What Is Response Time? Everything You Need To Know

Understanding pixel response times can be difficult. Here's our comprehensive breakdown of response time, including ghosting, overshoot, overdrive, and more.

what is response time

Alongside refresh rate, a monitor’s response time is one of the most important specifications a display comes equipped with. That’s right, whether you’re watching movies with fast-moving images or playing a highly competitive esports title, your monitor’s response time has a huge impact on the viewing experience you receive.

Whilst response time is a fairly simple concept on the surface, it’s still one of the most discussed topics amongst monitor consumers. For that reason, we’ll be going over everything you need to know about response time in the following article.

We’ll be taking a closer look at what response time is, how it affects your viewing experience, and everything else that comes hand in hand with your monitor’s pixel response time.

So, with plenty to get through, let’s waste no further time and dive straight into it!

What Is Response Time

Response time, in its simplest form, is the amount of time it takes for your pixels to change color, usually using the GTG (gray to gray) transition – but not always. When purchasing a monitor, you’ll likely come across a number of different response time ‘standards’, with some manufacturers opting to market an ISO response time (black to white to black) over the more commonly used GTG. For this reason, understanding response times can be a little tricky – especially if you aren’t fully up to speed with display technology.

A typical LCD monitor in today’s market will offer a response time of anywhere between 1ms and 10ms – with lower always being better for gamers. That said, a monitor’s response time should always be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Monitor manufacturers will only tell you the best-case scenario with the response time. They’ll often run a number of different tests over a variety of different color transitions – using the quickest response time for its marketing. So, if a monitor displayed a 25ms response time going from gray to gray and a 4ms black to white, manufacturers would naturally market it as a 4ms panel. So, you can quickly see how this can become very misleading.

The only real way to know the true response time of a monitor is to do the tests yourself – or wait for someone like us to do it for you.

Why not check out our comprehensive what to look for in a gaming monitor guide here.

Why Do Low Response Times Matter

At this point, you might be asking yourself – why exactly does a low response time even matter? For most everyday users, a monitor’s response time is probably the last thing they’re worried about. Browsing emails and watching the occasional YouTube video isn’t going to benefit massively from a quicker response time. However, when it comes to playing fast-paced shooters, the opposite couldn’t be more true.

Screen Ghosting

Playing these sort of games on a monitor that has a slow response time will ultimately lead to screen artifacts known as ghosting (or smearing). This is when a ghostly trail is left behind the fast-moving object, reducing picture clarity exponentially.

Ghosting occurs after your GPU has fed your monitor a newly rendered frame. To display the new frame, the monitor must change the color of its pixels in accordance with what is now on the screen. If your monitor can’t change the color of pixels fast enough, it produces a ghostly trail effect that is known as ghosting.

Response Time Blurred Response Time Non Blurred

Above is a great example of what ghosting looks like when playing games with fast-moving objects. Whilst it isn’t this obvious in actual gameplay, there’s no denying its existence when gaming on a monitor with a low response time. The effects of ghosting do vary from panel to panel depending on the pixel response time, with the above effect becoming increasingly problematic the slower they are.

Panel Technology And Response Time

While monitors come in all shapes and sizes, most fall into one of three panel technologies. The main panel technologies in modern displays are IPS (in-plane switching), VA (vertical alignment), and TN (Twisted nematic). Each of the panel technologies offers its own unique set of pros and cons, with the response time varying across the three.

Below are the pros and cons of each when referencing pixel response time:

  • IPS – These are the most expensive of the bunch, offering the best colors and widest viewing angles. Whilst IPS panels were once considered sluggish in terms of response, the same can’t be said in modern offerings. IPS technology has improved a lot in recent years, with the latest options bringing great response time and refresh rates to the table.
  • TN – TN are tailored towards gamers, bringing excellent responsiveness to the table. As far as color as concerned, TN panels aren’t the best in the world. That being said, they do offer fantastic pixel response times – beating the other two in years gone by.
  • VA – Vertical alignment panels are a mix of the other two in this list – falling somewhere in the middle for both colors and response times. VA panels are often used with more immersive widescreen monitors as they offer good contrast and darkroom gaming. That said, pixel response time is a little lacking, trailing both IPS and TN alternatives.

Whilst IPS were once considered a one-trick pony, that is no longer the case. If you want a monitor that can do it all, IPS are the ones to go for. Remember though, the benefit of great colors, viewing angles, and fast response does come with a price tag to match. Alternatively, a TN panel will offer the same levels of response but at a cheaper price point. VA is, as stated above, somewhere in the middle – for both performance and price.

Boosting Your Pixel Response Time

Many modern monitors now come with overdrive settings that utilize a strobing feature to increase the speed at which your pixels change color. Whilst the additional response speed sounds attractive, often it can come hand-in-hand with a screen artifact known as overshoot.

Monitor Overdrive Pixel Overshoot

Overshoot is a byproduct of the monitor’s overdrive feature. It’s basically the same as ghosting – only with overshoot, the pixels tend to change color before the image has moved. In this scenario, the ghostly trail is actually seen in front of the moving image – instead of behind.

Fortunately, manufacturers usually offer a number of different overdrive settings so that you can manually select what best suits your need. Often, a medium-strength overdrive setting is the best of both worlds – providing faster response times without the annoying visual defects.

Should You Buy A Monitor With A Low Response Time?

So, the only question left to answer is whether or not you should buy a monitor with a low response time? Well, that really comes down to what you use your monitor for. If you’re the kind of person that only browses the internet or watches the odd TV show, chances are a superfast response time wouldn’t revolutionize your viewing experience.

However, if you play competitive esports or enjoy watching action-packed films with very fast-moving objects, you should absolutely look for the fastest response time possible. The difference between a slow response time and a fast one really is night and day. Furthermore, the premium that a fast response time puts on your panel’s cost isn’t actually that much. Yes, a fast response will put some additional cost on your monitor – but it’s one of the cheaper premiums you can add. Specifications like resolution, refresh rate, and backlight technology are much more impactful on the price.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, our full rundown of response time and how it affects your viewing performance. We hope this article has made understanding this specification a little easier, taking away some of the confusion that may be attached to it.

If you have any questions regarding this article, feel free to drop us a comment in the section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Better still, why not head on over to our community hub where you can discuss everything monitor related with like-minded individuals.