To study the characteristics of a gaming monitor, like any other computer components, you just have to look at a huge number of numbers. This makes the buying process very difficult (unless, of course, you are a mega-geek who loves to compare long tables with numbers and abbreviations).
Sure, gamers are, on average, a bit more tech-savvy than average users, but nonetheless, monitors and the technology they use have become extremely sophisticated. Here you will find a quick guide to help you understand the basics and find the right gaming monitor for you.
When buying a monitor for gaming, there are many characteristics to consider:
- Screen size;
- update frequency;
- response time;
- the presence of G‑Sync / FreeSync;
- color spectrum;
- sockets and connectors;
- matrix type.
Screen size and resolution
We have combined resolution and display size in one paragraph, as they are related to each other. The decision on display size depends on the size of your desk and available space, however, in general, a 24″ to 32″ diagonal is recommended for a gaming monitor. In terms of resolution, you have the choice from Full HD to 4K. The higher the resolution, the sharper and more detailed the image shows the monitor.
The screen size will most likely determine the choice of resolution. If you’re looking for something more compact, a 24-inch Full HD display is fine. The sweet spot for most users will be a 27-inch monitor with a resolution of 2560 x 1440 (also referred to as 1440p or QHD). A high-end option would be a 32-inch display with 4K resolution. Of course, there are other options, such as 27″ 4K or 32″ QHD screens, as well as devices of other sizes and resolutions, but we want to keep this guide as simple as possible, so we won’t go into all the details.
Acer 27″ Nitro VG270UPbmiipx, 1440p
For gaming, 27-inch 1440p may be considered the best option for many reasons, even compared to the theoretical improvements that come with increased size and resolution:
- A 27″ size is acceptable for most configurations and tables.
- 1440p is sharper than Full HD but less GPU intensive than 4K.
- a 1440p display can achieve higher refresh rates.
Technically, these benefits are even more pronounced if you go for a 24-inch Full HD display, but the extra screen real estate on the 27-inch models is well worth it in our opinion.
If you are still thinking about 4K, you should also think about the additional power of the processor and video card. All those extra pixels need to be rendered, and that can make it hard for any system to work. Keep that in mind — sometimes more pixels don’t mean no better.
BenQ PD3200U 32″, 4K
You are not limited to these types of displays. Interesting options include ultra-wide and curved monitors. Ultrawide monitors present other potential challenges because they use non-standard resolutions, which in turn can lead to slower refresh rates and longer response times, which we’ll discuss next.
Regarding curved monitors/multi-monitor configurations:
- If you need a larger display, a curved screen makes sense to increase immersion.
- Curved displays have a non-standard resolution and not all games support a wide field of view.
- Curved displays don’t have seams, while dual-display configurations do, and this can be a problem for gaming.
Update rate and response time
And now about the real gaming characteristics. When you’re looking for a gaming monitor, you should definitely check out the refresh rate, which is measured in hertz (Hz). The indicator reflects how many times the monitor will refresh the screen every second. The higher the number, the better. Basic displays and TVs operate at around 30Hz, some up to 60Hz. For gaming, at least 60Hz is recommended.
Why does a higher refresh rate benefit gamers? The higher the refresh rate, the more what you see on the screen matches what is happening on the computer. A 30Hz difference may seem like a very small amount of time — it is, but games require incredible accuracy, and a person can quite recognize this difference and respond to it.
AOC 27″ AG271QG, 165Hz
60Hz is now considered the absolute minimum for gaming monitors, and you’ll find plenty of 144Hz displays on the market. This refresh rate is highly recommended for serious gaming. There are monitors even at 240Hz, although it is not known if there are benefits to casual gamers at that speed.
That being said, your graphics system and processor must support the screen’s refresh rate, otherwise you simply won’t get any benefit from its high refresh rate.
- The higher the refresh rate, the better.
- 60 Hz is the minimum, 144 Hz is a good indicator.
- 240Hz is great, but it’s unlikely to give as big a jump in performance as going from 60 to 144Hz.
- You need powerful enough graphics to take full advantage of a fast monitor.
Another time related parameter is the response time. This means how long it takes each pixel to go from one setting to another. It is usually measured in milliseconds from one shade of gray to another shade of gray (GtG). For gaming, you want less than 5ms, preferably 2ms or even 1ms.
Response time is important because during fast motion, slow response times can result in motion blur or ghosting as the monitor can’t keep up with the game. And during the game, of course, you want the picture to be as sharp and clear as possible.
Things to remember about response time:
- The response time should be no more than 5 ms.
- 1ms is a common option that can be recommended for gaming.
- Fast response time minimizes blurring and ghosting.
If you’ve seen frame rate tests for games and gaming PCs, you’ve probably noticed that frame rates fluctuate based on screen activity. With a minimum action, the frame rate increases sharply, and with an active one, it can drop sharply. Without the help of special technologies, this can lead to screen tearing (the so-called screen tearing).
Screen tearing is when the monitor displays part of one frame and the next frame at the same time. This is because displays are configured to run at a set refresh rate, and they don’t always know what to do if the frame data they receive doesn’t match the hardware settings.
One way to fix the problem is VSync — vertical synchronization. This is an easy solution because it tells the monitor to wait for the next full frame before transitioning. This is not a perfect solution as it can lead to lag which is very bad for the gaming experience.
AMD and NVIDIA have developed their own adaptive sync technologies, or variable refresh rates, that help monitors maintain smooth playback even when video cards are running at non-standard frame rates. AMD’s technology is called FreeSync, while NVIDIA’s is called G‑Sync. Both do a great job of closing gaps, but they require compatible hardware to do so.
ViewSonic 27″ XG2702 with AMD FreeSync
AMD’s FreeSync technology is more widely available and cheaper to use, so it’s often found in more budget monitors. NVIDIA G‑Sync, on the other hand, requires certification and goes through quality control to ensure the performance it needs, which is why it’s more common on high-end displays. Most likely, you will have to choose based on your video card. If you have an AMD card, get a monitor with FreeSync. If you have NVIDIA, buy G‑Sync.
Are any of them better? Well, technically, one could say that G‑Sync is better, as NVIDIA provides performance guarantees compared to open FreeSync, which allows for monitor-to-monitor inconsistencies. However, G‑Sync displays are more expensive.
- NVIDIA G‑Sync and AMD FreeSync address screen tearing with adaptive sync.
- G‑Sync monitors are compatible with NVIDIA graphics cards and are in the more expensive segment, but performance is guaranteed on any monitor.
- FreeSync monitors are compatible with AMD graphics cards and are in the more budget segment, but may vary from monitor to monitor.
Many people think that the main way to improve a picture is to increase the resolution. However, an equally effective way to improve image quality is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) display. The extra saturation and more vibrant colors that HDR displays deliver is a huge leap over older displays. If you haven’t seen an HDR display yet, you should definitely take a look at how the picture looks on it.
HDR on computer monitors is still not very common. True HDR requires a certain maximum and minimum brightness to guarantee the promised dynamic range, but many more budget displays fail to achieve these goals. This led to the emergence of the DisplayHDR standard with alternative maximum brightness. DisplayHDR 400 or higher is likely to be a reasonable enough choice to give the image more saturation.
DELL 31.5″ U3219Q with DisplayHDR 400 support. Source: multitronic.fi
You will also need to make sure that your operating system, graphics card, and monitor support HDR. The game must also support the format.
- High dynamic range (HDR) displays offer more contrast with brighter highlights and deeper darks while retaining detail.
- HDR requires a compatible OS, graphics card, display, and gaming settings.
- HDR is becoming more and more popular, so an HDR monitor could be a good start for the future.
This is not an easy topic, so here we will manage only the most general recommendations. You will need something close to 100% sRGB coverage. This is the basis that will provide a good color suitable for gaming.
If you also want to use this monitor for video editing or watching movies in HDR, good coverage of Adobe RGB and Rec.2020 color spaces is also recommended.
The three main standards now are DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB Type C/Thunderbolt 3. However, they may have different versions, you should focus on the latest.
The most popular monitor connectors are HDMI and DisplayPort. It is worth choosing a model with DisplayPort 1.4 or HDMI 2.0. Both options are very reliable and have enough bandwidth for high resolutions, including 4K, and refresh rates of 60Hz or more.
HDMI and Display Port. Source: rtings.com
USB Type‑C/Thunderbolt 3 is a relatively new alternative. Technically they are different connectors, but they look the same. Using adapters, both can carry essentially the same formats as DisplayPort with HDMI. With the right computer, you can use USB and/or Thunderbolt for data, video, and charging using the same cable.
Other things to think about include audio output, USB ports, and generally how many connectors you need for a monitor. If you are going to use the monitor with only one computer, you should not think too much about this topic, but if you want to connect several different devices to the same display, you should think about it in advance.
- HDMI and DisplayPort are the most common and reliable standards.
- It is worth taking a monitor with HDMI 2.0 or higher or DisplayPort 1.4 or higher.
- USB Type‑C and Thunderbolt can offer DisplayPort and HDMI support via an adapter.
- Consider in advance how many devices you plan to connect to the monitor at the same time.
Some pay special attention to the type of matrix, but as long as your monitor meets the other required specifications, you should not worry too much. Here’s what’s worth knowing:
- IPS displays offer good color quality, contrast, and fast response times, but advanced features come at a price.
- TN panels will be cheaper with faster response and screen refresh rates, but not as good in terms of color reproduction and viewing angles.
- VA panels offer excellent contrast, but often lose out to TN and IPS panels in gaming-critical performance, so monitors with these panels are not recommended.
We hope that this guide will help you make a more intelligent approach to choosing a gaming monitor. If you already own a gaming monitor, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
* in preparing the article, materials from the resource bhphotovideo.com (Shawn C. Steiner) were used.