Monitor is an output device that displays information generated by the computer in graphical form through the graphics card. In simple words, it shows what is happening while you are using the computer. A computer monitor can be manufactured according to its intended purpose – for general use, for watching movies, for professional graphical works, or for gaming. Each type of monitor is different and has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it is important to know the things to look for when buying a monitor that will fit perfectly for its intended purposes. In this article, we will tell the essentials when buying a gaming monitor.
Size and Resolution
The size of the monitor is measured diagonally across the screen while resolution is the number of pixels the screen has, horizontally and vertically. A 24in 1920×1080 monitor is good, a 24in 2560×1440 monitor is better, but a 24in 3840×2160 monitor is bad, and a 27in 1920×1080 monitor is also bad. Why is that? As the screen size gets bigger, the number of pixels “should” also increase to avoid the “stretching” of the pixels to cover bigger screen. The number of pixels found in a inch per line is called Pixels Per Inch (PPI). This is also called the pixel density and it is also used interchangeably with Dots Per Inch (DPI).
A 24in 1920×1080 monitor has a pixel density of 92 PPI while a 27in monitor with same resolution has 81 PPI. This means that the pixels in 27in monitor are created “larger” to cover bigger screen without adding pixels. This makes the images and icons in the screen looks bigger and a little blurry. Having higher pixel density at the same screen size makes the images sharper and smoother. But having too high PPI is not as beneficial as you would imagine. There will be a point where you can no longer notice the difference and the improvement is not justifiable for its price. Having too high PPI makes the icons, texts, and menus smaller and makes it harder to read.
Click here for Pixels Per Inch PPI Calculator
Ultra-wide monitors are wider than the usual wide screen monitors. These types of monitors have additional pixels horizontally and aspect ratio of 21:9 instead of 16:9. A 1080p Ultra-wide will have a resolution of 2560×1080 instead of 1920×1080.
Intended for office use and content creators, ultra-wide monitors are slowly getting more popular in gaming. Game developers are now supporting this aspect ratio and getting a wider field of view is a real attraction to gamers. What hinders ultra-wide monitors to be accepted fully in gaming is its panel, which are usually IPS (In Plane Switching) or VA (Vertical Alignment), both are known to have slow response times and low refresh rate which are needed in gaming. We will discuss about Refresh Rates and Panels later on in this article.
For a gaming monitor, we recommend a 24in 1920×1080 or a 27in 2560×1440 monitor – not too small, not too large, and enough pixels for its size.
Below are the standard names and shorthand of common resolutions.
Response time is the time that the monitor takes to switch from white to black, and to white again.This is measured in milliseconds (ms), and lower means better. Slower response time (higher ms) means the pixels are transitioning longer from white to black (or other colors) and worst, might not be fast enough to transition to the next set of colors. This results to blurry images and“ghosting”. Images are blurry because the colors are not properly rendered or not rendered in time. Ghosting is that the image (colors) of the previous scene/frame are still there and not fully transitioned to the next. This affects your experience in fast-paced games like shooters, racing, and other motion sensitive games. For these types of games, 1ms to 2ms is the ideal response time and 5ms response time for slower paced games like RPG, puzzle, or turn-based games.
Refresh rate is the number of times the monitor can refresh or redraw the displayed image in a second, and it is measured in Hertz (Hz). Higher refresh rate results to smoother movement in games. Most non-gaming monitors have 60 to 75Hz refresh rates, while gaming monitors have 120 to 240Hz refresh rate. You can still play games on a 60Hz monitor and we found no real issues with it, but once you played on a 120Hz or faster monitor refresh rate, you will “feel” that smoothness and fluidity in your games, and going back to 60Hz is hard. Take a look at this video by WASD.ro
Why go for higher refresh rate monitors? Aside from the “feel” it gives you, a study by NVIDIA shows that players with higher computer systems paired with higher refresh rate monitors are more likely to win the game. You can read the full article here.
Also an experiment by Linus Tech Tips also shows that a player’s precision and reaction time has gotten better with higher refresh rate monitors. So if you are into a competitive games who wants to win, always go for high refresh rate monitors.
Every monitor has fixed refresh rate – either 60Hz, 75Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz, or 240 Hz. A 60Hz monitor will refresh the screen with the updated “rendered frame” produced by the graphics card, at a fixed time interval – 16.6ms for a 60Hz monitor. The problem is that the graphics card render new frames at a variable time interval – it can render 2 or more frames in 16.6ms (higher frames per second), or sometimes it would take more than 16.6ms to render a single frame (lower frames per second). This unsynchronized operations causes “screen tearing” when the graphics card is producing more frames.
Vertical Synchronization, or VSync, is a rendering setting in games where it prevents the new rendered frame to be displayed until the next refresh. It basically synchronize the rendered frames per second (fps) to match the refresh rate of the monitor. This effectively removes screen tearing, but it is only recommended if your system can maintain higher FPS for the refresh rate – 60 FPS in 60Hz, 144 FPS in 144Hz, and so on. If your system can’t maintain high FPS and frequently drops below the refresh rate, the current frame or image is displayed longer and exceeds its duration to match the next refresh. This causes stuttering / micro-stuttering and lag. This usually happens during graphically intense part of the game – explosions or during clashes.
To remove both screen tearing and stuttering, NVIDIA introduced Adaptive Sync Technology. What it basically does it adjusts the refresh rate of the monitor to match FPS produced by the graphics card. If the FPS drops to 45, the refresh rate is changed to 45Hz, if FPS goes 80, the refresh rate is changed to 80Hz. NVIDIA called this G-Sync, and FreeSync for AMD. The monitor and the graphics card must have Adaptive Sync feature to experience this technology.
Below are the links for G-Sync and FreeSync monitors and graphics cards.
- NVIDIA G-Sync Monitors, NVIDIA G-Sync Graphics Cards
- AMD FreeSync Monitors, AMD FreeSync Graphics Cards
Choosing between G-Sync and FreeSync monitors are primarily depends on what graphics card you already have or planning to buy. But earlier in 2019 NVIDIA released drivers which will let you use NVIDIA graphics card with FreeSync monitor and have the adaptive sync enabled. Though the NVIDIA graphics card should be at least GTX 1000 series (Pascal architecture).
If you are wondering on visual difference between G-Sync and FreeSync, check UFD Tech video testing.
The Graphics Card Factor
Performance features (refresh rate, adaptive sync) and supported resolutions are very dependent of the graphics card. Meaning your graphics card should be power fully enough to fully utilize these features and truly experience what it is supposed to deliver. You need to reach the target frame per second to match the refresh rate and enable the adaptive sync. And to fully enjoy the game your graphics card should be able to deliver decent frames per second even with the game set at maximum quality settings at native resolution. If your graphics card is not powerful enough, then you won’t be able to enjoy what these features can add to your gaming experience.
There are 3 common types of panels used in computer monitors. These are the Twisted Nematic (TN), In-Plane Switching (IPS), and Vertical Alignment (VA) panels. For gaming, TN panels is the most suited for it has the fastest response time, highest refresh rate, and it is the cheapest among the three panels. The downside is that it has the worst viewing angle and color reproduction. In other words, it will look ugly when placed beside IPS and VA panels. IPS has the best viewing angle and color reproduction. Images looks the most beautiful and accurate in IPS panel, but it has low response time and refresh rate are usually in 60Hz, which makes it more suitable in color sensitive works rather than gaming. IPS panels with 1ms response time and 144Hz refresh rate is very rare and costs a premium. VA panel sits on the middle ground. If you are not playing fast-paced games and only play games casually, IPS and VA panels are the better options as it looks better then TN panels. If you are into competitive gaming or into streaming and spends most of the day gaming, TN panel is the best option.
Curved monitors provide a sense of immersion and lesser image distortion.
Images or videos “look” distorted around the edge and more visible as the monitor size increases. This is because the light emitted at the edge of the monitor is not directed to the viewer. “Bending”the edge towards the viewer eliminates that distortion, this is why curved monitors are more common in larger monitors 27in and above. This is really a great feature, perfect for role playing games. The problem is that most of the curved monitors has either IPS or VA panel, which has slower response time and/or lower refresh rates- you need both of that if you are into fast-paced games or competitive games.
Video Connectors and Other Inputs
HDMI and DisplayPort are the most common video connector found in monitors today. Most monitors offer 1 for each connector type, but some monitors offer more HDMI ports. Check this if you are planning to use the monitor as display for other video source other than the desktop computer. These other video sources could a console or TV box.
USB and audio ports are optional but also helps a lot in terms of accessibility where you can easily connect your devices without leaving your chair.
Features You Can Ignore
Speakers – Some monitors have speaker built-in on it but very few that sounds very good. It is better to have a dedicated speakers or headphones for you audio.
Stand – If you need to tilt or adjust your monitor more often, then you might need to look at this. But a simple rotation and height adjustments provided by simple stand are enough in most scenarios especially in gaming.
Environmental and Green Certifications – Environmental and Green Certifications from Energy Star, TCO, and EPEAT make sure that monitor’s body, metal parts, and packaging are made from fully recyclable materials and promotes reduced energy consumption. These features probably has the least impact in gaming.
High Dynamic Range – High Dynamic Range (HDR) improves the image quality by adding a wider range of colors, increased vibrance and luminosity, making images look more realistic. This is great for viewing movies, for gaming, not really. The graphics card and game should have HDR support to enable this feature. But newer AAA games looks very good you don’t need HDR. HDR only adds a little graphical improvement but in some games, it messes up the quality making the image too bright.
By following our recommendations and if we were to buy a gaming monitor, the specifications would look like this –
- Size – 24in
- Resolution – 1920×1080 or 2560×1440
- Panel Type – TN
- Refresh Rate – 144 Hz with AMD FreeSync
- Response Time – 2ms or 1ms
- Ports – HDMI, DisplayPort, USB
Our last recommendation for you is read reviews from tech sites. From there you can read more about the monitor’s actual performance and “feel”, and other things that are not in the specifications sheet.