No matter how powerful your gaming PC is, your monitor will always have the biggest impact on your gaming experience. It doesn’t matter if you can max out The Witcher 3 at 4K and 60 FPS if your monitor has poor color reproduction. And it doesn’t matter if you’re pushing Overwatch at over 200 FPS if your gaming display is limited to a mere 60 Hz.
Your monitor is very literally your window into the world of the game you’re playing, and like a real-life window, its size and clarity will determine what you see.
The quality of your gaming experience will be limited first by your monitor, and then by your hardware. Even if you aren’t buying a super high-end gaming PC now, there may still be benefits to buying a more future-proof monitor to account for upgrades or your next build. In general, the farther you shoot now, the longer you’ll remain happy with your selection and not feel the need to replace it.
Each of the monitors below have been selected with this goal in mind: as displays you’ll be happy to use for years to come. Whether you need the best 144Hz monitor, one with G-Sync, or even just a budget option, we have you covered.
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How To Pick The Best Gaming Monitor For You
If you’ve ran through our picks and aren’t sure which monitor to choose, don’t worry: we have you covered. We’re going to walk through the most important factors to take into consideration when buying a monitor to make it easier to pick one that’s right for you.
Size, Resolution, and PPI
Monitor screen size is measured diagonally, from corner-to-corner. So a 24-inch monitor isn’t 24 inches wide, it’s 24 inches diagonal. Its actual width is right around 20-to-21 inches. If you want to more easily visualize or measure how a display may fit on your wall or desk, finding the actual width may help you figure this out.
Resolution is a measure of pixels. Specifically, the number of pixels on the display that will make up the full image. The bigger the display, the more pixels you will need to prevent visible pixelation. In general, 1080p at 24 inches (for standard widescreen displays) is understood to be the recommended resolution for that size, as is 1440p for 27 inches. 4K is common in both 27-inch and larger displays, but usually isn’t seen in smaller displays for good reason.
Finally, let’s talk about PPI, or Pixels Per Inch. The higher this number is, the better. For your average desktop usage scenario, you’ll want at least 85 or so to avoid blurry text, images, and games. We’ve provided PPI measurements in our reviews above to better indicate the level of image quality you can expect from these monitors in relation to one another, as opposed to relying solely on resolution numbers.
Refresh rate, VRR technology, and response time
Refresh rate is measured in Hertz and counts the number of times the image on the screen “refreshes” in a single second. While not the same as Frames Per Second (FPS) in video games, higher refresh rates will allow your display to output higher in-game framerates, leading to a great increase in smoothness. Many eSports pros swear by higher refresh rate displays as a competitive advantage for this reason.
Your average modern monitor will have a 60 Hz refresh rate. While this does provide a smooth image, it still doesn’t match the responsiveness of 144 Hz or even 240 Hz monitors. For truly competitive gamers, a high refresh rate monitor is a must-have, no questions asked.
VRR stands for Variable Refresh Rate, and it refers to technologies that enable displays to switch refresh rates on the fly. These include DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync, Nvidia’s G-Sync, and AMD’s FreeSync. These technologies all function in fundamentally the same way: the prevent screen tearing by changing the refresh rate of the monitor (or skipping in-game frames) to match the in-game framerate.
If that sounds familiar to you, you may have heard of V-Sync. V-Sync also manipulates in-game frames to prevent visual screen tearing, but at the cost of a performance penalty and increased input latency. Due to the manner in which V-Sync works, it also greatly worsens performance dips when enabled.
With VRR technology, you get the benefits of V-Sync (a smoother gaming experience without visible screen tearing) without its input latency or performance downsides. It is especially recommended when you are running games significantly below or significantly above 60 FPS, since these are the scenarios in which you will most likely experience screen tearing.
Response time measures the amount of time it takes for a pixel to change color, usually Gray-To-Gray (G2G). A good number for this is considered to be 5 ms, while lower numbers are considered better and higher numbers are considered worse. However…
Response time isn’t always the most accurate way to measure latency. Specifically, many people mistakenly believe that response time directly corresponds to input lag, which it does not. There are scenarios where a display with a lower response time will actually have the same or worse input lag when compared to a display with a higher response time…because there are many other factors to take into consideration.
The biggest determining factor of input lag will almost always be refresh rate. At 5 ms response time and below, the gains will become more and more marginal without corresponding refresh rate boosts.
Fortunately, we’ve verified through our own tests and trusted sources like DisplayLag and RTINGS that each of the monitors we’ve included in this roundup will provide low input lag and a great gaming experience.
Panel type refers to the type of panel used in the display. In monitors, there are three main types of panel being used, each with its own pros and cons, that you need to consider when buying a gaming display.
Last up is HDR, or High Dynamic Range. HDR-enabled displays utilize technology that allows for clarity in even the brightest (or darkest) scenes. This technology is most commonly seen alongside 4K in the latest TVs, and has been embraced wholeheartedly in the world of console gaming.
In PC gaming and PC as a whole, it’s seen a much slower adoption, and unfortunately at the time of writing, a much poorer one. Even our best HDR gaming monitor isn’t all that great when compared to the best HDR TVs; of course, the monitor, as a whole, is still worlds better in terms of input lag and your actual gaming experience.
Ultimately, this is probably the least important thing to take into consideration when buying a monitor… at least for now. If you also happen to play the latest and greatest console games (on PS4 and Xbox One specifically), however, an HDR-enabled monitor may very well be worth a buy.
What to prioritize?
Unfortunately, you aren’t going to find a gaming monitor that checks every box for every possible gaming experience. To wrap up this guide, we’re going to explain which things to prioritize depending on your needs.
If competitive gaming is your livelihood, prioritize…
- High refresh rates (TN Panels)
- Low response times
- VRR technology
If you value single-player games and immersion, prioritize…
- Better color reproduction (IPS Panels)
- Higher resolutions and PPI
- VRR technology
If you’re somewhere in-between, prioritize…
- Better color reproduction
- High refresh rates
- Low response times
No matter what kind of gamer you are, you should be able to find the best gaming monitor for you on our list. Comment below and let us know if you need help picking one.