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Gaming monitor buying guide

Choosing the right screen for your PC depends on your budget, play style and current setup.

Quick facts about gaming monitors

  • Choosing the right gaming monitor is all about balancing trade-offs. For example, faster monitors tend to have less impressive colors.
  • Gaming monitors can cost between $150 and $5,000, but you can pick up a solid mid-range model for under $1,000.
  • If you’re willing to sacrifice size or resolution, you can get otherwise great monitors for a few hundred dollars.

    What is a gaming monitor?

    Unlike standard PC monitors, gaming monitors place a large emphasis on fast response times and refresh rates — crucial factors that determine how well a game plays. Some even come loaded with visual enhancement measures that sync directly with your PC’s graphics card to display the smoothest possible image. A quality monitor can help generate a high-resolution, high frame rate, stutter-free gaming experience.

    Panel technology: IPS vs. TN vs. VA

    While looking for a gaming monitor, you’ll encounter three different LCD panel technologies: in-plane switching (IPS), twisted nematic (TN) and vertical alignment (VA).

    Each utilizes the liquid crystals inside the display differently, resulting in different visual characteristics. This is where trade-offs come into play and where knowing whether you value performance or picture quality most is helpful.

    As a general rule, the more you spend, the more you can mitigate the weaknesses of each category.

    • TN monitors are the speedy performance option. If you’re competing in e-sports, this is your best bet. They have the fastest refresh rates and response times, resulting in gameplay that is more fluid. But they also have less impressive contrast ratios and limited viewing angles, meaning they appear washed out from anywhere other than directly in front. TN monitors are usually the cheapest.
    • IPS monitors are suited to graphics aficionados. They can present a sharp, colorful image with good contrast ratios, color reproduction and viewing angles, but they have the slowest refresh rates and slower response times than TN. They’re generally the most expensive.
    • VA monitors are considered the jack-of-all-trades option. Viewing angles and color reproduction sit at the midpoint between TN and IPS panels. They typically have the longest response times but have decent refresh rates at the premium end of the line. VA displays also have the best contrast ratio and can show the blackest blacks and whitest whites.

    How to compare gaming monitors

    Beyond the different LCD panel technologies, many other elements can help you choose the right gaming monitor, like your current setup and the types of games you like to play. Here are several factors worth considering when picking out your next screen.

    Graphics cards

    There’s little point in spending a small fortune on an ultra-fast, ultra-wide, high-resolution monitor if your graphics card can’t output at these settings. More pixels, faster frame rates and deeper colors all require more grunt from your GPU.

    Check what your card is capable of and then find a monitor that suits. Or, alternatively, purchase your dream monitor and then upgrade your graphics card to match.

    Screen size

    Larger monitors provide a more immersive, atmospheric gaming experience. But to display a clear, sharp image, they need to render more pixels. This, in turn, requires more grunt from your graphics card.

    Gaming monitors don’t need to be as large as your TV because you sit closer to them. Anything 27 inches or larger will usually feel impressive.

    Curved vs. flat screens

    Flat screens have been popular ever since LCD technology became the norm. But now the latest trend in monitors is concave displays. The idea behind these new curved screens is that they envelope more of your field of vision, creating a heightened sense of immersion. They’re not necessarily better — it’s just a different approach.

    We recommend going into a store and trying one out before purchasing because they’re definitely not for everyone. It’s also worth keeping in mind that curved screens need to be large and have an ultra-wide aspect ratio. Otherwise you’ve just got a normal screen that happens to warp around the edges.

    Resolution and DPI

    There are three common resolution options to choose from: full HD (1080p), QHD (2560×1440) or 4K (3840 × 2160). The density of pixels per inch determines how sharp a picture is.

    Although 4K is the new standard for TVs, it’s slightly less important in PC gaming because monitors tend to be smaller. 4K monitors also require an inordinately powerful PC to utilize them at their maximum resolution. So if you want to save some money, we’d recommend checking out QHD screens. Only consider full HD if you value speed and performance but not graphics.

    G-Sync vs. FreeSync

    Screen tearing occurs when your monitor’s refresh rate doesn’t match the frame rate your PC is outputting. For example, if your monitor is set to 144Hz, but your PC is only running at 60fps, you’ll notice stuttering and ghostly vestiges of old frames.

    G-Sync and FreeSync are competing technologies that solve this problem for you, automatically syncing your monitor with your graphics card. Which one you opt for should depend entirely on which graphics card you own. G-Sync is compatible with Nvidia cards, while FreeSync works with AMD cards. Match them.

    Refresh rate

    Measured in hertz (Hz), the refresh rate is the number of times a monitor can update and display a new image each second. A monitor running at 60Hz is displaying 60 frames per second. Higher refresh rates result in smoother gameplay experiences. But above a certain rate, many people can’t tell the difference.

    240Hz monitors have hit the market, but they’re expensive and you’ll struggle to run games at 240 frames per second on anything but the latest PC. In terms of price/performance balance, 144Hz is the current sweet spot.

    Contrast ratio

    Contrast ratio is the difference between the whitest white and the blackest black. Most gaming monitors tend to hover between 1000:1 and 3000:1. When it comes to contrast ratio, higher is better because colors will be more differentiated. You’ll see more shades rather than large uniform color blocks.

    Response time

    Response time measures how quickly pixels in a monitor can change color. Faster response times result in less ghosting and motion blur, particularly when games move quickly during action sequences. TN panels, the fastest variety, can have response times as low as 1ms. We’d advise trying to get something no slower than 4ms.

    Four things to consider

    It’s easy to get caught up in gaming monitors specs and forget about other aspects that may impact your purchase decision. Don’t forget to consider these additional factors when researching and shopping.

    1. Measure your desk. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of a flashy new widescreen monitor, but it needs to work in the space you have available. And don’t forget to account for the footprint of the display stand.
    2. HDR isn’t quite there yet. Although current-gen consoles and most new TVs support high dynamic range (HDR), many PC monitors that claim to support HDR aren’t bright enough to get the most out of it. What’s more, many new PC games don’t even support HDR. It’ll ultimately become popular, but at this time, HDR might be a good area to consider skimping on to save money.
    3. Some monitors have built-in speakers. They’re rarely amazing, but it’s nice to have the option of playing without your headset or setting up external speakers if you’re only having a quick session.
    4. Consider what you’re playing. A limited budget could force you to choose between performance and picture quality, so consider the types of games you play most. If fast-paced shooters or competitive multiplayer games take up most of your time, opt for speed. If you’re drawn to cinematic narrative-driven games, go for picture quality.

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