- Understanding the different panel types (IPS, VA, TN, OLED) is crucial for choosing the best gaming monitor for your needs.
- IPS and OLED panels offer the best color reproduction, while VA panels excel in contrast ratio and black levels.
- Response time, input lag, and refresh rate are important factors for gaming performance, with OLED panels leading in response time and IPS and VA panels being popular choices for most gamers.
Choosing the best gaming monitor for your needs is not always easy, considering the vast number of options available, varying widely in quality and price. From the days of sturdy CRT monitors to the explosion of TN, VA, and IPS models to the advent of OLED options, gaming monitors have changed a lot. Today, before choosing the right monitor for yourself, you need to carefully understand your use case. And to do that, you need to know the ins and outs of the different panel types among gaming monitors — IPS vs VA vs TN vs OLED.
Image quality: Which panel type looks the best?
I’ll separate the various terms and technologies surrounding gaming monitors into two categories — image quality and gaming performance. Starting with image quality, this is what you’ll experience every time you look at your display, gaming or not. There are five major parameters that together decide how good your display will look — color reproduction, brightness, contrast ratio, viewing angles, and HDR experience.
Color reproduction refers to the accuracy and diversity of colors a panel can reproduce. It’s actually determined by color gamut (the range of colors a display can show) and color accuracy (how well those colors are distinguished from each other). The better and more calibrated these parameters are, the better the image quality will be on the monitor.
Essentially, IPS and OLED monitors are the best when it comes to color reproduction.
Being one of the oldest and traditionally the cheapest panels to manufacture, TN panels have the worst color reproduction of all, followed by VA showing slight improvements, and then IPS and OLED panels easily leading the pack. IPS panels were initially targeted toward professionals who required incredibly accurate displays for color grading, but with advancements in other areas, quickly became attractive to gamers as well. OLED panels, thanks to the absence of any backlight (unlike the other three technologies), feature superb color reproduction but generally, the high-end IPS panels fare better.
You can measure color reproduction for a particular mode by referring to its sRGB or DCI-P3 coverage. These are professional standards for measuring how much of a particular color space a monitor panel is able to cover. Anything between 90-100% coverage indicates a great display for delivering accurate and lifelike colors. Essentially, IPS and OLED monitors are the best when it comes to color reproduction.
Brightness, contrast ratio, and HDR
Some of the biggest contributors to your visual experience are the brightness and contrast ratio, which also determine whether you can expect a decent HDR experience from your display. While brightness in TN, VA, and IPS monitors is not dependent on the panel itself but rather the backlight used, you’ll not find many super-bright panels using TN panels. This is due to the TN technology falling out of favor in recent years, now limited to super-high-refresh-rate displays alone, where brightness isn’t a big factor.
Mainstream IPS and VA panels usually have peak brightness levels anywhere between 250 and 350 nits. This is more than enough for playing games or watching movies in a scenario where you’re sitting quite close to the screen. OLED panels feature significantly higher peak brightness at around 1000 nits, but they also cost a lot.
It’s hard to beat OLED monitors when it comes to a high-end HDR experience.
Contrast ratio and black levels play a huge part in how good the image looks on screen, especially in dark scenes and in dim room lighting. This is where the best OLED monitors shine, as the self-lit pixels can shut completely off during dark scenes to deliver an infinite contrast ratio and inky blacks, essentially creating millions of local dimming zones. IPS monitors aren’t able to block the backlight enough to produce decent blacks, and suffer from mediocre contrast ratios of around 1000:1. Quality VA panels perform much better in this department, becoming an ideal option for gaming as well as watching movies. TN panels generally perform the worst here. It’s hard to beat OLED options when it comes to the best HDR monitors.
Viewing angles and backlight bleeding
The viewing angle refers to the horizontal and vertical angles within which you can view the image on screen without any degradation or color shifting. IPS monitors are known for their excellent viewing angles of around 178°, which means you can view the image perfectly well even from the sides. Compared to TN and VA panels where you need to sit directly in front of the screen to get the best experience, IPS panels are far better.
If backlight bleeding is a big issue for you, you should consider OLED or VA panels only.
Coming to OLEDs, this isn’t an issue as you mostly get anywhere from 165° to 180° viewing angles, which is similar, or sometimes even better than IPS models. Despite the superior viewing angles of IPS, backlight bleeding is a very real problem. It is the dirty gray screen effect called IPS glow that you see on IPS panels in dark scenes, more pronounced in dim lighting conditions. VA and TN panels don’t suffer from this to a great extent, and OLED panels don’t exhibit this phenomenon at all.
So, if backlight bleeding is a big issue for you, you should consider OLED or VA panels only.
Gaming performance: Which tradeoffs to make?
Now that we’ve covered the more fundamental aspects of monitor panel types, it’s time to delve into the features that differentiate them in terms of good or bad gaming monitors. A decent gaming experience requires superior motion handling and fluid image reproduction. These elements are determined mostly by three factors — response time, input lag, and refresh rate.
Response time or pixel response time is the time it takes the monitor’s pixels to change colors, usually measured from gray to gray (G2G). TN panels have a big advantage here, as they can easily reach response times of as low as 1ms and even lower. This is the reason TN is the tech of choice for ultra-fast gaming monitors even today, such as the 500Hz Alienware AW3524HF monitor. But, for the average gamer, all the other disadvantages of TN panels take center stage. As a result, the slightly higher response times of VA and IPS panels are perfectly acceptable for the majority of gamers.
OLED panels are in the lead again, featuring response times of less than 0.1ms.
IPS panels have improved drastically over the years, with response times around 1ms finally possible in some high-end models. But, OLED panels are in the lead again, featuring response times of less than 0.1ms, much faster than even the fastest TN panels. This again is due to the fact that OLEDs use self-lit pixels and can be switched on or off instantly. Response time across different panel types has generally reduced to the point where you won’t get a bad experience even with budget gaming monitors, provided it’s a relatively modern model.
Another important factor usually ignored is input lag or the delay between the user making an input and the image beginning to appear on the monitor. This is different from the response time as it doesn’t relate to the pixels but rather the monitor itself. Input lag for mainstream gaming monitors is usually seen to be less than 10ms at different refresh rates.
Some OLED monitors have higher than 10ms input lag at certain refresh rates, which makes them unsuitable for competitive gaming. But, outside such situations, it’s rare that you’ll get a panel with a bad input lag in today’s market. The overall input lag of your system will come down to other hardware as well, such as your mouse and keyboard.
The refresh rate is perhaps one of the most recognizable factors among gamers when choosing a monitor. Moving from a 60Hz to a 144Hz or higher refresh rate is a big jump that delivers a night-and-day difference to your gaming experience. The buttery-smooth motion and the added latency improvements contribute to a superior experience, and it’s impossible to go back to a 60Hz monitor.
You can choose anything from VA to IPS to OLED.
Most gamers should be fine with 144Hz or 165Hz and don’t really need a 240Hz monitor or anything higher than that. While TN panels are highly suitable for ultra-high refresh rates, IPS and VA panels are still the most popular for most gamers. You can find great models featuring both technologies from reputed manufacturers, ranging from 144Hz to 240Hz. Even relatively affordable 1440p OLED monitors are available with refresh rates up to 240Hz.
As long as your graphics card is powerful enough to deliver the desired number of FPS at a resolution you like, you can choose anything from VA to IPS to OLED monitors, keeping other considerations in mind.
Which is the best panel tech for you?
As a gamer, you’re probably targeting a decently high refresh rate, 1440p or 4K resolution, 27-inch or higher screen size, and a panel with great image quality. Thankfully, all of these things are easily available at affordable prices in today’s market. Whether you want the greatest 4K monitors or the best curved monitors, you often don’t need to spend more than $350-$400 for a well-rounded model.
As for the best panel type for you, it’s fairly easy once you’re aware of the pros and cons of the various technologies. Outside of professional competitive players, no one should really consider TN models today. Between IPS and VA, which are the two most popular options, choose IPS if you prefer great image quality, responsiveness, and viewing angles.
That is, unless you frequently play in dark or dim lighting — in that case, choose one of the better VA models for their superior contrast ratio and image quality. But, do note that VA panels are known to exhibit ghosting, causing a blurred image in some fast-paced scenarios. But, at least you won’t be riddled with the horrible backlight bleeding seen on many IPS monitors.
Consider OLED models only if you have around $1,000 to spend on a monitor and want the absolute best picture quality and fastest response time on the market. A big concern among gamers when buying OLED is the possibility of burn-in where some parts of an image can become permanently seared into the pixels. Many manufacturers try to solve this by keeping certain elements on the screen moving or by putting the display to sleep during inactivity. Many also offer a burn-in warranty of two to three years after purchase.