Gaming Monitors for PC Gaming

Often overlooked when buying a new gaming PC, the monitor is the only component that you interact with continuously, so it really is worth buying something good for your eyes to look at.

There are many factors to consider such as resolution, size and refresh rate. Put simply, the higher the resolution, the sharper graphics will appear, although on the downside you'll need a more powerful GeForce graphics card to render games smoothly. Size is pretty obvious, with bigger monitors providing a greater sense of immersion, although beware large monitors with a low resolution as these will make games look grainy and stretched.

Refresh rate is also important, with higher rates making games look smoother. Refresh rate isn't quite that straightforward though, as even with a high refresh rate games can appear torn, which occurs when the refresh rate of your monitor is not in sync with the output of the graphics card. This problem can be minimised by opting for a monitor with G-Sync technology which syncs the monitor with the graphics card.

There are three panel technologies to choose from. Twisted Nematic (TN), In-Plane Switching (IPS) and Vertical Alignment (VA) - all of which exhibit different characteristics making some panel types better suited for specific uses. Here's a brief summary of the principle characteristics of these panel types.

Panel Type
Pros High refresh rate, low price Huge colour depth, best viewing angles High colour depth, good viewing angles
Cons Narrow viewing angles, limited colour depth High price, older panels have a low refresh rate Limited availability, older panels have a low refresh rate

TN Gaming Monitors

TN panels monitors are the most common on the market due to their low cost. TN panel technology is usually found in monitors between 19" and 28" in size, sporting 16:9 aspect ratios at popular resolutions such as 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 2560 x 1440 (QHD) and 3840 x 2160 (4K).

The most advantageous trait of TN panels, aside from being the lowest-cost option, is that they are the most responsive and have the lowest levels of display lag - the time taken to transfer a video output from the computer's graphics to an image that is displayed on the monitor.

There are two crucial components of display lag - the signal processing time and the response time. Signal processing is primarily affected by the type of display scaler used and any monitor effects applied, such as colour adjustments or simulated motion blur. Signal processing time is related to the panel technology used since display scalers are often specific to one particular technology. The response time is the how long it takes for a pixel to change colour and this is usually measured through grey-to-grey colour transitions; response time is directly related to the type of panel technology used.

TN panels are often used in gaming monitors as their low display lag makes them well-suited for fast-paced first-person shooter (FPS) titles where responsiveness is crucial. The ability to achieve high refresh rates is another characteristic of TN panels that makes them ideal for gaming.

TN panels do, however, have two notable weakness, firstly that their viewing angles are typically limited to about 170-degrees horizontally and 160-degrees vertically. Since the first generation of TN panels the technology has improved greatly with respect to viewing angles but TN is still notably behind IPS in this regard.

In addition, TN panels can exhibit colour and contrast shift in both vertical and horizontal directions. This isn't necessarily an issue for users who view their monitor straight-on but even the slightest off-centre viewing can cause colour or contrast shift.

Finally TN panels have the most limited colour depth of the three panel types, meaning that colours often appear muted, with colour banding evident in darker scenes. This makes them a poor choice for anybody also using their gaming system for editing photos and videos.

IPS Gaming Monitors

IPS-based monitors have become an increasingly popular alternative to cheaper TN monitors as the technology has matured and become more established in the marketplace. IPS panel technology was initially created to improve the weak viewing angles of TN panels and to further improve colour reproduction and image quality.

A typical IPS display offers viewing angles of 178-degrees horizontal and 178-degrees vertical and is significantly less likely to exhibit any colour or contrast shifts when viewed from off-centre. Furthermore, IPS panels are usually more colour accurate and capable of displaying more colours since they predominantly make use of true 8-bit colour depth panels compared to 6-bit panels on most TN monitors, which often use a technique called dithering and frame-rate control (FRC) to simulate deeper 8-bit colour depth.

IPS panels, in their early years, struggled to achieve reasonable response times though modern IPS panels have improved a lot on this. While TN panels typically offer 2-to-4-millisecond response times, many IPS panels only reach 5-to-10 milliseconds, making them unsuitable for twitch gaming.

IPS panels are available under many different brand names and marketing labels including PLS (Samsung), AH-IPS (LG Display) and AHVA (AU Optronics), but essentially these are all still a variation of an IPS panel. IPS monitors tend to be more frequently available in larger size categories, such as 28in to 40in, and with the unique ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio in addition to conventional 16:9 and 16:10 offerings.

The target audience of IPS panels tends to be consumers who are more appreciative of image quality and viewing angles for varied usage scenarios. Older IPS panels aren't as fluid as TN panels for gaming, but IPS panels are certainly no slouch in games where the enhanced viewing angles help with preventing colour shifts across larger displays and multi-screen setups, while the additional colour support adds more vibrancy to the visuals.

VA Gaming Monitors

IPS and TN panels differ markedly in terms of viewing angles, refresh rates, responsiveness and colour depth. VA-type panels were developed as an attempt to find a middle ground, meaning a panel with a balance of characteristics of IPS and TN technologies.

The VA-type panel is usually sorted into two main categories - Multi-Domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) and Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA), although the two are broadly similar and PVA has declined in popularity as display manufacturers have turned more towards IPS. VA-type panels are the least common display type on the market.

VA-type panels have wider viewing angles than TN-type panels, though they do exhibit some off-centre colour and contrast shifts, something IPS panels do not generally have. VA panels are also unique in that the VA technology allows for drastically higher contrast ratios than IPS or TN equivalents: 3000 to 5000:1 is commonplace. Colour depth is typically 8-bit, making VA panels more accurate and vibrant than TN equivalents and quite similar to IPS.

While there are some monitors able to deliver refresh rates up to 120Hz, most VA-type panels have similar refresh rates to IPS counterparts. Similarly, with regards to response times the VA-type panel is closer to IPS, if not a little slower.


NVIDIA G-sync Gaming Monitors

Unfortunately, even if you buy the most expensive graphics card in the world you will still experience tearing and stuttering in games. The problem is that when the GPU sends a rendered frame to the monitor while it is in the middle of a refresh, only the part of the monitor that still hasn't been refreshed will be updated with the new frame. This is known as tearing and looks simply terrible, with tall vertical objects split in half across the screen as you can see in the image below.

Because the monitor is running at a fixed refresh rate of 60Hz, the GPU and monitor will only be in sync if the GPU is outputting at precisely 60fps. Anybody who has ever played a game will know that the frame rate varies enormously from second to second as the scenery changes, so it's impossible for a GPU to always output at 60fps.

The common work around for this problem is vsync, a feature that GeForce drivers allow you to enable. What vysnc does is force the monitor to only display whole frames. This does eliminate tearing, but it causes the monitor to skip over any frames that are sent over by the GPU while the monitor is in the middle of a refresh. This skipping however is also visible as a stutter, and is most evident on-screen when the frame rate changes dramatically, such as changing the view from a simple to a complex scene.

However, you can eliminate both tearing and stuttering by combining your GeForce card with a G-Sync monitor. G-Sync monitors have extra circuitry in them which enables the GPU to adjust the refresh rate of the monitor on the fly. This then means that the monitor will only refresh when the GPU is ready to send it a new frame. The end result is a silky smooth gaming experience, rather than one that suffers from ugly and distracting tearing (vsync off) or annoying stutters (vsync on). In short, G-Sync is amazing and arguably the biggest step forward in visual quality since the switch from software to hardware 3D acceleration.