Reviewer’s Opinion on Worst Gaming Monitor Buying Mistakes | Digital Trends

Tracking down the best gaming monitors is no simple task. As you can see from how we test gaming monitors, it involves a lot more than just throwing a display on a desk and playing a couple of games. And even after years of reviewing, I still see some common mistakes shoppers make when buying a new gaming monitor.

I’ve tested dozens of gaming monitors, and while a spec sheet can take you in one direction, I can tell you for sure that not all gaming monitors are built the same. Here are the biggest pitfalls to avoid.

Think in resolution

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Describe the monitor you have right now. I can almost guarantee you started with display resolution because, for most people, that’s the most important spec to pay attention to. It’s important, sure, but resolution is only one part of your gaming monitor’s larger whole.

What you should think about when buying a gaming monitor is the pixel density. Too often I see buyers separate screen size from its resolution. I want a 32-inch display, but don’t need more than 1080p. That monitor isn’t going to look good, while something like a 27-inch, 1440p monitor will strike a balance between size and sharpness that looks good.

I’m not saying you should ignore resolution, but you should always consider it in the context of screen size. How many pixels do you get for the resolution and how big are those pixels based on the screen size? In simplest terms, how many pixels per inch (PPI) are you looking at with your monitor?

You can find PPI calculators online, and ideally you’ll have a PPI over 100. Go lower and you’ll have a screen that looks blurry, and go higher, your display will look sharper, but you may be spending more than you need to. If you don’t want to fuss with the math, here are the screen sizes I recommend for the most common resolutions:

  • 1080p 24 inch
  • 1440p 27in
  • 4K 32 inch
  • Ultrawide 1440p (3440 x 1440) 34 inches

These are tough numbers, but the main thing you want to avoid is buying a monitor that’s too large for a given resolution. Thinking this way can help you save money too. Something like the Sony InZone M9 is a 4K monitor that is only 27 inches. The Cooler Master Tempest GP27Q is the same size, but is 1440p. Jumping down gets you a monitor that costs half the price, has more local dimming zones, and a higher refresh rate, all while delivering a sweet spot of pixel density.

Ignoring your build

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Your monitor is just one part of your gaming rig. It’s an extension of your PC, and you should think of it that way. In most cases, I see buyers dump their money on a high-end PC and pair it with a cheap monitor that only meets the bare minimum to be classified as a gaming display.

You want a monitor that fits your build and lets it shine. This most commonly shows up in the resolution of your display. Maybe you maxed out with an RTX 4080, but that means continuing to use a 1080p display. In that case, you won’t get the full power of the GPU. Not only are you forcing it to a resolution it wasn’t built for, but you may also run into a CPU bottleneck due to GPU horsepower. This can lead to strange situations where you will see higherperformance that renders the game at a higher resolution, even if your display can’t take advantage of that resolution.

Thinking this way also helps you make upgrade decisions. If you’re already sitting on a powerful GPU but a lacking monitor, perhaps it’s time to upgrade your monitor instead of buying a new graphics card. Likewise, if you have a 4K screen but a PC built for 1080p, it might be time to swap components.

Going to the technical sheet

You can glean a lot of information from a monitor’s spec sheet so much, in fact, that you might think it’s enough to make an informed purchasing decision. It usually isn’t, which is why it’s always important to read monitor reviews for any display that interests you.

Datasheets can just lie about key specs. For example, the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 advertised 2,000 nits of maximum brightness for a time, despite coming nowhere near that mark. Likewise, nearly all gaming monitors advertise fast response times with no context to what those response times mean.

The problem is that there is no standard to list these specifications. Each brand can decide how they want to measure and advertise their specs, so it’s hard to compare one display to another. Maybe the Odyssey Neo G8 can hit 2,000 nits of peak brightness, but maybe that’s for a single pixel for a second. That’s not the same brightness that the monitor can achieve for 3% of the screen after five minutes.

Monitor reviews bring other context like color accuracy and coverage, but more importantly, they allow us reviewers to verify, clarify, or expand on what the spec sheet says. In the case of response times, for example, a display can be fast but exhibit visual artifacts such as inverse corona or ghosting. Monitor reviews highlight these issues that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to tell from a spec sheet.

I don’t understand HDR

Aside from budget gaming monitors, nearly every display you find on the market today will advertise some form of HDR. And most of them are terrible. I’ve written in the past about why HDR is such a mess on PC, but the bottom line is that monitors are able to advertise HDR while delivering a terrible HDR experience.

Most of the advertising is focused on the DisplayHDR certification, which is divided into several levels. The vast majority of HDR monitors only meet the lowest level, DisplayHDR 400. At this level, the monitor may not even support HDR at all. Also to bring HDR into the conversation, you would need to have a DisplayHDR 600 monitor and even then there could be problems.

If HDR is important to you, here are the things you should look out for:

  • DisplayHDR Certification Level The higher the level, the better.
  • Local dimming HDR requires a lot of contrast, so local dimming is a good way to make a scene more dynamic. The more blackout zones, the better.
  • Contrast Ratio Displays with more contrast can generally push HDR better.
  • Maximum Brightness To achieve high contrast, low black levels or high brightness are required. For most displays, higher brightness means a higher contrast ratio.
  • Panel Type Some panels are better suited for HDR than others. For example, QD-OLED panels like the ones you’ll find on the Alienware 34 QD-OLED provide outstanding HDR thanks to perfect black levels.

Keeping with the last tip, you can use the datasheet to narrow your search, but it’s always important to check individual monitor reviews.

Here’s what to look for if you want HDR, but don’t NeedHDR. It’s better to have a solid SDR display than a mediocre HDR one, and a good HDR experience generally costs a lot of money. Again, most displays support HDR. You should just know how different that experience can be so you are not disappointed.

Forget the refresh rate

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Refresh rate is a decisive specification for a gaming monitor. If you’re not familiar, the refresh rate of a display is how many times it can display a new image every second. So, a refresh rate of 60Hz shows 60 images in one second, while one of 144Hz shows 144. Simple.

The problem is, your graphics card doesn’t care about refresh rate. It will send as many frames to your screen as it returns, even if the screen is not ready for an update. This means that if you’re using a 60Hz display and hit 120 frames per second (fps), only half of those frames appear on screen.

A proper gaming monitor should have a refresh rate above 100Hz (most have a 144Hz refresh rate). You can game on a 60Hz display, but it’s not ideal, and exceeding the 100Hz threshold is what largely separates gaming monitors from regular monitors.

In addition to a high refresh rate, you’ll want to make sure your monitor supports a variable refresh rate. Nvidia has G-Sync and AMD has FreeSync, but nowadays you can generally use both no matter what brand of GPU you have. VESA also has its own Adaptive Sync standard, which works with both GPUs.

Lots of options

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There are tons of options for gaming monitors and it’s hard to know where to start. Draw out what size, resolution, and features you want, narrow down a few options, and go through individual reviews to make sure your monitor performs as expected. This is the best way to find the display you want.

Most importantly, avoid the pitfalls common with gaming monitors, from misleading specs to vague HDR claims. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll find the right gaming monitor for you.

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