Guidemaster: Finding the best gaming monitors you can buy in 2019

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we’ll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Any monitor can work for gaming, but a good gaming monitor will make your virtual exploits more polished.

With their high refresh rates and adaptive sync, they can bring your games to a new level of fluidity. But since the market is flooded with confusingly-named choices, it can be tough to find the ones worth buying.

So for Ars Gaming Week, we set out to help. After spending the last three months researching dozens of gaming monitors and ultimately testing 14, we’ve come up with a few recommendations that should suit players of all kinds, whether you’re more into fast-paced online shooters or contemplative stories.

Table of Contents

Some notes on testing

Let’s start with some info on our testing process. Our primary measurement tool for this guide was a Datacolor Spyder5Elite colorimeter and its accompanying software. This helped us evaluate color accuracy, peak brightness, contrast ratios, color gamut, luminance uniformity, color uniformity, and more with hard data instead of personal opinions. That said, there are spectrophotometers and other high-end equipment we did not have access to that can give more pinpoint readings. Our test results still get at the gist of each monitor’s pros and cons—if a panel has poor contrast or colors inaccurate enough to be a distraction, we’ll know either way—but this difference made us hesitant to harp on test results throughout this guide. Because we tested everything with the same tools and lighting conditions, though, each monitor was still evaluated against a consistent baseline.

To test motion handling and more-gaming specific features, we played games on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, making sure to play faster multiplayer shooters like and as well as colorful single-player games like and . We also used a suite of tests from Blur Busters that helped us better gauge motion blur, response time, ghosting, and other motion qualities.

Because this is a guide to monitors, we put greater emphasis than usual on motion smoothness, input lag, and support for variable refresh rate (VRR) tech like Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync, which dynamically adjust a panel’s refresh rate to better avoid stuttering and screen tearing while playing a game. A high refresh rate, meanwhile, will be beneficial for both gaming PCs and next-gen consoles. We didn’t put these traits far ahead of picture quality and design, though, since most people will still spend plenty of time browsing the Web and doing work on their monitor. We’re also speaking more to the box performance, since most monitor users tend to avoid messing with their picture settings heavily. (That said, picture quality will improve on all our picks post-calibration, so that’s worth doing if you can.) And while 4K monitors have matured to the point of being worthwhile for non-gaming purposes, we aren’t recommending any here: the in-game benefits of 4K aren’t superior to 1440p in practice, and it requires major GPU power to push 4K at high refresh rates consistently.

Our favorite all-around gaming monitor: Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD

Different gaming setups have different needs, so it’s hard to say one monitor will definitively work for everyone. But of the monitors we tested, our was the Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD.

This is a 27-inch panel, which we think is the sweet spot between having enough space to not feel cramped and not overwhelming everything on your desk. It has a 2560×1440 resolution—some competitive-minded gamers will justifiably say that a 1080p monitor makes it easier for more GPUs to push higher refresh rates, but not every game is so demanding. It’s possible to turn down the resolution in many games to get a stabler frames per second (FPS), and the boost in crispness is immediately noticeable on a panel larger than 24 inches. Being able to fit more windows onscreen whenever you’re not playing a game is a significant plus.

The AD27QD is technically an Innolux AAS (Azimuthal Anchoring Switch) panel, but the end result is effectively an IPS display. Like its fellow panel types TN and VA, IPS comes with its own set of strengths and weakness, which the AD27QD follows pretty closely. The monitor has wide viewing angles, so colors won’t be heavily distorted colors when you aren’t looking at the screen straight on. It has excellent color accuracy out of the box, with a DeltaE score below 2 in our testing. (In simple terms: any score above 3 means colors are inaccurate, anything below 2 has inaccuracies that are barely perceptible to viewers, and anything below 1 is practically perfect.) Its colors are largely uniform across the entirety of the display, and its peak brightness is higher than most IPS panels. It has a particularly generous color gamut, so it can display a wider-than-usual range of colors. And it supports an expanded 10-bit color depth for further boosting—technically 8-bit + FRC, not native 10-bit, but the difference is minimal to most. You’ll need a powerful GPU to push the latter, though, and it requires you stay at a 120 Hz refresh rate to work.

Like most IPS monitors, the AD27QD has so-so contrast. It’s actually better than the majority of IPS panels we tested, so this isn’t as severe of a trade-off, but in a vacuum it can’t distinguish white and black tones as well as a good VA panel. Its black uniformity is poor, too, so largely black screens will look uneven and splotchy in spots. The AD27QD also suffers from a light “IPS glow” effect that causes the bottom corners of the screen to lose detail in darker surroundings. All of this means the monitor is best used in a lighted room instead of a dark one. (Though it’s only decent at reflecting glare, so you don’t want to put it directly in sunlight.) Gigabyte advertises HDR support and VESA DisplayHDR 400 certification, but since the monitor lacks local dimming, it doesn’t have much meaningful benefit. All that said, while the AD27QD isn’t a panel for professional photo work, it’s better than most of its peers at making games look lively and balanced.

It also does well to keep things running smoothly. The AD27QD has a 144 Hz refresh rate and supports AMD FreeSync over DisplayPort and HDMI. It has a VRR range of 48-144 Hz. If your game’s frame rate dips below that, the monitor supports FreeSync’s low frame rate compensation (LFC) tech. This makes it set the refresh rate to multiples of whatever frame rate it’s at below the VRR range. If a game is running at 34 fps, for example, FreeSync will double the frames it sends to the monitor and set the refresh rate to 68 Hz to keep screen tearing and stuttering at a minimum.

Crucially, all of this works with Nvidia graphics cards, not just AMD models. The AD27QD is one of the handful of FreeSync monitors that is officially certified as “G-Sync Compatible” by Nvidia. Several others work fine without that official title, but having it means the AD27QD has been tested and approved to work with GTX 10 series and RTX cards by the company making them. FreeSync has had some minor quirks with Nvidia cards before—screen flickering between games, for instance—and the G-Sync Compatible mode only works over DisplayPort. But the adaptive sync tech generally works as it should on the AD27QD, enabling itself automatically and snuffing out all tearing and flickering.

The rest of the AD27QD’s motion performance is good. Response time is fast for an IPS panel with the monitor’s “Speed” overdrive setting enabled, with little noticeable motion blur and very low input lag. The AD27QD is not as smooth as a good TN panel, but given how dramatically better its picture quality is elsewhere, it’s strong.

The one noteworthy issue here is overshoot, or inverse ghosting. In simple-ish terms, this is when a panel’s overdrive cause a pixel to “overshoot” its final color value and create a shadow-like effect around a moving object, in the opposite color of said object. The “Speed” setting of the AD27QD causes a noticeable amount of this at lower refresh rates. So if you use the monitor with a PS4 or a PC game that isn’t getting close to the full 144 Hz, it’s better to switch to the standard “Balance” overdrive mode. This will slow response times a little, but the image will look cleaner on the whole. If you can keep your game around 144 Hz, overshoot on the “Speed” setting is minor, so sensitive eyes should be able to enjoy faster-paced titles without compromise.

The design of the AD27QD is convenient and well-made. It’s a breeze to put together and its stand is thin, so it doesn’t eat up a ton of room on your desk. Its small bezels make it accommodating to a second monitor, too. There’s enough metal in the build for it to feel solidly built. We didn’t do much with the faint RGB lighting on the back of the monitor, but it’s there and customizable if you’re into that sort of thing. The adjustability is the monitor is excellent, wide a wide range to swivel and adjust height, as well as the ability to rotate the panel 180 degrees into a vertical orientation. The one-button toggle for accessing the on-screen display (OSD) is easy to use and reach, and that OSD is broken down in a way that’s not overwhelming. The port selection is solid: one DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, mic and audio out 3.5mm jacks. There are no built-in speakers, sadly, but there is a unique “active noise cancellation” feature that lessens ambient sounds when you’re speaking through a connected microphone. This cuts out low-end noise fairly well, so it could come in handy if you’re trying to chat with your squadmates in a noisy house.

There are a few other extras beyond that, but the gist is that the AD27QD is a great jack of all trades gaming monitor. For less than $600, you get an ideal size and resolution, a useful design, good enough motion, effective FreeSync and G-Sync Compatible VRR, and color reproduction that plays well everywhere.

The good

The bad

Gigabyte Aorus AD27QD

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(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)
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