Contents
1. Introduction: Gaming Monitors
2. Refresh rate
3. Response time
4. Display size
5. Resolution
5.1. Popular gaming monitor resolutions
6. Aspect ratio
6.1. Aspect ratio for gaming monitors
7. Panel types
7.1. Twisted nematic (TN)
7.2. Vertical alignment (VA)
7.3. In-plane switching (IPS)
7.4. Plane-line switching (PLS)
7.5. Summary of LCD panel technology

Introduction: Gaming Monitors

Gaming monitors are one of the most important aspects of computer gaming. Having a powerful graphics card is meaningless if it can’t display games properly. You need a gaming monitor capable of delivering high speed action without blurred images, tearing, and other motion induced artifacts.

There are many factors to consider before buying your ideal gaming monitor. With technology constantly changing, there are many new phrases, marketing terms, and tech jargon that eventually arises. Common phrases such as refresh rate, response time, resolution, and aspect ratio continue to be thrown around without being sufficiently explained.

This article aims to properly explain confusing technical terms and highlight important features to make it easier for the next time you buy a display.

Refresh rate

The refresh rate is the number of times per second that display hardware can refresh the screen. The refresh rate is typically measured in frequency (Hz), which represents the number of times your monitor can redraw the entire screen. For example, a 60Hz refresh rate means your monitor can redraw the entire screen 60 times per second. A 120Hz refresh rate means 120 times per second, 144Hz is 144 times per second, and so on.

The refresh rate should not be confused with the frame rate. The frame rate is measured in frames per second (FPS). FPS is a measurement of how often a video source can produce entirely new frames of data, while the refresh rate includes repeated identical frames. If your FPS happens to be higher than your refresh rate then your monitor will not be able to display all of the frames. If your FPS is lower than your refresh rate, then the same frame will be redrawn.

The majority of LCD monitors have a refresh rate of at least 60Hz. It is the standard refresh rate for most displays. For gaming monitors, 60Hz should be the minimum refresh rate. Today, monitors are able to deliver higher refresh rates, at 120Hz, 144Hz, and beyond.

A 120Hz refresh rate is double the standard refresh rate of most monitors. Because it refreshes twice as fast, you’ll notice less screen tearing. The shorter draw time also means during high speed motion, you’ll notice less motion blur since each frame lasts a shorter amount of time.

This is especially important when you are playing games which rely heavily on quick reflexes. Reacting to fast moving objects or quick changes in motion are commonplace when it comes to shooter type games. Higher refresh rates will improve your gaming experience and give you a competitive edge over people who use standard 60Hz monitors.

Response time

The response time in a monitor is the amount of time it takes for pixels to make a transition from gray to gray (gray-to-gray) or from black to white (black-to-white). The response time is measured in milliseconds. A lower response time means a faster transition, which results in lower visible image artifacts.

For many users, monitors with faster response times are not easily noticeable. But for professional gamers and gaming hobbyists, it is absolutely necessary to have a monitor with fast response times. It is due to many games having fast moving objects and rapidly changing scenes that require fast response times to decrease ghosting and motion blur.

If you are a serious gamer looking to improve your gameplay, then consider getting a high speed monitor. Although the difference is only a few milliseconds, it does make an impact on your gaming experience.

Display size

The display size has been consistently the most advertised feature for television and monitor displays. The next big upgrade has always been a bigger screen, but we have now reached a certain point where the upper limit of a monitor size has already been reached.

How important is the display size for gaming monitors? The display size isn’t incredibly important. As long as your monitor isn’t ridiculously large or small, it should be fine. A bigger screen does not mean your gaming experience will be better. Keep in mind, you are purchasing a gaming monitor, not a television.

An appropriate display size would be between 21.5 inch to 33 inches. The size of your monitor is mostly up to personal preference. Though there are exceptions. If you get a monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (1080p), then it is recommended not to exceed 24 inches.

A larger display with a low resolution is the same number of pixels (1920 x 1080), but just stretched. So if you want a larger display then consider getting a monitor with a higher resolution. A higher resolution will have a higher pixel density, which results in sharper and clearer images.

Likewise, you do not want a high resolution monitor on a very small screen or you may have trouble seeing small text. It is important to find the correct proportions between the display size and resolution.

Resolution

The display resolution refers to the number of distinct pixels in each dimension displayed on your monitor. The resolution is usually represented by multiplying the width by the height (width × height) and the units are in pixels. For example, “1920×1080” means the width is 1920 pixels and the height is 1080 pixels, so the total number is 2,073,600 pixels.

Display resolution
Resolutions in scale

A vast number of the world’s population is still running on a resolution of 1680 x 1050 or lower. It is possibly due to most people using outdated computers or running on laptops. We suspect PC gamers will have more up-to-date systems and according to Steam’s hardware survey, we seem to be correct. Most gamers play on 1920 x 1080 resolution.

Today, most monitors built for gaming have a resolution of 1920 by 1080. Gaming monitors usually prioritize refresh rate and response time over resolution and display size.

The reason is because having a high resolution monitor — 2K or 4K — requires high-end computers costing thousands of dollars. As the amount of pixels increase, so will the processing power required for your graphic card. In order to run games smoothly, you will likely need either an extremely expensive single-GPU or multiple graphic cards.

Therefore, most gamers opt to purchase monitors at lower resolutions. Not only is gaming at lower resolutions more cost effective, it also has the added advantage of higher refresh rates and faster response times.

Despite the majority of the world’s population running at a resolution below 1680×1050, it is highly recommended that you buy a monitor of at least 1920×1080 resolution.

Popular gaming monitor resolutions 

Video Standard Full Name Display Resolution (Pixels) Aspect Ratio
Full HD Full High Definition (1080p) 1920×1080 (2073k) 16:9
WUXGA Widescreen Ultra Extended Graphics Array 1920×1200 (2304k) 16:10
WQHD Wide Quad High Definition 2560×1440 (3686k) 16:9
WQXGA Widescreen Quad Extended Graphics Array 2560×1600 (4096k) 16:10
QFHD Quad Full High-Definition 3840×2160 (8294k) 16:9
4K Ultra High Definition 4096×2160 (8847k) 1.9:1

1920×1080 (1080p)

1920 by 1080 is the most popular resolution for monitors between 21.5 inches to 27 inches. It is the standard resolution for modern gamers. A 1080p monitor has over 2 million pixels and costs significantly less than 2K or 4K monitors. You can buy a basic 1080p monitor for under $100.

Of course, if you want additional features such as a 144Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time, it will cost you approximately $200 more. However, it is still considerably less than a 2K or 4K monitor.

2560×1440 (2K)

2560 by 1440 has about 3.6 million pixels, which is about 1.6 million more pixels than a 1080p monitor. If you plan on buying a 2K monitor, then make sure you buy a monitor of at least 27 inches.

3840×2160 (4K)

3840 by 2160 has over 8 million pixels, which is about 4 times as many pixels as a 1080p monitor. If you have a 4K monitor, you are essentially running 4 monitors each at 1080p. This puts a significant amount of stress on your video card.

Gaming at such high resolutions is extremely expensive, not only for the monitor, but for the hardware capable of running such high resolutions. You are more than likely going to need more than one graphic card. The costs of a monitor will be around $1,000 and with additional graphic cards, you will likely spend nearly $2,000 or more on the monitor and graphic cards alone.

Besides the price, another downside of 4K gaming is lower refresh rates. The refresh rate of your 4K monitor will be around 30Hz to 60Hz at the most, making it less than ideal for gaming.

Aspect ratio

The aspect ratio of a monitor is determined by the relationship between the width and the height of a rectangle. The ratio is expressed as two numbers separated by a colon (x:y). The values of x and y do not represent the actual width and height, but rather the relationship between the two.

To calculate the aspect ratio for a resolution, start by dividing the width by the height, then find the first integer which, when multiplied by the ratio, will give you a whole number.

For example, the aspect ratio of 2560×1440 is calculated by dividing width by height (2560/1440) = 1.6. Next, find the first integer that turns 1.6 into a whole number. The first integer which turns 1.6 into a whole number is 5.  So multiply 5 by 1.6 and you get 8. Therefore, your aspect ratio for 2560×1440 is (8:5), or the equivalent (16:10).

Aspect ratio for gaming monitors

For gaming, there isn’t a major difference between 16:9 and 16:10. The width is identical, but the height is slightly taller on 16:10. The extra real estate is great for web browsing. document viewing, or anything that takes advantage of vertical space. But the extra height is negligible when it comes to gaming.

We recommend gaming on a monitor with an aspect ratio of 16:9, though it is acceptable if you choose 16:10. It is recommended because 16:9 is the standard aspect ratio for most games and movies. You will find most games support an aspect ratio of 16:9, while most console games do not support 16:10. Most console games ported to PC will have a field of view (FOV) of 16:9, so monitors with 16:10 will have distorted images.

The 16:10 aspect ratio isn’t a major disadvantage when it comes to gaming. You’ll find most PC games will support both 16:9 and 16:10, it’s just console games that don’t support 16:10. The reason is because movies are typically in 1080p (16:9) format, so televisions are almost exclusively 16:9. Thus, the aspect ratio on console games are almost entirely 16:9.

Panel types

The panel technology inside LCD monitors are a fundamentally important aspect of any monitor. The panel type dictates how well a monitor performs and which features it excels at. There are many different types of LCD panel technologies and they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Lets take a look at the different types of LCD panels.

TN (Twisted Nematic) panels

TN panels are the most common LCD panel technology for consumers. The popularity of TN panels is due to its low manufacturing costs and high responsiveness. Fast response times in TN panels, usually 2ms or less, help alleviate ghosting artifacts and trailing shadows. While the advantages of low pricing and fast response times are beneficial, TN panels do come with drawbacks. TN displays suffer from narrow viewing angles — especially in the vertical direction. As well as, inaccurate color reproduction and relatively low brightness.

Most TN panels represent color using only six bits per RGB color, or 18-bit color (64×64×64 = 262,144 combinations) in total. The problem is, most graphic cards provide 24-bit true color, which is 16,777,216 color variations. TN panels are unable to properly display the extra 6-bit color depth. Although a lower color depth means faster color transition times, the consequence is inaccurate color reproductions.

VA (Vertical Alignment) panels

The advantages of VA panels are deeper black levels, higher contrast ratio, wider viewing angles, and good color reproduction. Perhaps the biggest advantage is VA panels efficiency at blocking unwanted light from the backlight. VA panels have the lowest black levels of the four major panel types. The disadvantages are slower response time compared to TN panels and lower color reproduction compared to IPS panels.

IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels

IPS panels are widely regarded as the best overall LCD technology for image quality, viewing angles, and color accuracy. IPS panels were developed because of the poor color reproduction and viewing angles of TN panels. Because of the excellent viewing angles and good color reproduction, IPS panels are widely used by professionals.

Good color reproduction is due to the fact that IPS panels can display 24-bit true color, which is over 16 million color variations. Its ability to display more colors is the reason its color accuracy is much higher than TN panels. It is also the reason why its sought for by so many professionals.

The response time of IPS monitors are generally slow. It typically ranges from 5ms to 16ms. While IPS panels are great for professional environments, its slow response time may not be acceptable for gaming. High speed games will suffer from longer response times, which may result in motion blur or ghosting.

PLS (Plane to Line Switching) panels

PLS panels were developed by Samsung and use similar technology as IPS panels, but Samsung claims it offers improved viewing angles and image quality, increased brightness and lower production costs.

Summary of LCD panel technology

For gaming, TN panels still reign supreme. They may not have the best image quality or color depth, but its relatively quick response time and affordable prices make it a more viable option for gamers. IPS panels maintain the competitive edge on all fronts except response times. So here is my suggestion. If you play games regularly or you are a competitive gamer, get a 144Hz or higher TN monitor. If you are a casual gamer, get a 60Hz IPS monitor.

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