Gaming monitors are great, but the beautiful 4K TV in the living room is hard to beat. With a good console and Steam Big Picture mode, you can enjoy a great gaming experience on PC right on your TV.
But most TVs today are 4K, and that presents some challenges – especially if you don’t have the money to shell out for a 4K-capable gaming machine. TVs released in 2021 will see more gaming-focused HDMI 2.1 features than ever before, such as a variable refresh rate and automatic low latency mode. But even without one of these combinations, you can get your games looking (and performing) great with just a few simple tweaks.
Plug it into the correct ports
Before you do anything else, make sure your computer is connected to the correct HDMI port. Some TVs only support 4K at 60Hz on certain inputs, and even if your PC doesn’t support 4K gaming at 60fps, you’ll still need as much bandwidth as you can get. So check your TV manual or the input labels on the back, and connect your computer to a port that supports 4K resolution at 60Hz, ideally through HDMI 2.0 or (if available) 2.1.
If you have a problem, you may want to try a different cable as well – preferably one marked Premium High Speed or 18Gbps for HDMI 2.0, and Ultra Premium High Speed or 48Gbps for HDMI 2.1, as well. This is described in our cable guide.
Turn on gaming mode
I recommend setting your TV to gaming mode. This can seriously reduce input lag, so your controls feel smooth and responsive instead of sliding around in molasses. You may have to dig around in your TV’s settings to find it, since it’s different for each TV (and some cheaper sets might not even have the option), but Game Mode is generally well worth the effort.
If you have a new TV, you may have the option to switch to Game Mode automatically, but if you don’t have another TV, there are several ways you can emulate this feature. For example, if you have your computer and consoles connected to a receiver with dual outputs, you can connect those two outputs to your TV—with one TV input set to Game Mode and the other to Classic Movie mode.
If you have a universal remote like one of the Harmony series from Logitech, you may be able to program a series of button presses that turn Game Mode on and off when the activity is called up for your gaming devices. Imitating the automatic game mode will vary from one setting to another, but it’s worth it if you don’t want to run it manually every time.
Adjust the TV input settings
Each input on your TV has a few settings of its own, and you may need to tweak some of them to get the optimal output. For example, if you name the input as “PC” instead of “Game Console” you might get better image quality (although how this is done varies from batch to batch, so try it and turn it off to see what you prefer ).
You may also want to turn on HDR mode for this input (which might be called HDMI UHD Color, HDMI Deep Color, or something similar), even if you don’t plan to play any HDR games. For more information about HDR gaming on PC, check out our guide to using HDR in Windows 10.
If you find that the taskbar is clipped along the bottom of the screen, you will also need to turn off any settings for overscanning on your TV. You may have to do a bit of Googling for your TV model to find out the best settings for your computer, but the results are well worth it. The culprit may also be the aspect ratio and image size; Set the TV to Just Scan, 1:1, or As Is.
Use resolution scaling, if available
Here’s where things are interesting. Not everyone has a PC powerful enough to play 4K games, but if your TV is 4K, you don’t want to just set your PC’s resolution to 1080p, because some things will look murky. Instead, you’ll need to output your PC to 4K resolution at all times, and then we can use a few tricks to scale your games from lower resolutions – similar to what the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro do. You’ll get a better overall picture from just running your computer at 1080p, but with similar performance.
First, right-click on the Windows desktop and choose Display settings. Scroll down to Display Resolution and set it to 3840 x 2160 (it should say “recommended” in parentheses next to it). This will ensure that your computer is outputting a 4K signal.
Launch a game and enter the video or its display settings. Ideally, it will have a setting called resolution scaling (sometimes called display scaling or something similar). This setting is usually a percentage value, and will display game graphics at a lower resolution while keeping other parts of the user interface in 4K Ultra HD.
For example, you can set your game resolution to 3840 x 2160, then change the resolution scale to 70%, which will give you the performance of running the game at 2688 x 1512 with clearer minimaps and HUD elements.
Some games may have more options to fill this gap, like Watch Dogs 2’s temporary filter or Doom Eternal Adaptive Resolution, which can adjust the resolution on the fly to keep you within a certain frame. Try these options, when you find them, to see what you like best. Just make sure your Windows and game are set to 3840 x 2160 before you start tweaking other things.
Create custom decisions
Unfortunately, not all games have the scaling features mentioned above. For games that don’t, you can refer to a slightly more complicated trick.
By default, your TV will likely recognize a few 16:9 resolutions: 1920 x 1080 (aka 1080p), 2560 x 1440 (aka 1440p), and 3840 x 2160 (4K). By creating a few custom resolutions between these criteria, you can make your graphics look nicer without affecting your performance.
I recommend choosing a few resolutions from this list. If your graphics card can handle games at 1080p but struggles at 1440p, for example, you might choose to add 2176 x 1224 or 2432 x 1368. If your computer can handle 1440p but 4K is more Of course, 2,944 x 1,656 and 3,200 x 1,800 are popular options that look almost as good as 4K without much performance.
What card you have will change how you set custom resolutions:
Nvidia: If you are using an Nvidia card, right-click on the Nvidia icon in your system tray and click on the Nvidia Control Panel option. Under Adjust desktop size and position, change the Perform Scaling On dropdown to GPU, set Scaling Mode to Aspect Ratio, and check the Override The Scaling Mode box.
Recommended by our editors
Next, head over to the Change Resolution window from the sidebar, and click on the Personalization box. Check the Enable Resolutions Not Exposed by Display box, and click Create Custom Resolution to add a new resolution to your graphics card.
AMD: If you are using an AMD card, right-click on the AMD icon in your system tray and click on the Open Radeon Software option. Click on the Display tab, and under your TV, turn on GPU Scaling. Then, next to Custom Resolutions on the right side of the window, click Create. Enter the resolution you want in the top boxes and click Save to save the new resolution.
Custom Decision Utility
If the above options don’t work for you – they worked on some of my test devices and not others – you’ll need to use a third-party tool called Custom Resolution Utility (CRU). Enable GPU scaling as described above, then download and run the CRU.
Choose your TV from the dropdown menu at the top, then under the Detailed resolution box, click Add to add custom resolutions. (If you’re having trouble, you can read more about how to use a CRU in its forum thread at monitortests.com.) When you’re done adding solutions, restart your computer.
You may have to fiddle with timings and other advanced options in these tools for your custom decisions to work. For example, I needed to change my timing standard to CVT – Reduced Discharge in AMD settings or Auto – LCD standard in CRU.
If you run into any problems and can’t get your TV to display the desktop, restart in safe mode, clear the custom resolution you created, and try again. Your mileage with this method may vary depending on your TV and PC.
I’ve found that my desktop works great with my LG TV using both Nvidia and AMD video cards, but my Nvidia-equipped laptop won’t work with the same custom resolution settings on the same TV. Life is a mystery.
Troubleshooting and testing
Once your custom resolution is set up and running, start a game and head into its video settings – you should find your new custom resolution appear in the list. Try a few of them and see which one gives you the best balance between performance and graphic fidelity in that game, and you’ll be out of the races.
Again, this is all going to take some experimentation, and what works for my TV may not work for your TV, since they all have different features and upgrades. Try different things and see what works best for you. Hopefully, you’ll end up with an image that looks better than 1080p, even if you can’t get to the true 4K resolution.
Like what you read?
sign for Tips and Tricks Newsletter for expert advice to get the most out of your technology.