The monitor market has matured nicely over the last couple of years. And while a screen with 4K support, 200+Hz refresh rates for competitive gaming, proper HDR and IPS or micro-LED is still a bit of a white whale, there’s still a lot of really good options out there.
Take competitive gamers, for instance. Until this year, budding Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six or gamers that specifically wanted to play esports games at the highest frame rates possible had pretty few options. You could either have a nice looking monitor with great colours, or go for the highest refresh rate possible, accepting whatever tradeoffs that came with that.
Those tradeoffs have differed over the years. Initially only the lower-quality TN panels were capable of 240Hz refresh rates, which was great if you could live with the garbage viewing angles and poor colours. In recent times, more VA panels have come into the mix, like Samsung’s curved 240Hz offering.
Those offer better colours than TN panels, for sure, but VA screens have issues of their own. VA screens have better brightness, better contrast ratios and better viewing angles than their TN-based brethren, but they often suffer from lower response time than what TN or IPS screens can achieve.
In short, VA screens are an all-rounder. They’ve been a solid middle-ground option for the years when crystal clear IPS screens were too expensive, and TN panels were too blurry and ugly to look at.
Entry level PC products, generally, tend to have similar characteristics. They're basic. They get the job done - just - and they're not known for being flashy, either in performance or looks. That's particularly true for monitors. Spend under $400 and you're faced with a low quality panel with decent refresh rate, higher resolution but garbage refresh rate and input lag, or a middle ground that doesn't really excel at anything. Samsung's CRG5 monitor buggers that orthodoxy right off.Read more
But those days are starting to come to an end. A spate of 240Hz gaming IPS screens have hit the market, and they’re more than capable of holding the line when it comes to gaming. One of those is the MSI Optix MAG251RX, a 24.5-inch 240Hz monitor targeted at the esports crowd, or people who solely play competitive games like Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Overwatch and so on at high frame rates.
The MAG251RX is retailing for around $700 in Australia, depending on retailer. That puts it alongside some 27-inch 1440p monitors (with lower refresh rates), but cheaper than some 24.5-inch IPS 240Hz screens, like Alienware’s AW2521HF, the AORUS KD25F or the ASUS ROG PG258Q. You can find some cheaper 240Hz IPS screens, but they’re not all G-SYNC Compatible.
How much precisely the G-SYNC support matters to you really depends on the range of games you play, though. If you’re just playing those competitive twitch shooters all the time – as in, 90% of your games are always going to be Dota 2, Rainbow 6: Siege or something that’s running at 200fps or more – then the G-SYNC compatibility probably won’t matter a whole lot. The benefits of G-SYNC come in when your frame rate consistently rises and falls, helping to eliminate the screen tearing and jitteryness that frame rate drops cause. You’re not going to see that in a matchmaking game of CS:GO, for instance.
It’s worth noting that anyone wanting to play games at such high refresh rates isn’t going to be playing them at 1440p either. Even with a 2080 Ti, good RAM and a good CPU, many games simply won’t hit anything close to 200fps at 1440p – and that’s not likely to change until the next generation of GPUs arrive.
The design of the MAG251RX is a little improved from some of MSI’s other monitors, too. A real annoyance I had with the curved MSI 27-inch 144Hz screen was the position of the USB ports. They were tucked away in the back left of the screen, with all of the I/O mounted vertically. It made accessing ports a right pain in the arse, especially the USB ports that were jammed right next to each other. The MAG251RX has three USB ports (instead of 2) all on the left edge. It’s not pretty, especially when you’re using every port at once, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to access.
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So, why fork out for a 240Hz IPS screen if you can get a cheaper alternative? If the main objective of screens like these is the fastest response times possible, then why not just have the fastest response screen for your primary monitor, and have a 27-inch or 32-inch screen on the side for web browsing/movies/everything else?
The simple answer is money. Despite being older, and a technology that’ll probably be replaced as VA and IPS monitors get continually refreshed – even VA monitors are starting to boast 1ms response times – 240Hz TN monitors aren’t actually that cheap. The ASUS ROG Strix XG258Q is going for around $600, or $539 if you’re happy to accept a slightly slower model. Beyond that, the TN panels can cost just as much as the IPS alternatives.
So it’s really less of a comparison between TN and IPS – at least in the Australian market – and more about whether you want a 240Hz screen in the first place. If you’re not a competitive gamer, or you like playing a wide mix of games, then a bigger monitor with a higher resolution is probably more important to you. Playing a game like Control or DOOM Eternal is a hell of a lot nicer at 1440p, even with a slightly lower refresh rate.
But that’s not the case for games like Valorant, Overwatch, Quake Champions, and so on. In a lot of cases, CS:GO especially, most people will play them at lower, even sub-optimal resolutions, just to improve the clarity of player models and objects at motion.
Having a better IPS screen over a TN panel does still help there. The Optix MAG251RX has good colours, very good factory calibration out of the box – not unlike the MSI 27-inch MAG272CQR – and the response time is more than good enough for high level competition. More importantly, you’ll notice the benefits of the IPS panel in just about every other game, particularly vibrant open-worlds like The Witcher 3 or something with a lot of lush greens and blues, like the jungles of Amazon’s free-to-play shooter Crucible. And it’ll be especially prominent the second you open Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Chrome, Netflix, and so on.
Given the difference in price between the TN and IPS 240Hz screens, the better question is one of budgets and preference. If you don’t mind making some tradeoffs, and you want a better balance between productivity, resolution and gaming, then something like the $429 MAG272C makes a lot of sense. If budget is an issue, but you that CS:GO, Fortnite or other fast paced games are the primary thing you’ll be doing with your PC, then there’s Samsung’s 240Hz VA panel
If you want a 240Hz screen, but spending over $500 is a bit much to ask, then something like Samsung’s 27-inch 27RG50 makes a lot of sense. You’re having to deal with the tradeoffs of 1080p stretched across a 27-inch screen, but you’ll get better picture quality than the TN panels, and the extra money can go into other parts of your PC.
So MSI’s Optix MAG251RX isn’t a screen for everyone. It’s probably best targeted at younger gamers who have saved up for a big PC upgrade. They’re the kinds of people who aren’t interested in tradeoffs. It’s for the gamer who is very clear about the primary thing they want out of their gaming screen – the clearest possible image for clicking heads – with as few downsides in all other applications.
The only other question is whether you’d be happy with a fast 24-inch screen, or if 27-inch screens are more appropriate in this day and age. If you’re playing at 1080p, I think a 24-inch screen is plenty. I know a lot of aging CS:GO and Battlefield gamers who grew up on similar size LCD screens, and a lot of their aim and muscle memory is built around that. But if you’re recoiling against the idea of buying a 24-inch screen in 1080p, I’d say the fastest possible refresh rate and response time isn’t what you’re after. But there’s plenty of good options available right now – that’s what’s so great about monitors in 2020.
Wind back a few years and monitors were like buying an Australian internet connection. You couldn’t have fast, reliable and affordable internet - it was only two of the three. Similarly, monitors were stuck in this weird spot where you could have great colour accuracy, high refresh rates and 1440p or better resolution … if you wanted to spend a few grand. But times have changed, and screens are now starting to hit the sweet spot: good refresh rates for gaming, good response times, and decent colour accuracy out of the box at a price that regular gamers can justify paying.Read more
It's not hard to see why MSI has taken such a sizeable chunk of the monitor market, especially with the MAG272CQR. Look at this combo: a 27-inch 1ms screen with 165Hz refresh rate, a decent VA panel with an unobtrusive 1500R curve and 1440p resolution.Read more
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