There’s something incredibly satisfying about a modern game running at high resolution with sharp, crisp graphics. But if the scene turns into a smearing mess every time you move your character, you’re experiencing a phenomenon aptly named motion blur.
Motion blur comes from a number of different sources, and if you’re lucky, your monitor may have a few options for reducing it. While a software tweak or two may be able to help you mitigate motion blur, many options are dependent upon your display—the better your monitor, the more blur-reducing options you’ll have. Gaming monitors will generally have more of these tweaks than office-oriented displays, but it never hurts to check.
If you aren’t sure how to get into your monitor’s on-screen display (OSD), check its manual. You can usually press a button on the side or bottom of the monitor to navigate the onboard settings. Here are a few options you might find.
Turn Up the Refresh Rate
An LCD monitor’s refresh rate determines how many times the display refreshes the picture on screen. Most standard computer monitors refresh at 60Hz, or 60 times per second. Many monitors, though—particularly gaming-focused ones—can run at 90Hz, 144Hz, or even higher.
Here’s why this matters: on a sample-and-hold display like an LCD, moving objects on the screen aren’t actually moving the way your eye expects them to. They stay in one place for 1/60th of a second, then appear in another spot for another 1/60th of a second, and so on. As your eye tracks the object across the screen, expecting smooth motion, your brain injects some blur to the motion. (Blur Busters has a great explainer of this oddity, if you want to dive deeper.)
If you can increase the number of frames shown each second, you can alleviate this blur (though it probably won’t eliminate it completely). With a higher refresh rate, each image stays on the screen for a shorter amount of time before shifting to its next position. To do this, though, you need a monitor with a higher refresh rate, and you actually need to turn that refresh rate on in Windows.
This may seem obvious, but every week I hear about another gamer who bought a 144Hz monitor and didn’t notice a difference because they forgot to actually enable that refresh rate in Windows. So if you have a high refresh gaming display, head to Settings > System > Display, scroll down and click Advanced Display Settings, then choose Display Adapter Properties for [your monitor].
On the Monitor tab, click the Screen Refresh Rate drop-down and crank it as high as it can go. (If your monitor can’t go higher than 60Hz, you may even be able to overclock it a bit—but that’s a whole separate topic.)
Improve Your Game’s Frame Rate
Just because your screen can refresh at 144Hz doesn’t mean you’ll see 144 frames per second; it just means your monitor is capable of showing that many distinct frames. The other half of the equation concerns your PC and its ability to generate frames at that pace. More modern games require a more powerful CPU and GPU to run that smoothly, especially at higher resolutions like 1440p or 4K.
So open your current game of choice and track how many frames per second you’re getting. If you’re only getting 67 frames per second on a 144Hz monitor—or even worse, 30fps on a 60Hz monitor—you’ll likely still experience motion blur, and you should turn down some of your game’s graphics settings so it can crank out more frames.
High settings can still look great, while being much less punishing than Ultra, allowing for that high-frame-rate gameplay that looks clearer. (Just try not to adjust the resolution too low because it can make your game blurry for entirely different reasons.)
Ideally, you want your game’s frame rate as high or higher than your monitor’s refresh rate, for the smoothest motion possible on that display. So aim for 60fps or more on a 60Hz display, 144fps on a 144Hz display, and so on.
Turn Off Your Game’s Motion Blur Setting
While you’re in your game’s settings checking out frame rates, you should also seek out that game’s Motion Blur setting. Many games add this in to compensate for low frame rates, or to make the game more “cinematic.”
However, depending on how it’s implemented, this feature can actually make things look worse. If you don’t like how motion blur looks in your game, try turning it down or off from the settings and see if that looks better.
Certain games may also offer more advanced settings you may want to adjust. Play around with the Depth of Field, Bloom, Film Grain, and Chromatic Aberration settings, which may produce effects that are similarly annoying if you like a clear image.
Turn On Overdrive and Motion Blur Reduction
There’s one other reason motion might be blurry on your monitor: response time. Not to be confused with input lag (the delay between pressing a button and the action appearing on screen), a monitor’s response time, measured in milliseconds, determines how quickly a pixel can shift from one shade to another. If that transition is too slow, moving images will have a trail of smearing, called ghosting. This can happen even if your monitor has a high refresh rate.
Certain types of panels are more susceptible to ghosting and slow response times than others. TN panels tend to have faster response times than their IPS and VA counterparts, though within any category, you’ll find some panels better than others.
Even more confusingly, the response time value you see on a monitor’s spec page may be misleading—so even if a monitor claims 1ms response time, it may exhibit nasty amounts of ghosting. Don’t put too much stock in the numbers on the box, read monitor reviews from experts like ours to see how well a display handles motion.
Often, gaming monitors will come with an Overdrive or Response Time setting to mitigate ghosting. Check your on-screen display to see what’s available. Turning this feature up can reduce the amount of ghosting, but turning it too high can cause the pixel transitions to overshoot the desired shade, causing inverse ghosting artifacts.
I usually find the second-highest setting is a good balance, but it depends on the monitor. If you’re not sure, the Blur Busters ghosting test can help you figure out which setting. Try each setting to see which looks best to you.
Next to that overdrive setting, you may also find a separate motion blur reduction setting. This goes by many names, including LightBoost, Ultra Low Motion Blur (ULMB), Dynamic Accuracy (DyAc), Extreme Low Motion Blur (ELMB), or Motion Pixel Response Time (MPRT), to name a few. These features strobe the backlight in a way that reduces or eliminates motion blur, though some implementations are better than others.
On many monitors, it can cause horrid artifacts and image doubling, so again, try it for yourself to see if you like the way your monitor handles it.
Again, these features tend to be available on gaming-focused monitors—you won’t likely find them on the office-focused display you got for cheap. So when it comes time to upgrade your monitor, be sure to look for features like high refresh rates and motion blur reduction if you care about smooth and clear motion.