If you’re a PC gamer that wants to take the gaming experience to the next level, look at purchasing a dedicated gaming monitor. These gaming monitors usually offer higher refresh rates, better resolutions and improved screen tech to provide the best gaming experience possible, providing an upper hand in online gameplay.
It’s a great time to buy too – great image quality and fast performance are now available without a budget-breaking display. Here, we explain the kind of things to look out for when buying a gaming monitor, then offer our selection of the best gaming monitors of 2018.
Here you will find our ultimate list of the best gaming monitors to buy in 2018. Before you spend your hard-earned money, though, it’s well worth understanding which features are the most important for playing games.
Resolution and refresh rate
The first thing to consider is resolution. While it’s great to have a super high pixel density on your display to make your games look as crisp and realistic as possible, there’s a sacrifice to be made: extra pixels mean more graphical power is required.
You may be tempted by one of the UHD displays (also known as 4K). They boast a whopping 8.2 million pixels, suggesting they’ll provide the best-quality experience. They will show the most detail – that’s true – but you’ll probably have to sacrifice frames per second.
In fact, 4K displays are capped at 60Hz at the moment (60 frames per second). That may be enough for you – if you have a graphics card that can cope – but bear in mind that lower resolution monitors offer up to 144Hz refresh rate.
And as you’ve gathered by now, even if higher refresh rate UHD displays were available, the graphics card setup you’d need to get more than 60fps at 4K would set you back thousands.
Our advice is to aim for the sweet spot – 2560 x 1440, or QHD as it’s better known. It offers more pixels than a standard 1080p display without having to compromise on refresh rates, and the extra strain on your GPU shouldn’t be too bad either. You can always run it at 1080p if the game in question doesn’t run fast enough for you.
Panel tech is the second most important consideration when buying a gaming monitor. In theory this is much more straightforward than other areas. Put simply, the best performance for gaming comes from TN panel tech. Twisted Nematic screens tend to have the fastest response times, which is more important for gaming than perfect colour accuracy and contrast. Better still, TN screens won’t break the bank.
Always read our reviews if you want to make sure your chosen monitor has decent image quality: we understand that you’ll want to use it for things besides playing games, including editing the odd photo and perhaps video.
The most common size for monitors is 24-27in, but if you’re looking for something a little larger your best bet would be to opt for an IPS or VA display – both offer premium viewing experiences, but at a higher cost.
There are also curved panels to consider. It’s a personal preference, but some people really like the way the display wraps around them and gives a more immersive experience than a flat screen.
Similarly, if you plan on buying three monitors, make sure to choose a model with the thinnest possible bezels to minimise the gap between screens.
G-Sync vs Freesync
Adaptive refresh revolutionised video processing in PC gaming. Why? For the first time, it enabled monitors to adjust the refresh rate in step with the output of the graphics card, preventing frame tears. Tearing appears when rates are mismatched as the computer sends a new frame before the monitor has finished displaying the previous one. It looks ugly and you won’t want to see it.
There are two types of adaptive refresh – AMD’s Freesync and Nvidia’s G-Sync – and while each essentially provides the same thing, there are differences between the two. G-Sync is only compatible with Nvidia graphics cards, and Freesync with AMD cards, so your decision should be based on your existing GPU, unless you’re looking to upgrade it in the near future.
Nvidia’s G-Sync features dedicated hardware within the monitor to power the adaptive refresh, which is why G-Sync-enabled displays are more expensive. AMD took a different route – instead of offering additional hardware, the company added new functions to the existing DisplayPort specification. This means Freesync monitors can be a lot cheaper.
What’s important to know is that you may not need either technology if you buy a monitor with a high refresh rate and have a powerful graphics card powering it.
Motion Blur Reduction
Motion Blur Reduction is worth looking out for. It allows the display to maintain motion resolution when the on-screen visuals become more intense and fast-paced. How? It works by strobing the backlight between frames, creating a shutter-like effect similar to that found by a film projector.
The idea behind it is to shorten the time a single frame appears on-screen, thus increasing motion resolution. There is a downside though, as Motion Blur Reduction can have a negative effect on the overall brightness of the display, sometimes to a noticeable level.
It’s not necessary if you’re planning on buying a monitor with adaptive refresh and the aim of playing at more than 60fps though, as the monitors should perform well enough without it.
Ports and connections
Most gaming monitors offer more than one input connection – some may offer a combination of HDMI, DisplayPort and even DVI – each with their own benefits. While DVI is useful, we’d focus on making sure you have at least one HDMI and one DisplayPort connection on your gaming monitor. If for nothing else, it allows you to quickly switch between multiple inputs via the display controls.
Why HDMI or DisplayPort? HDMI and DisplayPort offer both audio and video transfer, allowing your PC audio to play through the display speakers (if you want) without the use of any additional cables.
While both also offer 4K playback for high-end gaming, you’ll also need to make sure both the GPU and display offer HDMI 2.0/DisplayPort 1.3 support for [email protected] gaming.
We wouldn’t worry too much about the audio output of gaming monitors. Yes, some are better than others in reproducing an acceptable audio reproduction, but if you're a gamer, you'll either have your own speakers or a gaming headset.
On the plus side, most monitors have a 3.5mm auxiliary output for a convenient way to quickly connect your headphones.
Best gaming monitors 2018
- Reviewed on: 17 November 2017
With the exception of G-Sync functionality, the 32in Samsung C32HG70 ticks all the gaming boxes. It delivers stunning HDR colours through a 1800R curved panel, with an elegant design that would grace any gamer’s desk.
The only snag is that a screen this big with a 144Hz refresh and 1440p resolution was always going to be expensive.
- Reviewed on: 10 November 2017
For gamers who have a mid-range AMD graphics card, the AOC Agon AG272FCX is a great choice.
It might only have a 1080p resolution, but this curved panel includes FreeSync functionality and a 144Hz refresh that makes for a very fluid gaming experience. Those features, plus AOC’s unique styling makes this design worth every penny.
Read our AOC Agon AG272FCX review.
- Reviewed on: 9 March 2018
As we expected from MSI, the Optix MAG27CQ is a class act for those that want curved 1440p resolution, 144Hz and very little lag. With very few products that directly compete with this specification, MSI might have found a niche to exploit with what turned out to be an excellent product.
Read our MSI Optix MAG27CQ review.
4. Acer KG221Q
- Reviewed on: 21 May 2018
We assumed at this price that the Acer KG221Q would be much good, but when all things are considered it’s a decent display. The colour representation was much better than we might have hoped, and the screen is sharp enough to use for desktop work when the gaming is over.
The only aspect that undermines it is the number of 24-inch screens that cost just a little more, including some from Acer.
Read our Acer KG221Q review.
- Reviewed on: 8 May 2017
A screen that costs a bit extra due to the Nvidia's G-Sync compatibility, though it sweetens the deal by being a very high-quality panel.
Excellent colours, a 165Hz refresh and native 1440p resolution makes this an attractive solution to those that want their Nvidia adaptive sync solution, and aren’t overly bothered by the cost.
Read our AOC AGON AG271QG review.
6. BenQ EL2780U
- Reviewed on: 13 March 2018
As an affordable 4K screen with a high refresh rate, the EL2780U is good enough, even if the HDR part of this equation doesn’t entirely add up. This monitor might be better utilised by PS4 and Xbox One S owners than by the PC fraternity, until the GPU market regains some sanity and HDR becomes better supported.
If you’ve got a GPU that can handle the resolution and want to spend less than premium prices, then the BenQ EL2780U is a solid purchase.
Read our BenQ EL2780U review.
- Reviewed on: 9 November 2017
There's a price to pay for having such lovely looking hardware, but the XG27VQ does deliver on numerous other technical levels, somewhat cushioning the cost impact.
With 1080p resolution and 144Hz refresh the ROG STRIX XG27VQ is perfect for those gamers with £100-150 graphics cards, especially with AMD GPUs.
Read our Asus ROG STRIX XG27VQ review.
- Reviewed on: 25 September 2017
Combining modern styling and performance where it matters, this screen is an excellent option for many budget gamers frustrated with the long decoding cycle of their current display.
It doesn’t have adaptive sync, but the TN technology panel does offer minimal lag up and a 76Hz refresh, at a remarkably competitive price.
Read our BenQ GL2580HM review.
- Reviewed on: 20 September 2017
Not everyone has space for a 27- or 32in display, and the Alienware AW2518HF squeezes a TN panel with a 1ms response time into a very elegant 25in package.
This design supports AMD FreeSync, has a whopping refresh of 240Hz and a natural resolution of 1080p. Though, a refresh level that high and Alienware quality engineering comes at a relatively steep price.
Read our Alienware AW2518HF review.