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We break down the intricacies of gaming's best 4K monitors to help you find the one that's right for you.
Need help picking out the perfect 4K monitor?
Whether you're well into hardcore PC gaming, or you're just a graphics aficionado who just loves to drool over virtual worlds at their most beautiful, you're going to want a 4K gaming monitor to make your experiences look the absolute best they can be.Slowly but surely 4K monitors have managed to become widespread and affordable enough to become the new baseline for gaming displays. Gone are the days where you could boast to your friends about how sweet your cutting edge game looks on your 1080p screen. Buying a current AAA title and running it on a display that can only output at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 is like making Usain Bolt run three legged races at a primary school athletics carnival -- such a colossal waste of potential.
As with all things, however, the consumer that makes a split-second decision to up their eyeballs to 4K will be walking into a minefield of potentially costly mistakes. Chief of which: 4K gaming is in no way comparable to “4K Blu-raying” -- non-interactive mediums have none of the pitfall requirements that their interactive cousins face. A 4K monitor must work in tandem with a graphics card to deliver smooth, consistent and quick response for the end-user whose virtual life could be decided in milliseconds.
That said, if you're browsing this article without serious gaming in mind, maybe a 4K television the size of Texas is more your bag. The products contained in here have dedicated features designed to elevate gaming experiences – extra cost, additional tech that will be largely wasted on you and your modest needs.
Much like your old monitor, to be honest, though the terms being used can be a little confusing. If your old display was 1080p (a resolution of 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels) it was considered “2K FullHD”. The monitor you're looking to super-size into, an “UltraHD 4K” PC display, has a resolution of 3840 x 2160, that's four times that of FullHD 1080p. Basically, you're going from 2.1 megapixels to about 8.3 megapixels. The more pixels your screen has to work with, the sharper the image will look to your peepers.
Not all 4K displays are created equal, however. Before buying a monitor you'll need to consider the nature of its panel. Different panel technologies offer you a variety of results in terms of quality, especially when it comes to what angle the on-screen image can be reliably viewed from, colour reproduction and accuracy, plus the all important response time and refresh rate factors. (We'll dive into all that in a second.)
Beyond how delightful the window on the front of your display looks, there are some external concerns to be factored in to any 4K monitor purchase. Having a decent array of display ports on the rear of the unit needs to be considered, as is the footprint and adjustability of the (hopefully) included stand. Last but not least, you ought to know how powerful and user-friendly the OSD (on screen display) system is for your monitor. Because nobody likes having to constantly exit and reboot a game to make fine adjustments in your PC's display settings. A decent monitor ought to offer physical buttons that let you tweak to your heart's content.Back to top
Much like the TV market, the gaming monitor is chock full of competitors. That said, there are still two big-name brands you’ll find frequenting the ‘best of’ lists out there: Asus and Acer.
Asus is renowned for gaming peripherals and the company has been perfecting its monitor range for decades. They're so into the space that they have a dedicated Republic of Gamers (ROG) range of products that cater to the diehards out there who seem to love aggressive-looking products that could double for props in a sci-fi film.
Similarly, Acer is a company that has plenty of cachet with gamers thanks to its Predator range of gaming peripherals. Aside from looking edgy, they're also generally considered to be some of the best performing gear one can get.
We didn't just stop at the letter A, however. There are a number of other manufacturers of quality gaming monitors, including BenQ, Samsung, Alienware, LG, Viewsonic and Dell to name but a few standouts.
Before diving into a purchase you'll need to figure out what's most important in a monitor, as the panel technologies cater better to certain things. And, as you'd imagine, some panel types are cheaper to produce than others which is reflected in the RRP.
TN (twisted nematic) panels offer faster response times in the desirable realm of 1ms. (Note: this is measured as gray to gray pixel transition -- or ‘GtG’ for short – something which concerns the ghosting and motion blur of the fast-moving objects.) Having a virtual world fly in at you fast is great, but there's a trade off: namely the angle in which this monitor can be viewed from is greatly reduced as is the vibrancy of colours it can deliver when compared to...
An IPS (or in-plane switching) panel is characterised by quite good viewing angles and excellent colour reproduction. That said, if you're playing games which require you to react quickly, lest you get killed and be teabagged by some 14-year old, you're looking at slower response times here in the realm of 4ms and higher. Generally speaking, a 4-5ms response won't be detected by a casual gamer.
Last of all, VA (vertical alignment) panels are a middle child between IPS and TN whose claim to fame is a superior static contrast ratio. Essentially, IPS and TN panels offer you 1000:1 contrast ratios whereas VA technology can offer you far superior results in the ballpark of 2000:1 or even 3000:1 if you're rich enough. (Obviously, the higher the contrast ratio you have, the deeper your blacks and the brighter your whites shall be.) The down-shot(s): VA have the worst response times out of the three and, though the shadows and highlights in a scene will look better here than on any other monitor, an IPS panel will still offer richer colours.
Along with this rock-scissors-paper decision of panels, you'll need to keep an eye on refresh rates. Measured in hertz (Hz), a refresh rate determines how many times per second the screen refreshes the image on it. Generally speaking, 60Hz is the minimum any gamer should be looking at and 144Hz is the sweet spot above it. You can go better, of course. Monitors below 4K resolution can go up beyond 240Hz, but 4K displays have been slowly catching up to the strata of 240Hz and you'll be paying through the nose for the privilege.
Selecting a 4K gaming monitor is one of the most subjective decisions you can make when it comes to buying peripherals for your computer. There are a lot of options, and apart from your budget and office space constraints, it really comes down to what you value: colour reproduction, contrast ratio and response time.
As a general guide, we've listed our pick of the best 4K gaming monitors below, divided into four categories.
Budget 4K gaming monitors
Generally speaking, a membrane keyboard is going to be your best option if you want to keep it cheap. You may be able to pay a little more and score one of the cheaper mechanical keyboards, but these are targeted at casual gamers who want more gaming-specific versatility than the default Microsoft keyboard boxed with their PC.
Mid-tier 4K gaming monitors 4K gaming monitors (over $500 - $1500)
If you’re more than just a casual gamer and want to push your experiences to the next level (so to speak) without spending hundreds of dollars, then these options are for you. For a bit extra these monitors offer the screen-tearing solutions called FreeSync and G-sync (for compatible AMD and Nvidia graphics cards respectively).
High-end 4K gaming monitors
These monitors are for hardcore gamers, particularly those seeking a competitive edge online, who don't mind forking out for the experience. The reason you're paying a high-end price is for more inches and/or HDR (high dynamic range). This latter is an umbrella term for a bunch of standards designed to expand the contrast and colour range of a display beyond what current hardware can produce. Believe the hype: once you've had it, you can't go back to a monitor that lacks it.
Key questions you should ask yourself before taking out your wallet
Given all the options available, you'll appreciate that purchasing a new 4k gaming monitor isn’t a simple process. To help streamline your decision making, following is a list of key questions you should consider before taking the dive.
What are your priorities - image quality or fast response?
Sadly, with the current technologies for 4K panels you can't really have both. Which one you choose to prioritise will have to do with the types of games you intend to play. If you're into more sedate pursuits, like real-time strategies or just a lot of single-player games, you can afford to look at a monitor at 60Hz refresh and response times greater than 4ms. If you PUBG and Fortnite at an elite level, you're going to need the edge of 144Hz and 1ms.
Do you have space for the monitor size you want?
Obviously, upgrading from a 27” to a 32” beast will require a bit of a shuffle on your desk. Or do you intend to wall mount that sucker? Pay close attention to the dimensions of your intended purchase as some manufacturers are showier than others when it comes to stands. For your convenience, all of the dimensions listed here are with stand attached.
What are your Input/Output needs?
This all depends on what you want to hook up, obviously. Pay close attention to the whether or not the monitor has audio ports to facilitate headphones (or if the unit has speakers or not – typically they won't). A decent monitor should also offer you the convenience of some USB ports to fast charge peripherals. Most important of all, if the display port on you graphics card is more exotic than a simple HDMI, make sure it's supported on the monitor.
Should I buy a HDMI cable that's worth 50+ dollars to get a better viewing experience?
No, no you should not. To the average user these cables are basically a scam. The mark up on them is absurd. Save your money.
Gaming monitor terminology demystified
Here’s a breakdown of the critical monitor jargon you should wrap your head around before buying a new gaming monitor.
Sometimes called “clouding” (irregular patches of light staying visible when the screen is meant to be black). Unsightly stuff.
The ratio of the luminance of the darkest colour (black) the brightest colour (white) that the monitor is capable of producing.
Synchronises a compatible monitor’s refresh rate (Hz) with a compatible graphics card’s frame rate (FPS). All screen tearing and stuttering is eliminated. Only works with AMD brand graphics cards.
G-sync monitors just makes sure all your games is running smooth with no tearing at the monitor refresh rate if your graphics card can drive it. Only works with Nvidia brand graphics cards.
A series of standards that can push video content past the (now non-existent) limitations to which broadcast and other media standards have adhered to for decades.
IPS (In-Plane Switching)
A method of aligning the crystals in an LCD. Unlike Twisted Nematic, the crystals are kept parallel (in-plane) to the surface of the display in both their on and off states, allowing light to emit to the sides as well as straight ahead.
LCD (Liquid Crystal Diode)
A low-power, miniature electronic shutter consisting of crystals suspended in liquid. When powered, the crystals realign themselves to let light pass through.
You'll see this eyesore of a phenomenon in displays that can’t switch their pixels off quickly enough. As a result, a ghost of the previous image remains.
An eyesore visual artifact where a display shows information from multiple frames in a single screen draw. Occurs when the video feed to the device is not in sync with the display's refresh rate
TN (Twisted Nematic)
An older method of aligning the crystals in a LCD. In the off position, the crystals are in a twisted ladder parallel to the display surface blocking the backlight.
Ultra High Definition is technically a derivation of the 4K digital cinema standard of 4096 x 2160. The Ultra HD consumer format has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 X 2160.
The angle from which the picture on a display can be viewed without image or colour distortion.
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