Gears & Gadgets

Guidemaster: Finding the best gaming monitors you can buy in 2019

The LG 34GK950F, our favorite ultrawide gaming monitor.
Enlarge / The LG 34GK950F, our favorite ultrawide gaming monitor.
Valentina Palladino
Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we’ll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Any monitor can work for gaming, but a good gaming monitor will make your virtual exploits more polished. With their high refresh rates and adaptive sync, they can bring your games to a new level of fluidity. But since the market is flooded with confusingly-named choices, it can be tough to find the ones worth buying.

So for Ars Gaming Week, we set out to help. After spending the last three months researching dozens of gaming monitors and ultimately testing 14, we’ve come up with a few recommendations that should suit players of all kinds, whether you’re more into fast-paced online shooters or contemplative stories.

Table of Contents

Some notes on testing

Let’s start with some info on our testing process. Our primary measurement tool for this guide was a Datacolor Spyder5Elite colorimeter and its accompanying software. This helped us evaluate color accuracy, peak brightness, contrast ratios, color gamut, luminance uniformity, color uniformity, and more with hard data instead of personal opinions. That said, there are spectrophotometers and other high-end equipment we did not have access to that can give more pinpoint readings. Our test results still get at the gist of each monitor’s pros and cons—if a panel has poor contrast or colors inaccurate enough to be a distraction, we’ll know either way—but this difference made us hesitant to harp on specific test results throughout this guide. Because we tested everything with the same tools and lighting conditions, though, each monitor was still evaluated against a consistent baseline.

To test motion handling and more gaming-specific features, we played games on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, making sure to play faster multiplayer shooters like Apex Legends and Overwatch as well as colorful single-player games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Tetris Effect. We also used a suite of tests from Blur Busters that helped us better gauge motion blur, response time, ghosting, and other motion qualities.

Because this is a guide to gaming monitors, we put greater emphasis than usual on motion smoothness, input lag, and support for variable refresh rate (VRR) tech like Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync, which dynamically adjust a panel’s refresh rate to better avoid stuttering and screen tearing while playing a game. A high refresh rate, meanwhile, will be beneficial for both gaming PCs and next-gen consoles. We didn’t put these traits too far ahead of picture quality and design, though, since most people will still spend plenty of time browsing the Web and doing work on their monitor. We’re also speaking more to the box performance, since most monitor users tend to avoid messing with their picture settings heavily. (That said, picture quality will improve on all our picks post-calibration, so that’s worth doing if you can.) And while 4K monitors have matured to the point of being worthwhile for non-gaming purposes, we aren’t recommending any here: the in-game benefits of 4K aren’t massively superior to 1440p in practice, and it requires major GPU power to push 4K at high refresh rates consistently.

Our favorite all-around gaming monitor: Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD

Different gaming setups have different needs, so it’s hard to say one monitor will definitively work for everyone. But of the monitors we tested, our favorite was the Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD.

This is a 27-inch panel, which we think is the sweet spot between having enough space to not feel cramped and not overwhelming everything on your desk. It has a 2560×1440 resolution—some competitive-minded gamers will justifiably say that a 1080p monitor makes it easier for more GPUs to push higher refresh rates, but not every game is so demanding. It’s possible to turn down the resolution in many games to get a stabler frames per second (FPS), and the boost in crispness is immediately noticeable on a panel larger than 24 inches. Being able to fit more windows onscreen whenever you’re not playing a game is a significant plus.

The AD27QD is technically an Innolux AAS (Azimuthal Anchoring Switch) panel, but the end result is effectively an IPS display. Like its fellow panel types TN and VA, IPS comes with its own set of strengths and weakness, which the AD27QD follows pretty closely. The monitor has wide viewing angles, so colors won’t be heavily distorted when you aren’t looking at the screen straight on. It has excellent color accuracy out of the box, with a DeltaE score below 2 in our testing. (In simple terms: any score above 3 means colors are inaccurate, anything below 2 has inaccuracies that are barely perceptible to viewers, and anything below 1 is practically perfect.) Its colors are largely uniform across the entirety of the display, and its peak brightness is higher than most IPS panels. It has a particularly generous color gamut, so it can display a wider-than-usual range of colors. And it supports an expanded 10-bit color depth for further boosting—technically 8-bit + FRC, not native 10-bit, but the difference is minimal to most. You’ll need a powerful GPU to push the latter, though, and it requires you stay at a 120Hz refresh rate to work.

Like most IPS monitors, the AD27QD has so-so contrast. It’s actually better than the majority of IPS panels we tested, so this isn’t as severe of a trade-off, but in a vacuum it can’t distinguish white and black tones as well as a good VA panel. Its black uniformity is poor, too, so largely black screens will look uneven and splotchy in spots. The AD27QD also suffers from a light “IPS glow” effect that causes the bottom corners of the screen to lose detail in darker surroundings. All of this means the monitor is best used in a lighted room instead of a dark one. (Though it’s only decent at reflecting glare, so you don’t want to put it directly in sunlight.) Gigabyte advertises HDR support and VESA DisplayHDR 400 certification, but since the monitor lacks local dimming, it doesn’t have much meaningful benefit. All that said, while the AD27QD isn’t a panel for professional photo work, it’s better than most of its peers at making games look lively and balanced.

It also does well to keep things running smoothly. The AD27QD has a 144Hz refresh rate and supports AMD FreeSync over DisplayPort and HDMI. It has a VRR range of 48-144 Hz. If your game’s frame rate dips below that, the monitor supports FreeSync’s low frame rate compensation (LFC) tech. This makes it set the refresh rate to multiples of whatever frame rate it’s at below the VRR range. If a game is running at 34fps, for example, FreeSync will double the frames it sends to the monitor and set the refresh rate to 68Hz to keep screen tearing and stuttering at a minimum.

Crucially, all of this works with Nvidia graphics cards, not just AMD models. The AD27QD is one of the handful of FreeSync monitors that is officially certified as “G-Sync Compatible” by Nvidia. Several others work fine without that official title, but having it means the AD27QD has been tested and approved to work with GTX 10 series and RTX cards by the company making them. FreeSync has had some minor quirks with Nvidia cards before—screen flickering between games, for instance—and the G-Sync Compatible mode only works over DisplayPort. But the adaptive sync tech generally works as it should on the AD27QD, enabling itself automatically and snuffing out all tearing and flickering.

The rest of the AD27QD’s motion performance is good. Response time is fast for an IPS panel with the monitor’s “Speed” overdrive setting enabled, with little noticeable motion blur and very low input lag. The AD27QD is not as smooth as a good TN panel, but given how dramatically better its picture quality is elsewhere, it’s strong.

The one noteworthy issue here is overshoot, or inverse ghosting. In simple-ish terms, this is when a panel’s overdrive causes a pixel to “overshoot” its final color value and create a shadow-like effect around a moving object, in the opposite color of said object. The “Speed” setting of the AD27QD causes a noticeable amount of this at lower refresh rates. So if you use the monitor with a PS4 or a PC game that isn’t getting close to the full 144Hz, it’s better to switch to the standard “Balance” overdrive mode. This will slow response times a little, but the image will look cleaner on the whole. If you can keep your game around 144Hz, overshoot on the “Speed” setting is minor, so sensitive eyes should be able to enjoy faster-paced titles without compromise.

The design of the AD27QD is convenient and well-made. It’s a breeze to put together, and its stand is thin, so it doesn’t eat up a ton of room on your desk. Its small bezels make it accommodating to a second monitor, too. There’s enough metal in the build for it to feel solidly built. We didn’t do much with the faint RGB lighting on the back of the monitor, but it’s there and customizable if you’re into that sort of thing. The adjustability of the monitor is excellent, with a wide range to swivel and adjust height, as well as the ability to rotate the panel 180 degrees into a vertical orientation. The one-button toggle for accessing the on-screen display (OSD) is easy to use and reach, and that OSD is broken down in a way that’s not overwhelming. The port selection is solid: one DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, mic and audio out 3.5mm jacks. There are no built-in speakers, sadly, but there is a unique “active noise cancellation” feature that lessens ambient sounds when you’re speaking through a connected microphone. This cuts out low-end noise fairly well, so it could come in handy if you’re trying to chat with your squadmates in a noisy house.

There are a few other extras beyond that, but the gist is that the AD27QD is a great jack-of-all-trades gaming monitor. For less than $ 600, you get an ideal size and resolution, a useful design, good enough motion, effective FreeSync and G-Sync Compatible VRR, and color reproduction that plays well everywhere.

The good

  • Well-built 1440p monitor with great colors, snappy motion, FreeSync, and official G-Sync Compatible certification.

The bad

  • Some inverse ghosting noticeable at highest overdrive setting with lower refresh rates.
Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD product image

Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD

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Speed and smoothness on a budget: ViewSonic XG2402

If you can’t spend more than $ 250 on a gaming monitor, get the ViewSonic XG2402. Though its picture quality has serious shortcomings, its motion handling and response times are fantastic for any monitor, let alone one this affordable.

It must be said upfront, though: only buy the XG2402 for its gaming prowess. It’s a 24-inch 1920×1080 display, which is expected at this price but still leaves you with a low resolution and little screen space for multitasking. More pressingly, it’s a TN panel, and as a result it suffers from washed-out colors, low contrast, poor black uniformity, and terrible viewing angles. Peak brightness is nothing to write home about, either. Its colors are technically accurate out of the box, but everything outside of a game looks duller than what you’d get from the IPS and VA monitors in this guide. When you’re simply browsing through Windows or macOS, this feels like a cheap monitor.

These issues are lessened if you spend lots of time playing games. The XG2402 has a highly responsive 144Hz maximum refresh rate and FreeSync VRR support (over DisplayPort only). Its FreeSync range goes from 48-144Hz and it supports LFC to keep things tear-free if frame rates dip below that scope. (The upshot of being a 1080p panel, however, is that it’s not as hard for a good GPU to reach 144Hz when it only has to push a lower resolution.) Though it hasn’t been formally certified as “G-Sync Compatible,” its FreeSync still works with Nvidia graphics cards. Either way, response times are outstandingly low in the monitor’s “Faster” overdrive mode, resulting in remarkably clear motion and next to no visible blurring, ghosting, or overshoot as objects whiz around onscreen. Input lag, meanwhile, is practically imperceptible. It all makes for consistently fast and smooth gaming that’s particularly well-suited for competitive shooters like Counter-Strike or Overwatch.

The physical design of the XG2402 is basic but practical. The main complaints: the one-button control on something like the AD27QD is much easier to grok than the vaguely labeled multi-button setup here, the bezels are somewhat thick, and the OSD can require a few too many clicks. These are not unexpected issues for a budget monitor, though. The hardware is easy to set up, and while it’s almost entirely made of plastic, the build doesn’t feel creaky or fragile. Though it’s not as adjustable as the Aorus AD27QD, its height, swivel, and tilt range is greater than most monitors at this price point. Its port selection is fine—one DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 1.4 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and a 3.5mm jack—and there are built-in speakers, though they are predictably anemic.

Again, you typically have to choose between image quality and responsiveness with the better budget monitors—you can’t have both. The XG2402 doesn’t change this dynamic, but it excels so much on the responsiveness side that it merits recognition.

The good

  • Tremendously responsive with almost no visible blurring or artifacts at a low price.

The bad

  • Poor contrast, washed-out colors, and 1080p resolution make it less than optimal for non-gaming purposes.
ViewSonic XG2402 product image

ViewSonic XG2402

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

For dark rooms and single-player gaming: Samsung CHG70

If you’d prefer a monitor with a more vibrant picture quality and don’t mind trading response time to get it, try the Samsung CHG70. It’s certainly not Samsung’s newest gaming monitor, but its VA panel pops in a way that our other picks cannot.

The CHG70 is a curved monitor that comes in 27- and 32-inch varieties but has a 1440p resolution either way. It only really has one thing over the AD27QD, but it’s a big thing: contrast. Like most VA panels, the CHG70 can display deeper blacks and starker whites that just aren’t possible on an IPS display. It has a high peak brightness that’s comparable to that of our top pick, out of the box color accuracy that’s not as good but close, and a nicely wide color gamut with good uniformity. It supports 10-bit color (again 8-bit + FRC) and it’s one of the rare gaming monitors that’s factory calibrated. With the better contrast, all of this provides a more intensely colorful image that really sparkles in a dark room, since its black tones are more convincingly black. If you’d like a more “cinematic” picture, with bold colors on a big screen, this is it.

The downside is that the AD27QD does just about everything else better. Being a VA panel means the CHG70 has shoddy viewing angles, and black uniformity is still underwhelming. This monitor does have a modicum of local dimming, but it’s a meager eight zones, so its “HDR” highlights are still highly limited. If anything, HDR made games like Red Dead Redemption 2 look worse, so it’s best left off.

The CHG70 has a 144 Hz refresh rate and supports AMD FreeSync 2, with a VRR range of 48-144 Hz over DisplayPort. It supports LFC. Over HDMI, the VRR range is capped at 100 Hz. The monitor isn’t certified as G-Sync Compatible but it’ll work fine with Nvidia cards if you update the appropriate drivers and enable the tech manually. Motion handling is generally good for a VA panel, with its low input lag particularly impressive. Response times are just slower on this kind of tech, however, and we spotted overshoot and smearing effects during some transitions, particularly with darker tones and at lower refresh rates. This isn’t great if you’re using a console like a PS4 that’s locked at 60 Hz. Still, many of these issues are just part of the trade here, and for what it is the CHG70 still does decent. A lot comes down to your priorities.

The CHG70’s design gives plenty of room to swivel and move the display, its one-joystick control is convenient, and its OSD is organized neatly. But the monitor stand is weirdly enormous, to the point where you’ll likely have to rearrange your desk to get the whole thing to fit. It takes a bit longer to assemble than we’d prefer, too, and there are no built-in speakers. It handles glare decently, though again it stands out more in darker surroundings. Port selection wise, there’s a DisplayPort 1.4, two HDMI 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and mic and audio out 3.5mm jacks.

While the less-than-clean motion means the CHG70 wouldn’t be my first choice for competitive multiplayer, the lavish colors and high contrast make it a nice option for those who want to soak in more story-based games and don’t always crave ultra-responsiveness.

The good

  • Excellent contrast and vibrant picture that’s well-suited to a dark room.

The bad

  • VA panel means slower response times than IPS/TN options, with ghosting visible during some transitions.
Samsung CHG70 product image

Samsung CHG70 [27-inch]

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

A premium and ultrawide alternative: LG 34GK950F

If you’re willing to pay for a more luxurious monitor that still plays well for gaming, go for the LG 34GK950F. It pairs the strong color reproduction and viewing angles of a good IPS panel with smooth motion, all in a curved, 34-inch, 21:9, 3440×1440 package that’s great for taking in more of whatever game you’re playing.

This is another factory calibrated monitor, and out of the box its picture quality is impressive. Colors are largely accurate, with a solid DeltaE score of 2.19 in our testing. The “nano IPS” tech LG uses here adds a phosphor layer to the backlight and helps give the monitor a wide color gamut, allowing for a wonderfully vivid and more saturated image in turn. (Albeit not as saturated than the CHG70 above.) It also supports 10-bit color—technically 8-bit+FRC, but that’s splitting hairs—which can deepen colors further if you have a GPU powerful enough to push it. (It limits you to 60 Hz over HDMI, however.) Its peak brightness is slightly less than the AD27QD but should yield no complaints. Viewing angles are good, so colors won’t wash out much when you aren’t looking at the monitor head-on. It isn’t dramatically affected by glare, either, so it’s safe to keep your curtains open and use it in view of sunlight.

It still has the typical shortcomings of an IPS display: contrast is just OK, black uniformity is below-average, and the panel suffers from a similar “IPS glow” effect as the AD27QD above. Like that panel, the 34GK950F isn’t the best to use in a dark room. The monitor technically supports HDR in that it’s VESA DisplayHDR 400 certified, but there’s no local dimming so there’s little tangible benefit. All of this is to be expected, though, and the contrast is actually decent relative to other IPS panels.

Motion handling, meanwhile, is good for an IPS panel. The 34GK950F is one of the first monitors to support a native 144 Hz refresh rate at this 3440×1440 resolution. The model we tested supports FreeSync 2 with a VRR range of 48-144 Hz over DisplayPort and LFC support, all of which works well. Nvidia doesn’t officially list it as G-Sync Compatible, but its FreeSync will still work if you have a Nvidia card. LG sells a G-Sync version of the monitor, but it’s limited to 120 Hz and we can’t speak to its quality. With this monitor, response time is solid, though it’s still a clear step down from a fast TN panel like the XG2402. Input lag isn’t a problem, even with FreeSync enabled. Just note that you’ll get the cleanest results using the monitor’s “Fast” mode: with that, motion blur is kept fairly low without introducing as much overshoot or image artifacts as its higher overdrive modes.

It’s also crucial that you update the 34GK950F’s firmware. LG significantly improved the input lag, added VRR support for Nvidia cards, and lowered the FreeSync floor to 48 Hz with post-launch updates. It’s much easier to recommend with these improvements.

The 34GK950F’s hardware has a clean look and thin bezels. It’s easy to assemble, has a good selection of ports (DP 1.4, two HDMI 2.0, and two USB 3.0 ports), and can be VESA mounted if needed. It’s another monitor with a one-joystick control, which works great, and its OSD is simple enough to navigate. Its stand isn’t oversized, though it doesn’t allow you to swivel the monitor as wide as our other picks. That’s somewhat forgivable since the monitor is so wide to begin with, and indeed having that widescreen panel is the big draw here. If you’ve never used one before, it’s hard to go back from having all that real estate envelop you while you’re playing. How much you’ll appreciate widescreen will partly depend on how well your games support it, though, which can vary.

The 34GK950F is expensive, usually running about $ 1,000 online. If you can splash that kind of cash, though, this is a monitor rich and featured enough to be worth the premium.

The good

  • Luxurious 21:9 and 1440p panel with 144 Hz refresh rate, relatively vivid colors, and good motion clarity.

The bad

  • HDR doesn’t add much and stand isn’t as adjustable as other picks.
LG 34GK950F product image

LG 34GK950F

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

A few others we liked

The Acer Predator XB241YU is a good alternative to the 24-inch ViewSonic above if you don't mind paying more for native G-Sync and a 1440p resolution.
Enlarge / The Acer Predator XB241YU is a good alternative to the 24-inch ViewSonic above if you don’t mind paying more for native G-Sync and a 1440p resolution.
Valentina Palladino

The following monitors didn’t appeal to us enough to earn a formal recommendation, but only because they’ve been undercut by one of the monitors above—not because any of them are mediocre. If none of our main picks fit your needs, here are some other options we approve of:

We think the Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD is the better buy for most people, but the Asus ROG Swift PG279QZ performs similarly if you want a monitor with native G-Sync support. You lose the flexibility to switch to an AMD card in the future, but it costs about the same, offers a similar 27-inch 1440p IPS panel, and has slightly better black uniformity. Motion handling is similar, which is good, though color reproduction is a bit worse and it can’t get as bright. The main appeal is its native G-Sync support: the AD27QD’s G-Sync Compatible setup will work fine for most Nvidia GPU owners, but it’s still more of an approximation of the real thing. If you just want the ease of G-Sync, this is a good choice. (It appears to be low in stock as of this writing, though—if you need a G-Sync model immediately, the older PG279Q offers very similar performance and design.)

BenQ’s Zowie XL2540 is a 25-inch 1080p TN monitor that doesn’t justify costing $ 160 more than the ViewSonic XG2402, but it does have the advantage of supporting an ultra-high 240 Hz refresh rate. You won’t hit that with the vast majority of games, and you’ll need a fairly powerful rig, but it is a step up in responsiveness and snappiness if you can get there. It’s not nearly as noticeable as the jump from 60 Hz to 144 Hz, but it’s something. BenQ’s control puck for managing the OSD is nifty, too. Otherwise, it’s less color accurate out of the box than the XG2402, it’s more susceptible to overshoot, and it only has slightly better contrast. But if you want the highest refresh rate possible, it does the job.

If you’d prefer a 24-inch panel with G-Sync, the Asus Predator XB241YU might work. It usually retails between $ 400-470, and again, its picture quality isn’t so much better than the XG2402 to be the better buy for most people. But it comes with a 1440p resolution—which isn’t as necessary at 24 inches but is still sharper—and it’s overclockable to 165 Hz. Its colors and contrast are better than the XG2402 out of the box, but not dramatically so as a TN panel, and its black uniformity is worse. It gets similarly excellent response times and very minimal ghosting or blurring. If you’d rather pay up for G-Sync, it’s still a worthwhile choice.

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