Monitors can make or break a gaming setup. It may sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. Having the best PC with the flashiest graphics card only does you good if you have something to view those high-end specs. People tend to break the bank on all of their PC hardware but leave the monitor until the end. Unfortunately that means it is the most likely component to get compromised on, and that is a mistake.
Buying the best computer components along with a cheap monitor is just shooting yourself in the foot. Have you ever played a Resident Evil or similar game that is loaded with shadows and you find yourself frustrated that it seems too dark? You can absolutely chalk that up to not using the right type of monitor needed to play AAA PC games. Although there are tons of details that make different monitors unique, there are a few main areas that will help narrow down any shopping decision.
First things first, only LED, if you even think LCD, then dispel that notion right off the bat. LCD displays do not provide enough viewing angles to be optimal for PC gaming. With LCDs out of the way, most monitors are divided into three main categories, TN, VA, and IPS displays.
TN displays are used for fast response, however, the viewing angles leave something to be desired. These angles cause colors to change slightly while others appear faded. The brightness and color quality are okay but there are better options out there. If you are in a pinch and find a great deal, it is certainly a decent choice, but to get the most out of your rig, I would really aim a bit higher. That being said there are some games, in which a TN display’s response time gives it a leg up.
VA displays or Vertical Alignment, features are similar to the TN displays. I personally feel the VA displays have slightly better color quality than the TN, but with that you sacrifice a bit of the responsiveness. Just like the TN display, you can do worse than getting a VA display but it has its flaws which can cause a less than ideal gaming experience.
IPS displays, In Plane Switching, are the monitors you want for AAA PC gaming. The pixels per inch are greater than both VA and TN displays which allows for a crystal clear, sharp image. The color and brightness is vibrant and strong no matter what angle you are at. Consistent image quality allows for better visibility in dark games that tend to populate so many AAA titles.
The Refresh Rate/Response Time
Most low end monitors typically run at 60Hz for their refresh rate. Refresh rate can be equated to: the higher the refresh rate, the faster the game will be experienced. So if you have a PC that is running 1080p and can fire at more than 100 frames per second, which most GPUs can do, then you aren’t taking advantage of your hardware.
Response time can be a bit harder to gauge as that depends on the type of game you are playing to really determine what is acceptable. Most first person shooters require twitch-y movement; for those you want to a low 1ms response time. For casual adventure games that are not as fast-twitch you can be a bit more lax up to something higher at 5ms.
Considering both of those criteria; the best monitor for your system will take the highest refresh rate combined with the lowest response time. Here is where it gets tricky, IPS monitors, which mentioned above are the best for image quality, typically run at 5ms. To get the best response time you really need to stick to TN or VA displays, which will limit your refresh rate to around 60Hz.
The end result is going to depend on the style of game you prefer and what you are hoping to get out of your gaming experience. For a wider variety of games that are going to make full use of graphics you probably want to stick to IPS monitors, however if you are a big online shooter fan where every millisecond counts, then you have to go with the faster response time.
The Screen Size
Monitors come in a wide range of sizes that can accommodate smaller spaces. Conversely, there are massive displays that can turn gaming cinematic. The bigger does not necessarily mean better, but it does equate to better resolution.
In a modern gaming setup you want to be running games at minimum 1080p. The best sizes for running 1080p games are 22-inch and 24-inch. While the 24 does cover more real estate; packing the same resolution on the smaller 22-inch screen allows for the colors and detail to pop without a drop in fidelity.
If you are running at the higher 1440p resolution then you should only be looking at 27-inch and 29-inch monitors. Similarly to the 1080p, you are better off going with the slightly smaller 27-inch to get a better picture.
With 4K gaming coming, many people are building out their rigs in preparation. To capture true 4K gaming you need to really bump up the size to a 32-inch at minimum.
Breaking the Bank
So, after all of these specifications, what is the final price tag? The cheapest monitors are going to typically be the VA panel monitors in various sizes, followed by the TN panels. With resolution and size there are incremental jumps in price between 1080p/1440p/4K monitors which is to be expected.
If you’re looking for a fast response time without worrying too much about high graphic fidelity then you can find a solid 24-inch TN monitor for around $200. For around $100 more, a solid IPS panel 27-inch could be snagged. 4K monitors are a bit more complicated. Due to their limited use the prices are pretty high for good quality ones. Although, if you simply must have one, low end models dip into the $300 range. But keep in mind, if you’re spending the money to run 4K games, you don’t want to skimp with a budget monitor that isn’t going to show it off.
Find the Right Fit
For anyone on the fence about size or graphics quality; seek out a high end store with displays. Many companies list an array of impressive specs, but you really need to make the final call based on your own two eyes. Keep in mind, this is going to be something you are staring at for hours on end, it should be smooth and comfortable for you and feel right based on how you play and use it.
Monitors can be the edge you need while gaming online, or the perfect way to immerse you fully into a game. Unfortunately the monitors often fall into the “if it ain’t broke…” type mindset where people will carry over monitors they have enjoyed into new gaming setups. While there may be comfort, you never want to short change your gaming experience. This is by no means a definitive answer to every monitor question, nor does it cover every monitor under the sun. The goal is to find points that everyone can look for when budgeting for a monitor to get the best experience they can from it.