With the April 2018 software update, the Xbox One X added support for Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). More commonly called Game Mode, this is an HDMI 2.1 feature that lets a game console tell a TV when it is playing a game, and has the TV automatically enable game mode. Using game mode typically results in lower input lag and a better gaming experience than playing without it, but has drawbacks when watching non-gaming content. One of the first TVs to support ALLM is the Samsung NU8000 I have been reviewing, so I updated my Xbox One X and hooked it up to see how this feature works.
First, the Samsung NU8000 manages to automatically detect that an Xbox One X is connected and gives you the option to add direct access to it in the menu bar. It isn’t called something confusing like HDMI 4, but has a colorful and easy to recognize Xbox One X tile. It also uses HDMI CEC to offer control, so you can navigate the Xbox One X menus using the Samsung TV remote. For people planning to use the Xbox One X as their media streamer and as a 4K Blu-ray player, this is much more convenient than using a gamepad. The integration of the Samsung NU8000 with the Xbox One X is better than the other TVs I’ve tested the Xbox One X with to date.
The first thing to verify with the Xbox One X is that your TV has HDMI 2.0 enabled for the input it is connected to. Most TVs keep their HDMI inputs defaulted to 10.2 Gb/sec speeds instead of 18.0 Gb/sec, just in case a device isn’t compatible. You need to manually enable this to allow for the optimal refresh rates and color sampling rates for 4K HDR content and the best experience. On the Samsung, it’s in the General ? External Device Manager ? HDMI UHD Color, but on other TVs, you might need to consult your manual to see where to enable this and to verify which inputs support it. Many TVs ship where only a few HDMI inputs can do 18.0 Gb/sec while the others are 10.2 Gb/sec.
On the Xbox One X, we now browse the Settings Menu ? Display & Sound ? Video Output ? Video Modes, and finally, you see Allow Auto Low Latency Mode. On the Samsung NU8000 this option is available to check, while it is grayed out on the Sony X900F, TCL 65P617, and Sony A1E TVs I also have on hand. Inside the Samsung menus, there is an Auto setting for Game Mode that becomes set to Auto once you enable it inside of the Xbox One X. Allow Variable Refresh Rate doesn’t work with the Samsung NU8000 currently, but a firmware update later this year should allow for that as well.
So why do you want game mode, and why wouldn’t you leave it enabled all the time? When game mode is enabled, with a 1080p signal the input lag falls from 72.5ms down to 18.1ms. That is over 3 frames of a game when playing at 60 frames per second, which can make a huge difference in the quality of play on certain games. With 4K HDR signals, the input lag falls from 57.5ms down to 18.4ms, which is still over 2 frames of difference. This improved input response makes any action game easier to control and play than when the input lag is higher.
To improve this response, game mode has to disable certain processing features on the TV. You bypass the color management system and typically use a less-robust scaler, so you have less accurate colors and more artifacts with some content. For gaming this is fine, but for watching movies or TV you would want to leave game mode. By making this automatic, you can play games and watch movies in their optimal picture modes without ever having to worry about forgetting to change it yourself.
In practice, the Xbox One X switches flawlessly. When I’m navigating the menus, or watching content with Hulu or Netflix, the Samsung NU8000 remains in Movie mode. As soon as I start up Forza to do some racing, the TV switches into game mode and I can play in HDR but with improved input lag for a better gaming experience. Once I quit Forza, the TV switches back to Movie without me needing to do anything at all. I don’t have a PS4 here to test with, but supposedly it has the same behavior.
For the gamer who is after the best performance for gaming and watching other content, a TV with Auto Low Latency Mode support is ideal. I know I almost never use game mode on my other TVs because switching when playing games and then switching back is something I forget to do, or is too much of a pain.