Ultimate 2020 Gaming Monitor Buying Guide

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Many gamers discount the importance of a monitor when thinking about a gaming setup. But combining powerful hardware with a sub-par monitor is a guaranteed way to suffer through a lackluster gaming experience.
 
A monitor is a window to your favorite games and pretty much dictates how the game looks when you're gaming. Whether you prefer the fluidity of high refresh rates and frame rates or higher resolutions and HDR for some truly stunning visuals, your monitor can single-handedly set the tone of your gaming sessions.
 
That said, navigating monitor specifications and deciding on the perfect model can be tricky. Our guide will help you decode most of the technical jargon you’ll see when comparing monitors – allowing you to pick the features and specifications best suited to your gaming requirements.
You can also check out MSI's comprehensive monitor lineup here and see which one is the best for you!
 

Features and Factors to Consider when Buying a Gaming Monitor

1. Panel Types

There are 3 popular types of panels when talking about monitors. Like much else, every panel type has pros and cons, and your preference and priorities will dictate what's best for you.

IPS Panels

IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels offer better colors and color ranges compared to other types of panels. However, it isn’t able to match the blazing fast response times and ultra-high refresh rates that a TN panel can offer. That said, it boasts excellent viewing angles and ensures color accuracy and consistency from virtually any angle.
 
MSI's Optix G271 Gaming Monitor is an excellent example of a monitor that offers a top-notch IPS panel, which combines stunning visuals with the coveted 144Hz refresh rate.

TN Panels

Although TN (Twisted Nematic) panels generally offer best-in-class responsiveness (high response times, refresh rates), some might find their color ranges and visuals lacking when compared to VA and TN panels. Moreover, they have the worst viewing angles of any panel type and lack color consistency.

VA Panels

VA (Vertical Alignment) Panels offer the best of both worlds – giving access to decent viewing angles, color consistency, color ranges, and refresh rates. However, it does suffer from relatively weaker response times compared to other panel types.
So, which one is the best? Well, every panel type has a purpose, and it depends on your personal preference.
 
- If you're looking for the best visuals and color performance, second to none, grab an IPS monitor.
- If you're into competitive gaming and need the fastest response times and refresh rates, second to none, grab a TN panel monitor.
- If you want the best of both worlds and are willing to compromise on response times, buy a VA panel monitor.

2. Resolution

The resolution is usually one of the most critical considerations of any monitor purchase. It dictates the maximum number of pixels (horizontally and vertically) that can be displayed on a given monitor. Hence, a higher resolution translates to better visual fidelity and crispness across the board – enhancing your gaming experience. However, due to the drastic increase in the number of pixels as you go up in resolution, the graphics power required to drive games goes up as well.
Resolution
Here are a few popular resolutions and their commonly-used names:
a) 1920x1080 – Full HD (FHD) / 1080p
b) 2560x1080 – UltraWide Full HD
c) 2560x1440 – Wide Quad HD (WQHD) / Quad HD (QHD) / 1440p
d) 3440x1440 – UltraWide Quad HD (UWQHD)
e) 3840x2160 – Ultra HD (UHD) / 4K/ 2160p
 
Although 4K monitors might seem like they offer the best gaming experience, we think 1440p is where you get the most value. Why? Well, driving a 4K monitor requires a very high-end graphics card, and even then, you’re bound to encounter games that don't offer even a steady 60FPS on a 4k resolution.
 
A 1440p resolution monitor with a 144Hz refresh rate is the best middle ground for most gamers. MSI’s MAG322CQR 1440p 144Hz Gaming Monitor is an excellent option for gamers who want a high refresh rate, a high resolution, great colors, and excellent viewing angles.

3. Aspect Ratios: Widescreens, and Ultra-widescreens

Simply put, an aspect ratio is just the ratio of max horizontal pixel count to max vertical pixel count. For example, a Full HD resolution, i.e., 1920x1080, has an aspect ratio of 16:9 (1920/1080 = 16/9) – a popularly-used standard widescreen aspect ratio.

However, if you want some extra screen real estate, ultra-wide resolutions are also viable options. These monitors boast an aspect ratio of 21:9 – giving you far more horizontal space than a traditional widescreen. The additional screen real estate not only enhances immersion in games by surrounding your field of vision with the game environment, but it also makes multi-tasking much more efficient.

MSI's MPG341CQR Gaming Monitor is one of the Finest Curved UWQHD Monitors in the market – boasting a 21:9 aspect ratio.

4. Curved vs. Flat Monitors

As its name suggests, a curved monitor features a curved panel. Traditionally, panels have been flat, and that worked until screen sizes started expanding past a certain point. Unlike a TV, a PC monitor requires you to be sitting right in front of it – making larger screens challenging to use.
A curve that matches the curvature of your field of vision substantially increases the amount of screen real estate you can cover with a single glance, without even needing to turn your head.
 
Resolution
Curvature is measured by the radius of the circle formed if the curve was completed all the way around. A smaller number indicates a smaller radius, i.e., a smaller circle and a tighter curve.
Curvatures usually range from 1000R to 1800R. In this case, the 1000R monitor will feature a tighter, more pronounced curve while the 1800R monitor will offer a more gradual curve.

5. Size

Monitor sizes are defined by the measure between any two diagonally opposite edges. So, when you see a 24" monitor, it indicates a diagonal measurement of 24 inches.
 
Although monitor sizes are completely independent of resolutions, you still need to consider the resolution when deciding on monitor size.
 
While a larger monitor with a lower resolution will result in a loss of clarity and crispness, a smaller monitor with a relatively higher resolution won't offer an immediately noticeable improvement in visual quality and detail. Here is a generally-accepted rule about what sizes are best for each of these screen resolutions (not applicable to ultra-wide monitors):
 
a) equal to or lower than 26" – 1080p (FHD)
b) between 27" and 31" – 1440p (WQHD)
c) above 31" – 2160p (UHD or 4K)
 
Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule and is only designed to give you a general idea when you’re looking for standard 16:9 aspect ratio monitors.

6. Adaptive Sync

If you've ever noticed things like tearing, stutter, and/or judder when gaming, it’s most likely because of the lack of adaptive sync. When your graphics card can push to a monitor’s maximum refresh rate without dipping below it at all, this doesn't pose an issue. However, new games release, and once-powerful GPUs begin falling behind.
 
Resolution
 
With adaptive sync, your monitor’s refresh rate dynamically adjusts to your game's frame rate in real-time – eliminating issues like stuttering and tearing.
 
There are two kinds of adaptive sync technologies: FreeSync and G-Sync. While AMD graphics cards support FreeSync, Nvidia graphics cards require G-Sync compatible monitors. Because of the profound effect, it has on the gaming experience, support for adaptive sync technology is considered essential for any gaming monitor worth its salt.

7. Refresh Rate

The refresh rate of a monitor is the number of times per second that a panel can refresh an image. Hence, a 60 or 144 Hz refresh rate indicates that the monitor can update 60 or 144 times per second.
 
Resolution
 
A higher refresh rate (144 Hz and above) enhances fluidity in games and helps when playing fast-paced, reactive games that require excellent reflexes.
 
To truly take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor, you do need hardware that can push that many or close to that many frames a second. So, if you're buying a 144 Hz+ monitor, make sure that your hardware is powerful enough to push that many frames in your favorite games as well.
 
If you're fond of playing competitive games like Overwatch, Dota 2, League of Legends, CS: GO, and so on, a high refresh rate is a crucial feature that you just can't ignore. We'd recommend grabbing monitors that offer 144 Hz or higher.

MSI's latest Optix MAG251RX G-Sync Compatible IPS monitor offers excellent viewing angles and colors, without compromising on responsiveness with a 240Hz refresh rate and a 1ms GTG response time.

8. Response Time

While a refresh rate addresses how often an image on the panel refreshes every second, the response time of a monitor measures speed.
It is defined by the time a pixel takes to go from OFF (black) to ON to OFF again. It is measured in milliseconds (ms). Another way of measuring response time is measuring the time taken for a pixel to go from one state to another and is called GTG (Grey To Grey) response time.
 
Resolution
How does this affect games? A panel is refreshing several times a second. Now, if there’s a moving image on the screen and some pixels need to change color to display the next frame, a delay in this process reduces responsiveness and introduces issues like ghosting. Suppose you’re moving in a game. A frame will be pushed to the monitor one after the other, but if the pixels aren’t able to change its color fast enough – a ghost of the previous image (frame) remains visible on the new frame.
Hence, your monitor must strike a balance between refresh rate and response time. So, how much is too much? People won't perceive ghosting in the same way. While some gamers notice it instantly, some can’t detect it at all. Nonetheless, a decent response time would lie somewhere below 7-8ms. With higher refresh rates, this number should reduce even further.

9. Color Accuracy and Gamut

It's not unusual to come across terms like color gamut, sRGB coverage, color accuracy, and so on when researching monitors.
 
Resolution
 
Display devices generally follow one or more color standards that define their color gamut – the maximum range of colors available according to a specific color range/standard. Color coverage is the range of colors that a particular display device can produce from within that standard range.
The most popularly-used color gamuts are Adobe RGB, DCI-P3, and sRGB.
 
Suppose a monitor advertises 100% sRGB coverage. It simply means that the monitor can produce the FULL (100%) range of sRGB colors without exception. Although higher coverage is better, past a certain point, you won't be able to notice the difference. For gaming, make sure you get 90% coverage or higher if you’re still concerned. To be honest, professional, color-sensitive work requires more attention to this particular factor than gaming does.

10. HDR

HDR or High Dynamic Range is a color technology that allows monitors to display a much broader spectrum of colors with better brightness, luminosity, and contrast. The real-world effect of HDR translates to much better differentiation between light and dark areas.
Resolution
 
DisplayHDR is a certification awarded to monitors for fulfilling precise specifications that adhere to its standards. For example, the first DisplayHDR certification, DisplayHDR 400, requires 95% coverage of the BT.709 color gamut, a minimum 400cd/m2 peak brightness, and at least 320 cd/m2 brightness.
 
Here are the most commonly found DisplayHDR certifications –
a) DisplayHDR 400
b) DisplayHDR 600
c) DisplayHDR 1000
 
A higher number translates into a better visual experience. When you’re playing HDR games and videos on an HDR-certified monitor, the difference in quality and vibrance is quite apparent.

11. Swivel/Adjustable Stand

A swivel/adjustable stand allows for much better flexibility for your workspace. Not only can you turn and modify your monitor angle as and when needed, but it also allows you to have total control over your workspace.
 
Resolution
 
Although this isn't a critical feature you should look for when buying a monitor, it's certainly one to keep in mind. Having the ability to swivel and adjust your monitor just as you like it can improve ergonomics and is beneficial for your posture in the long run.
 
Everyone's built differently, and a flexible stand allows you to set up your monitor to maximize comfort and ensure that long gaming sessions don't take their toll on your neck and back.
 
If you still have no clue which monitor is the best for you, make sure to visit Best of the best monitor page to find them out!
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