It’s all well and good spending up big on a fancy graphics card for your PC or a next generation console gaming system, but it’s money wasted if you can’t see where the money’s gone. That’s where a good gaming monitor comes into its own. But what should you look for when choosing your next gaming monitor?
Size matters for gaming monitors
When most folks think of gaming monitors, they’re typically talking about a display that you’re not actually going to sit all that far away from, typically with a chair in front of a desk where the monitor sits.
In that scenario, screens that would seem very small if you were using them from your sofa can appear to be much larger, simply because you’re much closer to them. If that seems confusing, I’ll let Father Ted explain:
In this scenario, the smaller but closer up cows – or in our case, gaming monitors – appear much larger because they’re much closer to our eyeballs. You’re getting more visual bang for your buck by the simple expedient of being closer to the screen.
So what’s a “good” size? You obviously have to weigh up your desk space and whether the images or brightness from the monitor is going to disturb others during those all-night fragfests, but typically for gaming you should want to look for screens at 27 inches or higher ideally.
That will give you a good range of monitor choices at higher resolutions, while also giving you a display that you’re not easily peeking around the sides of during games. Monitors smaller than 27 inches often don’t push beyond 1920×1080, or FHD resolutions, which means you wouldn’t be getting the most out of your gaming PC or high-end console.
If you look at the very cheap end of the gaming monitor space, you’ll mostly see panels using Twisted Nematic (TN) displays, while much of the higher end will be screens with In-Plane Switching (IPS) tech instead. In the middle sit screens with Vertical Alignment tech (VA). So… IPS is the better technology for gaming, right?
Actually, it’s not quite that simple, because the right TN screen at the right price can have advantages against a similar sized IPS panel, and VA screens can provide a great middle ground in terms of refresh rates, colour accuracy and viewing angles.
You can typically get a TN display with a higher refresh rate at a lower price than on an IPS display as well as lower overall latency. IPS panels typically manage colour reproduction and viewing angles better than TN displays, but they cost more and can have higher latency.
Refresh and response rates
The next spec to check against is the refresh rate of the monitor. The baseline is 60Hz, but unless you’re playing a lot of very static games, what you should be looking for is a display with at least twice that refresh rate on board at a bare minimum for fast action gaming. At 60Hz, expect a lot of blurry onscreen images or screen tearing in fast action games, something that will be less noticeable at higher refresh rates.
Speaking of screen tearing, if you’re using a system with an AMD or Nvidia GPU, you may also see mention of G-Sync (Nvidia) or FreeSync (AMD) in your monitor specifications. Those are mostly-hardware-driven solutions (but they’re also software) to reduce tearing in fast action games when and if you experience frame rate dips. It’s a matter of matching your game expectations there, because if you’re playing games that want a high resolution and refresh rate at a locked frame rate, synchronisation issues shouldn’t happen that often.
The other spec to check against is response rate. That’s the rate at which a monitor can make a full on to off transition – that’s fully white to black and then back again – and it’s particularly important in a gaming sense to avoid ghosting issues. What you ideally want to look for here is a sub 2ms timeframe on a good gaming monitor, and again you’ll typically have to balance that cost against your technology type and refresh rates as well.
And finally there’s input lag, which measures the speed at which the monitor itself responds to commands from your system. A high input lag will mean a less-than-stellar gaming experience, so look for sub-1ms here. Some displays may offer up specific “game modes” that limit in-display signal processing to maximise response rates and minimise input lag, although that can sometimes be at the cost of image fidelity.
Inputs and outputs
The larger size of many gaming monitors does give them a little more scope to incorporate more inputs than those classic old boring business desktop displays, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Multiple HDMI ports will make it simpler to connect up more than one video source, so you could hook up a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X along with your gaming PC. For utilising features such as G-Sync or Freesync, displayport compatibility is often a must-have feature. It’s less common on monitors that are sold as “gaming” monitors, but you may still see old school VGA connectors in play too.
Then there’s USB ports, which can be useful both for peripherals to minimise cable clutter and tangle which can be your enemy in fast action games, and for simple charging of devices in those downtimes between games. Some manufacturers offer displays with USB ports but place them in hard-to-access places on the monitor body, which can quickly be annoying.
Gaming monitor price
Naturally, what you end up with almost always ends up with the price argument. Before you simply buy the cheapest model that seems to meet your needs, consider that your gaming monitor, if it’s of serviceable quality should be able to last you a good number of years. As such, buying a slightly more expensive model that’ll meet your needs nicely over that time could be a wiser investment than one that’s cheap now but quickly reveals why it’s so cheap.
Can’t I just use a big TV?
At one level, sure, you can generally hook up the HDMI connection from a PC to a TV and game that way, and plenty do. If your gaming is based around the couch and you’ve got others in the house to keep happy in terms of TV watching and the like, it may seem like a great compromise, given the huge screen sizes of modern TVs and the relative ease of scoring a cheap 4K capable TV.
However, most TVs are not particularly well tuned for gaming, and especially fast action gaming pursuits, especially if you’re connecting up a PC. What you gain in screen size you very often lose in response rates, input lag and screen refresh rates, with a lot of even the higher end TVs using onboard processors to give the “effect” of a higher refresh rate – but not actually that real higher refresh rate. When you’re staring at a sports broadcast that’s probably OK, because you’re not the player on the pitch. When you’re playing a sports game, you very much are.
Let’s have a look at some options, just going off the specifications as stated on Amazon Australia to give you some idea of what to look out for.
Panel type: VA
Pros: Good stated refresh rate, curved display, 2 HDMI inputs
Cons: Small size, only FHD resolution, lacks height adjustment
Panel type: VA
Pros: 1ms response time, AMD FreeSync support
Cons: Single HDMI port, small size
Panel type: IPS
Pros: 144Hz refresh rate, QHD resolution, G-Sync and FreeSync support, 1ms response time
Panel type: TN
Pros: High resolution, Freesync support, 1ms response time
Cons: Only 60Hz, single HDMI input
Panel type: IPS
Pros: Large display for the price
Cons: Max 75Hz, high response rate
Editor’s note: Descriptions and features are as taken from manufacturer/seller claims and user reviews on Amazon.
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