PC Gaming 101: Are All Flatscreen Monitors the Same?

PC Gaming 101 is a recurring feature in which we equip gamers with protective glyphs of knowledge for their first foray into the PC world.


If you’re a gamer looking for a new flatscreen PC monitor, you may find yourself among the group of shoppers who think the only difference between flatscreens is the brand name — in which case, you’re in for a rude awakening — or you may be in the group that is overwhelmed by specifications like pixel pitch, contrast ratio, and refresh rate — in which case, this article will guide you toward the specs that should influence your purchase decision.

Plasma, LED, or LCD?

First off, forget about plasma displays. At 30 inches or larger, they don’t come in desktop sizes, they’re expensive, and they consume more electricity. We’ll be dealing with LCD monitors.

What about LED monitors, you ask?

There’s no such thing as an “LED monitor.” What people commonly call an LED monitor is actually an LCD monitor with LED backlighting instead of fluorescent backlighting. LED backlighting promises a spectrum of advantages over fluorescent backlighting — all of which should be taken with a grain of salt — but at the end of the day, these alleged advantages are of little benefit to gamers.

The only guaranteed advantage of going LED is reduced power consumption. While professional photographers/graphics editors may opt for LED because it can result in better color fidelity, as a gamer, the presence or absence of LED shouldn’t be a major factor in your buying decision.

Aspect ratio

The aspect ratio of an image is the ratio of the width of the image to its height. In the past, 4:3 was the standard for TVs and computer monitors, but widescreen is the wave of the future. For a PC monitor, you’ll be looking at either 16:10 or 16:9, with 16:9 becoming increasingly prevalent as manufacturers seek to make TVs and computer monitors interchangeable.

If given the choice between a “square” monitor (aspect ratio of 4:3 or 5:4) or a shorter widescreen monitor, you should still opt for the widescreen. Apart from the probability that you’ll be gaining more width than the amount of height you’re losing, your eyes experience more fatigue when you look up and down versus left and right.

Connectors

You need to ensure that you’ll have the proper connections to plug your monitor into your video card. A DVI or HDMI input is the ideal to ensure image sharpness. New monitors may only support an HDMI connection, in which case you’ll need a DVI-to-HDMI cable if your video card does not support HDMI.

Response time

Measured in milliseconds, “pixel-response rate” refers to how quickly a pixel can change colors. The lesser the number of milliseconds, the less “ghosting” or “streaking” you’ll experience during rapid on-screen movement. To imagine ghosting/streaking, picture the trail of light a glow stick leaves when you swing it around rapidly in the dark.

As a gamer, response time should be among the most important factors in your purchase decision. Ideally, seek a response time of 2 ms instead of 5 ms. While mathematically 5 ms is slower by a factor of 2.5, in practice, it is slower by a factor of 3 to 5.

In 2005, I purchased an LCD monitor with a response time of 25 ms, and the amount of ghosting nearly made me nauseous. It took my eyes a week to adjust to the streaking image, throughout which I felt as though I was playing games under the influence of alcohol.

Other considerations

Audio: Some monitors come with built-in speakers, which you may think is a perk — don’t. An inexpensive headset or set of speakers will produce better-quality sound than most monitor speakers.

Viewing angle: Different monitor technology can maintain image fidelity over greater viewing angles, but as a gamer, you’ll be primarily viewing your monitor from a straight-on angle. Spectators standing beside you may hope your monitor has a wide viewing angle, but unless they’re going to help pay for your monitor, you can ignore this factor when making your purchase decision.

Luminance: In very bright environments, it can be difficult to see what’s onscreen if your monitor has a lower luminance value. While a value of 200 to 250 cd/m2 is acceptable for most uses, gamers can benefit from values of 300 to 400 cd/m2.

Input lag: This is a factor that affects gamers more than anyone else — the delay between the information sent to the screen and the image you see. Input lag goes unnoticed by most people, but FPS gamers whose aim can be thrown off by milliseconds of delay should research a monitor’s input lag before purchase.

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2 Comments on PC Gaming 101: Are All Flatscreen Monitors the Same?

LTenhet

On August 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Also you need to make sure you don’t judge different monitor manufacturers CONTRAST RATIO, most manufacturers use different standards for their Contrast Ratio so you’ll have one (Say HP) thats 3,000,000:1 and HannSpree thats 1000:1. Doesn’t mean the HP is necessarily better, because they use different standards for their ratios.

Steve

On August 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm

There’s alot of other things in this article not covered, such as panel type (i.e. TN, IPS, (P/M)VA. Believe it or not, panel type matters more than anything. I listed the major three here, but there are all sorts of offshoots and variants of those main three. And of course, there are some more prospective types of panel tech on the horizon such as OLED/FED to look out for.

Response time is a marketing tool and is still advertised by a panel’s gray-to-gray response, which tells you nothing about a flat panel’s overall response

Also, alot of TN panels made in the last year are also sporting 120Hz max refresh rate (not to be confused with that sub-field drive crap TV mfgs pushed on us a few years back). While 120Hz hasn’t done jack to improving TN’s picture quality, it has given gamers more fluid motion via delivering higher framerate. Any professional CS:S or fps gamer will tell you that having a display that can actually show more than 60fps improves their kill count.

I could go on about more things this article doesn’t cover, but needless to say, this article barely scratches the surface. The gist of the matter is that PC owners benefit the most out of doing research when it comes to investing money into a “gaming” monitor.