Computers / Buying Guide

Visually Appealing Monitors and TVs for Gaming

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Whether you’re a casual player or a hardcore gamer, playing your favorite games on a high-res display is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. To get the most out of your games, you’ll not only need a decent gaming build, but also a monitor that complements your graphics card to reduce screen tearing, ghosting, and motion blur. Before you decide which display to get, here are a few things you should look out for.

Screen Resolution

Let’s start with the most obvious: the screen resolution. Plain and simple, the higher the resolution, the more detailed the image. You can build an entry-level gaming rig to run games at 1080p (which will be totally fine for most gamers), but don’t be surprised by the higher system requirements (and the cost) if you want the UHD 4K experience.

Aspect Ratio

Directly related to the screen resolution is the aspect ratio. The aspect ratio is determined by the ratio between the horizontal and vertical resolution. For example, a screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution has a 16:9 aspect ratio, while a display with 1920 x 1200 resolution has a 16:10 aspect ratio. Interestingly, the 21:9 aspect ratio is rising in popularity. With resolutions like 3440 x 1440 or 2560 x 1080, the ultrawide display shows you more of the game you’re playing (if it’s supported), allowing for a unique gaming experience. UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) is 16:9, but DCI 4K (4096 x 2160), which is the cinema standard, has an unusual 1:9:1 aspect ratio.

Forza Horizon 3 in 16:9
Forza Horizon 3 in 16:10

Response Time

Arguably one of the most important specs for a gamer, when it comes to monitors, the response time refers to how fast the pixels can change from one color to another. A quick response time will help reduce the effects of ghosting, which is when remnants of the previous image stay on screen because the pixels haven’t fully changed yet. Generally, it is best to get a monitor with a low response time (ideally less than 5 ms), especially if you like to play fast-paced games, such as first-person shooters (FPS).

Long Response Time
Low Response Time

Refresh Rate

The refresh rate refers to the number of times per second an image is refreshed on a screen. Unlike response time, you want the number of the refresh rate to be higher. While most monitors are usually set to 60 Hz, there are gaming monitors that can do 120 Hz, 144 Hz, 165 Hz, and even 240 Hz. A higher refresh rate helps reduce motion blurs and screen tearing, which is when the monitor shows sections of multiple frames on a single screen at the same time.

Contrast Ratio: Static versus Dynamic

Let’s be honest: the contrast ratio you want to focus on is the static one, which tells you how the monitor performs on a consistent basis. The dynamic contrast ratio can get insanely high (1,000,000,000:1 anyone?), but that refers to dynamically dim or brightening the entire screen in response to the images on it. At any given time, the contrast ratio is static, but the display can give the impression of having a higher one. Some find this distracting, while others think it is cool. Your mileage will vary.

Panel

  • TN (Twisted Nematic)
    • Monitors with TN panels tend to be cheaper, due to their lower manufacturing cost, and have a relatively high level of responsiveness, which means some of them can push for faster refresh rates. Unfortunately, TN panels don’t have the best viewing angles. The colors will look washed out, especially vertically, if you don’t position the monitor just right. This also means you should avoid getting a large monitor (stick to 24" or lower) if you’re going with a TN panel, since the top or bottom of the screen may be affected. Also, if you were planning to use your TN monitor for something other than gaming, such as photo editing or anything that requires color accuracy… don’t.
  • VA (Vertical Alignment)
    • VA panels have better viewing angles than their TN counterparts. The contrast ratio is also noticeably better than TN panels. VA panels used to have poor response times, but advancements in technology have made them viable for gaming. Some VA panels can also offer a static contrast ratio of up to 3000:1.
  • IPS (In-Plane Switching)
    • IPS panels offer better viewing angles than TN or VA panels. Like VA panels, IPS panels used to suffer from high response times, but manufacturers did reduce them to make them viable for gaming. Something to keep in mind when using IPS panels is “IPS glow,” which is when darker content sometimes produces a pale glow when viewed from an angle. The color reproduction tends to be superior on VA panels, though.

G-SYNC and FreeSync (Also Why V-Sync is not Ideal)

V-Sync (Vertical Synchronization) is like an overbearing parent. It means well, but it ends up being overprotective and ultimately limiting. To prevent screen tearing, V-Sync waits for the frame rate of the GPU to match the refresh rate of the monitor, which can result in fps drops, screen stuttering, and increased input lag. Fortunately, NVIDIA and AMD introduced technologies to improve the communication between the graphics card and the monitor.

AMD introduced FreeSync. Built upon the industry-standard DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync, FreeSync enables GPUs to control the refresh rate of a FreeSync-enabled monitor directly. This allows the GPU and the monitor to work together to provide a smooth, responsive, tear-free gaming experience.

NVIDIA has its own technology to provide variable refresh rates, called G-SYNC. G-SYNC is different from FreeSync because it requires the monitor to have a proprietary G-SYNC module to help facilitate the process. With a G-SYNC monitor and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 Ti GPU or better, you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate screen tearing, input lag, and eyestrain-inducing stutter.

Without G-Sync
With G-Sync

Inputs

Most modern graphics cards come with DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort outputs. Make sure your monitor has the proper inputs to support your graphics card so you don’t have to deal with a boatload of adapters. If you’re going to get a 144 Hz monitor, you’ll have to make sure you connect via DVI-D or DisplayPort, because most HDMI outputs and standard DVI can’t handle such high refresh rates. Generally, you want to connect your gaming build with DisplayPort or DVI-D instead of HDMI for the fastest performance.

DisplayPort 1.3 can support 4K UHD at 120 Hz. DisplayPort 1.4 can also support up 4K UHD at 120 Hz with the addition of 10-bit color and HDR support. HDMI 2.0b can support 4K UHD at 60 Hz with HDR. The new HDMI 2.1 specification has a 48 Gbps bandwidth and will support 4K UHD at 120 Hz, as well as 10K at 120 Hz.

1080p is Good Enough for Me

If you’re looking to complete your budget or entry-level build, a simple 1080p monitor should suffice, such as the Dell SE2417HG 23.6" Monitor. It has a TN panel, so the viewing angles aren’t the best for those looking from the side, but it does have a 2 ms response time and a 60 Hz refresh rate—not bad for a sub-$200 monitor.

Dell 23.6" LCD Monitor

Diving into the cold, unforgiving world of online multiplayer FPS games, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, will require a faster refresh rate and response time. A good option would be the BenQ ZOWIE XL2411 24" Monitor, which has a 1 ms response time and a 144 Hz refresh rate. There is also a 27" variant if you want a bigger screen. Is 144 Hz not enough for you? How about the BenQ ZOWIE XL2540 25" Monitor? It can do 240 Hz… natively.

BenQ ZOWIE 25" LCD Gaming Monitor

1440p: Not Quite 4K, but More Pixels

If you built a mid-range gaming rig with, say, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, you should consider bumping up to a monitor with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. The added pixels will provide more graphical detail than a 1080p monitor, but it won’t be as taxing on your system as a 4K UHD monitor.

Acer makes the Predator XB1 for G-SYNC users. It has a 144 Hz refresh rate, a 4ms response time, and a 27" IPS panel. AMD users will probably want the ASUS MG279Q, because it has FreeSync, a 4 ms response time, and a 27" IPS panel.

ASUS 27" LED Gaming Monitor

4K UHD: Top Tier

So, you built the ultimate gaming rig, but are you ready to put your GeForce GTX 1080 Ti to work? If you are, I see a 4K UHD monitor in your future, since there’s really no need to hold yourself back.

You could get away with a 27" 4K UHD monitor, but you’re going to have to bump up the font size (or get a magnifying glass). We recommend that you go at least 30 inches for the screen size. The BenQ BL3201PH 32" Monitor is a good choice, thanks to its respectable 4 ms response time on an IPS panel. The Dell UP3216Q 31.5" Monitor is also a good choice, although it has a slightly slower response time, which clocks at 6 ms.

Dell 31.5" UltraSharp 4K UHD IPS Monitor

21:9: Ultrawide Gaming

Some gamers like to use two monitors. While getting identical monitors and placing them next to each other works quite well, you still must deal with those annoying bezels in the middle of your point of view. With a 21:9 ultrawide monitor, you get the benefit of two monitors in a single display. A 21:9 monitor can also be useful for video editing. You’ll be able to see more of the timeline in Adobe Premiere. It also makes watching movies better because the aspect ratio plays well with most film releases (good-bye, black bars).

The Acer Predator X34 34" Monitor features 3440 x 1440 resolution and a curved IPS panel. While curved panels on TVs are kind of odd, since they’re meant to be viewed from a variety of angles, they’re quite good for a computer monitor, where you’re stationed right in the sweet spot. It also has G-SYNC, so this monitor is recommended for ultrawide enthusiasts with NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics cards.

Acer Predator 34" 21:9 Curved G-SYNC IPS Gaming Monitor

If you own an AMD GPU, you should opt for the LG 34UM88-P 34" Monitor. It features 3440 x 1440 resolution and FreeSync. This one has a flat IPS panel instead of a curved one, though, so you may have to place it a bit farther away from you to get a better view of the screen.

LG 34" 21:9 UltraWide FreeSync IPS Monitor

HDR: High Dynamic Range

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is the ability for a screen to display a wider, richer range of colors, as well as brighter whites and deeper, richer blacks. When put together on a screen, HDR displays provide a much more vibrant and realistic appearance than non-HDR displays.

HDR TVs are becoming increasingly more popular. A good starting point would be the VIZIO M-Series, though color reproduction isn’t quite as good as on the higher-end P-Series. Available in a wide variety of screen sizes, you get 4K UHD resolution with built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity. You can hook up your Xbox One S or PS4 Pro and play compatible games in HDR.

VIZIO M-Series 50" LED Home Theater Display

LG makes the W7 Series. Featured at CES 2017, the W7 has a 4K UHD OLED panel and supports HDR10. It’s Picture-on-Wall 0.2" slim design allows you to place it on the wall with minimal protrusion. Also, thanks to its OLED panel, you’ll get pure blacks and virtually infinite contrast.

LG SIGNATURE W7 Series 65"-Class UHD Smart OLED TV

While the market for HDR monitors is still relatively new, LG does have the 32UD99-W 31.5" Monitor. It features a 4K UHD resolution, FreeSync, and supports HDR10.

LG 31.5" FreeSync IPS Monitor

Speaking of OLED, Dell is one of the first manufacturers to release a 30" 4K OLED monitor. Since OLED technology is somewhat fairly new in monitors, we’re not sure how they fare in gaming yet, but we can expect much better color reproduction and response times, compared to current LCD screens.

Dell 30" 4K OLED Monitor

Which monitor do you prefer for your gaming system? Tell us below, in the Comments section.

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