How to Choose a Gaming Monitor

If you aren’t really well versed in terms of gaming monitors, knowing how to choose a gaming monitor might seem like a difficult task. And of course, with some monitors costing quite a bit, you could end up making a costly mistake – nobody wants that.

With that in mind, once you understand terms like resolution, panel technologies, response times, and refresh rates, choosing a monitor that’s right for you actually isn’t all that difficult. And that’s why we’ll be touching upon some of the key things you should know about gaming monitors. By the end, you should know how to choose a gaming monitor that’s right for your needs.

Panel size

This is the first thing you’ll want to understand well when it comes to how to choose a gaming monitor. It has the most impact on your entire experience. There are plenty of combinations between panel size and resolution. With some better than others, you don’t want to make a mistake here.

The panel size is the physical size of your monitor. The number defines how big the diagonal is, usually in inches. And while some might say that bigger is always better, that’s not always the case. We’ll get to the resolutions and how size impacts them in a moment. But more importantly, having a massive monitor while you’re sitting on a desk, is not good for your eyes. Of course, if you can move the monitor further away from you, that does relieve some of the eye strain. But it’s still not ideal.

When it comes to the panel size, you should also consider the ratio. Up until a couple of years ago, most monitors were 16:9. This is the ratio of the horizontal size and the vertical size. Now we have ultrawide monitors, that are 21:9, and even super ultrawide, which are 32:9. There are also ratios like 16:10, which gets you a bit more vertical space. And there is also 4:3, which was used a long time ago and isn’t too popular nowadays. If you’re getting a “conventional” monitor, stick to 16:9.

Resolution

Now for the resolution, which is arguably even more important when looking into how to choose a gaming monitor. The resolution tells you how many pixels your monitor can display, both on the horizontal and vertical side of things. For example, with full HD, also known as 1080p, you have 1920 by 1080. QHD, or 1440p, gets you 2560 by 1440p, while 4K is 3840 by 2160. Of course, these are all 16:9 aspect ratios. However, ultrawide and super ultrawide monitors tend to add more pixels on the horizontal axis. So, a full HD ultrawide will be 2560 by 1080 pixels.

Picking the resolution depends on two things. The first one is what your computer, or more specifically, your graphics card, can handle. Modern graphics cards, especially higher-end ones, can easily handle 1440p or even 4K gaming. But with lower-end models or older GPUs, you’ll want to stick to 1080p for best results. To add to this, you should consider what size monitor you’re getting, and again, at what distance you’ll be looking at it. The relationship between the panel size and the resolution is defined by pixels-per-inch, and here, more is better. It’s simple – you get a sharper picture. If you aren’t sure which route to take, here are a few options:

  • With 1920 x 1080, a 24-inch panel is ideal
  • For 2560 x 1440, a 27-inch panel is ideal
  • With 3840 x 2160, a 30 to 32-inch panel is ideal

Of course, these are all guidelines, and you can pick and choose as you see fit. But it is these combinations that will get you around that sweet spot at about 109 PPI (pixels per inch).

Refresh rate and response time

This is a metric that’s increasingly important in the past period, especially when it comes to gaming monitors. The refresh rate indicates how many times per second the monitor will redraw the entire image on the display, and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Commonly, with monitors that aren’t oriented towards gamers, the refresh rate is 60Hz. However, if you play a game that has a lot of fast-moving images, you’ll notice some of them appearing blurry. This isn’t ideal, and increasing the refresh rate helps.

With gaming monitors, you have somewhat of a minimum of 120Hz. Obviously, this is twice as smooth as 60Hz (provided your GPU can handle it). This is a difference you’ll notice even when you’re browsing the internet, let alone gaming. Most panels will come with a 144Hz refresh rate, while others might push it to 165Hz. The fastest ones out there go up to 200Hz, 240Hz, and even 360Hz. However, after 144Hz, the difference isn’t that obvious, so it’s pretty much a diminishing returns situation. All things considered, here, more is definitely better.

The response time is how much time, in milliseconds, it takes the monitor to transition a pixel from one shade of gray to another. A faster response time means you have less smearing in moving images, which directly translates into an overall smoother picture. You want to stay at 4ms or lower, for the best gaming experience.

Panel type

And so, we arrive at the massive discussion that is panel types. The panel type has a direct impact on image quality. Here, you will find three main options – TN, or twisted nematic, VA, or vertical alignment, and IPS, or in-plane switching. And each of them has its pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide which one works best for you.

TN panels tend to be the fastest and most affordable ones. They usually get you very fast pixel response times and excellent refresh rates, and all at a reasonable price. The tradeoff? The colors aren’t all that impressive, and if you look at them from an angle, there is extremely noticeable color shifting.

VA panels are somewhat of a middle ground. Colors are pretty good, and their contrast ratios tend to be better than the other panel types due to their ability to display deep blacks. However, they aren’t too fast, and they may have ghosting issues.

IPS panels get you an excellent color reproduction, usually being the most accurate and most pleasant to look at, and also have the best viewing angles, with more or less zero color shifting. The thing is, they’re expensive, and unless you get one of the latest higher-end monitors, you’ll be dealing with slow response times and high input lag.

When you’re choosing what type of panel to go with, you should decide what works best for you and your needs. Usually, IPS panels are recommended as an overall best option, but VA and TN panels have their place, too, especially with the more budget-oriented crowd.

Adaptive sync (FreeSync & G-Sync)

Adaptive sync only came out a couple of years ago as a technology but is now a bare necessity when it comes to gaming monitors. Both AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync technologies work by synchronizing the refresh rate of your monitor with your graphics card’s frames per second output. This helps eliminate things like screen tearing, with minimal impact on performance.

And with adaptive sync, the answer is “don’t get a monitor without it”. It’s really an essential feature, and whether you pick AMD’s FreeSync or Nvidia’s G-Sync, depends on your system, what GPU you’re running, and which technology is compatible with it. But yes, by all means, get a monitor that has adaptive sync.

FreeSync

G-Sync

Stand

While many people don’t really pay attention to it, the stand is actually pretty important. A bad monitor stand means that you won’t be able to get your monitor to the right height and set it up at the right angles that are comfortable for you. And if you’re spending long hours gaming, this can be detrimental for both your eyesight and your posture.

This is why when you’re getting a monitor, make sure the stand has as much adjustment as possible. Tilt is important, but height is even more important. And of course, you can even get monitors that rotate 90 degrees. This comes in handy for using them in vertical mode when working, for example.

Or, if the stand is the only thing you don’t like about the monitor you’ve set your eyes on, see if it has VESA mount capabilities. This allows you to get a monitor arm and mount the monitor just how you like it.

Curved or not?

Modern monitor manufacturers started to curve their panels, usually opting for a 1500R or 1800R curvature in order to offer a more immersive experience. However, even though they oftentimes do get you a more immersive experience, not everyone is a fan of them because they tend to twist things slightly and you might not have the best perspective. Our suggestion would be to stay away from curved panels unless you’re getting a massive monitor that extends far to the sides, but this is merely a suggestion – it’s all personal preference. And when looking into how to choose a gaming monitor, there’s no clear answer to whether or not to go curved.

Port selection

The last thing you should know about how to choose a gaming monitor is that it’s important to have enough ports for everything you want to connect to your monitor. Of course, a DisplayPort is a must if you’re going for a higher refresh rate monitor, or a higher resolution one, due to the increased throughput when compared to HDMI. To add to this, if you’re going to connect multiple devices, like your PC and a console, you should look for additional inputs.

To add to this, some monitors will also come with additional ports like USB, 3.5mm audio, and even Ethernet. While none of these are really a necessity when you’re getting a gaming monitor, they’re all nice-to-haves and can help you clean up cable management a bit. For example, you could connect your peripherals to your monitor if your cables won’t reach the back of your case. It’s all about convenience.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, knowing how to choose a gaming monitor is important, whether you spend an hour per day gaming, or ten. It has a massive impact on your gaming experience, and can seriously make a massive difference in day to day usage, too. Get something that works great instead of something that “just works”, you won’t regret it.

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