If eyes are the windows to the soul, then a gaming monitor is the window to your rig. It doesn’t matter how beefy your GPU is if you have to watch it perform through the dinky little 720p monitor that came with your mom’s old pre-built.
It might seem superficial, but the monitor is considered by many to be the most critical peripheral for your computer. It is the single component through which you view all the inner workings of man’s most glorious machine… and also Fortnite.
That’s why we put together this gaming monitor buying guide.
What is a Gaming Monitor, Exactly?
Gaming monitors are designed to have a much faster line of communication with your graphics card. That’s important since the last thing you want is for your screen to start skipping any time you try to snap off a headshot.
Several factors go into choosing a monitor for gaming that might not apply to the average desktop user. You need to think about panel type, size, resolution, picture quality, refresh rate, response time, and of course, price.
Seem overwhelming? Don’t worry. We’ve composed this gaming monitor buying guide to help you sort through the deluge of options and find the screen that’s right for you.
Different Types of Gaming Monitors
Gaming monitors are defined by how they produce their images. LCD, or liquid crystal display, screens have all but dominated the market due to their beautifully clear images, their relative longevity, and their affordability.
Easy enough, right?
Breaking things down a little further, there are three primary types of LCD monitors for you to choose from: TN, IPS, and VA.
I know, more abbreviations, cool, but choosing between them isn’t as scary as it sounds. Here’s a quick breakdown of the features of each display type to help you figure out the best gaming monitor specs for your needs.
- TN, or twisted nematic panels – Generally have the fastest response times, highest refresh rates, and most affordable price points. They’re considered the best for PC gaming since they’re well-suited to keeping up with your graphics card. That said, they don’t produce the best quality image in terms of viewing angles and color reproduction.
- IPS, or in-plane switching panels – These produce rich colors and wide viewing angles, and they gracefully walk the tightrope between quality and speed. Unfortunately, they tend to be the most expensive and don’t refresh as quickly as the TNs.
- VA, or vertical alignment panels – These feature the best picture quality. They are known to have a ~3000:1 contrast ratio, near-perfect color reproduction, and the very best in viewing angles. Sadly, their high response times tend to make them more suited to photo editing and television than gaming.
There are exceptions to every rule that can’t be covered in one gaming monitor guide, and you should always check out the specifications on an individual monitor before ruling it out. Also, sales can help you snag a high-end TN or IPS monitor that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.
Best Gaming Monitor Brands
Do you ever go to the grocery store because you’ve got a hankering for a box of delicious Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, only to notice that the store brand costs half as much? The store-brand may be cheaper, but the taste just isn’t the same.
The same is true in the electronics industry, and going with a reputable brand is a must. Here are a few of the more trustworthy ones to keep in mind when thinking about what to look for in a gaming monitor.
- Asus – One of the most trusted names in PC components, Asus makes products that range from affordable low end to premium high end. It’s easy to find something from them that fits your specific needs since they have so many to choose from. Not the cheapest, but reasonably priced.
- Acer – Takes an “affordable doesn’t mean cheap” approach. This tech company enjoys making products that at or near equal in quality to their significantly pricier peers. They also have an extensive lineup of monitors in several categories. They’re recommended for anyone looking to get a little more bang for their buck.
- Alienware – Owned by Dell, Alienware is the gamer-oriented face of the PC juggernaut. They were one of the first to create an entire line of products targeted toward gamers. They make quality products but come with a hefty price tag.
- AOC – Focuses on manufacturing widescreen monitors. Makes some of the best high-end, professional-grade models on the market. They’re a bit pricey, but fair considering the technology inside.
Who makes the best monitor in which category is always shifting as new products come out, but you can be fairly confident that it will be well-made if you choose one from any of the companies listed above.
As for honorable mentions? BENQ, MSI, LG, Dell, HP, Lenovo, NEC Planar, Samsung, and Viewsonic are other top contenders.
What to Look for in a Gaming Monitor
Let’s have a look at some of the most critical elements to consider when choosing a gaming monitor.
We’ve already talked a bit about panel types, but the most important things to remember are:
- TN = Faster connection and less motion blur.
- IPS = Good mix of speed and image quality, but pricey.
- VA = Better image quality.
Resolution refers to pixel density. Pixels are the individual points of light that make up your screen. More pixels mean a sharper and better-defined image, and the higher the number, the higher the resolution. Here are the most frequently used resolutions:
- 1080p – This is the minimum standard to be considered “high definition.” It’s the resolution that most monitors and TVs have been using for more than a decade. Any modern computer with a dedicated graphics card should be able to play games at max settings at this resolution. You will see higher frame rates and less motion blur at the cost of sharpness and pixel density.
- 1440p – Something of a compromise between 1080p and 4K. Even low-tier modern computers can play games at this resolution, although you may have to lower a few settings. Mid-tier and higher computers handle it really well, however.
- 4K – Crystal clear images, but very taxing on your PC. It contains roughly four times the number of pixels as 1080p. Only high-end graphics cards such as Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti will be able to generate images at this resolution while being able to maintain max settings and acceptable frame rates.
Resolution is also the point where you might want to consider the size of your monitor. A larger monitor will have more space between each pixel at a given resolution. 1080p might be great for a 24-inch display, but it will lose some of its luster on a 32-inch. You might consider splurging on a higher resolution for a larger monitor if your PC can handle it.
Definition isn’t the only thing to consider in terms of picture quality. There’s also brightness and color.
Contrast ratio is the difference in luminance between a display’s brightest and darkest colors. A high contrast ratio will give you brighter brights and darker darks.
Color is trickier. Most gaming monitors don’t advertise color correctness on any kind of metric. It should be safe if they advertise 10-bit color or higher, but it’s best to check reviews just to be safe. This is particularly important if you’re also using your computer for graphic design, photo, or video editing.
The generating of individual frames is your graphics card’s job. Refresh rate refers to how quickly your monitor refreshes the images that it receives. You might have a graphics card that is generating 120fps, but you’ll only get half that speed if your monitor refreshes at 60Hz.
There are three main speeds to consider, 60Hz, 144Hz, and 240Hz.
The short answer is that the best refresh rate for gaming monitors is going to be the highest one available, aka 240Hz. But the best one for you might have more to do with what kind of graphics card you have, what resolution you’re gaming at, and your budget.
You also might consider what kind of games you’re playing. Shooters, racing games, and anything with a lot of fast-paced motion will see greater returns from a higher refresh rate. People who prefer RPGs and indie titles might benefit more from putting their money into resolution.
Of course, if a 4K, 240Hz monitor is in your budget, then who are we to stop you?
The faster, the better when it comes to the best response time for computer monitors. Response time is the amount of time it takes for your monitor’s pixels to change color. A 5ms response time means that it takes 1/200th of a second for a pixel to travel from white to black to white again. That’s sufficient for most gaming setups, but many newer panels are offering speeds as high as 0.5ms!
A higher response time will lower the instances of “ghosting,” which is when you see a distracting trail of pixels behind moving objects on screen. In other words, it’s essential.
This is most people’s primary concern when thinking about what to look for in a gaming monitor. Costs are continually fluctuating and depend heavily on size, resolution, brand, and every other specification that we’ve discussed so far. The best monitors can go as low as $100 or as high as $4,000.
Consider waiting for a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale if you’re reading this close to the holidays. You can also follow sites like Newegg.com and watch for exclusive deals and promotions. Apps like Honey can also be used to track items fluctuating in price around the web.
How to Choose a Gaming Monitor
Decide on your budget, then prioritize based on the capabilities of your graphics card and the kinds of games that you intend to play. Think about what those games will demand and which monitor in your price range will best fit your needs.
Do you like shooters and other fast-paced games that require higher frame rates and response times like Doom Eternal, or are you more of a Red Dead Redemption II fan who would prefer to allocate their budget toward a higher resolution and crisp color accuracy?
The answer, my friends, makes all the difference.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve rounded up some of the most commonly asked questions regarding gaming monitors and answered them for your convenience.
What type of monitor is best for gaming?
TN monitors are typically best for gaming.
What specs should I look for in a gaming monitor?
Panel type, size, resolution, refresh rate, and response time are all important specs to look for in a gaming monitor.
What's the highest refresh rate gaming monitor?
240Hz is the highest refresh rate currently available.
What's the best gaming monitor?
While this generally depends on the quality of your graphics card and the kinds of games that you play, a 1440p TN monitor with a 144Hz refresh rate and at least a 5ms response time should offer enough screen-power for most gamers.
Where can I buy a gaming monitor?
Amazon, Newegg, Walmart, Bestbuy, and various other computer hardware retailers are great places to shop for gaming monitors.
One Last Thing Before You Go!
The monitor is an easy thing to overlook when thinking about all the components that go into a gaming PC, but it’s the part of the computer that you spend most of your time actually looking at. You deserve to have the right one for your needs.
Knowing what to look for in a gaming monitor can seem stressful, and we hope this guide eased the burden. With a good budget – and the knowledge of what you need and how to find it – you’ll be able to open a portal to all your gaming dreams. Good luck, gamers!