What To Look For In A Gaming Monitor
So you want to buy a gaming monitor but you don’t know where to start. These days you can spend all day and night on the internet researching what to look for in a gaming monitor and you’ll end up with about a hundred conflicting arguments on what features or brands are best.
If you just want to see what we picked as the best gaming monitor, then check out our gaming monitor buying guide, where we tackle a ton of different, great options to bring you the best of the best.
We’re here to give you the key points and features to look at when choosing a new monitor for your gaming rig. So, let's dive right in.
Panel Type: TN or IPS?
TN panels prioritize budget and speed, while IPS panels prioritize a better viewing experience. For a more detailed explanation, check out our TN vs IPS breakdown. Neither are the best type of monitor for gaming, though, they both offer their own pros and cons.
For instance, your response time will generally correspond with your display type. A good response time for a gaming monitor is at least 5ms, but most TN displays can offer 1-2ms response times, which is great for competitive gaming.
- Lower latency than IPS; cheaper support for high refresh rates
- Cheaper overall
- Worse color reproduction
- Narrower viewing angles
- Better color reproduction
- Better viewing angles
- More expensive
- Higher latency
One of the most important features you’ll hear mentioned these days is the refresh rate of the monitor. Even though we are talking in milliseconds, it makes a big difference.
The refresh rate is the number of times a monitor refreshes the image on the screen. Simply put - a higher refresh rate equals a smoother image. This can make your game look and feel more responsive, but if it’s the competitive edge you’re looking for, it’s still largely going to be down to human reaction times.
Most monitors will support either a 60hz, 120hz, 144hz or 240hz refresh rate. Although these numbers may seem high, it still comes down to how fast the human eye can process the image being displayed. Some people swear it’s worth investing in higher refresh rates, whereas others can’t see the difference. If you have the opportunity, check out this feature in person before investing your money into it.
- 60Hz - The “baseline”. Minimum required for a smooth gaming experience.
- 75Hz - Slightly better than baseline, but only a marginal difference.
- 120Hz - Big difference in playability and quality, but somewhat superseded by the more popular 144Hz displays.
- 144Hz - Not all that different from 120Hz, but the more popular standard. Probably your best bet for buying a high refresh rate display today.
- 240Hz - Despite the larger number, not quite as significant as the leap from 60 to 144. Also a bit unfeasible for most hardware currently on the market.
For more on refresh rate and how it affects your gaming experience, check out our article on the topic.
FreeSync and G-Sync
Note: In order to utilize these technologies, you will need DisplayPort ports on both your GPU and your monitor, as well as a DisplayPort cable to connect the two.
Although these words may sound alien at first, this is where it all starts to tie together. Depending on your FPS and refresh rate, sometimes you can run into situations where they don’t quite sync up. This will commonly result in the form of screen tearing.
This is one of the most annoying graphical problems to deal with and will ruin any gaming experience.
What They Are
G-Sync and Freesync are provided by Nvidia and AMG, who each developed a method to try and eliminate the screen tear problem with the lightest hit on performance. Each option has its own set of pros and cons, but we have found Nvidia's G-Sync tends to drive monitor prices up slightly more as it needs dedicated hardware to be present in the display.
FreeSync and G-Sync are two (essentially) identical technologies, but there are a few key differences.
FreeSync, from AMD, is only compatible with AMD GPUs and FreeSync-compatible displays. However, FreeSync only requires compliance with the latest DisplayPort standards and doesn’t require specialized hardware to function.
G-Sync, from Nvidia, is only compatible Nvidia GPUs and G-Sync-compatible displays. Unlike FreeSync, it requires dedicated hardware built into the display in order to function properly.
Both technologies seek to beat V-Sync, which is a hardware-intensive method of synchronizing your framerate to your refresh rate to prevent screen-tearing. This comes at the penalty of some input latency and pretty severe framerate dips if you ever go below your refresh rate.
Comparatively, the -Sync technologies don’t cause input lag at all and keep your refresh rate synchronized to your framerate, as opposed to the other way around. This essentially provides all the benefits of V-Sync without any of the downsides.
Also, remember that G-Sync and Freesync require your system to have Nvidia and AMG GPUs respectively in order to function.
Which To Get
If you already have a GPU, you should just go with the one that your card supports.
If you don’t or are about to upgrade, FreeSync will do the same things as G-Sync but for much cheaper, since it doesn’t require the dedicated hardware inside the display.
Resolution and Monitor Size
Many people make the mistake of thinking a larger screen size is always better. While this is mainly true in televisions, when you are so close to the screen, the size starts to become irrelevant. Also, remember - you have to be able to fit it on your desk!
Most people find that sizes ranging from 24” to 27” are best for gaming. You’ll generally be sitting about 3-4ft away from the screen and monitors in this size range will still allow you to see everything at once - something crucial for competitive gaming. Remember though, with a larger size comes a larger price tag.
Below, we’ve listed optimal sizes for each of the popular resolutions. If you want our detailed rationale, check out our article on the best monitor size for gaming. Also remember, that larger size and/or higher resolution will cost more money, in general.
- 1080p and 24 inches - Most common, should work fine with most setups.
- 1440p and 27 inches - Less common, will need mid-to-high-end hardware to make the most of.
- 4K and 27+ inches - Least common, will need the best hardware to make the most of.
Widescreen (16:9) or Ultrawide (21:9)?
The resolution of a monitor is one of the features that will make your games look great. With a higher resolution comes more pixels on the screen, and with more pixels comes better quality. Although this won’t give you a competitive edge, it sure will make your games look great.
The size of the monitor will also affect the resolution you intend to run. Most gamers play on a 1080p resolution which looks great on 24” monitors. However, if you intend to push up your resolution to 1440p or even 4k, you’ll want a larger screen size.
We also discuss this in the best monitor size article, but the short version is: use a single 16:9 monitor for gaming. Ultrawide and multi-monitor setups can work, but their support for gaming is very limited, and in some cases can be outright worse, especially in multiplayer titles (where they won’t allow you to utilize a wider FOV since it can be considered a competitive advantage).
Before you go out and buy a huge screen, make sure you have the video hardware to support these sizes, as the increased number of pixels will create a larger workload for your GPU. If it’s high FPS you’re going for, you’re going to need a top-end system to support the increased resolution.
How Much Should I Spend?
If you’re new to gaming, you might find some of the features that improve your gaming experience also decrease those numbers in your bank account. Yes, you can have all the best features, but these will come at a cost. Some high-end monitors can cost up to $1,000, but it’s possible to get a great quality monitor for a tenth of that price.
It all depends on what you want and what your budget is. If you’re more focused on FPS rather than a gorgeous display, then your priorities may differ than someone who just wants their games to look beautiful.
It also depends on the budget for the rest of your system;
- If you’re getting a budget build (anywhere from $300 to $500 total): you probably shouldn’t spend any more than $200 or any less than $100.
- If you’re getting a midrange build (anywhere from $600 to $800 total): you shouldn’t spend any less than $200 or any more than $400.
- If you’re getting a high-end build (anywhere from $1000 and up): you can really spend as much as you want, but you want to start around $300-400.
What features are most important?
Is your priority a smooth gameplay experience or a pretty gameplay experience?
If you want smoothness above all, this is your order of priority:
- Refresh Rate - No less than 120 Hz! This means 1080p on budget builds; 1440p as you push higher.
- Response Time - No more than 3ms!
- G-Sync or FreeSync - Will be very nice and possibly very helpful!
- HDR and deep color gamut - Optional! HDR isn’t always widely supported.
- IPS - Very optional, might come at the expense of one of the others.
If you want prettiness above all, this is your order of priority (Note: this route is arguably more expensive):
- IPS - Better color reproduction and viewing angles provide a more immersive gaming experience!
- HDR and deep color gamut - Expensive and somewhat rare, but awesome where you can get it!
- 4K- 4K will give you exceptional clarity.
- Response Time - No more than 5 ms! Smoothness might not be your priority, but you still want a good gaming experience.
- G-Sync or FreeSync - Pretty optional, but still nice to have.
Other Things To Consider
Of course, when weighing up the benefits of what to look for in a gaming monitor there are a variety of options. We have listed some of the main ones but other things you could look at include:
- HDR - More commonly found on televisions at the moment, this feature gives your monitor a higher dynamic range. Simply put, it will make your games look stunning
- Variety of ports - Options such as HDMI, VGA, DVI, and DisplayPort are important to look at if you intend to use your monitor for multiple systems
- Response time - Measured in just milliseconds, you generally you want this number as low as possible to avoid ghosting. You can pick up monitors with a response time as little as 1ms, which is perfect for gaming.
- Monitor types - You could also look at widescreen monitors which have a higher screen ratio. These are great for seeing more on one screen, however, some games will not let you utilize this for a competitive edge and will simply put black bars in the excess space
If you’re looking for a monitor that will display your games as smoothly as possible then leaning towards monitors with a higher refresh rate and response time would be your best bet. You should aim for at least 120hz as well as a response time lower than 3-4ms. This will make your games appear smooth and sharp.
If performance isn’t your main aim, then a larger monitor that allows HDR or supports a 4k resolution will make your gaming experience look beautiful. This usually comes at a higher price tag and will also greatly increase the workload of your system, so make sure you have the hardware to back it up!
By reading this guide we hope you’ve come a little closer in knowing what to look for in a gaming monitor. Although it might not be a core component of your system, it’s the part you’ll be looking at the most. Whether or not it’s competitive gaming you’re looking at or simply pushing your games to look as good as possible, choosing the perfect monitor is essential.
And, these are the factors to take into consideration when you’re buying a gaming monitor of your own. If you want to go ahead and start browsing on your own, head over to Amazon and scour away with the information we’ve given you!
You’ll also want a GPU to match if you don’t have one- click here to read our best GPU roundup!
Before we leave, we want to know: what do you prioritize in your gaming experience? Do you prefer smoother gameplay for competitive gaming or prettier graphics because aesthetics matter most? There are no wrong answers here, and we’d love to hear your thoughts!