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Whether you're a serious PC gamer or a casual after-hours warrior, your hardware can mean the difference 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 solution, you'll also need a monitor that can display 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 will give you an edge over your opponents while delivering a smooth, immersive gaming experience. We highlight the factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor, and give our current favorites.
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. 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. If desk space is an issue, there are plenty of 24-inch monitors out there, but you'll be limited to 1,920-by-1,080 resolution.
If you have lots of space, and money is no object, even bigger monitors are available. A 30-inch 4K or Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) monitor will deliver a stunning picture with an amazing 3,840-by-2,160 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 38 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 just enough of a curve to make you feel a bit closer to the action.
There are several display technologies you may find used in a gaming monitor, 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, but they are prone to color shifting when viewed from an angle. Vertical Alignment (VA) screens are known for their high native-contrast ratio, 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.
Pixel Response and Refresh Rate
Gaming monitors should have a fast pixel response 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. Look for a display with a 120Hz or higher refresh rate, which not only helps reduce image blur and eliminate tearing, but is a requirement for active 3D technology.
G-Sync and FreeSync
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 modules give control of the screen's refresh rate to the GPU (instead of the monitor), which allows the display to operate with a variable refresh rate. The result is a very smooth gaming experience, with decreased input lag. Note, however, that G-Sync and FreeSync monitors require a compatible graphics card with a DisplayPort 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 output.
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 major consoles use HDMI, while some high-end graphics cards offer both DisplayPort 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. 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.
Buying the Best Budget Gaming Monitor
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 for around $200, but you won't get much in the way of features. Expect to pay more if you want perks, like 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 3D and either G-Sync or FreeSync support, can cost north of $500, and a 34-inch UHD monitor will run you more than $1,000. If you're looking for a big-screen, ultra-wide monitor with a curved panel, plan on spending even more.
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.
Bottom Line: The LG 38UC99-W is a 38-inch curved-screen monitor that delivers outstanding grayscale, color, and gaming performance. At $1,500, it's a serious investment, but you get plenty of features an…
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Bottom Line: It may be pricey, but the Acer Predator XB271HK is a 27-inch Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) gaming monitor that comes up big in terms of performance, features, and style.
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.
Bottom Line: The well-equipped ViewSonic XG2700-4K is a 27-inch gaming monitor that uses AMD's FreeSync anti-tearing technology and an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel to deliver ultra-smooth gaming perfor…
Bottom Line: A pricey 25-inch-class monitor, the Asus ROG Swift PG258Q's low resolution and limited port selection is outweighed by its outstanding gaming performance and the wealth of gamer-friendly fea…
Bottom Line: The 34-inch LG 34UC79G-B, a slightly curved, ultra-wide monitor designed for gameplay, offers plenty of ports and gamer-friendly settings.
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 performan…
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.
Bottom Line: The 27-inch Samsung LC27F591FDN is an attractive and affordable curved-screen gaming monitor that uses AMD's FreeSync technology to deliver solid gaming performance.
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