Whether you’re a serious PC gamer or a casual after-hours warrior, your hardware can be the pivot point 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 card, but also a monitor that can render 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 gives you an edge over your opponents while delivering a smooth, immersive gaming experience. These are the factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor. Read on for those, as well as our current favorites derived from testing.
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 pixels. 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 with these, you’ll usually be limited to a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel 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.
You’ll see several main monitor-panel technologies used in various gaming monitors, 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. Their biggest drawback? They are prone to color shifting when viewed from an angle. Vertical Alignment (VA) screens are known for their high native contrast ratios, 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. They’re the best general-use panel type, but discriminating gamers or competitive esports types may take issue with IPS.
Pixel Response and Refresh Rate
Gaming monitors should have a fast pixel response time 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. (This can be alleviated by a synchronization techique called variable refresh rate, more about which in a moment.)
The latest trend in gaming panels is the wave of models from all major gaming-LCD makers with refresh rates higher than 60Hz. The most common refresh-rate increments we are now seeing in these so-called “high refresh” gaming displays are 75Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz, with panels up to 240Hz now on the market. Games that run at frame rates higher than 60 frames per second (fps) can benefit from one of these monitors. The higher refresh rate can show motion more fluidly, when it is in sync. Esports players who specialize in games that are not too demanding on a video card (and that therefore run at very high frame rates) will especially want to take note.
Just because you have a high refresh rate, however, that does not mean that your gaming graphics will necessarily be free of tearing and artifacts. Which leads us to the other big PC-gaming-centric trend in late-model gaming monitors: G-Sync and FreeSync.
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 technology give control of the screen’s refresh rate to the graphics card or chip (instead of the monitor), which allows the display to operate at a variable refresh rate according to what the card is capable of pushing. The result is a very smooth gaming experience, with decreased input lag and a lack of tearing. Note, however, that G-Sync and FreeSync monitors require a G-Sync-compatible graphics card with a DisplayPort 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 output (an Nvidia card for G-Sync, an AMD card for FreeSync).
A gaming monitor should be equipped with a variety of video inputs, so you can stay connected to multiple PCs and gaming consoles such as the Sony PS4 Pro and the Microsoft Xbox One S. Dual HDMI ports are ideal, since the major game consoles use HDMI, while most high-end graphics cards offer DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI connectivity.
USB ports are also a nice feature, as they make it easy to connect to gaming controllers, mice, thumb drives, and other external peripherals. Side-mounted USB ports make it easy to plug and unplug peripherals without having to reach around the back of the monitor. A powerful speaker system with a built-in subwoofer will enhance your gaming experience and conserve desktop space, and a stand with height, tilt, and swivel adjustments offers ergonomic comfort for those all-night frag marathons. That said, if you tend to game with a gaming headset, a conveniently situated USB port might be more valuable than middling built-in speakers.
Buying the Best Budget Gaming Monitor
Screen size, panel technology, and features will determine how much you’ll pay for a gaming monitor. You can snag a 24-inch model that uses TN technology with a fast gray-to-gray pixel response time for around $ 200, but you won’t get much in the way of features. Expect to pay more than $ 400 if you want perks, such as an adjustable stand, a USB hub, multiple digital video inputs, and either G-Sync or FreeSync technology. A full-blown 27-inch model with all the bells and whistles, including 3D and either G-Sync or FreeSync support, can cost north of $ 500, and a 34-inch UHD monitor will run you more than $ 700. If you’re looking for a big-screen, ultra-wide monitor with a curved panel, plan on spending even more.
Pros: Loaded with features including multiple game modes and lighting effects. AMD FreeSync enabled. Solid performance. Three-year warranty.
Cons: Expensive. Some ports are difficult to access.
Bottom Line: The 38-inch Acer XR382CQK curved-screen monitor offers accurate colors and stellar gaming performance. It’s expensive, but its extensive feature set and humongous screen are worth the price.
Pros: Very accurate color and grayscale performance. Sharp Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) picture. AMD FreeSync enabled. Advanced color settings. Ergonomic stand.
Cons: Expensive. Ho-hum design. No speakers.
Bottom Line: The well-equipped ViewSonic XG2700-4K is a 27-inch gaming monitor that uses AMD’s FreeSync anti-tearing technology and an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel to deliver ultra-smooth gaming performance and rich, accurate colors.