How to Buy the Right Gaming Display
Whether you’re a serious PC gamer or a casual after-hours warrior, your hardware can be the pivot point between victory and defeat. To get the most out of the latest first-person shooter (FPS), sports, racing, and other fast-action games, you’ll not only need a gaming PC with a powerful graphics card, but also a monitor that can render the action without subjecting you to blurred images, flicker, tearing, and other motion artifacts.
In this guide, we’ll help you choose a display that gives you an edge over your opponents while delivering a smooth, immersive gaming experience. These are the factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor. Read on for those, as well as our current favorites derived from testing.
Panel Size and Resolution
When it comes to gaming monitors, bigger is almost always better. If you have the room, a 27-inch screen provides plenty of real estate and offers the opportunity to go beyond full high definition, which offers a maximum resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.
Many newer 27-inch models are Wide Quad High-Definition (WQHD) monitors with maximum resolutions of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. The higher pixel count provides much sharper imagery than full HD, but you’ll need a reasonably powerful graphics engine to play the latest games at the higher resolution, especially if you have all the effects enabled.
This holds double for 4K Ultra-High Definition (UHD) monitors, with a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, such as the Acer Predator X27. If desk space is an issue, there are plenty of 24-inch monitors out there, but with these, you’ll usually be limited to a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution.
If you have lots of space, and money is no object, even bigger monitors are available. A 30-inch 4K UHD monitor will deliver a stunning picture with amazing resolution, you can go all out with a 34-inch ultra-wide monitor with or without a curved panel, or you can pick something larger still. (We’ve tested displays up to 49 inches.) Ultra-wide monitors typically have a 21:9 aspect ratio (as opposed to the usual 16:9) and offer a much wider field of view than a standard widescreen monitor, but they take up a lot of room. A curved-panel ultra-wide monitor has enough of a curve to make you feel a bit closer to the action.
You’ll see several main monitor-panel technologies used in various gaming monitors, and each has its pluses and minuses.
Twisted Nematic (TN) panels are the most affordable and are popular among gamers because they offer fast pixel response times and refresh rates. Their biggest drawback? They are prone to color shifting when viewed from an angle. Vertical Alignment (VA) screens are known for their high native contrast ratios, robust colors, and ability to display deep blacks, but they are also known to produce noticeable ghosting effects, which can hurt gaming performance.
In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels provide the best all-around color quality, strong grayscale performance, and wide viewing angles, but they can’t match the pixel response of TN panels and are subject to motion artifacts. They’re the best general-use panel type, but discriminating gamers or competitive esports types may take issue with IPS.
Pixel Response and Refresh Rate
Gaming monitors should have a fast pixel response time and a high refresh rate. The most commonly used pixel response spec is gray-to-gray, which is measured in milliseconds (ms) and signifies the time it takes a pixel to transition from one shade of gray to another. (A few companies still use the older black-to-white measurement.) A low pixel response will help eliminate the smearing of moving images and provide a smoother overall picture than a higher pixel response. A gray-to-gray response of 2ms or less is ideal, but even a 4ms gray-to-gray response is typically adequate for gaming.
A monitor’s refresh rate refers to the time (per second) it takes to redraw the entire screen and is measured in hertz (Hz). Most LCD monitors have a 60Hz refresh rate, which means the screen is refreshed 60 times per second, but fast-moving images may appear blurry at this refresh rate, or the panel may suffer from screen tearing, an artifact that occurs when the monitor displays pieces of two or more screen draws at the same time. (This can be alleviated by a synchronization techique called variable refresh rate, more about which in a moment.)
The latest trend in gaming panels is the wave of models from all major gaming-LCD makers with refresh rates higher than 60Hz. The most common refresh-rate increments we are now seeing in these so-called “high refresh” gaming displays are 75Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz, with panels up to 240Hz now on the market. Games that run at frame rates higher than 60 frames per second (fps) can benefit from one of these monitors. The higher refresh rate can show motion more fluidly, when it is in sync. Esports players who specialize in games that are not too demanding on a video card (and that therefore run at very high frame rates) will especially want to take note.
Just because you have a high refresh rate, however, that does not mean that your gaming graphics will necessarily be free of tearing and artifacts. Which leads us to the other big PC-gaming-centric trend in late-model gaming monitors: G-Sync and FreeSync.
G-Sync and FreeSync: In 2019, Technologies in Flux
The latest gaming monitors use synchronization technology to help reduce tearing and other motion artifacts while lowering input lag (which we measure on all displays we review using the Leo Bodnar Video Signal Lag Tester). Displays equipped with Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync technology hand off control of the screen’s refresh rate to the graphics card or chip (instead of the monitor), which allows the display to operate at a variable refresh rate (VRR) according to what the card is capable of pushing. The result is a smooth gaming experience, with decreased input lag and a lack of tearing. Note, however, that G-Sync and FreeSync monitors require a G-Sync- or FreeSync-compatible graphics card with a DisplayPort 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 output (an Nvidia card for G-Sync, an AMD card for FreeSync).
At CES 2017, AMD announced an enhanced version of FreeSync, and the first few FreeSync 2 monitors—including the Samsung CHG70 32-inch and Samsung CHG90 49-inch displays—came to market last year, with additional FreeSync 2 monitors in the pipeline. FreeSync 2 supports the same basic task as FreeSync—synchronizing the frame rate of the signal from a compatible AMD graphics card with a monitor’s refresh rate—but adds HDR support, low input lag (aka latency), and support for low-frame-rate compensation. The latter is the ability to sync the frame rate of a GPU with that of a monitor, even when the GPU’s frame rate falls below the minimum frame rate of the monitor. Few games that take advantage of FreeSync 2’s features are yet available, but the monitors themselves have to meet AMD standards such as HDR capability.
At the start of 2019, Nvidia released a new version of its driver for its GeForce cards that allows users of FreeSync monitors to turn on G-Sync; the results may vary, but in essence, owners of FreeSync panels can now try out VRR with an Nvidia card. Nvidia has also extended a sort of G-Sync certification to a select group of FreeSync monitors. Out of 400 FreeSync monitors that Nvidia tested, only a dozen met the company’s standards—that is, no tearing, no ghosting, no other artifacts during VRR gameplay, and the ability to support a wide range of refresh rates (for example, 60Hz to 144Hz). These models at the link are dubbed “G-Sync Compatible.” Nvidia has yet to test a hundred or so additional FreeSync monitors, and invites owners of monitors that have not yet been validated but who have received the driver update to try to switch G-Sync on from the Nvidia control panel and see if, and how well, its adaptive sync works.
The addition of the G-Sync Compatible category brings the number of G-Sync monitor compatibility levels to three. G-Sync Compatible is the lowest tier. In the middle are those monitors that meet Nvidia’s traditional G-Sync standards, containing specialized circuitry to support the standard: They have passed some 300 image-quality tests and are capable of operating over the full VRR range. The top tier is G-Sync Ultimate (formerly known as G-Sync HDR), which in addition to meeting the G-Sync standards combines high-end features such as extreme luminance (1,000 nits) and a refresh rate of at least 144Hz. One of the few panels that qualifies as G-Sync Ultimate is the Acer Predator X27, but we expect to see more, especially with the introduction of 65-inch Big Format Gaming Displays (BFGDs) from HP and others. (See our preview of the first of these, the HP Omen X Emperium.)
Video Inputs and Other Features
A gaming monitor should be equipped with a variety of video inputs, so you can stay connected to multiple PCs and gaming consoles such as the Sony PS4 Pro and the Microsoft Xbox One S. Dual HDMI ports are ideal, since the major game consoles use HDMI, while most high-end graphics cards offer DisplayPort, HDMI, and DVI connectivity.
USB ports are also a nice feature, as they make it easy to connect to gaming controllers, mice, thumb drives, and other external peripherals, and in many cases you can charge devices when they are connected to a USB port. Side-mounted USB ports make it easy to plug and unplug peripherals without having to reach around the back of the monitor. A powerful speaker system with a built-in subwoofer will enhance your gaming experience and conserve desktop space, and a stand with height, tilt, and swivel adjustments offers ergonomic comfort for those all-night frag marathons. That said, if you tend to game with a gaming headset, a conveniently situated USB port might be more valuable than middling built-in speakers.
Ready for Our Recommendations?
Screen size, panel technology, and features will determine how much you’ll pay for a gaming monitor. You can snag a 24-inch model that uses TN technology with a fast gray-to-gray pixel response time for around $ 200, but you won’t get much in the way of features. Expect to pay more than $ 400 if you want perks, such as an adjustable stand, a USB hub, multiple digital video inputs, and either G-Sync or FreeSync technology. A full-blown 27-inch model with all the bells and whistles, including either G-Sync or FreeSync support, can cost north of $ 500, and a 34-inch UHD monitor will run you more than $ 700. If you’re looking for a big-screen, ultra-wide monitor with a curved panel, plan on spending even more.
Best Gaming Monitors Featured in This Roundup:
Pros: Loaded with features including multiple game modes and lighting effects. AMD FreeSync enabled. Solid performance. Three-year warranty.
Cons: Expensive. Some ports are difficult to access.
Bottom Line: The 38-inch Acer XR382CQK curved-screen monitor offers accurate colors and stellar gaming performance. It’s expensive, but its extensive feature set and humongous screen are worth the price.
Pros: 4K UHD resolution. Supports HDR content. Very high rated and tested brightness. Excellent contrast ratio for an IPS monitor. Glare-reducing hood. Stylish, ergonomic mount provides height, tilt, and swivel control.
Cons: Stratospheric pricing. Requires high-performance hardware to get the most out of it.
Bottom Line: Acer’s formidable (and formidably pricey) Predator X27 is an elite-performing 27-inch gaming monitor that provides 4K UHD resolution, very high brightness, lofty refresh rates, and G-Sync support. It’s the ultimate gaming panel.
Pros: Nicely curved screen. Support for Adaptive Sync (FreeSync). 144Hz refresh rate. Joystick control for OSD menus. Gaming modes and features galore. Smooth performance and good contrast.
Cons: VA panel’s pixel response can’t match that of TN monitors. No built-in speakers.
Bottom Line: The Asus ROG Strix XG32VQ gaming monitor combines a 32-inch curved screen, a zippy 144Hz refresh rate, FreeSync compatibility, and a raft of gaming features to nab our Editors’ Choice.
Pros: Nvidia G-Sync enabled. Fast refresh rate. Strong gaming performance. Fully adjustable stand. Bezel-free cabinet.
Cons: Expensive. Slightly skewed greens. Limited video inputs.
Bottom Line: The pricey Dell 24 Gaming Monitor S2417DG uses speedy refresh rates and Nvidia’s G-Sync anti-tearing technology to deliver excellent high-resolution gaming performance.
Pros: Good HDR performance in videos and games alike. Blistering refresh rate. Support for AMD FreeSync 2. Sturdy and ergonomic mount. Good color quality and image sharpness. Strong value for money.
Cons: Viewing-angle range could be better.
Bottom Line: Gamers and video hounds alike will thrill to the Samsung CHG70 27-Inch Curved Monitor’s winning combination: its fine standard-definition and HDR image quality, wide color gamut, high refresh rate, and superior stand.
Pros: Crisp Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) picture. Handles HDR content. Accurate colors. Good grayscale performance. Solid in our gaming testing.
Cons: Stand adjustability is limited to tilt. Ports out of sight and hard to reach. Relatively narrow viewing angles.
Bottom Line: The BenQ EW3270U, with its UHD screen that can display HDR content, delivers solid color and grayscale performance, making it a good-value 32-inch entertainment monitor.
Pros: Ultra-wide screen provides for an immersive gaming experience. Good HDR performance. Blistering native refresh rate over a DisplayPort conection. AMD FreeSync 2. Wide, sturdy mount.
Cons: May be tricky to find room for this display in tight quarters. Screen dimensions less than ideal for viewing videos. Relatively low pixel density compromises its ability to render fine detail. No built-in speakers.
Bottom Line: The stunning 49-inch screen of Samsung’s CHG90 packs wow factor, providing an immersive experience for gamers, and it lets productivity-minded users keep several windows open side by side.
Pros: Very good gaming performance. Speedy refresh rate. AMD FreeSync enabled.
Cons: Slightly skewed greens. Narrow viewing angles. Tinny speakers.
Bottom Line: AOC’s 27-inch Agon AG271QX monitor supports AMD’s FreeSync technology and has a speedy 144Hz refresh rate. Despite skewed greens and narrow viewing angles, it delivers solid gaming performance.
Pros: 144Hz native refresh rate. Support for AMD FreeSync. Fast pixel response. Fully adjustable stand.
Cons: Low contrast ratio. No HDR support. Typical TN-panel fading at extreme off-center angles. Lacks DisplayPort cable.
Bottom Line: The Dell 27 Gaming Monitor (S2719DGF) is a pure play for PC gamers and esports types, providing a very high refresh rate and snappy pixel response that will satisfy those buyers. It lacks HDR support, however, and isn’t ideal for video watching.
Pros: Solid gaming performance. Good grayscale and viewing angle performance. Speedy refresh rate. G-Sync enabled.
Cons: Expensive. Skewed greens. Lacks advanced color adjustments. One-year warranty.
Bottom Line: The LG 34UC89G-B gaming monitor uses G-Sync technology and speedy refresh rates to deliver solid performance on a huge curved 34-inch screen.