It doesn’t matter if you’re a hardcore or casual gamer, your hardware is an important factor in determining whether or not you win. To fully utilize the latest first-person shooter, racing, sport and other fast-paced games, you will not only need a gaming PC with a powerful graphics card, but you also need a proper gaming monitor that can display the action without presenting you any blurred images, screen tearing, flicker and other disturbances in gameplay. Choosing a new gaming monitor can be intimidating for many users, as there are many options and specifications to take in consideration. In this guide, we attempt to simplify this process by introducing the most important features, so that you can have a display that gives you an advantage over most of your opponents while also delivering an outstanding gaming experience.
Be sure to check out our gaming monitor buyer’s guide for additional help.
Panel Size and Resolution
When you’re looking at panel size, then bigger is almost always better. Get whatever fits your room and budget. If you have room for a 27-inch screen, then get one, as it provides plenty of space to work with and a lot of 27-inch monitors have Wide, Quad High-Definition (WQHD) resolution. To get the most out of this resolution, you will need a powerful enough graphics card to output a reasonable FPS in your game. You can downscale your resolution in games, if FPS becomes an issue, so don’t worry about that you can’t play your games at all, unless you have a relatively good GPU. The higher resolution outside games allows you to browse and work better on your computer, as you will have more pixels to play with. Just don’t get a 1080p 27-inch monitor, as it will look stupid with such a low pixel density. If your desk has only space enough for a 24-inch monitor, then there’s also plenty of 24-inch monitors out there. Just make sure that you don’t get a monitor below 23 inches, as they’re not suitable for gaming. At these screen sizes, you’ll most likely be limited to 1920x1080p (Full HD) resolution.
If, on the other hand, you have lots of space and money is not an issue, then a 30-inch, 4K (UDH) gaming monitor will give you amazing picture quality, or you can just go all-in and get a 34-inch Ultra-Wide monitor, either curved or flat. The term “Ultra-Wide” means that the monitor has an aspect ratio of 21:9 instead of the traditional 16:9. This extra width allows you to have a wider field of view in games. They do take a lot of room, so make sure that you have enough space for it before you invest on such a monitor. The curvy panels that most Ultra-Wide monitors makes it feel like you’re closer to the action, and to be honest, it’s pretty cool!
- Don’t get a monitor below 23-inches
- Bigger panels are better, up to 34-inches
- Higher resolution, doesn’t necessarily mean you need a powerful GPU to play games. You can just downscale the resolution in games and use the higher resolution for other tasks
There are several types of panels that gaming monitors can have, and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Twisted Nematic, or TN for short, panels are the most affordable and are popular among gamers, because of the fast response time and refresh rate that this panel type offers. The downsides are that TN panels have poor color representation and bad viewing angles. To avoid having the colors looking washed out, you need to look straight in to the monitor.
Vertical Alignment, called VA for short, panels offer a high contrast ratio, good color representation and the ability to display deep levels of blacks. They also known for producing noticeable ghosting effects, which is bad for your gaming performance.
IPS, or In-Plane Switching, panels are the third type of panels that will be discussed here. They produce the best color accuracy and have the best viewing angles of all three. They also have strong gray-scale performance. The downside is that these types of panels can not match the pixel response time of TN panels and are thus subject to motion blur.
- Overall: IPS > VA > TN
- TN: Very competitive FPS games, where every millisecond matters.
- IPS: Not so competitive FPS games and all other games
Pixel Response Time and Refresh Rate
A gaming monitor should have a fast pixel response time and a high refresh rate. When you’re reading specs of monitors, you’ll notice the response time is labelled as “GtG”, which means Gray-To-Gray. This spec is measured in milliseconds and specifies the amount of time it takes to transition from one shade of gray to another. Different monitor manufacturers use different methods to calculate this GtG-time, so the results may be biased in some way. A low pixel response time eliminates motion blur effects and produces an overall smother gameplay than higher pixel response times. A gray-to-gray response time of 4ms and below is fine for gaming. You should aim for 1ms though, if possible.
A panel also has a refresh rate. This specifies the amount of times the screen is refreshed to display a new image. It is measured in Hertz (Hz). Currently, most LCD monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz, but fast moving images may appear blurry, and the gameplay just doesn’t feel smooth. Also, screen tearing may appear, which is when the monitor displays multiple pieces of different screen draws at the same time. You should get a monitor with a 144Hz refresh rate, as this eliminates much of these issues. A 120Hz or higher refresh rate is also required if you want to use active 3D technology.
In the last couple of years, Nvidia and AMD have developed their solution to the screen tearing problem that occurs when the refresh rate of the monitor is not synchronized with the output of the GPU. They’re called G-Sync and FreeSync, respectively. Monitors that support either one or both of these technologies can have their refresh rate synchronized to the GPU, and thus making it variable/dynamic. This results in a very smooth gaming experience with a lower overall input lag. Both G-Sync and FreeSync have their own requirements that you have to fulfill in order to use it. You can more about these requirements at the pages linked above.
- Lower pixel response time is better. Aim for 4ms (GtG) response time and below. Preferably 1ms, if you can find one.
- Refresh rate should be 144Hz, not 60Hz.
- G-Sync/FreeSync technologies eliminate screen tearing and stuttering.
Video Inputs and Other Features
Your gaming monitor should be equipped with the necessary input options, else it’s pointless as you can not use it otherwise. It can, for instance, have two HDMI ports, which allows you to hook the monitor to two different units at the same time. Just be sure to connect your monitor to your device with a DVI-D or DisplayPort connector if you’re getting a 144Hz monitor, as HDMI and standard DVI can not handle such a high refresh rate. Other features, such as USB-ports and speakers are not things you should usually worry about, unless you really need them, of course. Also take the stand into consideration, as a monitor with an adjustable height, tilt and swivel gives you a much better comfort for the late night marathons.
- DisplayPort > DVI-D > HDMI > VGA (who even uses VGA anymore?)
All the specs mentioned above determine the end price of the product. You can get a 24-inch TN gaming monitor that offers fast pixel response time (GtG) for less than 170$. If you want features, such as an adjustable stand or G-Sync/FreeSync, then you can expect to pay some more for the monitor. A 27-inch model with all the best features, including 144Hz refresh rate and either G-Sync or FreeSync model, can cost up to 1440$ even.
Spend accordingly to your needs and don’t buy a fancy monitor with lots of cool features if you’re not going to use them. That would just be a waste, and you would be better of with a cheaper model or a whole different manufacturer.
Our gaming monitor buyer’s guide is already sorted after price and has helped thousands of users choose the right monitor.