Do justice to your top-end graphics card with a high-spec gaming monitor. We’ve picked out the top choices you can buy right now and explained all the key terms to help you pick.
Until recently, when it came to selecting a gaming monitor, the options were pretty limited. You had a choice of between two or three screen sizes but only a TN display type – that was the only LCD panel that could provide the fast refresh rates that are key to a gaming monitor.
Related: Best graphics card
In fact, things were so bad in the world of LCD for such a long time, traditional CRT monitors continued to be popular among gamers well into the LCD era thanks to their ultra-fast response times.
Now, however, gamers can finally benefit from the better image quality and fast refresh rates that IPS panels have to offer. Plus, we’ve seen the arrival of AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync technologies, which provide a way of making games look better by reducing image tearing and stutter. You pay for the privilege, though, but at least you can now get one monitor that does it all, without compromise.
So whether you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to raise your game, or you simply want the one monitor to rule them all, we’ve highlighted the best out there over the coming pages.
For a few extra pointers on what to look out for when buying a gaming monitor, read on below.
This is the next big thing in gaming monitors. If you're buying a screen right now, you don't need to worry about HDR, but as 2017 wears on we'll see a lot more about it.
At CES at the beginning of 2017, we saw what the next generation of gaming monitors will look like, and it’s all about HDR. For more on HDR, you can read our explainer for HDR televisions and HDR gaming, but in the case of PC monitors, things are a bit more complicated.
In the case of monitors, you’ll be able to tell whether HDR is supported in games by looking for a G-Sync HDR badge (Nvidia) or a FreeSync 2 badge (AMD). The two standards are different in that they apply to different hardware and will have different specifications, but the market for this technology is quite immature so we’re not quite sure where it’s going yet.
Still, having seen HDR monitors in the flesh, the appeal of screens with 1000-nits brightness and the ability to individually light tiny sections of the screen for simply incredible contrast levels is very high indeed. As soon as we’ve looked at these new monitors in detail we’ll be back with more in-depth analysis.
The vast majority of gaming monitors sold this year probably won’t be HDR-compatible, though, and the extra tech required to make an HDR monitor will make them very expensive.
IPS and TN refer to the type of LCD panel that’s used to make a monitor, and each comes with its own particular image quality and performance characteristics.
TN is the most basic type of LCD and so tends to display inferior colour accuracy and often suffers poor viewing angles – colour and contrast performance can visibly change as you move from viewing it dead-centre. However, TN has traditionally been the only panel type that can refresh really fast (typically, 144Hz for a gaming monitor), and it can have a response time of just 1ms.
In comparison, IPS has tended to be stuck at just 60Hz, which means games can feel noticeably less snappy. However, the latest IPS tech has allowed for screens to hit up to 165Hz. Response times remain longer, at around 4ms, however.
But IPS benefits from far superior viewing angles – essentially, image quality remains stable until viewed at extreme angles – and such panels tend to offer better colour accuracy too.
The big compromise is that a fast IPS display will cost anywhere from 25% to 100% more than a TN equivalent.
FreeSync and G-Sync are two technologies that aim to address the issues of tearing and stuttering. Both occur as a result of the fact that monitors normally run at a fixed refresh rate while graphics cards simply churn out frames as fast as they can.
Tearing is where the monitor outputs an image made up of several frames
You can read more about how the technologies work here – but, essentially, they ensure that the monitor keeps in sync with the speed at which the graphics card outputs each new frame. This eliminates tearing and stuttering, making games look better and run more smoothly.
As such, for those who are simply after a gaming monitor for pure competitive advantage neither is essential. But if you're also concerned with having a more immersive, visually pleasing gaming experience, then either tech is well worth investing in.
FreeSync/G-Sync ensure the monitor outputs whole frames in a smooth manner
FreeSync is, as the name suggests, a free and open standard – although, in reality, it’s one that only AMD graphics cards currently support. Meanwhile, G-Sync is Nvidia’s proprietary version for which it charges a premium. As such, if you're happy opting for either brand of graphics card then it makes sense to go for the free version in FreeSync. However, in order to disguise the fact that G-Sync is expensive, manufacturers are making only G-Sync versions of their most premium monitors.
Look around, though, and you'll find models such as the Acer XF270HU, which may lack some of the flair of its more expensive G-Sync sibling, the XB271HU, but offers the same great image quality and core features.
We generally consider having a fully adjustable stand to be a key consideration when buying a monitor, since setting a monitor at the right height is imperative for reducing the potential for neck and back strain from long periods sat at your computer.
However, if you have a work setup that allows room to simply stack a load of books or make a custom shelf for your screen then opting for a panel with a basic stand is a good way to save money.
Even better, if it has an industry-standard VESA mount then you have the option of removing the stand altogether and using a third-party monitor arm or wall mount.
These days, there are only a couple of connections you need to worry about: HDMI and DisplayPort being the two dominant video connections. On some you’ll get only a single DisplayPort, but some monitors come with two; the same applies with the HDMI connection.
How many you need will depend on the number of other extra devices you plan to plug into your monitor. So if, for example, you’d like one display to have a TV box and several games consoles plugged in then you’ll need more connections. If you’re only running one PC, however, then this isn't something to worry about.
There are plenty of extra features that monitor manufacturers have tacked onto the latest displays, and which you find useful will come down to personal preference.
Some of the items we've seen include pop-out headphone stands, flashing lights on stands, carry handles and much more. Where a monitor has some unique extras we’ll point them out, and let you know if we think they’re of much use.