i or a 720p signal, it may be better to choose the 720p signal, though I cannot confirm these claims.

My laptop has both composite and HDMI-out ports. To test the true input lag of the TV, my initial tests are all using the standard composite out and seeing how well the TV can upscale and deinterlace a 480i signal. After that, I switch to HDMI and check the best-case scenario of a 1080p inputted signal.


Measurements

The Sharp E77U series TVs are 1080p and 120Hz. The two AV modes I focus on are "STANDARD" and "GAME". Additionally, for each input, I test turning two menu options, "Fine Motion Enhanced," and "Active Contrast," on and off.

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480i
Connected using a standard yellow composite video cable, output at 640x480

AV Mode: Standard
Fine Motion Enhanced: Off
Active Contrast: Off
Lag: 14 frames
"Fine Motion Enhanced" is basically Sharp's word for "120 Hz." Everyone here says that it increases lag, so here I turn it off. "Active Contrast" actively changes the contrast depending on the scene on the TV. To my eyes, it makes the blacks blacker and the whites whiter, and I like it on. I figure that it takes some processing power to calculate the contrast for each frame, though, so I turn it off.

AV Mode: Standard
Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: Off
Lag: 14 frames
Here with Fine Motion turned on, I expect to see increased lag. We're still looking at 14 frames of lag, but the elapsed time counter shows 1 millisecond more lag. 1 ms doesn't really mean anything since these measured lag times are prone to changing plus or minus a few milliseconds, but at best it shows that 120 Hz on this TV doesn't affect the input lag. At worst, it slightly increases it.

AV Mode: Standard
Fine Motion Enhanced: Off
Active Contrast: On
Lag: 14 frames
Once again, 14 frames of lag and the elapsed time difference is identical. It appears that Active Contrast does not affect the input lag.

AV Mode: Standard
Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: On
Lag: 14 frames
Here with both Active Contrast and Fine Motion turned on, the lag is identical to when both settings are turned off. It's probably safe to say that Fine Motion doesn't affect the input lag.

AV Mode: Game

Fine Motion Enhanced: Off
Active Contrast: Off
Lag: 4 frames
With both turned off, the lag is at 4 frames. It's not great -- the good displays in Japan can get below 3 frames, with Mitsubishi even down to 1 -- but it's certainly better than most displays in America (especially Samsung).

AV Mode: Game
Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: Off
Lag: 4 frames
It starts to get a little weird, here. The lag is minutely less than 4 frames as you can see that the computer is still busy trying to display the 15 when the TV is already at 11. Additionally, the elapsed time is exactly the same.

AV Mode: Game
Fine Motion Enhanced: Off
Active Contrast: On
Lag: 2 frames
It's really weird, here. The lag has decreased to 2 frames when Active Contrast is turned on.

AV Mode: Game

Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: On
Lag: 2 frames
The lag is still at 2 frames compared to 4 frames when both Fine Motion and Active Contrast are turned off. I've retaken the picture several times and always end up with 2 frames of lag, so this is the correct number.

1080p
Connected with an HDMI cable, output at 1680x1050

Between the previous STANDARD and GAME AV mode tests, it looks as though having both Fine Motion Enhanced and Active Contrast turned on will actually decrease the lag, so I've decided to just keep them on for my 1080p tests. The worst case scenario is that they don't affect the lag at all, and the picture looks better when they're on, anyways.

AV Mode: PC
Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: On
Lag: 8 frames
PC Mode consistently shows 8 frames of lag. It's a bit surprising since PC mode reduces lag the best on many sets.

AV Mode: Game

Fine Motion Enhanced: On
Active Contrast: On
Lag: less than 1 frame
Wow. This is measured with the view mode set to Dot By Dot, which displays the same amount of pixels on screen as is in the input signal, so this is at my laptop's native 1680x1050 and not stretched. The TV shows that this is a "1080p" signal. As you can see, the elapsed frames are identical, with the laptop just slightly ahead of the TV, but overall there is less than one frame of lag. Additionally, the elapsed time shows what looks to be maybe a 4 ms, which is actually the response time of this TV.


Conclusion

I've searched for a long, long time trying to find an adequate LCD for gaming, and I've finally found and bought one I'm happy with. It's not perfect, but no digital TV is. At the very least, it's among the best on the market for games. The AQUOS E77U series is part of Sharp's 2009 LCD TV lineup, so it comes with a 10-bit panel and 120 Hz with film mode. It obviously can't compete picture-wise with some of the Samsung LED TVs coming out on the market, right now, but I'm satisfied with the picture and the very minimal input lag on this TV blows any Samsung set out of the water (Samsung's beauty comes at a laggy price). Additionally, I've had only bad experiences with Samsung's quality (dies after less than 2 years), and I haven't had any problems with Sharp, yet, so I'm hoping they'll deliver a higher quality product.

The E77U series comes in 65", 52", 46", and 40" sizes. If you're looking for a smaller size, the E67U series comes in 40" and 32" sizes without the 120 Hz. I haven't personally tested an E67U, but it comes with Sharp's "Vyper Drive" game mode (E77U does not) which is specifically supposed to decreate gaming lag, so I imagine that these sets should perform similarly, if not better, than the E77U series.

Between the price (E77U / E67U) and its gaming performance, in my opinion, the Sharp AQUOS E77U is THE LCD TV for gaming.


Hope you found my review useful, and in the future, please use mine or a similar app (RAR / ZIP) for actually testing HDTVs so that others can see actual numbers instead of having to rely on subjective opinions.

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