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How to choose the best monitor for your gaming PC

Gaming monitors come in myriad of different sizes and specs, so choosing the right monitor for you can be confusing and overwhelming.

Gaming monitors are the most versatile in terms of specification and tend to encompass a lot more of what the gamers are looking for in their gaming experience, including the type of games they play and what they want from their monitor.

Choosing the best monitor for you will depend on your needs, usage, and budget. Some monitors were made with graphic designers, artists, photographers, and creatives in mind, while others are more suited to business and general home use.

Where to start and what to consider?

The type of gaming monitor that will be best suited to you will depend on your specification, the desired purpose and the budget. There are many things to consider when choosing a monitor, such as size, resolution, panels, refresh rates, G-sync, Freesync, ports, HDR and more. What you consider the most important will entirely depend on your needs.

If you’re looking to get a gaming monitor, here are some suggestions as to what to look for and some things you might want to avoid.

Size

The size of your monitor matters for the best gaming experience, but bigger may not always be better. Most gamers favour 24” to 27” monitors for gaming, though the size of monitors gamers use ranges from 21” to 49” and the choice of the size is down to personal preference and the type of games you play.

Some games, for example racing, can look and feel incredible on an ultra-wide monitor due to its curvature to the degree of a human eye. Ultrawide monitors have 21:9 aspect ratio, and a curvature in their design for immersion. Many types of games, especially single player, look and feel incredible on an ultra-wide monitor. If you mostly play single player games, co-op, racing...etc., then you may want to consider an ultrawide monitor for gaming. However, if your preferred choice of games is geared more towards online FPS, or competitive gaming, ultra-wide monitor may not be ideal, as many popular FPS titles don’t support a horizontal FOV winder than 90 degrees, which on an ultrawide monitor can look distorted or stretched.

Equally, if competing or playing multiplayer, it may take you a second longer to look at your mini map or a different side of the screen than it would take someone with a monitor of a smaller aspect ratio, and it may put you at a bit of a competitive disadvantage.

A good thing to note is that the ultrawide monitors are not yet adapted for gaming specifically, as this may mean a competitive advantage for those with a higher budget. This means that some games may look and run beautifully on ultrawide, while others may see stretched or distorted images, poor response time or other issues.

So what is the best size? The monitor size standard for vast majority of gamers is 24” to 27”, but as mentioned, this is all down to personal preference. The size of the screen you choose will also depend on the resolution you’re looking for, as well as the ports your monitor has vs the ports you might need.

Resolution

The resolution of the screen refers to the number of horizontal and vertical pixels on a monitor or a screen. The higher the number of pixels, the better and the sharper the picture will be. Most monitors have the resolution of 1920 X 1080, which is considered a full HD.

Pay attention to the resolution and the size of your monitor when choosing what to go for. Some 27” monitors may have 1920 X 1080 resolution, which may result in a picture not being as sharp as the same resolution on the 24” monitor. To combat this, you may opt for a higher resolution such as 2560 X 1440, which is considered a quad HD.

Quad HD is more common on the pricier 27” monitors and give a much crispier and sharper picture, as on the 27”, the 1920 X 1080 resolution is stretched over a bigger area, thus making the pic blurrier than on a smaller monitor.

Gamers with a really beefy PC and high-end graphics cards can also consider 4K monitors for gaming. The 4k resolution sits at 3840 X 2160, and it gives an extremely sharp and detailed picture. This is particularly useful to graphic designers, artists, video editors and others for whom the picture accuracy is extremely important. Monitors in 4k are of course more expensive than the full HD or quad HD.

For gamers, 4K monitors may be a bit of an overkill as they require an extremely powerful PC and a very high-end graphics card to run the newer and upcoming games and still keep the FPS rate above 60. Otherwise, you may not even be able to run the game at its highest settings.

If you’re gaming exclusively on the console and are looking for the best possible image, then going with a 4k could be an option. However, if you’re only looking to game in 4K and are only looking to do so on a console, then perhaps investing in a 4K TV might be a better option than a monitor so that you can make the most of the 4K resolution.

Panels – TN vs IPS vs VA vs OLED

The monitor panel type is the next important thing to consider when selecting your next gaming monitor. The screen panel of your monitor will decide how good the picture will look overall. Not all panels are the same, so below we’ll go through the available plannels and what might be ideal for gamers.

TN (Twisted Nematic)

TN panels are by far the most popular and the most affordable monitor panel type, specifically for gamers. It’s popular with gamers because of its very fast response times and very low input lag, making it a go-to for fast paced, online and competitive gaming. In addition to being game-friendly, TN panel monitors are by far the most affordable, especially compared to their IPS counterparts. However, compared to its counterparts, TN suffers from generally worse colour reproduction, not a particularly good image quality, poor contrast, and quite terrible viewing angels, especially when compared to the other panels.

This, however, does not mean that TN’s aren’t good for gaming, especially if you’re into competitive, fast-paced or online gaming. TN panels by far have the best response time and lowest input lag, and in addition to being more affordable than its counterparts, they are also widely available.

IPS (In-Plane Switching)

The second most popular monitor panels are the IPS panels. Unlike their TN counterparts, they offer a much better contrast, viewing angels and more accurate colours, resulting in an overall better picture quality than the TN panels.

Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have their own version of the IPS monitors, which Samsung calls PLS monitors. The technology between Samsung’s PLS and other IPS panels is very similar, so for the purposes of this guide, we’ll consider them all as IPS monitors.

IPS monitors are favoured by creative professionals, such as graphic designers, artists and editors, more so than gamers. This is because IPS monitors provide much more accurate colours and contrast, which is much more important in graphic design than it is in gaming. They also have a much higher price tag than the NT monitors, and while the IPS panels are superior in picture quality and provide more accurate colours, they tend to have more input lag. This isn’t the case for all IPS panels, but as a general rule, the lowest input lag will probably be on a TN panel.

IPS panel monitors also tend to have the so called IPS glow. This occurs when the backlight of the monitor bleeds into the edges, and can look something like this:

 

A monitor showing severe light bleed along each edge

 

The IPS glow is related to the IPS technology, and thus it can never be completely mitigated. It isn’t a hardware problem and if you have a IPS monitor and are seeing the glow, it’s nothing to be concerned about. The glow is the result of the excess light coming through the panel, but it is an aspect of IPS that you should be aware of if you’re looking to go for one.

VA (Vertical Alignment)

The VA panels are the ultimate compromise between TN and IPS, as they offer a much better picture quality, contrast and colours than the TN panels, but not quite as good as what the IPS can do, while at the same time having an input lag and refresh rate than the IPS. It is truly the middle of the road between TN and IPS.

The response time of VA panels can be a bit low, and as such it may result in ghosting or blurring, especially if there is a lot of movement on the screen and in competitive and fast paced gaming.

VA panel monitors also have much fewer models than TN and IPS though it is worth mentioning that due to its potential to have a much higher brightness than the IPS models, most HDR monitors use VA panels.

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode)

OLED panel monitors offer much better colour accuracy and contrast as well as input and refresh rates. While there is a lot more colour accuracy than on the other panels, OLED can suffer from screen retention if left on for extended periods of time. The screen retentions can sometimes even be permanent.

This “screen burn” is the side effect of the technology used to achieve high definition and if the same image is displayed for long periods of time it may “burn” the screen and it may look something like this:

 

An OLED monitor with a red background showing a burn-in effect near the centre

 

OLED monitors made by Sony already have a number of inbuilt functions to reduce image retention automatically but advise that displaying the same picture for extended periods of time, such as logos, may still result in image retention.

But the biggest issue with OLED right now is that they have an extremely high price tag, and they are not readily available quite yet. They may become more popular in the future, but their price tag and availability make them a less popular choice, especially for gaming.

So, which panel should you choose?

If you’re on a budget, then TN would be an ideal monitor for gaming. It does suffer some image issues, but in terms of response time, refresh rate and a price tag, TN is recommended.

If you’re looking for a gaming monitor but are on a higher budget, then choosing a good IPS with a high refresh rate and response times would be ideal for you, though it’s important to reiterate that the refresh rate and the response times will be tad higher on IPS than on TN, but unless you’re into competitive or pro gaming, this is not such a big deal for you, especially if you’re looking for a better picture and more immersive gaming experience.

The good news about ISP panels is that they’re getting cheaper, and many are no longer sporting the high price tag they once did.

If you’re looking into serious or competitive gaming, then TN might be the best bet, as it does have the lowest refresh and input times, which would be ideal for fast and competitive online gaming, but you may miss out on colour accuracy, contrast and resolution that other panels just do better.

If you’re also considering using the monitor for general purpose as well as gaming, then IPS would be better, with its slightly higher input and response times, but also allowing you better picture, contrast and more colour accuracy for uses other than gaming.

As we’ve mentioned already, VA panels are a very good compromise between ISP and TN, and if you’re looking for HDR gaming experience, then VA panels are for you. Vast majority of HDR monitors use VA panels already.

In the end, the type of panel you choose will depend on what you really want out of the monitor and what your priorities and budget are.

Refresh rate

Refresh rate of a monitor is measured in Hertz, and it indicates how often the frame on your monitor refreshes. The majority of monitors will refresh at 60Hz per second. For standard usage monitors, general or business purposes as well as graphic design, this is a perfect refresh rate.

However, if you’re a gamer, you might be looking at a monitor with 120Hz, 140Hz or even 238Hz refresh rates. This provides a much faster and smoother gaming experience than a 60Hz, but it also comes with a bigger price tag.

It’s worth remembering that if you’re looking to buy a monitor with a very high refresh rate for gaming, you will only get the benefits of it if your PC specs can handle it. In other words, your PC would need to be able to render all the details every second in order to get the full benefit of such high refresh rates.

If you have a fairly average PC that refreshes 60Hz or 70Hz, then you won’t get the full advantage of the high refresh monitor. This is, of course, unless you’re willing to sacrifice graphics for a faster refresh rate, but this seems very counter intuitive.

In essence, the refresh rate of a monitor you choose will depend on the spec of your PC and what it can handle confidently so that you can see and feel the full benefits of the chosen monitor.

Adaptive Sync

For the best and smoothest gaming experience, we recommend a monitor that supports variable refresh rates, or adaptive sync.

Before we get into different types of adaptive synchronization, let’s review the purpose and function of adaptive sync. Adaptive sync eliminates what is known as “screen tearing”, which happens when the frame rates coming from your graphics card and the frame rates of your monitor mismatch, causing one part of the display to be one frame and another part that is slightly off. This causes mismatch, “tearing” the screen and it may look something like this:

 

Animated image of a video game showing the tearing effect

 

Adaptive Sync screen solves this problem by synchronizing refresh rate to the exact number of frames produced by your console/PC/graphics card, resulting in a smooth picture and gameplay.

Adaptive Sync also eliminates the older solutions to tearing, such as Vsync, which would often increase input lag as well as cause stuttering on screen.

There are two types of adaptive sync to consider (and VESA Adaptive Sync) when buying a monitor. We will look at Nvidia’s G-Sync, AMD’s FreeSync 1, FreeSync 2 and VESA’s open adaptive sync.

Both G-Sync and FreeSync use the VESA Adaptive Sync protocol. They are similar in that they both sync the monitor to the graphics card, letting that component control the frame rate on a continuous basis. However, there are still some major differences in how they work and their implementation, which we discuss below.

G-Sync

G-Sync equipped monitors use the adaptive synchronization in certain gaming laptops, PCs, monitors and some TVs to eliminate screen tearing, stutter, reduce input lag and facilitate a smooth gaming experience, especially in fast paced gaming environment and when there’s a lot going on the screen. G-Sync is Nvidia’s answer to AMD’s FreeSync and unlike AMD’s FreeSync, G-Sync only works with compatible graphics cards made by Nvidia.

If you have a PC with Nvidia graphics card, you may want to opt for G-Sync equipped monitor, though some FreeSync monitors may also work with Nvidia, which we will discuss below.

Nvidia’s G-Sync comes in a few different flavous to choose from: G-Sync, G-Sync Compatible and G-Sync Ultimate.

 

A table showing the three versions of G-SYNC and their benefits

 

G-Sync is the standard that guarantees a certain level of performance, while G-Sync Ultimate adds HDR for higher brightness, but most importantly, it allows variable refresh at very high refresh rates (120Hz up). If choosing Nvidia’s G-Sync, G-Sync Ultimate may be the best if you’re looking for fast paced gaming.

G-Sync monitors come at a bit higher price tag and come equipped with a custom controller chip that is built into the monitor, which is why they require Nvidia graphics card in order to get that amazing variable refresh rate.

 

Visual representation of the G-SYNC chip installed into the rear of a monitor

 

G-Sync Compatible on the other hand is more flexible, and it does not use Nvidia processors. This means that G-Sync compatible relies on the open standard VESA Adaptive Sync protocols that are in Display Ports, HDMI and USB-C ports.

Before the January 2019 update which allowed for adaptive sync to be used with Nvidia, you could only get a variable refresh rate on a native G-Sync monitor. G-Sync Compatible is essentially an Adaptive Sync that has been tested and certified by Nvidia to be running in conjunction with Nvidia graphic cards without any major issues, though how well they do the job has to be assessed on a game-to-game bases.

FreeSync, FreeSync 2 and FreeSync HDR

FreeSync, FreeSync 2 and FreeSync HDR is AMD’s implementation of VESA Adaptive Sync. Unlike Nvidia’s restrictive G-Sync, AMD’s FreeSync 2 works on most monitors, making it cheaper and more versatile, where you’re not necessarily restricted by your graphics card.

It’s down to personal preference, but some gamers may argue that AMD’s FreeSync technology is more adaptive, but that the ecosystem of Nvidia’s G-Sync works better all around. FreeSync HDR will also likely work with Nvidia graphic cards, though how well would need to be assessed on the case-by-case bases.

If you already own an AMD graphics card then getting FreeSync would be a no brainer, but even if you do not, getting a FreeSync 2 if you’re on the budget might be something to consider. It works very well with AMD graphic cards and it would also be nearly as good as a regular G-Sync panel with Nvidia.

So, G-Sync or FreeSync?

For most gamers, the choice of G-Sync or FreeSync will depend on their graphics card. As we previously mentioned, depending on whether you have GeForce or Ryzen, the choice of G-Sync or FreeSync may be easier to make based on what you play and prefer.

For gamers who have AMD graphics cards, and are looking for very low input lag, but are not too fussed about a bit of screen tearing, then FreeSync 2 will be ideal. However, for players with Nvidia graphic cards, those who are looking for minimal to no screen tearing and very smooth motions in game, G-Sync would be advised. Although in exchange for smooth motions and no tearing, the G-Sync monitors will have to trade such for some lag.

To use a G-Sync monitor with a desktop gaming PC, you will need:

  • Windows 10, 8 or 7.1
  • An GTX 650 Ti Boost graphics card or higher (for help picking a GPU, click here)
  • DisplayPort 1.2 directly from the graphics card
  • Driver R340.52 or higher

To use a G-Sync monitor with a laptop, you will need:

  • Windows 10, 8.1 or 7
  • A GTX 980M, 970M, 965M or higher graphics card
  • DisplayPort 1.2 directly from the graphics card
  • Driver R340.52 or higher

To use a G-Sync Ultimate monitor with a desktop PC, you will need:

  • Windows 10
  • GTX 1050 or higher graphics card
  • DisplayPort 1.4 directly from the graphics card
  • Driver R396 GA2 or higher

To use a G-Sync Ultimate monitor with a laptop, you will need:

  • Windows 10
  • GTX 1050 or higher graphics card
  • DisplayPort 1.4 directly from the graphics card
  • Driver R396 GA2 or higher

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

High Dynamic Range enabled monitors can display awesome picture and have a much greater contrast range between the darkest and a much wider colour range than monitors that are not HDR enabled.

Games that are optimized specifically for HDR, including some software, can look beyond impressive on an HDR enabled monitor.

Not all HDR monitors are the same, and how good a HDR monitor is determined by measuring the brightness level. This is measured in nits and the higher the nits the better the monitor.

Just like with most monitors, HDR-enabled monitors come in different specs. When it comes to DisplayHDR, you’ll find HDR 400, HDR 600 and the more premium HDR 1000. The numbers next to HDR refer to the number of nits, so the HDR 1000 has the best brightness on the market.

You may also come across HDR 10. In this case, the 10 does not refer to the number of nits, but rather to the 10-bit colour depth. These monitors, however, can have various degrees of brightness.

However, depending on who you speak to, many people consider a true HDR monitor as the one that is a HDR 1000 and has the 10-bit colour depth and that all other HDR monitors are not true HDR monitors.

If you decide to go all in with the HDR 1000 and 10-bit colour depth for a PC monitor, be prepared for a rather high price tag.

What kind of panel do I want with HDR?

Generally speaking, VA panels work best for a HDR display. As we’ve already discussed above, most HDR monitors already use VA panels. Some high end HDR monitors also use a quantum dot display, or QD, to increase the brightness of the monitor even further.

OLED panels, due to their specification, also work amazingly with HDR, but unless you have a massive budget for a PC monitor, VA panels may win out on this one. The price tag of OLED displays coupled with the best of HDR and the general lack of availability of OLED monitors make it a difficult one to recommend at this time.

As OLED panels become more popular and more available, they may win out in the HDR department in the future. Watch this space.

PC Gaming in HDR – Yey or Ney?

Getting an HDR monitor makes a lot of sense if you’re looking to game on your HDR enabled console, or if you’re wanting to watch high-res videos on Amazon or Netflix. When it comes to choosing HDR for gaming on the PC, there are a few things to consider. The HDR support for PC games is patchy at best, but it is improving, and the price tag for a very good HDR is going to be quite high.

If you are on a bit of a higher budget, it might be worth getting an HDR monitor, especially if you’re also looking to game on the HDR enabled console.

If you’re looking to strictly game, it’s worth considering that most HDR monitors use VA panels and how that might fit with your style of gaming or the types of games you’re looking to play.

Much like with the size of the monitor, the type of games you’re looking to play matter. If you’re mostly focused on single player games and aren’t too bothered about competitive or online multiplayer, then getting a HDR on a larger monitor may be a solution for you. Again, this will come with a higher price tag, but a much more immersive gaming experience.

Ports

The type of ports your monitor has is important, especially when it comes to choosing a gaming monitor and especially if you’re looking for USB-C port on your monitor.

Most monitors will have HDM 2.0, HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort or USB-C port. Many monitors already have come with HDMI and DisplayPort, but higher end monitors are more likely to have USB-C ports.

Design

While not functionally related to gaming (for the most part), we thought to include the design of your gaming monitor and what you might want to look for.

Most mid-range monitors are (more or less) ‘boring’ to look at, however higher end monitor designs can be amazing and it’s worth considering how it will look with the rest of your set up.

Higher end monitors, such as super ultrawide are not so subtle, and it’s worth bearing in mind that they do not sit flat against the wall, though there are a whole host of brilliant and functional monitor arms, specifically for ultrawide displays, that could aesthetically add to your setup.

Perhaps more importantly when looking at monitor design, are the stands. Depending on the size and the manufacturers, some stands have incredible movement and can be adjusted for tilt, height and allow great rotational adjustments, while others have very limited movement capabilities. Check out our guide for the best mountable monitors.

Depending on how much movement you will need with and for your monitor, it’s good to consider the design that doesn’t just look nice but would be functional as well.

There is a lot to consider when choosing a gaming monitor and it all depends on your needs, usage and budget. The great thing about building your own gaming setup is that you can choose your specifications based on what you want and what you like. What might be perfect for one gamer may not be ideal for another. Understanding the specs a bit better will give you a starting point in choosing the best monitor for your gaming PC.