What to Look For in a Gaming Monitor

7 things to consider before buying a gaming monitor

You can play games on any monitor or laptop screen, but gaming monitors provide a superior experience. These monitors have features like high-resolution displays and fast refresh rates that help make the output from your high-end graphics card look as good as possible. Other specs like snappy response times can even give you the competitive edge in fast-paced multiplayer games.

This buying guide will help you find the exact gaming monitor for your gaming style, whether you’re upgrading an older display, tired of gaming on a laptop screen, or looking to buy your first gaming monitor ever.

What Is a Gaming Monitor, Anyway?

You can game on any computer monitor or even on TVs, but gaming monitors share a handful of features that make them better suited for the task than other screens.

For example, they have faster response times and refresh rates, making it easier for you to deal with fast-paced action like running and gunning in a sci-fi shooter or hugging the corners and overtaking your opponents in a racing game.

The differences between gaming and regular monitors are sometimes subtle, but they can significantly impact gameplay experiences.

Top 7 Things to Consider When Buying a Gaming Monitor

The sheer number of gaming monitors on the market can be overwhelming, but there are seven critical factors you can look at to help you find the right one:

  • Price
  • Size
  • Resolution
  • Refresh Rate and Response Time
  • Anti-Tearing Technology
  • Inputs
  • Panel

The best gaming monitors also include built-in features like G-Sync and FreeSync, which work with your graphics card to prevent screen tearing (one-half of two different frames displaying on-screen simultaneously) but don't do anything when you're watching movies or doing other tasks.

How Much Should a Gaming Monitor Cost?

While budget gaming monitors start in the sub-$200 range, you have to compromise on features at that level. Monitors tend to be smaller at that price point, you're limited to 1080p, and you'll usually need to pick and choose between factors like a nice-looking panel or a fast refresh time.

Serious gamers will find nearly everything they need in the $400-600 range, but you can pay less if you're willing to cut some corners or enjoy a luxurious OLED experience if your budget knows no bounds.

 Price Range   What You Can Expect
 >$200 Size: 24 to 27-inch
Resolution: 1080p
Panel: TN, VA or IPS
Refresh Rate: 60 to 144Hz
Response: 1 to 5ms
Notes: Likely issues include backlight bleed, outdated HDMI or DisplayPort, lack of brightness, low contrast.
 $201-400 Size: 27 to 34-inch
Resolution: 1080p, 1440p
Panel: TN, VA or IPS
Refresh Rate: 60 to 144hz
Response: 1 to 5ms
Notes: You can find 4K monitors in this range, but they tend to have lower refresh rates or cut other corners, so focus on 1440p instead.
$401-600 Size: 27 to 34-inch
Resolution: 1440p, 4k
Panel: TN, VA, IPS
Refresh Rate: 60 to 240Hz
Response: 1 to 4ms
Notes: You can get a good 4K monitor in this range, but 1440p options typically have higher refresh rates and faster response times.
$601-1000 Size: 32 to 49-inch (ultrawide)
Resolution: 1080p (ultrawide), 1440p, 4K
Panel: TN, VA, IPS
Refresh Rate: 120 to 240Hz
Response: 0.3 to 4ms
Notes: Sub-1ms response only available from specific TN panels.
$1000+ Size: 38 to 49-inch
Resolution: 4K
Panel: IPS, OLED
Refresh Rate: 120 to 240Hz
Response: 1ms

What Size Should a Gaming Monitor Be?

There is no single best size for a gaming monitor, but the ideal range is 24 to 32 inches.

The sweet spot is 27 inches because that size is big enough to provide a lot of screen real estate without overpowering most desks.

You’ll also find the most options at this size, so you have the freedom to choose between different resolutions and all the other most vital features.

Big gaming computer set up with headset and two screens.

mikkelwilliam / E+ / Getty

You can go smaller if you don’t have a lot of desk space, and you can also go bigger if you have a big desk and can sit a bit further back.

Before choosing a gaming monitor, measure your desk to see how much space you have. For the best and most comfortable gaming experience, you should be able to move your eyes to each part of the screen without any strain. If you need to move your entire head, the monitor is too big, or you’re sitting too close.

If you have trouble visualizing a monitor size, try cutting out a piece of cardboard that’s 24 inches wide and 17 inches tall to represent a 27-inch gaming monitor, set it on your desk, then sit back as if you are playing a game. Is it too big for your desk? Can you comfortably see the whole thing without moving your head?

What Resolution Should a Gaming Monitor Be?

The best resolution for a gaming monitor depends on the size of the monitor and the resolution of the games you’re playing.

The number of pixels built into a monitor depends on its resolution, which doesn’t change with the monitor's size. That means a 25-inch 1080p monitor and a 32-inch 1080p monitor have the same number of pixels, so the pixels on the larger monitor will be physically bigger and easier to make out with the naked eye.

A comparison of resolutions for gaming monitors.

Ideally, you should be able to sit at a comfortable distance from your gaming monitor without making out individual pixels. To achieve that, you can follow this general range:

  • 25-inch and under: 1080p
  • 27-inch: 1440p or 4K
  • 28-inch and over: 4K

The best resolution also depends on the resolution of the games you’re trying to play. If you have an older game console or laptop that can only output 1080p at a comfortable frame rate, you may not need a 4K monitor.

If you have a powerful graphics card or a current-generation console, prioritize 4K for the best quality picture.

How Important Are Refresh Rate and Response Time?

Refresh rate refers to how fast the image displayed on a monitor is replaced with each subsequent frame. Response time refers to how quickly the monitor can shift from showing one color to another. If you play fast-paced games, these are critical factors, and that importance only increases when playing competitive games.

When you look at the refresh rate of a gaming monitor, higher numbers are better. Higher refresh rates result in the screen updating faster, which results in smoother movement and action. The bare minimum is 60Hz, the slowest refresh rate in a gaming monitor.

Look for a 120Hz or 144Hz monitor if you play fast-paced games and your graphics card can handle it. Gaming monitor refresh rates top out at 360Hz, but that's overkill unless you're an aspiring esports star.

 Refresh Rate  What You Can Expect
<60Hz Suboptimal gameplay; motion may appear choppy.
60Hz Smooth motion, good performance on inexpensive hardware.
75Hz Smoother motion, available in budget-priced monitors.
120Hz Twice as many frames per second as 60Hz, easier to react in fast-paced games.
144Hz+ Higher refresh rates result in increasingly smooth motion, but only if your video card can handle it.

Response time is the opposite, so you should look for a monitor with the lowest response time. Anything under 5ms is fine, but many gaming monitors have response times as low as 1ms, and some TN monitors can even get as low as 0.3ms.

It's difficult to tell the difference between a couple of milliseconds with the naked eye, so most gamers are pleased with a 5ms response time. While a 1ms response time could theoretically give you an advantage in a fast-paced FPS, a higher frame rate will provide a greater benefit.

What Anti-Tearing Technology Do You Need?

Screen tearing occurs when the monitor's refresh rate and the frame rate of the video provided by a GPU get out of sync. The result is the top part of one frame will be rendered on the monitor simultaneously with the bottom part of a different frame, which results in a horizontal tear across the screen.

Screen tearing in Monster Hunter World
An example of screen tearing in Monster Hunter World.

Gaming monitors are available with two anti-tearing technologies: NVIDIA's G-Sync, and AMD's FreeSync. Some monitors have both technologies, and others only include one. Both technologies do the same thing, allowing the graphics card to control the monitor's refresh rate. By matching the monitor's refresh rate to the frame rate that the graphics card is rendering, a new frame is available each time the screen refreshes.

While G-Sync and FreeSync both allow the graphics card in your computer to control the monitor's refresh rate, G-Sync only works with NVIDIA cards, and FreeSync only works with AMD cards. Your computer's graphics card should support the same anti-tearing technology as your monitor.

If you have an NVIDIA graphics card in your computer that supports G-Sync, look for a gaming monitor which also supports it. If your computer has an AMD graphics card that supports FreeSync, look for a monitor that supports FreeSync.

Don't know what type of graphics card your computer has? Here's how to check your graphics card on Windows 10 and Windows 11.

What Inputs Does a Gaming Monitor Need?

The only two relevant inputs for a gaming monitor are HDMI and DisplayPort. These are the only two ports compatible with FHD, QHD, UHD resolutions, and HDR, so they're the only ports you want to use to connect a gaming monitor to your gaming rig.

USB-C can also handle 4K at 120Hz, but few monitors support that. DVI is also viable in some situations, but it's limited to 1080p at 144Hz.

A gaming monitor needs to have at least one HDMI 2.1 port or one DisplayPort 1.4 because older versions of HDMI and DisplayPort are limited in terms of the resolution and frame rate of the video they can handle.

If you want to plug in an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 in addition to your computer, then you need enough HDMI 2.1 ports to handle each device.

Older versions of HDMI and DisplayPort can’t handle 4K video at 120Hz, so you’re limited to 4K at a lower refresh rate like 60Hz, or a 120Hz refresh rate paired with a lower resolution such as 1440p or 1080p. That means older versions of HDMI and DisplayPort let you have a high-resolution image that's super detailed or buttery smooth gameplay, but not both at the same time.

We recommend a 120Hz or higher refresh rate for fast-paced games.

What’s the Best Panel For a Gaming Monitor?

The panel is the part of the gaming monitor that displays the image, and many different technologies do this. The two most common panels in gaming monitors are IPS (in-plane switching) and VA (vertical alignment). Still, some higher-end gaming monitors are also available with OLED panels.

In-plane switching is a technical term describing how liquid crystals are aligned in an IPS display, resulting in superior viewing angles and colors. Vertical alignment refers to how the liquid crystals are aligned vertically in VA displays, which results in good contrast and refresh rates, but poor viewing angles.

IPS panels typically provide the best gaming experience because they have faster response times and refresh rates than VA panels. The catch is that most VA panels offer better contrast due to their vertically-aligned liquid crystals which are better at displaying deeper blacks. A typical VA monitor will have a contrast ratio two or three times the contrast ratio of a typical IPS monitor.

Some gamers also dislike IPS panels because of a phenomenon called IPS glow, in which dark parts of the screen seem to glow when gaming in a dark room.

Instead of focusing on the panel type, look at the individual features like response time and refresh rate. 

Who Should Buy a Gaming Monitor?

You don’t need a gaming monitor to play most games, so not everyone should buy a gaming monitor. The best gaming monitors are also great for productivity and general entertainment, though, so you don’t need to be a hardcore gamer to benefit from a gaming monitor.

Here are some of the people who can benefit from a gaming monitor:

  • Serious gamers. If you count gaming as one of your favorite hobbies, you shouldn’t be gaming with just any monitor. If you are, upgrading to a UHD monitor with a high refresh rate and low response time can be a real game-changer. Whether you game on PC or console, you owe yourself to invest in a good gaming monitor.
  • Laptop gamers. Gaming laptops are often just as powerful as desktop gaming rigs, and some of them even have outstanding displays. The catch is you don’t get the same experience on a 15- or 17-inch screen. If you’re currently gaming on a cramped laptop screen, connecting to a nice 27-inch monitor can open things up. 
  • Parents. Whether your kids are into fun, creative games like Minecraft or multiplayer games like Fortnite, the right gaming monitor might be the perfect gift or upgrade. In addition to improving their gaming experience, a 24- or 25-inch gaming monitor can also come in handy when tackling schoolwork.
  • Home Office Workers. If you’ve found yourself working remotely, a gaming monitor might help switch things up. You can use the increased desktop space and high resolution during the day to increase productivity and then unwind with your favorite games when nobody’s looking.

See our reviews of the best:

What to Do After You Buy

Once you’ve purchased a new gaming monitor, it’s time to get ready for your new arrival. For example, you might want to buy insurance or an extended warranty if you opt for an especially high-end model. As to the process of switching over to the new monitor, here are some tips:

  • Tidy your desk ahead of time if necessary.
  • Measure to see how the new monitor will fit on your desk.
  • If your new monitor is big and you're suffering from a lack of desk space, consider ordering a monitor arm. A monitor arm can also help you achieve the best possible viewing angle.
  • Ensure you have the right cables, as you may need an HDMI 2.1 cable, a DisplayPort cable, etc.
  • Check for dead pixels as soon as you hook up the monitor, and contact the manufacturer if you notice any.
  • Calibrate the monitor, or switch it to game mode if you’re in a hurry. 

More Tips for Buying a Gaming Monitor

Color accuracy isn't as important in a gaming monitor, but other features like HDR (High Dynamic Range) are, and brightness is even worth considering. While there is plenty of debate surrounding what some would consider acceptable HDR, we feel a gaming monitor should put out at least 400 Nits, but something in the range of 600-1,000 is better.

Most gamers should focus on flat-panel monitors with standard resolutions like 1080p, 1440p, and 4K. Curved monitors and ultra wides have their uses, but they also have drawbacks.

Curved monitors are worth looking at, especially if you're getting a large monitor, but the viewing angles aren't great. If you ever have anyone looking over your shoulder when you're gaming or use your gaming monitor for other purposes, the poor viewing angles can be a problem.

Ultrawide monitors provide a fantastic experience when supported, but they don't have universal support. Some games don't display properly, and some are designed to deliberately block you from benefitting from the increased field of view provided by an ultrawide aspect ratio. In most cases, you're better off just going with a bigger 16:9 gaming monitor for better compatibility.

Some gaming monitors advertise features like overdrive and motion blur reduction. These can be helpful extras, but they aren't the most important. Overdrive can actually introduce inverse ghosting, where bright halos appear around moving objects if it's set too high. You usually can't use motion blur reduction simultaneously with G-Sync or FreeSync, and they include built-in overdrive anyway.

Motion blur reduction is a monitor feature which removes some of the blur created when an object is in motion. This can help with eye strain. Overdrive is a monitor feature that lowers response time to reduce ghosting.

  • How do I clean a gaming monitor?

    For minor smudges and dust, use a clean, lint-free cloth to wipe down your monitor. For more intensive cleaning, use warm water. Only dampen the cleaning cloth; do not put water directly on your monitor. If the water alone doesn't clean everything, use a small amount of mild detergent. Unplug your monitor, dip the cloth into the water, squeeze out all excess, and then wipe the monitor down. Plug the monitor back in and power it on only when it's completely dry.

  • How do I use a second monitor for gaming?

    In Windows 10, add a second monitor (after connecting it) by going to Settings > System > Display > Detect > Identity to add the new display. Then, go to Display > Multiple Displays to set up what will appear on which screen.

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