HTPC Update #2: Of Mice and Mousepads
So here comes wired-vs-wireless, don't call them mousepads, and some fine controllin' after the jump.
Why precision matters
I can't claim to have been a professional gamer. Even at my best I was never in that league. But at various times in my life I could have been considered reasonably "hardcore." Enough so that I'm highly sensitive to changes in precision and lag when it comes to controlling an on-screen avatar.
If you're not a gamer, or are new to gaming, let me explain the evil concept known as "lag." Once a very specific term to refer to timing over a network, lag is now a catchall word used to describe the time it takes for a user to make an input (a mouse click, for example) and the game to register that mouse input. There are many causes. It's measured in milliseconds. Milliseconds are life.
The fact is, a 20-something gamer playing 8 hours a day is going to have better reflexes than you (or I, admitted begrudgingly). But even if you take hand-eye coordination and lightning fast responses out of the equation, the computer equipment is going to have a huge effect on your abilities. You might not even know how much an effect they have, until you minimize the bad effects.
Which is a roundabout way of saying: most wireless mice suck.
Wireless mice, for the most part, add an additional layer of lag. You wouldn't think they would, given the light speed transmission of wireless data, yet they do. To someone accustomed to precision control in first person shooters, playing with the wireless mouse I bought to get this HTPC running was like playing drunk. Everything was sloppy. The delay between my input and the corresponding result on-screen was just enough to strip away what little confidence I still held in my gaming abilities. Worse, it just wasn't fun. Getting owned by a bunch of petulant college kids is one thing, but knowing that it wasn't entirely my lack of practice was misery.
I identified two potential culprits for the shoddy performance: the surface and my wireless mouse.