How to choose a monitor for gaming and not only – IPS vs VA vs TN & more

Dozens of brands, thousands of monitors, fancy descriptions and no idea what to pick.

What makes monitor a gaming monitor? What is the best monitor to watch movies, anime and TV series? Best monitor for work, photo or video editing? Do you need different monitor for RPGs and shooters? What is the best monitor matrix – IPS, VA or TN? What are all those specs about?
There are lots of parameters which describe monitors, and more importantly – companies that sell them often like to exaggerate and manipulate this data to some extent.
With the help of this little guide, you will quickly learn all the base information needed to pick the best monitor for your personal needs.

Is there a difference between gaming monitor and regular monitor?

Be it a monitor for photo editing or games, both have same main parameters which classify them. Yet, they differ in specs – those parameters values, and often greatly. Basically, a good gaming monitor is focused on a high refresh rate and fast response time. It should also have no flickering and ghosting. While such artifacts can be tolerable or not even appear if you, let’s say, use monitor just to write code – they will be really annoying in videogames, where scenery and images change super fast.
Color gamut, aka how detailed and tasty colors on your monitor are, is not the #1 priority of a gaming monitor, but of course, also still important. You will like the best possible image beauty in your favourite game.
Gaming monitors also usually have more “slim” frame design, “fancy” look and can have various extra utility features.
Lastly, but also importantly, there’s a gaming software support. G-Sync (NVIDIA) or FreeSync (AMD) are technologies to get rid of screen tearing when playing games. While it’s “just one feature” and screen tearing doesn’t always appear, when it does, it can drive you mad after hours of playing, so it’s quite important. It can be also some program with different presets for brightness, contrast and colors vibrancy. Different games can look better or worse with certain image parameters, so such presets can help you to get the best image possible in different games without a need to manually calibrate your monitor. Such presets also can be used for work, reading etc.
Tldr: a gaming monitor is usually a monitor with a higher refresh rate and faster response time, often with a great color gamut, anti flickering/ghosting/screen tearing technologies, and often with a more stylish look, extra utility and dedicated software support.

Does this mean a gaming monitor is bad for work or other home entertainment?

Depends on several factors, but in general, you should be able to use a gaming monitor to watch movies, work, study etc. “Depends on” here applies to certain narrow-profile cases. For instance, if you need a monitor for a professional photo editing, what you need in first turn is the best color gamut possible. You don’t need a high refresh rate to edit photos because you work with a static image. Thus, most of the monitors for design and photo editing usually have a standard 60Hz refresh rate – but instead, a superior color gamut. There are some other cases (like watching movies), but about them a bit later. For now, let’s understand what all the most important monitor parameters mean.

What is the best matrix type (aka the screen/panel type) - IPS, VA or TN?

When it comes to monitor matrix (or also “panel”) type, there’s no such thing as “best” in general.
“Oh c’mon, just answer me already!” you may say – but you’ll now see why yourself. Every monitor matrix technology has its strengths and weaknesses, and choosing the best one for you depends on your main goal and personal preferences. Those include even your daytime activity habits. Let’s see what and how.

TN matrix:

Or the Twisted Nematic. It’s the oldest one – it concedes to both IPS and VA in different parameters, but still has strong parts.
First of all, it provides great response time and refresh rate. The weak sides of TN matrix are view angles and colors. View angles is the weakest part – if you’ll be located not straight in front of the monitor, but from a side, the colors will be distorted. Sometimes, greatly – up to almost inverted. What does this mean on practice? If you also want a monitor to spend some time relaxing on a sofa nearby and watch something, that’s not the best pick, as being located even just 30-35 degrees from a straight line will mean distortion of colors. For your buddies sitting at the sides nearby too. Same applies to playing games together with someone sitting nearby or yourself, relaxing in your chair in a free position.
Colors and contrast are the weak part of TN too, compared to both IPS and VA monitors. In some situations, TN monitors can have a visible colors “banding”. Bad contrast means black color will look..not quite black, bur rather grey.
The best side of TN monitors is the price. In most of the cases, you can find a TN monitor which will have same main parameters for refresh rate and response time, noticeably cheaper than IPS or VA ones. Yet, don’t see TN monitors as some kind of “poor man’s monitor” or “boomer tech”. While being the oldest matrix type, it’s still being supported and improved. And while being usually cheaper than IPS and VA analogues, there are both budget and high-end models.
TN monitors have great response time and refresh rate, not the best color gamut and contrast, and are usually cheaper than IPS and VA monitors. These are not a good option for those who will look on the monitor from a decent angle instead of a straight line.

IPS matrix:

Or the In-Plane Switching. Initially, it was developed to fight TN matrix weaknesses – the poor color reproduction and limited viewing angles. And it does that really well.
View angles of IPS are superior, to both TN an VA. This means you will notice close to no color distortion even when sitting at an extreme angle to the side from the monitor.
IPS monitors also have the best color gamut. So even if your monitor is not one designed for photo editing, it will still have much (compared to TN) and moderately (compared to VA) colors quality. When it comes to gaming, this may be not the #1 priority. But in games like RPGs, visual novels or just anything where graphics is the strong part, IPS monitor will make the joy from the image colors noticeably higher.
The two advantages above make IPS monitors a great multi-purpose choice. Gaming? Check. Watching movies – alone in front of the monitor, on the sofa from the side, or together with friends or family? Check. Working? Check. All that would be great if not..
Still, a low contrast. It’s better (usually) than in TN monitors – but it’s still not perfect. Low contrast means that purely or almost black part of the image will look not actually black, but rather somewhat grey. This is more noticeable during the nighttime/in the dark room. Yet, this has own “details” – more about them further.
Another con is the IPS glow. That’s quite literally a glowing, usually at the corners of the screen. What makes it not such a scary thing is it’s noticeable mostly only in a completely dark room, or close to that. Demonstration – here (random image from internet, strong IPS glow, probably an older model) and here (my own monitor, slight IPS glow, 2021 model).
The issue in whole is much less scary as it looks on the photos, because, once again, photos are taken in the dark – and phone cameras distort the black color to begin with when they are focused on the light source which the monitor is. In good models from trusted brands, IPS glow is barely noticeable (like in my case). The “regular” cases of IPS glow are closer to what you see on photo of my monitor – I highlighted the area with it with the green outline as it’s barely noticeable. You will not see IPS glow at daytime, and most likely won’t notice it at nighttime too if you have some lighting (playing in a complete darkness is bad for your eyes folks). But, it always exists in IPS monitors at least barely, and it may be a dealbreaker for some people depending on personal perception.

VA matrix:

Or the Vertical Alignment. Simply said, that’s a middle ground between TN and IPS. What does that mean?
VA monitors have much better color gamut and view angles than the TN ones. At the same time, view angles are not perfect, and for the nearly perfect image colors, you can be located somewhat to the side, but not much.
Another advantage of VA monitors is a great contrast. Sometimes up to 3-4 times higher than IPS monitors have. Practically, this will ensure black and colors near black will always look how they should look, exactly.
Response time is usually somewhat slower than in TN and IPS monitors. Refresh rate is (generally) lower than in IPS monitors too. Yet, VA monitors above the budget level can have the same great response time and a very high refresh rate. Just, for the peak refresh rate, IPS is still better (and with more models to choose from). VA monitors that have very high refresh rate can also have some ghosting and motion blur, which IPS monitors with the same parameters most likely won’t have. This makes them not the best pick for the competitive gaming where every tiniest nanosecond interval matters. For this goal, it’s better to pick IPS or TN monitor.

What about the most important parameters? What should I look at?

There are a few of them. Monitor size and resolution, refresh rate and response time and color gamut. Let’s briefly understand each of them.

The size.

Size is size. Pretty simple. Yet with a couple moments to highlight.
The size usually size comes in inches, which describes the monitor diagonal length. 1 inch is 2.54 centimeters. When it comes to regular (16:9 width to height ratio, not ultrawide) monitors, that’s usually 24, 27 or 32 inches. Anything higher is closer to the size of a TV.
The 24 inch is the most common size nowadays – usually for 1080p monitors and decent amount of 1440p monitors. The 27 inch is also pretty popular today and it’s noticeably larger than the 24 inch one. The 32 inch one, in turn, is much larger than the 27 one. Here, pick the size that will be comfortable for you. Consider how long you sit in front of the monitor, what you do – write, read, play etc. And most importantly, on which distance you sit. If you sit like 1.5 feet (45 cm) from the screen, a 32 inch monitor will be quite literally dangerous to your eyes. At the same time, if you sit further, this won’t be an issue. Take into account that bigger size means bigger price too.

16:9, 21:9 and all that.

Most on monitors, in terms of width to height ratio are 16:9 ones. Yet, ultrawide monitors became wildely popular in the last few years too – not without a reason.
Those have 21:9 or even sometimes higher width to height ratio. At the one hand, they allow more beautiful, cinematic view no matter what you do – work or play. At the other hand, simply getting an ultrawide monitor doesn’t mean all games you play or movies you watch will support it.
Even many modern games still don’t support ultrawide properly, so you’ll have to fiddle with them. Older games is even harder. Watching movies is simpler – even if a certain movie is not made in ultrawide format, you will just get a letterbox effect (“black bars” on top and bottom). Some people won’t even notice that, some will even find it more immersive, some others – immersion breaking. If you mostly play games which you know support ultrawide, and don’t play older games, you can consider such a monitor for sure.
To pick a regular 16:9 ratio monitor, or the ultrawide one – this comes down only to your personal preference.

The resolution.

Resolution today comes to 1080p (1920×1080), 1440p (2k, 2560×1440) and 2160p (4k, 3840×2160). Technically it’s simple – the more pixels on the screen square, the better. More crisp image, more details. At the same time, the higher the resolution is, the stronger PC is needed to maintain the good performance on it. Despite all the claims and statements, even a rig with RTX 3090 GPU and top tier CPU won’t allow you to have even solid 60 fps at 4k resolution in most of AAA games, especially any kind of open world game and RPGs, when playing on highest settings. There’s also Ray Tracing, which greatly improve the image even further, but is also quite FPS-hungry.

So, until you totally know what you’re doing and have a monster rig, 4k monitor is not the best pick today. 2k monitor is a golden middle if you have a good gaming rig, for most of the games. On the other hand, if gaming is not your main priority, and you need the monitor for watching movies, editing photos or videos, and you don’t have too large demands for FPS in your games – 4k monitor is good option too. Or, maybe once again for gaming, but mostly a competitive ones where the highest performance ever matter. Then, it’s absolutely ok to get a 1080p monitor with some crazy refresh rate. As mentioned before, it’s all about your preference.

Refresh rate.

Refresh rate is the number of times your monitor updates the image each second. The higher refresh rate, the smoother the picture is. It’s especially important in gaming. In videogames, higher refresh rate means smoother animations, interactions, more visual FX noticeable during fights and other epic scenes – you name it. 60, 90, 120, 144 and so on. The minimal normal value for monitors today is 60Hz, which is slowly shifting upwards. Gaming monitors can have from 120 to an insane 360 Hz refresh rate.

At the same time, you need to clearly correlate the monitor refresh rate and resolution, your goals in the games, and most importantly, your PC power. If you’re not sure about the last one because the monitor you plan to get has too different resolution or maximum refresh rate compared to your current one, services like this one may come in handy.

For instance, if you look there, you’ll see that my Nvidia RTX 2080, at 1080p resolution can reach 400 FPS in CS:GO, but maximum FPS in GTA V on ultra settings won’t even reach 165. This means that if I plan to mostly play CS:GO, I can grab the most insane 360Hz monitor without fear, to feel the smoothest gameplay ever. At the same time, for more demanding games, like GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Cyberpunk 2077, there’s literally no sense in such a refresh rate even at 1080p – because I’ll be not able to maintain such FPS. Here, a 144Hz to 180Hz monitor is a good pick. That’s why I got myself an LG 27GP850-B. It is a great option for my PC and the games I play (mostly open world RPGs and ARGPs) – and a great IPS matrix also means I can watch movies and anime from any corner of my room. Yet, this monitor is a perfect option for and exactly for me – your own “best” monitor most likely will be a different one.

Getting a bit more than you think you can get is a good idea – because you never know, maybe a bit of tinkering with settings or playing some different game will give you more FPS. Just, don’t get a monitor which has twice/trice refresh rate compared to FPS your PC can reach in most of the games you play.

If you’re picking a monitor for console only, there’s no sense (at least with the current consoles gen) to get a monitor with more than 120Hz. 144Hz is a max (more models available), but make sure it supports 120Hz on consoles.
A monitor purely for watching movies and/or editing photos, for instance, doesn’t have to be higher than even basic 60Hz.

Response Time.

This one is the time it takes your monitor to shift from one color to another, measured in milliseconds. It matters much for gaming are images and colors switch each other just incredibly fast sometimes. Thus, you want faster response time for the best result when playing. This is most important for a fast paced games – shooters, fighting games, platformers, RPGs and ARPGs. But the rest of the genres will benefit from a good response time too.
The “average” response time nowadays is 4ms, while gaming monitors usually aim for 1ms. If you’re coming from a monitor which has 4ms or 5ms (like my old monitor) response time, after just a few days on the 1ms monitor, you most likely won’t be able to go back.
At the same time, if you need a monitor mostly for work like coding or photo editing, watching movies and just some occasional casual gaming – you can allow yourself to save some money and get a 4ms monitor.

Color gamut.

This one means the maximum full range of colors a human eye could use when viewing a monitor. One of the most popular color gamuts used by monitors is sRGB. It uses red, green, and blue as a base of colors to mix them and many millions of color shades.
So, it’s simple here – better (higher, closer to 100%) color gamut means more color shades and, more vivid, correct and just better image. For instance, my IPS monitor has this value at 98% – but that’s quite high one. In general, anything from 95% and higher is a superb color gamut. This is a parameter where IPS monitors are the best, VA are pretty good but still going behind, and TN monitors have the worst color gamut values.
What a bad color gamut means for you? More “rough” color transition and generally less vivid image. It’s pretty important if you’re playing the games where graphics matters. It matters even more if your job involves photo or video editing. If you want to have the most tasty image when watching movies and anime, it’s also an important factor. At the other hand, if you’re playing CS:GO 90% of the time, a TN monitor will serve you just fine. The difference even between TN and IPS matrix will be smaller there than when playing Witcher 3 or editing photos – but, it still will be noticeable.

Bit depth: 8-bit vs 10-bit

Bit depth is the number of bits per pixel to represent a specific color. The first thought is: the more the merrier, right? Technically – of course. Practically – depends. Surely, 10-bit monitor provides better colors than a 8-bit one. But how much noticeable it is and when does it matter? And what bad and good bit depth means practically? Look below.

Quite obvious and scary difference, right? Asides that..remember the remark about companies loving to exaggerate? Such a drastic difference indeed can exist between 8-bit and 10-bit monitors, yes. But, the monitor from the left is most likely some ancient tech of 15+ years old. Simply said, any good 8-bit monitor nowadays (asides from maybe some dirty cheap TN models from unknown brands) will never give you the left image, and will give you the right image.
The difference between 8-bit and 10-bit clearly exists, but you will never notice it in regular activity like internet browsing or studying. Most of game engines themselves are also 8-bit – simply because this standard is used for ages. So even if you’ll use 10-bit monitor in the game which has 8-bit engine, you will still have 8-bit depth. Can’t jump over your head.
At the other hand, 10-bit matters if you’re professional photographer, photo retoucher or video editor. Some (and this % increases every year) of latest videogames can properly support 10-bit too.
Tldr: it’s once again about your personal activity and of course, wallet strength. For regular PC usage and gaming (in most of the cases), 8-bit is absolutely enough – just make sure monitor has a nice color gamut. But if you need to work with photos and videos on a professional level, or you need a gaming monitor, but can afford to spend more to make this investment into games with 10-bit support you’ll play in future – why not?

The last, but not the least important.

You now know all the main parameters of and differences between the monitors. Yet still – always make at least short own research. Read the monitor specs carefully – and if some of them looks to good for the price – open this model detailed description and read the details. For instance, you found a monitor with 240Hz refresh rate which costs like other ones with 165Hz? Read carefully – maybe it’s just a marketing trick, and there are two different models of the same monitor. Or the promoted refresh rate can be achieved only after overclocking.
Always read at least a few, both positive and negative, customer reviews – preferably on at least 2-3 different websites. Do not rush – if you found a monitor which looks perfect to you, bookmark it and search a few other similar in specs.
Do not buy the monitor (like any other product too, anyway) for some “fancy” features in first turn. It may look super stylish visually, have an inbuilt LED backlighting, 4 extra USB slots and some fancy software. But all that will not help with bad color gamut, refresh time and visual artifacts it also may have. Or not have. Once again – always choose cold-blooded.

Conclusion.

If you got to this section by reading the whole article, you don’t need it. You now know the core knowledge base you need to choose the monitor.
For the explanations on monitor size, resolution, refresh rate, response time, color gamut and bit depth – please, refer to the corresponding article sections.
There’s no such thing as “best” monitor matrix. All 3 of them – IPS, VA and TN have own pros and cons.
TN monitors have great refresh rate and response time, but bad view angles, noticeably worse color gamut and low contrast. They are generally preferable for competitive videogames and/or when you need to save a few dozens of even hundred bucks (depends on monitor class) as they are generally cheaper than IPS and VA ones.
IPS monitors have superior color gamut and viewing angles, as well as great response time and refresh rate. These two qualities also make them great multipurpose monitors – for watching movies, editing photos etc. Refresh rate in IPS monitors was generally lower than in TN one’s in past, but today there are lots of IPS models which can provide up to 360Hz. The cons of IPS monitors are IPS glow and still low contrast ratio.
VA monitors are the middle ground between TN and IPS ones. They have superior contrast ratio. Color gamut is also great, but usually still a bit weaker than in IPS monitors. Today, VA monitors can also have a superb refresh rate, just not as peak high as in TN and IPS ones. VA monitors with very high refresh rate also are somewhat more prone to ghosting in videogames. Viewing angles in them are better than in TN monitors, but still noticeably worse than in IPS ones. VA monitors are generally great choice for most of the gaming goals asides from the competitive games. They also can serve you really well for watching movies and editing photos/videos, but for this task IPS monitors are still better.

Conclusion on conclusion.

There is no monitor which will be the “best” for everyone – even if it’s the most expensive one. It’s absolutely possible to find a good monitor for $200 to suit you needs – but it’s also possible to spend $1500 on something you will probably return after a week.
The best monitor is the monitor which suits your goals and preferences the most. Even while every monitor type generally has a “preferable” usage goal, it’s still a personal choice in many aspects. Because even if a certain “standard” flaw of a monitor type exists, you may simply don’t care about it personally. Be it an IPS glow in IPS monitor, limited view angles of VA monitor or the weak color gamut of TN monitor. Will a certain monitor feature or disadvantage be actually so – depends only on you.
Even if you understand the basics well enough, never rush with a choice, read specifications and customer reviews carefully. Find not the most popular or pricy monitor – but the one that will fit your goals and preferences. And this monitor will become the best one for you.