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Gaming monitors are great, but it’s hard to beat that beautiful 4K television you have in the living room. With a good controller and Steam Big Picture mode, you can have a great PC gaming experience right on your TV. But most TVs today are 4K, and that presents a few challenges—especially if you don’t have the money to throw down on a 4K-capable gaming rig.
Newer televisions will come with more gaming-centric HDMI 2.1 features than ever, like variable refresh rate and automatic low latency mode. However, even without one of those sets, you can get your games looking (and performing) great with a few simple tweaks.
Plug Into the Right Ports
Before you do anything else, make sure you plug your PC into the right HDMI port. Some TVs only support 4K at 60Hz on certain inputs, and even if your computer can’t support 4K games at 60 frames per second, you’re still going to want as much bandwidth as you can get. So check your TV’s manual or the input labels on the back, and plug your PC into a port that supports 4K resolutions at 60Hz, ideally through HDMI 2.0 or (if available) 2.1.
If you have trouble, you may want to try a different cable as well—preferably one labeled Premium High Speed or 18Gbps for HDMI 2.0, and Ultra Premium High Speed or 48Gbps for HDMI 2.1, as described in our cable guide.
Turn on Game Mode
I recommend setting your TV to Game Mode. This can seriously decrease input lag, so your controls feel fluid and responsive instead of like slogging through molasses. You may have to dig around your TV’s settings to find it, since it’s different for every TV (and some cheaper sets may not even have the option), but Game Mode is generally worth the effort.
If you have an newer TV, it may have an option to switch into Game Mode automatically, but if you don’t, there are a few ways you might be able to imitate this feature. For example, if you have your PC and consoles plugged into a receiver with dual outputs, you can plug both those outputs into your TV—with one of your TV’s inputs set to Game Mode and the other set to the classic movie mode.
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If you have a universal remote, you might be able to program a series of button presses that turns game mode on and off when you invoke the activity for your gaming machines. Imitating auto-game mode will vary from setup to setup, but it’s worthwhile if you don’t want to turn it on manually every time.
Set Your TV’s Input Settings
Every input on your TV has its own special settings, and you may need to tweak a few for optimal output. For example, if you label the input as “PC” instead of “Game Console,” you may get better picture quality (though how this is implemented varies from set to set, so try it on and off to see which you prefer).
You will also probably want to turn on HDR mode for that input (which may be called HDMI UHD Color, HDMI Deep Color, or something similar), even if you don’t plan on playing any HDR games. For more on HDR gaming on PCs, check out our guide to using HDR in Windows.
If you find that the taskbar is getting cut off along the bottom of the screen, you will also want to turn off any overscan settings on your TV. You may have to search around online for your specific TV model to figure out its best PC settings, but the results are worth it. Aspect ratio and picture size might also be the culprit; set the TV to Just Scan, 1:1, or As Is.
Use Resolution Scaling, if Available
Here’s where things get interesting. Not everyone has a PC powerful enough for 4K gaming, but if your TV is 4K, you don’t want to just set your PC’s resolution to 1080p, since certain things will look fuzzy. Instead, you’ll want your PC to output a 4K resolution at all times, after which we can use a few tricks to scale your games up from a lower resolution—similar to supersampling on a gaming monitor. You will get a better overall picture than just running your PC at 1080p, but with similar performance.
First, right-click the Windows desktop and choose Display Settings. Set Display Resolution to 3,840 by 2,160 (it should say “Recommended” in parentheses next to it). This will ensure your PC is outputting a 4K signal. Now, launch a game and enter its display settings. Ideally, it will have a setting called Resolution Scaling (sometimes called Render Scale or something similar).
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This setting is usually a percentage value, and it will render the game’s graphics at a lower resolution while keeping other parts of the UI at a super sharp 4K. For example, you would set your game’s resolution to 3,840 by 2,160, then change resolution scaling to 70%, which will give you the performance of running the game at 2,688 by 1,512 with sharper mini-maps and HUD elements.
Some games might have even more options for bridging this gap, like Watch Dogs 2’s Temporal Filtering or Doom Eternal’s Adaptive Resolution, which can adjust resolution on-the-fly to keep you at a certain framerate. Experiment with these options, when you find them, to see what you like best. Just make sure Windows and the game are set to 3,840 by 2,160 before you go tweaking other stuff.
Create Custom Resolutions
For games that don’t have scaling features, you can fall back on a slightly more complex trick. By default, your TV probably only recognizes a few 16:9 resolutions: 1,920 by 1,080 (aka 1080p), 2,560 by 1,440 (aka 1440p), and 3,840 by 2,160 (4K). By creating a few custom resolutions in between these standards, though, you can make the graphics look nicer without tanking your performance.
I recommend picking a few resolutions from this list(Opens in a new window). If your graphics card can handle 1080p gaming but struggles at 1440p, for example, you might choose to add 2,176 by 1,224 or 2,432 by 1,368. If your computer can handle 1440p but 4K is just too much, 2,944 by 1,656 and 3,200 by 1,800 are popular options that look almost as good as 4K without as big a performance hit.
What card you have will change how you set custom resolutions:
If you’re using an Nvidia card, right-click on the Nvidia icon in your system tray and click the Nvidia Control Panel option. Under Adjust Desktop Size and Position, change the Perform Scaling On drop-down to GPU, set the Scaling Mode to Aspect Ratio, and check the Override The Scaling Mode box. Then, head to the Change Resolution window from the sidebar, and click the Customize box. Check the Enable Resolutions Not Exposed by the Display box, and click Create Custom Resolution to add new resolutions to your graphics card.
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If you’re using an AMD card, right-click on the AMD icon in your system tray and click the Open Radeon Software option. Click the Display tab and, under your TV, turn GPU Scaling on. Then, next to Custom Resolutions on the right side of the window, click Create. Enter your desired resolution in the topmost boxes and save your new resolution.
Custom Resolution Utility
If the above options do not work for you—they worked on some of my test machines but not others—you’ll need to use a third-party tool called Custom Resolution Utility(Opens in a new window) (CRU). Enable GPU scaling as described above, then download and launch CRU.
Choose your TV from the drop-down menu at the top, then under the Detailed Resolutions box, click Add to add your custom resolutions. (If you have trouble, you can read more about how to use CRU on this forum thread at monitortests.com(Opens in a new window).) When you’re finished adding resolutions, reboot your computer.
You may have to fiddle with the timings and other advanced options in these tools to get your custom resolutions to work. For example, I needed to change my Timing Standard to CVT – Reduced Blanking in AMD’s settings or Automatic – LCD Standard in CRU.
If you run into any issues and can’t get your TV to display the desktop, reboot into Safe Mode, clear the custom resolutions you created, and try again. Your mileage may vary with this method depending on your TV and PC. I found that my desktop worked great with my LG TV using both Nvidia and AMD video cards, but an Nvidia-equipped laptop wouldn’t work with the same custom resolution settings on the same TV. Life’s a mystery.
Troubleshoot and Experiment
Once your custom resolutions are set up and working, start a game and head to its video settings—you should find that your new custom resolutions appear in the menu. Try a few of them and see which one gives you the best balance of performance and graphical fidelity in that game, and you’re off to the races.
Again, all of this will take some experimentation, and what works for my TV may not work for yours, since they all have different features and upscalers. Try different things and see what looks best to you. Hopefully you’ll end up with a picture that looks better than 1080p, even if you can’t quite reach true 4K.