LCD monitors are exceptionally cheap these days, but which ones are actually up to gaming standards?
Shopping for a new gaming monitor can be a nightmare for the unprepared. Not only are there countless monitors available, many manufacturers tout every last model as perfect for gaming. There are also some monitors that look better suited to the office, but are actually hidden gaming gems. And 3D... Don’t get us started on 3D.
Chances are if you’re looking to buy a gaming monitor you’re at least a somewhat dedicated gamer. Even if you’re not, keep in mind that many of the features in gaming-focused monitors make for excellent day-to-day use and are often some of the most affordable screens. Of course, compared to surfing the net or doing word processing, games have fairly specific requirements. The sweet spot for affordable but still large gaming monitors is right around 23in, but more recently 27in screens have started dropping in price. While these still run the same 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, their large size gives plenty of extra real estate and means they can often double as a spare TV for video playback devices. Many gaming monitors have dual-HDMI ports too, which makes it easy to set them up with an Xbox 360 or PS3 console for total gaming flexibility.
One of the main requirements for a gaming monitor is the ability to handle fast-paced action. Most important is response time (listed in ms) and low input lag. Response time is how long it takes a pixel in your LCD to change colour. When LCDs were first launched, the response times were quite low and if you had fast action on the screen it could result in ghosting or blurring as the pixels struggled to keep up. New screens have vastly improved response times and anything under 10ms should avoid ghosting. Gamers who play a lot of fast-paced shooters often prefer monitors with response times under 2ms. The second main requirement is low input lag -- or the time it takes the monitor to process an image before it’s displayed. Again this is rarely an issue with modern screens.
Another spec to keep an eye on is contrast ratio. Don’t get too caught up with stupidly high ‘dynamic’ contrast ratios -- instead look for the standard ratio. Brightness is not much of an issue, but consider a matte screen if you game in a bright environment.
Most gaming monitors use TN panels to save money and provide fast response times. If your gaming PC doubles up for other media uses, or you just want a more colour-accurate and higher quality image, consider an IPS-based screen -- though expect to pay a large price premium.
Don’t forget to consider all the little extras. USB hubs are always useful and can make plugging in a flash drive less of a chore. Premium monitors (especially Dell screens) often have excellent stands, with height and rotation adjustments. Internal speakers are usually pretty rubbish but are a useful backup.
Finally, while 3D compatibility may the ‘in’ thing right now, it’s worth being sceptical about. The new cheaper passive 3D is just not that good, so only buy into it if you're willing to spend the time tweaking and testing to get the best result. Don’t get hooked by 2D to 3D conversion as it’s pretty rubbish and won’t transform your gaming experience.