There are a lot of different technical terms to wrap your head around when you’re trying to put together your gear for gaming. With gamers focusing so much attention on internal hardware like the central processor, graphics processor, and memory, it can be easy to forget about the monitor you actually use to interact with your favorite game worlds. Solid graphics processing won’t matter much if you don’t have a display that can handle it, and while there are plenty of features to pay attention to, the first thing you should pay attention to is the type of panel used.
While there are panels that are obviously better for gaming than others, it isn’t necessarily a situation where one panel type is always going to make the best monitor. Gaming fans can keep reading to learn about the three main types of gaming monitors and understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. We’ll start by providing you with a rundown of the most important specs for a panel when gaming and then dig into the advantages and disadvantages of each panel type.
Important Specs for a Gaming Panel
How good an image actually looks on your monitor is where resolution comes in. This is one of the most important specs, and will be the metric for every panel type. When shopping for a panel, you can treat the resolution irrespectively of the other panel elements. In other words, Full HD is Full HD is Full HD. Speaking of FHD, this is the minimum you should generally expect when buying a monitor. Anything less than FHD isn’t going to be worth your time, while 4K resolution monitors still tend to be pretty pricey, as they of course offer the best image quality around.
Whether or not viewing angles are going to be important to you is pretty subjective, and evaluating how good a monitor needs to look from a variety of angles will significantly help you narrow down your choices to the panel that’s best suited to you. Generally speaking, viewing angles isn’t going to matter too much in a gaming monitor, as with most games you’re going to be situated directly in front of the TV anyway. Wider monitors are great for couch co-op experiences, but if you’re looking for a panel for regularly playing games with friends, you might be better off with a TV anyway.
For the most part, gaming monitors for PC or consoles tend to prioritize efficiency over good looks. A lot of gaming monitors backseat contrast ratio and color reproduction for the sake of better performance – especially if they focus more on competitive gaming. This is most prominently expressed by the refresh rate. Measured in Hertz, the refresh rate tells you how many times images are reloaded on the screen. Hertz translates conveniently to frames per second, so a 60 Hz panel will refresh 60 times in the course of a second.
60 Hz is the standard for more casual monitors, but most gamers are going to want more than that, and that’s especially true if you prefer online competitive games. In terms of aesthetics, a higher refresh rate means smoother movement on the panel with less motion blur. It’s just as crucial for quality performance, too, as a higher refresh rate gives you more time to respond to actions as they happen. We generally recommend a refresh rate of 120 Hz for gaming, but some of the best gaming monitors offer double that.
While it tends to be hidden a little deeper into the specs sheet of a monitor, response time is something very important when looking at monitors for gaming. Fundamentally, this is similar to refresh rate in that they both calculate how quickly your monitor responds to the information being fed to it. The difference is that where refresh rate tells you how often the panel will refresh in a second, response time tells you how quickly the panel can change colors. This is usually measured in terms of how quickly it can change a pixel from white to black and back again.
Any run-of-the-mill monitor you find today is going to measure their response time in milliseconds, but there’s a surprising amount of variation between the response time of monitors. If you’re specifically shopping for a gaming monitor, you should look for something with a response time of 5 milliseconds or lower. That being said, the best monitors promise a response time of only one or two milliseconds.
Game developers go to a lot of work to create visually stunning worlds, but on the wrong monitor, a thriving post-apocalyptic wasteland might just look gray and unassuming. Unlike with response time or refresh rate, color reproduction isn’t going to affect your response to actions, but it does still offer some advantages that go beyond pure aesthetics. Good color reproduction means greater clarity in identifying enemies from within the environment, and that can be great when you’re playing through a single-player game where you don’t know the map inside and out.
One final factor to consider when trying to decide between an IPS, TN, or VA monitor is the quality of the contrast ratio. Like response time and refresh rate, contrast ratio and color reproduction go hand in hand. The contrast ratio tells you how dark the shades of black can be. That’s obviously a big deal when looking to hunt for enemies hidden in the shadows, but it also ensures a greater range of color between the deepest darks and the brightest lights. If you’ve ever gotten lost fumbling through the environment in a survival horror game, you understand the pains of a poor contrast ratio.
Gaming Monitor Panel Types
There are three main types of panels available for gamers, each using a different technology to power their display. This means that they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. We’ll put them head to head to better help you understand the options available to you.
TN vs. IPS Panels
A TN panel, short for Twisted Neumatic, is both the most prolific and cheapest panel type on the market, while an IPS panel, or In-Plane Switching panel, is typically the most expensive. These also represent polar opposites in terms of what they do best. A TN panel will provide you with the best response times and refresh rates when gaming – a critical advantage for competitive gamers. Where TN panels suffer is in their color reproduction.
That’s where an IPS panel comes in. IPS monitors are the most expensive around because they are designed with the needs of professional artists in mind. IPS panels offer superb color reproduction, and making a panel look prettier costs more than upping the response time and refresh rate. An IPS panel will look great from any angle, too. That makes IPS monitors the best choice for hosting gaming sessions or movie nights.
So in the battle of TN vs. IPS monitors, which comes out on top? That really depends. As gaming moves towards more online multiplayer and fiercely competitive titles, TN panels make perfect sense – and we’d generally say that it’s the better option for gaming in general. That said, certain specialized types of gamers will really benefit from an IPS monitor. If your gaming experience mostly revolves around pulling out the Switch for some games with friends (and you don’t want to use a TV), an IPS panel is the way to go. It’s also the best choice if you want a work and play monitor.
IPS vs. VA Panels
VA panels, short for vertical alignment panels, cost just a little more than TN panels, and offer somewhat of a compromise between the visual fidelity of IPS panels and the raw performance of TN panels. They offer a high refresh rate without hitting the blindingly fast refresh rates and response times you’d get with a TN panel. While the viewing angles and color reproduction here aren’t the best you’ll find, they’re still pretty respectable. The max refresh rate you’ll see on VA panels is 144 Hz, while TN panels can sometimes hit 240 Hz.
In comparison, the high price and specialized gaming circumstances for using an IPS panel is a significantly higher barrier. That doesn’t mean that IPS panels don’t have their place in gaming, but you’ll essentially be paying extra for features that offer diminishing returns. Still, the level of color reproduction in an IPS panel vastly outperforms a VA panel, making it a tantalizing choice for single-player gaming in beautifully crafted worlds.
VA panels also offer the best contrast ratios around. While they can’t compete with an IPS panel in terms of pure color reproduction, they offer some tremendous distinctions between light and dark. This makes them an especially solid choice if you play games with darker themes and more muted color palettes. It also allows these monitors to perform with less distracting reflections when in a room with more lighting.
In the fight between IPS and VA panels, we have to give it to the VA model. There’s a lot to like about an IPS monitor, and what might otherwise be a competitive choice is just held back by the higher price tags. The solidly middle-of-the-road viewing angles, response times, and high refresh rates of a VA panel make it an overall workhorse. By contrast, the superb viewing angles and color reproduction contrasted with horrible response times and poor refresh rates make IPS monitors into little more than a show horse.
TN vs. VA Panels
In the PC gaming community, TN panels are generally regarded as the key to gaming success. Response time and high refresh rates are just too important to sacrifice for the sake of performance when going head-to-head with a real opponent. While there are plenty of modern shooters that employ some really cool level designs and beautifully realistic textures, most gamers will learn the map pretty quickly, and it then becomes more a game of reading the environment and reacting with a fast response time than sitting back and soaking in the beautiful atmosphere.
That being said, the competitive community sometimes has a louder voice that doesn’t reflect the larger gaming community. Any panel will be fine for indie games, but single-player games like Tomb Raider are designed to be absorbed and admired, and the maximum refresh rates offered by TN monitors are still good enough to handle even top AAA games without any risk of stuttering or poor response time. These monitors may not be the best choice for gamers who are trying to sharpen their killing edge, but they represent a more solid monitor choice overall than some would give them credit for.
The Final Verdict
So in the fight between IPS and VA monitors for gamers, who’s the ultimate winner? While it would have been different a few years ago, we have to give it to the TN monitor. As couch co-op is becoming a thing of the past and multiplayer gaming is dominating practically everything else out there, the TN panel is king of the hill.
Single-player gaming is far from dead, though, and a VA panel can still offer the appropriate response times and refresh rates for the latest and most cutting-edge games while also offering additional viewing angles to boot. A TN monitor may roughly edge it out overall, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be the best choice for you.
TN and VA monitors are the clear winners against IPS monitors. That doesn’t mean that IPS monitors aren’t great, though. They’re the best choice for standing away from the monitor at wide viewing angles or trying to get the best color reproduction possible. It’s just that the best aspects of an IPS monitor are going to be a low priority for most gamers. If you aren’t doing work in an art-related field, you’ll get more bang for your buck from a TN or VA monitor than you will from an IPS monitor.