Gamers looking for the ultimate setup should look to upgrade their monitor. Not only is it the part that you spend countless hours looking at, they can also give you a legitimate advantage while gaming.
Monitors designed for gaming offer things like faster refresh rates, better resolutions and improved screen tech to provide the best experience possible. Curved monitors will also give you a more immersive result.
It’s a great time to buy too, for PC or console – 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 2020.
Best gaming monitors 2020
1. AOC Agon AG272FCX6
It might not be that different to its predecessor but that doesn't stop the Agon AG272FCX being one of the best gaming monitors around.
If you're looking for a Full HD monitor then this is a very well balanced option with FreeSync support and a smooth 165Hz refresh rate. Then there's the 1ms response time, and great picture quality too.
All this for a cheaper price than the previous version.
Read our full AOC Agon AG272FCX6 review
2. Philips Brilliance 346P1CR
Philips has managed to offer a rare combination here which means you can get a monitor that's good for both work and gaming without breaking the bank.
The stand could be a little better but that's a minor point for a wide monitor, which can handle two machines thanks to its inbuilt KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch. A particularly handy feature if you do have separate work and gaming devices and it even has a webcam.
The panel itself is high quality, offering an excellent combination of resolution, refresh rate, response time, contrast and colour gamut. If you're looking for a wide angle curved monitor that can do a bit of everything then look no further than the Brilliance 346P1CRH.
Read our full Philips Brilliance 346P1CR review
3. MSI Optix MAG272CQR
This latest Optix model from MSI is a rare case of a product getting both better and also cheaper.
It ticks many of the boxes for those after a curved gaming monitor without breaking the bank, starting with solid build quality, lighting and a new USB hub
More importantly, the display offers a high quality display with excellent specs and performance. Just be aware that this isn't proper HDR.
Read our full MSI Optix MAG272CQR review
4. Hannspree HG324QJB
Hannspree has managed to provide an excellent mix of elements to create all-round gaming monitor we can highly recommend. It's got an attractive design which rotates, but more importantly provides top-notch display performance across the board. Colour is particularly impressive so your games will look more vibrant.
We'd like a USB hub and better speakers but these are minor quibbles which most gamers will have solved already.
Read our full Hannspree HG324QJB review
5. MSI Optix MPG341CQR
The Optix MPG341CQR is a seriously impressive piece of kit that packs top - or near-top - specs across the board without quite being bank-breaking. A 34in curved panel, QHD, 144Hz, 1ms response, and great contrast and colour gamut mean this thing is as pretty to look at as almost any display out there - only the good-but-not-great 380 nits max brightness lets the side down ever so slightly.
The integrated smart features probably aren't going to be the main selling point at this price, but they do help give this display a unique edge if you're otherwise torn between some similarly specced set-ups.
It uses a camera and facial recognition to automatically apply profiles for specific users - only useful if you share your gaming rig with someone else - but also to automatically detect ambient light levels and adjust the display accordingly, which is a great little trick for anyone who can't play in controlled lighting conditions.
Read our full MSI Optix MPG341CQR review
6. ViewSonic Elite XG240R
The lights on the back might be a somewhat flawwed gimmick, but elsewhere the Elite XG240R is a very good gaming monitor.
It's well balanced providing a solid and versatile design at an affordable price - menu buttons and no cable management are minor gripes. You then get a Full HD panel that's more colourful than you'd expect from TN technology and is 144Hz, with both FreeSync and G-Sync meaning it plays nicely with AMD and Nvidia GPUs.
If 24in is large enough and you want to play 1080p at silky framerates, then this is an excellent choice.
Read our full ViewSonic Elite XG240R review
7. AOC AG352UCG6
Few gaming monitors have a wow factor like AOC's AG352UCG6, but you'll need a powerful Nvidia graphics card to get the most from it. It's also worth checking your favourite games support its 21:9 aspect ratio before you splash out, too.
Read our full AOC AG352UCG6 review
8. Acer KG221Q
We assumed at this price that the Acer KG221Q wouldn't be much good, but it’s a decent 22-inch monitor. Colours are much better than we expected, and the screen is sharp enough to use for 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 full Acer KG221Q review
9. BenQ EX3203R
There's loads to like about BenQ's effort at a 32in curved gaming monitor including a stylish design and generally excellent performance, namely when it comes to colour, contrast and speed.
However, it's quite expensive compared with some rivals and is let down a little by an uneven distribution of light.
Read our full BenQ EX3203R review
10. BenQ EL2780U
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 full BenQ EL2780U review
How to choose a gaming monitor
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, many 4K displays are capped at 60Hz (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 are more likely to offer up to 144Hz refresh rate.
Even with a higher refresh rate UHD display, 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 Quad HD 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 refresh rate in step with the output of the graphics card, preventing frame tears. Tearing appears when rates are mismatched as the PC sends a new frame before the monitor has finished displaying the previous one. It looks ugly and you don’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, notably that they're not compatible with each other.
However, in a surprise move, Nvidia announced at CES 2019 that a graphics driver update (released 15 January) would add support for FreeSync. There's bad news, though: of the 400 FreeSync monitors it tested, only 12 passed were listed as being G-Sync compatible.
So if you have a different FreeSync monitor, expect problems such as a flickering screen if you try to enable G-Sync on your Nvidia graphics card.
G-Sync monitors have dedicated hardware for 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.
Read our guide on DisplayPort vs HDMI.
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.