Whether you’re a serious PC gamer or a casual after-hours warrior, your hardware can mean the difference between victory and defeat. To get the most out of the latest first-person shooter (FPS), sports, racing, and other fast-action games, you’ll not only need a gaming PC with a powerful graphics solution, you’ll also need a monitor that can display the action without subjecting you to blurred images, flicker, tearing, and other motion artifacts. In this guide, we’ll help you choose a display that will give you an edge over your opponents while delivering a smooth, immersive gaming experience. We highlight the factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor, and give our current favorites.
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Panel Size and Resolution
When it comes to gaming monitors, bigger is almost always better. If you have the room, a 27-inch screen provides plenty of real estate and offers the opportunity to go beyond full high definition, which offers a maximum resolution of 1,920 by 1,080. Many newer 27-inch models are Wide, Quad High-Definition (WQHD) monitors with maximum resolutions of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. The higher pixel count provides much sharper imagery than full HD, but you’ll need a reasonably powerful graphics engine to play the latest games at the higher resolution, especially if you have all the effects enabled. If desk space is an issue, there are plenty of 24-inch monitors out there, but you’ll be limited to 1,920-by-1,080 resolution.
If you have lots of space, and money is no object, even bigger monitors are available. A 30-inch 4K or Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) monitor will deliver a stunning picture with an amazing 3,840-by-2,160 resolution, you can go all out with a 34-inch ultra-wide monitor with or without a curved panel, or you can pick something larger still (we’ve tested displays up to 38 inches). Ultra-wide monitors typically have a 21:9 aspect ratio (as opposed to the usual 16:9), and offer a much wider field of view than a standard widescreen monitor, but they take up a lot of room. A curved-panel ultra-wide monitor has just enough of a curve to make you feel a bit closer to the action.
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There are several display technologies you may find used in a gaming monitor, and each has its pluses and minuses. Twisted Nematic (TN) panels are the most affordable and are popular among gamers because they offer fast pixel response times and refresh rates, but they are prone to color shifting when viewed from an angle. Vertical Alignment (VA) screens are known for their high native-contrast ratio, robust colors, and ability to display deep blacks, but they are also known to produce noticeable ghosting effects, which can hurt gaming performance. In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels provide the best all-around color quality, strong grayscale performance, and wide viewing angles, but they can’t match the pixel response of TN panels and are subject to motion artifacts.
Pixel Response and Refresh Rate
Gaming monitors should have a fast pixel response and a high refresh rate. The most commonly used pixel response spec is gray to gray, which is measured in milliseconds (ms) and signifies the time it takes a pixel to transition from one shade of gray to another (a few companies still use the older black-to-white measurement). A low pixel response will help eliminate the smearing of moving images and provide a smoother overall picture than a higher pixel response. A gray-to-gray response of 2ms or less is ideal, but even a 4ms gray-to-gray response is typically adequate for gaming.
A monitor’s refresh rate refers to the time (per second) it takes to redraw the entire screen and is measured in hertz (Hz). Most LCD monitors have a 60Hz refresh rate, which means the screen is refreshed 60 times per second, but fast-moving images may appear blurry at this refresh rate, or the panel may suffer from screen tearing, an artifact that occurs when the monitor displays pieces of two or more screen draws at the same time. Look for a display with a 120Hz or higher refresh rate, which not only helps reduce image blur and eliminate tearing, but is a requirement for active 3D technology.
G-Sync and FreeSync
The latest gaming monitors use synchronization technology to help reduce tearing and other motion artifacts while lowering input lag (which we measure on all displays we review using the Leo Bodnar Video Signal Lag Tester). Displays equipped with Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync modules give control of the screen’s refresh rate to the GPU (instead of the monitor), which allows the display to operate with a variable refresh rate. The result is a very smooth gaming experience, with decreased input lag. Note, however, that G-Sync and FreeSync monitors require a compatible graphics card with a DisplayPort 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 output.