So you’re in the market for gaming monitor, and you want an answer to the ever elusive question “What is the best monitor for X situation?”. Maybe you want to know how to get the best bang for your buck, or maybe you want to go all out and get the most beastly monitor money can buy. Either way, you’re starting in the right place – arming yourself with as much knowledge as you can. Before we start throwing out suggestions, lets talk about what makes a good monitor a good monitor, and what specifically you should be looking for in a monitor when it comes to gaming. There are a lot of numbers floating around on specs pages – some of them matter a lot and some of them don’t matter at all. Here’s a rundown of what you actually need to know to make an informed decision.
Resolution – Higher is better
This is probably the term you are most familiar with. Resolution measures the number of pixels displayed on the screen – this, coupled with the physical size of the screen, affects the sharpness of the image. We highly recommend going with 1920 x 1080 (1080p) at the very least. 1280 x 720 (720p) is technically still considered HD, but you’ll kick yourself later if you get a 720p display.
In more recent years, we’ve started to see Ultra HD displays with obscene resolutions, 3840 x 2160 (4K) and even higher. If you’re willing to shell out some cash, consider a UHD display – assuming you have a top tier GPU that can handle it.
Response time (measured in ms) – 4ms or lower is good
This is arguably the most important spec in a gaming monitor. Response time measures the time that it takes your monitor to change colors. This affects “motion blur” and “bleeding” in faster paced games like First Person Shooters (the lower the better). If you aren’t playing really fast paced games, anything around 4ms will be fine, but if you are playing fast paced or competitive games, you will want 2ms at the most.
TN Film panels tend to have higher response time for lower cost, IPS panels typically have better color reproduction (prettier static images), but cost more and typically have a higher response time.
One thing to look out for is that there is no standardized way to measure response time, while one manufacturer may measure Black to White, another may measure Black to White to Black, and another still will measure Grey to Grey (G2G). In modern monitors you typically will see G2G.
Contrast Ratio- 1000:1 is good
Contrast ratio measures the difference between the darkest black and the lightest white. This affects how vivid images look. The thing to look out for here is that manufacturers tend to list both the static and the dynamic contrast ratio. Dynamic contrast ratios look very impressive on paper, but in practice are pretty useless. You will want to look at static contrast ratio. Modern monitors will have 1000:1 in most cases, and this is more than adequate. Some newer technology allows for higher static contrast, but there are few (if any) on the market.
Refresh Rate (Measured in Hz)- Higher is better
Refresh rate works differently in modern monitors than in old CRTs. Without going into too much boring detail, Refresh Rate measures the speed at which the image on the screen is “redrawn”. When coupled with your GPU, the Refresh Rate of your monitor will affect the “Frames Per Second” you will get in games. Higher is better.
One thing to keep in mind is the fact that your GPU will (likely) be able to put out more FPS than your monitor can handle with a 60Hz refresh rate. This can result in strange glitches, flicker, and image “tearing”. If you run into these issues, try enabling V-Sync (synchronizes the FPS of your monitor and your GPU, and limits how many FPS the GPU can output).
Brightness ( measured in cd/m2 , or Candela-per-square-metre) – Higher is better
Brightness is fairly simple – higher cd/m2 means brighter. What you will want to keep in mind here is your lighting conditions where you plan on gaming. In modern monitors, you should be able to find a feature to adjust brightness, so the higher the better, assuming there is a way to adjust it lower when needed. It is also worth mentioning a free program called f.lux that adjusts color on your monitor based on the time of day to decrease the blue light that causes most of us eye strain and headaches. It takes some getting used to, but in the long run is worth it.
We still suggest actually sitting down in front of a monitor to see if you like it before you buy it. If you’re looking for suggestions, BenQ makes some great TN Panels, and Acer makes a great 4K monitor – these are not necessarily the best in their class, but they are good options.
Ben is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PCGR. He writes much of the content, manages the site, and does other editorial things that would bore you to tears.