How to choose a gaming monitor

November 18, 2017

There are several things to consider when you are buying a gaming monitor. You want to get best possible graphics out of your gaming hardware.

Panel resolution

The resolution defines the amount of pixels the screen has. Budget gaming monitors have a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is also called 1080p or Full HD. This means that the screen consists of a matrix with 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. Generally, larger resolutions mean that games, movies and photos look nicer on the screen.

Higher end 1440p gaming montors are the next step up. They they have a 2560 x 1440 resolution. Besides the higher resolution they are also wider than 1080p monitors.

Finally, there are UHD or 4k monitors with a 3840 x 2160 resolution. They are not yet that popular for gaming because most current GPUs can't really drive this resolution for many games. However, if you want a 4k screen for general use / graphic design / programming and you don't have sufficient GPU for 4k gaming you can also downscale the resolution in games.

Panel Size

Monitor size is a matter of personal preference and price, but generally, larger screens are preferred for gaming in order to get a more immersive gaming experience. However, larger screens often come with a higher resolution as well, which requires a more powerful gaming PC. Panel size measures the diagonal size of the screen in inches. Budget gaming monitors usually start at 24". Larger 27" monitors are available at higher price points.

Pixel response time

Pixel response time describes how long it takes a pixel to switch color. It is measured in milliseconds (ms). A lower response time is better because it allows the monitor to display fast movements without artifacts such as ghosting. Monitors with a 1ms or 2ms are considered very fast. Good IPS screens usually have 4ms, which is also fine for gaming.

Refresh rate

On of the most important factors for gaming is the refresh rate. It is measured in Hertz (Hz) and describes how many times per second the screen is refreshed. Some budget monitors have 60Hz, which means that even if your gaming PC can output 100 frames per second (FPS) the monitor can only display 60 FPS. Gaming monitors with 120Hz or higher are ideal, because they result in a smoother gameplay. In addition to budget monitors also higher end 4k monitors sometimes only have 60Hz. These are more suitable for graphic design. Serious gamers normally prefer a higher update frequency.

Which GPU do you need?

If you get a higher end gaming monitor you will also need to a strong gaming PC to take advantage of the higher resolutions and refresh rates. If you want to game in 1440p, generally at least a GTX 1070 is recommended. 4k gaming is even more demanding, a GTX 1080 Ti is often considered the minimum.

If you have a lower end GPU in your gaming PC a regular 1080p monitor may be preferred, unless you plan on upgrading your PC soon.

Contrast ratio

Contrast ratio is the range between the darkest black and the brightest white color the display can show. Higher contrast ratios generally give a better picture quality. The problem is that this number is difficult to compare between manufacturers, so you should take it with a grain of salt.

Viewing angle

The Viewing angle describes the maximum angle at which you can view the display clearly. Lower end displays look dimmer when you look at them from an angle. Higher end screens are clearly readable from the side. For gaming this number is not that important, since you are mostly looking right at the screen. However, for large gaming monitors it can still be an issue if you sit close to the monitor. Today's monitors usually have sufficient viewing angles though.

Panel technology

There are different types of display technologies. Twisted Nematic (TN) screens are popular among gamers because they have high refresh rates and low pixel response times.

Vertical Alignment (VA) panels offer high contrast ratios and a good color reproduction, but they are less popular among games because they sometimes produce ghosting effects. There is also an improved Multi-domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) technology.

In-Plane Switching (IPS) screens generally have the best colors and viewing angles, which make them popular among graphic designers, but they often don't have the same refresh rates and pixel response times. The higher end IPS panels are fast enough for most gamers though.

Input connections

A DisplayPort is ideal for higher end gaming monitors in order to take advantage of the higher resolutions and refresh rates. A DVI-D would work as well. HDMI and standard DVI are not ideal for 144Hz and higher refresh rates.

Adaptive Sync

Higher end gaming monitors have adaptive synchronization technologies to reduce artifacts such as screen tearing during gaming. Unfortunately, these technologies are manufacturer specific, so you need to match your monitor to your graphic card.

Nvidia offers G-Sync and AMD has FreeSync to control the refresh rate of the display for a smoother gaming experience. If you are interested in this, make sure that both your monitor and your GPU support the same technology.

Monitor suggestions

You can check out these gaming monitors if you want some monitor suggestions based on the above information. Alternatively, if you will also use the monitor for some graphic design you may find our Interactive Monitor Buying Guide more useful, because it also takes color accuracy into account.