What to Know Before Buying a Gaming Monitor

by Max Carter July 28, 2018

A Quick Guide to Understanding Screen Resolution, Refresh Rate, and Response Time

We all do it—lose a round in a game and blame our mouse for not responding on time, our graphics card for its slow frame rate, a bad internet connection…you name it. But what if the real problem is staring you right in the face?

Your display is equally as critical to experiencing smooth gameplay as the rest of your hardware, so it’s important to know what you need in a gaming monitor. What you don’t want is for your monitor to be reason you suffer through a dreadful defeat instead of basking in a glorious win.

So what should you be on the look for when choosing a monitor? What in the world is a “hertz”? And do you really need 240 of them?

Should you buy a gaming monitor with Full HD resolution? QHD? 4HD? What does all that even mean?!

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the basic key specs you’ll come across when searching for a gaming monitor so you have an easier time picking out a product that best fits your needs.

Since you’ve probably heard a lot about screen resolution (or display resolution) regarding televisions AND monitors, let’s start there.

WHAT IS SCREEN RESOLUTION?

Resolution refers to the millions of little dots called pixels (short for “picture elements”) that make up your screen. Each pixel emits a color and together they create an image. Generally speaking, the more pixels you have bunched tightly together, the clearer the image will be.



 So, how is screen resolution measured?

Screen resolution measures the number of pixels in the width of the panel by the number of pixels in the height. For example, Full HD is 1920 x 1080, meaning 1,920 pixels run along the width of the screen and 1,080 pixels are in the height. In total, that’s over two million pixels!

Sounds like a lot, right?

Sure, but if that surprises you, you’ll be shocked to learn that Full HD is only scratching the surface, nowadays.

1280x720 HD (720p)
1920x1080 Full HD (1080p)
2560x1440 Quad HD (1440p)
3840x2160 Ultra HD (4K/2160p)
7680x4320 Full Ultra HD (8K/4320p)

Quad HD, Ultra HD, and 4K are quickly becoming more and more popular, and while these resolutions offer great image quality (4k boasts four times the amount of pixels than Full HD), it’s crucial to have a graphics card that can support these higher resolutions to get the full experience while gaming.

Another factor you might want to consider when deciding which resolution to choose is the size of the panel.

Consider this: you have two monitors at the same 1920x1080 resolution but the panel sizes differ—one is 24 inches and the other is 32 inches. Even though they both have the same amount of pixels, technically that smaller 24-inch will have a sharper image quality because all of the pixels are condensed together in a tighter square space.

With that said, for the most part, our puny human eyeballs probably won’t notice much of a difference in displays that close in size. Especially when taking into account that with a larger monitor you are able to view it from a further distance. The difference will be more apparent when comparing a monitor with a much larger TV. I’m looking at you, console gamers. (To learn the benefits of console gaming on a monitor, read this article)

So, does this mean you should pick a monitor with the highest resolution? Which resolution would be the best fit for your needs?

Well, if you’re looking for a monitor that’s great for gaming then Full HD is a great choice. I mean, it’s popular in gaming monitors for a reason—it’s perfect for gaming! Especially since there are plenty of Full HD gaming monitors that have high refresh rates (we will go over refresh rates later). However, I would recommend NOT picking a lower resolution than Full HD if you can afford to.

But look, if gaming only plays a minor role in how you’ll be using your PC and you also plan to use your monitor for watching movies, video/photo editing, and other tasks that demand greater picture clarity, then you’ll probably be happier with more vivid images provided with 4k, or at least something in between.

What it really comes down to is what you’ll be using your PC setup for and how much you’re willing to spend.

But what if you have high res games but don’t want to drop your hard-earned cash on a pricey high-res monitor? If you don’t have a high resolution, should you worry about not being able to play high-resolution games and watch high-resolution videos?

Not at all. You can still play higher resolution games and videos on a lower resolution monitor, but the game or video will be downsized to fit your monitor’s capability. This is called “downsampling.” So go ahead and play a 4K video on your 720p monitor, just be aware that you’ll still experience it at 720p.

Now let’s talk Hertz.

WHAT IS A REFRESH RATE and WHAT IS A HERTZ?

Because faster refresh rates are related to smoother gameplay, you’ll hear plenty about them when you’re on your gaming monitor search. So what exactly is a refresh rate?

A refresh rate, measured in Hertz (Hz), is the number of times per second your display changes—or refreshes—an image. For example, if your monitor has a refresh rate of 100Hz, that means the panel can update an image 100 times each second.

Ok, so 100Hz means images refresh 100 times per second. Then that means 144Hz refresh images 144 times, and so on and so forth.

Now, let’s imagine you’re playing the latest FPS game. You’re sprinting through changing scenery, explosions and enemy gunfire. With all that’s going on in the game and with the GPU, you also need your monitor to quickly process the new images to ensure you can react fast enough for the kill. So, to put it simply, the higher the refresh rate, the smoother the gameplay and the better you will perform.

So how do you know what would be a “good” refresh rate for you? I mean, gaming monitor refresh rates range from as low as 60Hz to as high as 240Hz.

Now you’re probably thinking: “You said higher refresh rates means smoother gameplay. 240Hz it is! Easy!”

But, not so fast. Buying a gaming monitor is all about finding one that best fits your lifestyle, the kind of games you play, and complements the GPU and other hardware. If you are casually gaming after work, you probably don’t need to splurge on the highest refresh rate monitor on the shelves.

Another consideration is that sometimes gaining more in one spec can mean sacrificing in another.

Currently, 240Hz is the fastest refresh rate on the market, but the fastest refresh rates typically can’t support the highest resolutions. Meaning you won’t find a 4k panel with a 240Hz refresh rate. At least not yet.

So if your goal is to take your gaming to the competitive level, you might want to consider a monitor with a higher refresh rate instead of a higher resolution.

And there are many great options out there. For example, the ViewSonic ELITE XG2560 has Full HD resolution, a top-of-the-line 240Hz refresh rate, and is supported by NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology. This 25-inch gaming monitor is perfect for those who want to compete competitively with outstanding visual performance.

XG2560

  • Full HD (1920x1080) 25” TN Panel
  • 240Hz refresh rate
  • 1ms response time
  • NVIDIA’s G-Sync Technology™

There’s also the ViewSonic ELITE XG2760 which takes resolution to the next level with Quad HD (1440p), all while maintaining a super-speedy refresh rate of 165Hz and 1ms response time. Gameplay on this one is stretched across a 27-inch wide panel for a larger-than-life gaming experience.

XG2760

  • QHD (2560x1440) 27” TN Panel
  • 165Hz refresh rate
  • 1ms response time
  • NVIDIA’s G-Sync Technology™

But remember, don’t get refresh rate mixed up with frame rate. These are not, I repeat, NOT the same.

Your frame rate is how many frames per second your GPU outputs. Just as I mentioned with resolution, you also need to have a graphics card that will support your monitors refresh rate so you avoid on-screen artifacts.

What can happen if you don’t?

If you have a graphics card with a slower frame rate than your monitor’s refresh rate or vice versa, you could experience screen-tearing or screen-stuttering. This is when the GPU and monitor/display frame output are out of sync.

The quick-fix for this aggravating result is to turn on V-Sync. However, V-Sync has its own pitfalls—like input lag—which is why many gamers will turn this function off and use AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA’s G-Sync instead.

But that’s a whole different story. If you want to learn more about sync technology and their differences, read this article. Or, if you’re interested in reducing input lag, check out this one

Alright, one last thing to cover: Response time.

WHAT IS RESPONSE TIME?

While we’ve been praising the high numbers of resolution and refresh rate, with response time you want the lowest number.

The reason is, response time (measured in milliseconds) is how long it takes for the pixels in the screen to change from one color to another. You will also see this referred to as the time it takes a pixel to change from “gray to gray” (GtG).

And we want to go fast, so every millisecond counts.

Just as resolution and refresh rate go hand-in-hand as far as image quality goes, refresh rate and response time are also important to consider in a pair.

You should keep an eye out for high refresh rates with low response times. If you end up with a fast refresh rate and a high response time, then you may experience what is known as “ghosting” or image trailing.

This is when the pixels don’t change fast enough—because the refresh rate is too high—and remnants of the previous image are briefly left behind on the screen.

Most gamers these days won’t settle for response times higher than 5ms, and if they’re competitive, then a 1ms response time is the only way to go.  

If you’re looking for a competitive gaming monitor that is powerful and affordable, I’ve got one for you: The ViewSonic Elite XG240R.

This 24-inch monitor has Full HD resolution, a 144Hz refresh rate, and a 1ms response time. Additionally, it’s integrated with RGB accent lighting that is fully customizable when synced with select partners software, so you can create and control your own lighting atmosphere.

  • Full HD (1920x1080) 24” TN Panel
  • 144Hz refresh rate
  • 1ms response time
  • AMD FreeSync™ technology
  • ELITE RGB Alliance

Well, that about covers it. You now know the basics of choosing a gaming monitor. If you’d like to learn more about the ViewSonic ELITE line of premier gaming monitors, please go to https://www.viewsonic.com/gaming/.

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