How to Pick the Right Gaming Monitor for Your Needs

Buying a good monitor for your gaming PC isn't easy, and marketing doesn't make it any easier.
Dell

Finding a good gaming monitor isn’t easy, and manufacturers aren’t keen to make it any easier. Here’s everything you need to know to track down a good one.

What Makes a Monitor a Gaming Monitor?

To answer the question in the headline without any further ado: it’s hard to shop for a gaming monitor because the definition of “gaming monitor” is somewhat fluid. There are specific features that are good for gaming, or to be more accurate, are more conducive to a positive gaming experience on a PC. And those features don’t always align with what makes a monitor “good” for conventional uses of a desktop or laptop PC, like accurate colors or the most resolution.

Things aren’t helped by marketing. If you browse Amazon or an electronics store shelf (if you can find one), you might think every monitor is “good for gaming.” But that’s only true in the sense that every TV is “good for sports,” because technically, you can watch sports on any TV. It’s sort of true, but all those flashy graphics and buzzwords are misleading.

There are a few features that are specifically designed to make a monitor perform better for games. Here’s what you want to look for.

Image Quality

Almost any monitor will tell you it has good colors on the store description, but there are degrees of this: vibrancy, brightness, color accuracy, etc. Here’s the odd thing about image quality: it’s not necessarily what you want if you’re playing PC games.

This IPS monitor has great color accuracy, but it's a bit slow for gaming performance.
This IPS monitor has excellent color accuracy, but it’s a bit slow for gaming performance. Dell

Super-expensive monitors, aimed at professional graphic designers and printers, use a ton of advanced tech to get colors as accurate as possible. But all of that tech has to go between your PC and the image you see with your eyeballs, which slows down the time between when your computer renders the image and when you actually see it. The time is minuscule—a few thousandths of a second—but it’s enough to make a difference in fast-paced games like shooters, racers, and fighters. Gamers also tend to set their monitors with more vibrancy and saturation, prioritizing an appealing image over one that’s more technically accurate.

For this reason, inexpensive monitors and those focused on gaming usually use the less expensive and “faster” TN screen panels, as opposed to more color-accurate but slower IPS panels. A new middle ground is getting popular, the VA panel, which has better colors than TN but faster image display than IPS.

Speed

What do I mean when I say that a monitor is “fast?” Two things: display response time and hertz. Let’s talk about the first one.

Response time is the amount of time it takes between when your monitor receives an image from your PC and when it can display that image on the screen. Most monitors have a response time of under 10ms (one one-hundredth of a second), a trivial interval if you’re surfing the web or answering email. But in fast-paced games, that can be several frames of animation, and the difference between winning and losing.

This Samsung monitor has a response time of just one millisecond in its fastest mode.
This Samsung monitor has a response time of just one millisecond in its fastest mode. Michael Crider

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