What to Look for in a Gaming Monitor – Review Geek

A photo of a gaming monitor next to a PC.
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A good gaming monitor is more than just a nice screen. It is a serious device that affects your gameplay just like a mouse or keyboard. So before you start looking for a new gaming monitor, you need to know which specs and features are important.

Please note that your Graphics Card also plays a role in this conversation. If you’re using a relatively weak GPU, you may not get the benefits of a monitor with an extreme 120Hz refresh rate or 4K resolution.

Refresh rate and response time

Competitive gamers are often obsessed with their monitors refresh rate and response time. These specs affect the clarity and speed of your games, allowing you to react quickly to on-screen action. They are arguably the most important specs in a gaming monitor.

  • Refresh rate: The number of times a monitor refreshes the image every second. A refresh rate above 60 Hz provides a noticeably smooth and clear experience, especially in fast-paced games. (You won’t notice this benefit if a game is running below 60FPS.)
  • Response time: The time it takes your monitor to switch from one color to another. A fast response time of less than 10 ms minimizes blur and ghosting. It will also help you reap the benefits of a fast refresh rate.

The average computer monitor runs at a 60Hz refresh rate, which is a bit too slow for competitive gaming (but fine for casual gaming). We recommend gamers use a 120Hz or 144Hz monitor.

A gaming monitor with a refresh rate above 144Hz is probably not worth your money. At least, not until you’re an enthusiast who can tell the difference between extreme refresh rates.

Also note the adaptive refresh rate technology a monitor offers. Adaptive refresh rate, usually powered by G-Sync or FreeSync, reduces screen tearing and other graphics glitches by synchronizing a monitor’s refresh rate with a game’s FPS. Both standards are functionally identical, although G-Sync makes a monitor more expensive and requires an NVIDIA GPU for full compatibility. FreeSync is an open standard that supports most hardware, so it’s usually the most affordable and intuitive option.

As for the response time of a monitor; look for 5 ms or less. Your average monitor has a response time of 10ms, so the upgrade to 5ms is pretty hefty. (Some monitors advertise a 1ms response time, but slightly slower monitors are much more affordable and offer a similar experience.)

Keep in mind that refresh rate and response time are usually a trade-off for resolution, contrast, color accuracy, and other specs. This is especially true for OLED monitors, which are slower than their LCD counterparts (unless you’re spending a fortune, of course).

HyperX Armada 27

A 27-inch, 1440p, 165Hz QHD display that comes standard with a monitor arm for tidy gaming, on screen and on your desk.

Brightness, Contrast and Color

A gamer behind his very bright gaming monitor.
Ivan Acedo / Shutterstock.com

It’s hard to identify in-game enemies, objects, or environments if your monitor is dim or dull. Once you’ve found a gaming monitor with a fast refresh rate and response time, check to see if it offers decent ratings for brightness, contrast, and color.

Most budget gaming monitors are frustratingly weak. Their brightness falls somewhere between 100 and 250 nits, which is just is not bright enough for daytime use. Ideally, you should find a gaming monitor with a rating of at least 300 nits. (Most entry-level HDR monitors can produce an image at 400 nits or more. If you regularly play games in a bright room, consider getting an HDR monitor.)

If you only play games in the dark, a dimmed screen is of course not so bad. You may even find yourself turning off a monitor’s backlight to reduce eye strain – your eyes will thank you!

And while it may not sound important, contrast plays a big part in how you experience a game. A monitor’s “contrast” describes how accurately it can reproduce dark or black colors. If a monitor has poor contrast, enemies can blend into the background, or dark environments may look like empty gray tunnels.

Most gamers look for a monitor with a 1000:1 contrast ratio, as this is the most realistic option when buying an LCD with a high refresh rate and response time. Lower contrast ratios of 750:1 or 500:1 should be avoided. (An OLED monitor gives the best contrast, but OLED screens with a high refresh rate are priceless.)

As for the color of a monitor, you don’t need anything extreme for gaming. Since all PC games are mastered for sRGB, you can use the extreme color settings which are often preferred by artists or photographers. All you need is a monitor with between 95% and 100% sRGB coverage. (A monitor with 100% sRGB coverage provides the most accurate color reproduction while gaming.)

Please note that most monitors require some tuning to accurately display colors. Your monitor manufacturer may offer a color profile to get the job done.

Resolution and screen size

Diagram showing the difference between HD, 4K and 8K resolutions.
Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock.com

Modern computer screens contain several pixels: tiny dots that work together to produce an image. When we measure the number of horizontal and vertical pixels on a computer monitor, we get the “resolution” of the screen. For example, a 1080p monitor has a resolution of 1920×1080 (that’s 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels).

A high-resolution monitor contains tons of pixels, which allows it to produce a more detailed, sharper and clearer image. That’s why QHD (1440p or 2K) and UHD (4K) displays are becoming more and more popular; they look great especially when gaming.

Here’s the problem; it’s hard to find a high-resolution monitor with a fast refresh rate or response time. And unless you own a ridiculously powerful GPU, your PC probably won’t be able to run 4K video at 144Hz.

Most gamers should stick with a 1080p monitor and prioritize the things that really matter: refresh rate, response time, contrast, and brightness. Otherwise, you might have a gaming monitor that exceeds the capabilities of your PC (and your wallet).

Now, in some situations, a high-resolution gaming monitor can make sense. As you make the monitor larger, the pixels grow further apart, decreasing image sharpness and quality. (This phenomenon is called “pixel density‘, and it is usually described by a measurement of PPI or ‘pixels per inch’).

Exceptionally large screens (32 inches or more) can look quite blurry at 1080p, but they look a lot better at 1440p, 2K, or 4K resolution. If you want a large screen, you should strongly consider a high-resolution display. (Note that 1440p and 2K monitors often use an identical resolution. Manufacturers like to get tricky with names.)

I should also note that upscaling technology, such as NVIDIA DLSS, can help you play games in 4K with minimal impact on your GPU. Tons of popular games support DLSSalthough it requires an NVIDIA RTX GPU.

Flat, curved or ultra-wide screens

Samsung Odyssey Ark 55-inch monitor

It may sound strange, but the shape of your gaming monitor can affect gameplay. And to explain this fact, let’s look at the differences between ultra-wide, curved and standard “flat” monitors.

Ultra-wide gaming monitors provide a great, immersive gaming experience. As the name implies, ultra-wide monitors are several inches longer than your average screen — they use a 21:9 aspect ratio, as opposed to the standard 16:9 ratio. (That’s a 33% increase in width.)

This 21:9 aspect ratio in particular can give you an advantage in multiplayer titles. Most games that support ultra-wide aspect ratio will show you more stuff on the left and right sides of the screen, including opponents.

Curved gaming monitors take the same ultra-wide field of view and wrap it around your head. They provide a greater sense of immersion and the wraparound design can reduce visual distortion. Unfortunately, the problem is that curved monitors only work if you’re in the sweet spot. They are also quite expensive.

Most gamers should probably stick with a standard 16:9 monitor with a flat screen. It won’t cost you a fortune and it fits comfortably on your desk. But if you’re willing to spend some extra cash, an ultra-wide or curved monitor is definitely worth checking out.

Gates, Inputs and Outputs

A hand holding an HDMI cable.

You are only allowed to use one port on your gaming monitor. Still, you should try to find a monitor with a decent selection of video connections. Not only does this give you the ability to use multiple video ports (you might want to hook up a game console to your desk), but it also keeps a damaged port from ruining your life.

For gaming, DisplayPort should be your go-to video cable. That’s because DisplayPort offers more bandwidth than HDMI: it has low latency, supports high-quality video standards, and, unlike HDMI, is compatible with both FreeSync and G-Sync (HDMI only works with FreeSync). With DisplayPort you can also: looped monitors togethereliminating the need to connect every video cable to your PC.

Note that USB-C has a “DisplayPort alt mode” for video transfer. If you have a gaming laptop or GPU with USB-C video output, consider buying a USB-C gaming monitor. You’ll enjoy all the benefits of DisplayPort with a smaller, thinner cable. (I highly recommend finding a USB-C monitor with pass-through charging if you’re using a gaming laptop.)

If you can’t use DisplayPort or USB-C, HDMI is obviously the best option. At the time of writing, the latest HDMI standard (HDMI 2.1a) can transfer 4K 120Hz video with FreeSync. (Of course, your monitor and PC must support HDMI 2.1a to take advantage of these benefits.)

Some gaming monitors offer legacy ports, such as DVI and VGA, which are essential for retro gaming or computing. In addition, you will find that a gaming monitor has a series of USB ports – these ports usually act as a USB hub, although they may require a PC with Thunderbolt connectivity.

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