The Gaming Monitor Guide

Today, getting a gaming monitor is harder than ever. There are hundreds of models and dozens of different manufacturers, not to talk about different resolutions, refresh rates, and support for many different technologies.

While it may seem difficult, getting a good gaming monitor is a relatively easy task, all you have to do is follow a set of advice meant to slowly narrow the range of potential choices until you are left with just a few models. From then on, it’s all about personal preference.

Do you want a normal-sized, 24-inch screen or something larger? Is Full HD enough, or do you want 2K, or maybe even 4K? Do you prefer a G-Sync, Freesync, or do not want to have adaptive sync technology. Do you own a console, or just want to use the monitor with a PC? And do you like highly saturated colors or want more natural looking color spectrum?

But, before these questions arise, you have to understand some differences and to get to know the most important facts when it comes to PC monitors. In this guide, we will try to give you all necessary info needed for picking the right monitor for your personal preference and hope that, by reaching the end of the guide, you will know what you are looking for out of a gaming monitor.

Dead pixels can ruin even the best gaming monitor, be careful

Of course, when it comes to picking a monitor, live experience is irreplaceable meaning that it is best to check out image quality in a brick-and-mortar shop before deciding to buy a particular model. Of course, if a model is generally praised by both reviewers and users, you should get it, but there’s one thing that can be problematic, and that’s dead pixels.

Some companies have zero dead pixel policy meaning that if you find even one dead pixel (it is shown as a bright white pixel that doesn’t change its color nor its high contrast, and there are web apps designed to make searching for dead pixels easier, like this one, which is free to use) the company will replace the monitor free of charge. But, some manufacturers have three zero pixel policy, meaning that they won’t replace the monitor unless it has at least three dead pixels. Since even one dead pixel can be a deal breaker for many, you should check out the manufacturer’s (and seller’s) policy concerning dead pixels. If they offer a free replacement for one dead pixel, then is completely fine to buy the model online. But, if they offer two, three, or more zero pixel policy, then it is best to go to a store yourself and check out the monitor you want to buy (just ask a salesperson to unpack it and plug it in so you can test it) before purchase.

Okay, now that we cleared one of the most important things most users aren’t aware of, let’s talk about tech! Firstly, let’s explain three main display technologies used today, along with one that is relatively new but would probably be more prominent in years to come.

Response Times

Response time is the amount of time an individual pixel can show change from one shade of gray to another, or how quick a single pixel can show a change from black to white. Manufacturers usually talk about the time a pixel needs for switching from one shade of gray to another (GtG response time) when listing response time for monitors. Just know that it’s kind of game that manufactures play and these days I’m not sure it means a whole lot.

TN Panels will often list 1 ms refresh times, and some IPS monitors are typically more like 4 ms or higher. I’m very sure you can not perceive the difference in refresh time unless it gets over several ms.

Panel types: TN vs. IPS vs. VA and QLED

TN panels

The most frequent type of monitor panel available today is TN (short for Twisted Nematic). TN panels are cheap to produce and, while they had very poor viewing angles before, now they are an excellent choice for those who want a fast response time (more about that later) along with solid color reproduction.

The only thing that you should be aware if going for a TN panel monitor are viewing angles, but the problem is noticeable only on cheap models while most gaming ones feature more than solid viewing angles.

Now, you should be aware that even the most expensive TN panel monitors feature narrower viewing angles compared to IPS and VA panels, so if you like to watch lots of movies and always have friends over who like to watch you play games, think before picking a TN panel monitor. But in the end, most quality TN panel monitors will show very slight image distortion when viewed from an angle (mostly hardly noticeable yellow tint or slightly altered color reproduction), meaning that TN monitors are more than enough for most gamers.

Now, they offer solid color reproduction, but if you are working with image processing tools like Photoshop, then we strongly recommend getting a monitor with IPS panes because it features the best color reproduction out of four panel types presented here.

IPS panels

IPS (short for In-Plane Switching) panels offer the best (and by that we mean closest to natural) color reproduction along with impressive viewing angles. These monitors are more expensive than TN panels.

When IPS panel technology was still in development, IPS monitors suffered from noticeably lower response times when compared to TN panels. When watching fast-paced content, like FPS video games or action movies, users could notice a phenomenon known as ghosting. In other words, users would see lagging artifacts behind objects in motion, like a shadow, when a fast-paced video or a fast-paced game is running on a monitor. The problem was a major one in times past, and back then IPS monitors were meant for professionals who work in Photoshop and other image processing programs since they are usually dealing with still images.

But these days the technology is advanced enough, and ghosting is a thing of the past (unless you buy a really old IPS monitor, but chances for that are minimal). Nowadays, most IPS monitors feature a response time between 4-10ms, and that’s more than enough for comfortable gaming. And while 10ms might be a bit too slow for fast-paced shooters like Titanfall 2, CoD, or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, it should be noted that most people are fine with the said response time and that for most gamers the experience of playing games on an IPS monitor is better than on TN panel monitors.

On the other hand IPS, panels are miles ahead of TN and VA panels when it comes to color reproduction. They offer the best color reproduction out of them all and are the best choice for those who don’t just want to game but also to watch movies and use their PC for image editing work. Also, IPS panels offer best viewing angles when compared to other panels and are undefeated when it comes to watching images from an angled point.

VA panels

VA (short for vertical alignment) is the third type of monitor panels described today. VA panels offer a sort of middle ground when it comes to overall quality, but are at the same time least used out of the three.

VA panels offer better viewing angles than TN, but not as wide as IPS panels. They have higher contrast ratios than TN panels meaning they can offer brighter viewing experience than TN panels. Regarding color reproduction, VA panels are pretty good, better than TN but not as good as IPS (really, when it comes to color reproduction IPS is the king of the hill by far).

Also, since VA panels aren’t as frequent as TN panels and IPS panels in modern gaming monitors chances are you will probably choose between TN and IPS. But, if a gaming monitor with VA panel managed to catch your attention, there’s nothing wrong with picking it up.

QLED panels

Finally, we will mention one type of panel that debuted this year on PC monitor market, and that could become more prevalent in the upcoming years, at least when it comes to Samsung PC monitors. Why Samsung? Because the tech is patented by the Korean electronics giant.

QLED stands for “Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode” with Samsung expelling D because it sounds better. The panel is made out of tiny particles ranging from about 2nm (nanometers) to about 6nm, and the size of the particle governs the color a particle emits once a light or electricity is applied to them. Bigger particles emit colors from the red spectrum, smaller ones from green, while LED backlight handles blues.

Generally speaking, QLED panels offer richly saturated colors with amazing contrast ratios, but at the same time they can be found on just a couple of models, so we are just mentioning them in this guide.

After you decide which panel type to choose, it is time to decide on the resolution, size and refresh rate.

Resolution, size, and refresh rate

A visual guide to different resolutions
A visual guide to different resolutions

When talking about resolution, there are three main values – Full HD or 1080p (1920×1080 pixels), 2K or 1440p (2560×1440 pixels) and 4K or 2160p (3840×2160 pixels). There are some variations, especially with ultra-wide monitors (offering a screen ration wider than usual 16:9 found on most gaming monitors), but these three are the most common.

Next, we have the refresh rate, which stands for a number of times per one second a monitor draws another image to show a moving picture, like a movie or a video game. The refresh rate is measured in Hertz. FPS or frames per second also means how fast a moving image is refreshed, but it is slightly different in video games since it basically means how fast a graphics card can render video game images and deliver them to monitor.

Most monitors support a refresh rate of 60Hz meaning they can refresh a moving image up to 60 times per second. But, games can be rendered in more than 60 frames per second, and this is where faster refresh rate can be of help. Some argue that human eye cannot notice refresh rates (or frames per second when talking about video games) higher than 60 frames per second, but most us can notice the difference, especially when playing fast-paced shooters, racing games, or fighting games.

This is where monitors with higher refresh rates can be of help, offering a smoother experience when playing video games. The main value for higher refresh rate monitors is 144Hz, and while there are faster ones, they are usually pretty expensive. But, combine high refresh rate with resolutions beyond 1080p (or with some games even 1080p), and you end up not getting a faster and smoother experience if buying a monitor with high refresh rate.

In order to use high, 144Hz refresh rate, you have to own a graphics card capable of rendering games faster than 60 fps. For a 1080p 60Hz monitor a GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 570 is recommended in order to the best experience. If you want to play games at 1080p on a 144Hz monitor, you better have a GTX 1070 or Radeon RX 580. 1440p at 60Hz should be achievable with GTX 1070 or Radeon RX 580, while 1440p at 144Hz can be experienced with GTX 1070 (some lesser demanding games like Counter Strike Global Offensive) or a GTX 1080 (most games) or with a Radeon Vega 56.

For the ultimate experience at 4K and 60Hz you need at least GTX 1080 or Radeon Vega 64, and if you are planning on getting a 4K 144Hz monitor, you are probably a hardcore gamer who already has a beastly rig and knows what it takes to run games at frames higher than 60 per second (we are talking about SLI and Crossfire here).

For most gamers, a 60Hz monitor is more than enough. If you are first-person shooter junkie and play lots of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Counter-Strike, or just like to play racing games on your PC, you could have a much better experience with a 144Hz monitor.

On the other side, if you play mostly RPG, (action) adventures, sports, and games like GTA, then a 60Hz monitor is more than enough.

It is worth noting input lag, that can ruin your game experience. While some 4K TVs have noticeable input lag (the time needed for the display to show an action after it receives the input), most gaming monitors don’t suffer from it, but be careful and after you pick a potential candidate for purchase do look if any users reported input lag problems with the model you want to buy.

Finally, size. Most gaming monitors are found in 24-inch and 27-inch sizes, and that’s more than enough. But when it comes to size it is all about personal preference and available space on your computer desk. There are huge 30-inch plus curved monitors, but they usually feature a screen ration wider than 16:9 (usually 21:9 with a resolution like 2560×1080 and 3440×1440) and they demand lots of desk space.

And while talking about curved monitors, the same goes as with size. It is all about personal preference, and budget since they are usually more expensive than regular monitors. If you like the idea of being surrounded by a huge monitor that’s completely fine, but you should know that most curved monitors ask for powerful graphics cards since they offer resolutions higher than 1080p.

Video connectors, G-Sync and Freesync

Different video connectors
Different video connectors

When it comes to video connectors, there are three main standards; HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI. Most modern gaming monitors feature HDMI and DisplayPort connectors as well as most modern graphics cards.

You should buy a monitor that has the same connector as your graphics card; you just have to be careful in case of some cheap 4K monitors. They come with an old HDMI standard (1.4 while new ones use 2.0) capable of showing a 4K video at just 30 frames per second.

If you own a console and want to play it on your monitor, look for a monitor that has two HDMI ports, or if your card has a DisplayPort interface, a monitor with both HDMI and DisplayPort in order to have both your PC and console hooked to it at the same time.

A screen tear example
A screen tear example

There’s also something called adaptive sync. You probably heard about the V-sync option in games that prevents tearing by setting up in-game FPS either to be equal to your monitor’s refresh rate (usually 60Hz, or 60 frames per second) or to a half or the refresh rate (usually 30 Hz). If V-sync isn’t on it can lead to screen tearing when the image sent to a monitor doesn’t have the same FPS as is monitor’s refresh rate (it can be lower or higher).

Adaptive sync gives a graphics card control over monitor refresh rate so it can sync video card FPS with monitor refresh rate no matter how big or low in-game FPS is. There are two types of adaptive sync. One is called G-Sync, and is owned by Nvidia and the other is called Freesync and is used by AMD.

The problem is that there isn’t a monitor supporting both standards. You have to pick one or another, depending on your graphics card, or you can choose a monitor without it, which is fine also since these two are considered as luxury. While Freesync works both via HDMI and DisplayPort, G-Sync works just via DisplayPort.

But you should know that AMD card can work on a monitor with G-Sync and another way around; the card will just be unable to use the adaptive sync feature. This is because Nvidia owns G-Sync standard (while Freesync is an open standard) and the company doesn’t want to allow for AMD cards to use their technology and at the same time Nvidia isn’t supporting Freesync.

Also, G-Sync tech costs about $150 to implement in a single monitor, so G-Sync monitors are usually quite expensive, while Freesync monitors tend to be more affordable.

A couple of final pieces of advice

By now you probably know what you are looking for, but let us give you a couple of final pieces of advice. First, there are monitors supporting the universal VESA mounts, and if you want for your monitor to be attached to a monitor arm or some other VESA-supporting stand, look for the VESA support in monitor specifications.

Next, since monitor will stay with you for a long time, do not save money when deciding to buy a new one. Pick just the one you want, that has all that you need and that gives you the best quality of your money.

Consider buying a colorimeter and calibrating your monitor for the best colors possible, we’ve done a full guide on how to do it.

Finally, as we already mentioned, check out the monitor you are interested in in a brick-and-mortar shop if possible, to see is the image quality good enough for your needs.

Recommendations

It seems most of the best gaming monitors out there today are GSync, sorry Freesync fans!

The Acer Predator
The Acer Predator

There is one line of monitors out there right now that really reaches a very wide audience of gamers and general users, the Acer Predator line. Coming in both TN and IPS ranging from 23.8” - 32”, and 1080p to 4K, most users should be able to find something they love. The monitors are both really good, and reasonably priced.

See the following chart for a full breakdown.

ModelTypeSizeResolutionRatioRefreshHDMIDisplay PortResponseGsyncFreesync
Acer Predator XB241HTN24”1920 x 108016:9144 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB252QTN24.5”1920 x 108016:9144 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB272TN27”1920 x 108016:9240 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB241YUTN23.8”2560 x 144016:9144 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB271HUTN27”2560 x 144016:9144 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB271HUIPS27”2560 x 144016:9144 HzYesYes4 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB271HKTN27”3840 x 216016:9144 HzYesYes1 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB271HKIPS27”3840 x 216016:960 HzYesYes4 msYesNo
Acer Predator XB321HKIPS32”3840 x 216016:960 HzYesYes4 msYesNo

For Freesync users there are still a couple of decent monitors out there but your options are much more limited overall. We recommend one of the following:

ModelTypeSizeResolutionRatioRefreshHDMIDisplay PortResponseGsyncFreesync
Acer XF240HTN24”1920 x 108016:9144 HzYesYes1 msNoYes
Acer XG270HUTN27”2560 x 144016:9144 HzYesYes1 msNoYes
ASUS MG279QIPS27”2560 x 144016:9144 HzYesYes4 msNoYes

Okay, that was all. We hope this guide helped you in learning all about gaming monitors and that, armed with the knowledge; you will be able to find a perfect gaming monitor even if it’s not one on our list.

A psychologist turned freelance writer and reviewer, Goran is a hardcore gamer with more than twenty years of experience, and interested in all kinds of technology. He also likes Sci Fi novels and basketball.
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