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Hardware A Dummie's Guide on Choosing The Correct Monitor

Space Pirate

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What I'll be covering
In this guide i will be covering the following topics:

  • The pros and cons of getting 4K+ monitors.
  • Monitors aimed at Gamers and Professional work and why you might want to go with a professional monitor either way.
  • Refresh rate and Response time.
  • HDR and Manufacturers.
  • The Ultrawide Problem.
  • G-Sync, FreeSync & Adaptive-Sync.
  • How to choose the right monitor-panel.
  • The benefit of VESA mounts.
The 4K Predicament
You might be inclined to buy a 4K or even higher resolution monitor but you might end up not benefiting from it and might actually reduce your performance when it comes to games.

If you are not familiar with how your eyes works in regard to Pixel-per-inch(PPI) or Dots-per-inch(DPI) let me explain:
PPI is a unit of measurement usually on monitors/screens when it comes to how many pixel are in a single square inch of a monitor.
As an example, a 1920x1080(1080P) 24 inch monitor will have a PPI of 91.79. Which means of course that 91 pixels are within a single square inch.

Viewing distance from the monitor is crucial factor for being able to discern pixels (or white-space between pixels).
This image shows how close your eyes must be from the monitor before you can experience the full benefit of the monitor
Keep in mind that this is with perfect 20/20 vision!
firefox_2020-02-25_06-23-35.png

Thanks cosmicosmo4!

Here is a table of when you will get the full benefit of the resolution:

Viewing DistanceResolution
0.6m / 2ft300 PPI
1m / 3.3ft180 PPI
1.5m / 5ft120 PPI
2m / 6.5ft90 PPI
3m / 10ft60 PPI
5m / 16 ft35 PPI
Now you might be thinking of 4K or even 8K TV's, and yes you are in fact correct in your thinking that it's overkill for most of the people buying it. But now you know about the relationship between monitor resolution/size and distance.







Let's move on!

Refresh Rate
Refresh rate is a very important part of the viewing experience. To some gamers it's the one thing they can get tunnel vision on. Refresh rate as with resolution isn't gray and white (Excuse the pun, it will be clear soon enough). Let's first try and explain what refresh rate even is.

Your monitor paints a new picture on your screen usually at around 60 times per second or 60Hz or higher if you have a "gaming" monitor.
The way this works with LCD ,LED, AMOLED, OLED and a bunch of other panels is pretty straightforward. It draws pixel by pixel from top to bottom. I'll get more into detail how this works in the G-Sync, FreeSync & Adaptive-Sync section but for now.

Now, 60Hz might sound pretty nice and it is for most applications, but for gaming having a higher refresh rate might give an edge when playing multiplayer games especially shooters.

Let's take an example:
You have a 60Hz monitor and you are playing say CS:GO with a latency of 40 milliseconds (That's the time for a round-trip from your game to the game server).
60Hz divided by 1000 milliseconds (1 second...duh) is 16.6 millisecond which means worst case, the time it takes for the game to update will at worst be 66.6 milliseconds.

What would happen if you had a 144Hz monitor then ? 144 divided by 1000 milliseconds is 6,9 milliseconds and the worst delay would be 46,9 milliseconds. That's a difference of 34 % or 19.7milliseconds. But is that difference worth its on it's own ? I would say no but the most important thing about having a high refresh rate and gaming is how damn smooth it feels. It FEELS more enjoyable to play games on higher refresh rates which is probably why it can make you better at the game. But not that much. There's a saying, once you go fast you never want to go back, and that my friend is true. Let's jump into Response Time now.

Response Time
So response time is very often confused with Input lag and rightfully so but those are two separate measurements. Response time is the time it takes for one pixel to change color. Input lag is the delay it takes for the GPU to send an image to the monitor and for the monitor to draw that image.

There's also this "thing" going on with the manufacturers of Monitors. Because how monitors works some colors are faster to switch to. Grey to grey is usually used because it's usually the fastest to switch to. So if a manufacturer say they have a response time of 4 milliseconds then it probably means it can switch from one grey color to another grey color within 4 milliseconds. So other colors such as from red to blue might take longer.

So why do you want a monitor with low a response time ? Have you ever noticed a blur when you're moving your camera really fast when playing a game ? This can be because of low response time. The blur is also confused with motion blur which is generated by the game just so you know.

But if all you do is stuff that doesn't move graphics quickly on your screen you should be fine ignoring response time when buying a monitor.

A great way to test your monitors for low response times is to visit https://www.testufo.com/ or https://www.testufo.com/ghosting

G-Sync, FreeSync & Adaptive-Sync
If you are confused about that adaptive sync technology (AST) is like i was a few years ago you are hereby excused. In a nut shell; AST helps eliminate screen-tearing by syncing each frame your Video Card (GPU) draws with the monitor refresh rate. Usually without AST the monitor/GPU are not in sync, meaning your monitor will draw the previous image again shown here:
2020-02-24_17-10-59.png

You can get around this by using a technology called V-Sync, this prevents your GPU from doing any work until your monitor is done drawing the next image. You might see the issue with this already. V-Sync INCREASES your input-lag when used due to being limited by your monitors refresh rate. In a regular 60 Hz monitor it can add a pretty substantial lag to the game. In a perfect world it would be around 18 ms but it's almost never the case. It depends entirely on the developers of the game, your GPU power and your monitor. In some cases it can go over 50 ms.

HOWEVER, the higher your monitors refresh rate is, the less input lag you will get with this feature enabled.

Now let's talk about AST!
AST is a magical technology that gives you the best of both worlds, a tear free experience without the input-lag increase (There can in some cases be a small increase but it's usually negligible).

The way this works is that the monitor needs support for an AST and your GPU needs support for the monitors AST (G-Sync, FreeSync/Adaptive-Sync). Your GPU will be sugar daddy now, and tell your monitor when it should refresh the screen. A tear free experience.

I should note that you need either HDMI, DVI or a Display-port cable to get this working.
(Also not all cables will be compatible, do your research!)

There is a lot of talk about what adaptive sync technology is the best. nVidia says of course that they have the best one due to them having a dedicated board inside G-Sync monitors that "Is Better". I've yet to be convinced that there is a noticeable difference between the technologies.
nVidia has released G-Sync Ultimate which boast a hefty 1000-nits brightness. Though these monitors comes also at a hefty price tag. However nVidia will pass monitors with 8-bit FRC (Frame Rate Control Technology) aka fake 10-bit so be aware of that if you're buying a G-Ultimate monitor to keep that in mind.

What about FreeSync, FreeSync Premium and FreeSync Premium Pro ?
FreeSync is AMD's technology that is free (not sure about Premium and the Pro version) to use by monitor OEM's compared to nVidia who charges a premium for G-Sync that adds to the price of the monitor substantially. However It's thought that AMD will also charge OEM's for certification due to their statement about HDR on the Pro version of FreeSync:
Support for HDR with meticulous color and luminance certification.
However i don't see that they will be super good HDR monitors due to this quote on their website:
Furthermore, the baseline HDR requirements in FreeSync Premium Pro are greater than HDR 400 to provide at least twice the perceived color volume as SDR.
FreeSync works practically the same as G-Sync though AMD has released new branding for their AST technology namely FreeSync Premium and FreeSync Premium Pro.

FreeSync (1)
  • Regular AST over HDMI and DisplayPort
  • Might get/have added cost due to AMD apparently is certifying FreeSync 1 as well.
FreeSync Premium (Previously called FreeSync 2)
  • Regular AST over HDMI and DisplayPort
  • 120Hz minimum refresh rate at a minimum of FHD resolution(1080P)
  • Might have some added cost due to certification.
FreeSync Premium Pro (3)
  • HDR Support - They're HDR standard is HDR 400 to pass certification.
  • Low Latency - FreeSync 2 monitors are "guaranteed" to have low latency.
  • LFC - Low FPS Compensation It's basically monitor MotionBlur. It makes the image appear smoother by averaging out past images when you're playing a game at low FPS.
  • Very likely will have added cost due to certification.
  • These monitors haven't been released yet.

The Ultrawide Problem
firefox_2020-03-08_02-44-46.png

If you're walking the path of the ultrawide you should know that there is some headaches along the way.

Some games simply doesn't support ultrawide ratios such as 21:9 and beyond.
If you're playing esports such as Overwatch i have bad news. They have disabled support for 21:9 and beyond because they received a higher FoV than players using 16:9. Other esports titles might join that decision in the future as ultrawide monitors becomes cheaper and more readily available.

What about when there is no ultrawide support in the game ?
Well that means either black bars on the sides, or a stretched image. Neither of them looks "super" terrible if you're not an image quality fanatic.
firefox_2020-03-08_03-12-12.jpg
Most newer games now support ultrawide resolutions on release and even some older games gets modded to support ultrawide, such as Diablo 2 did.
firefox_2020-03-08_03-13-00.jpg


Premium Pricing
Ultrawide are generally more expensive than 16:9 monitors so you will be paying more for an ultrawide.

So what are the benefits then ?
Ultrawides comes with the extra FoV increase due to the wider horizontal resolution and some come with curved screens to increase the immersion.
Since they're so wide, the extra real-estate really helps with productivity, especially if you divide your monitor into multiple virtual monitors (usually doesn't work when you're full-screen).

Monitor-Panels
There is a bunch of different Monitor-panels out there and choosing the right one for your need can be challenging.
I'll try and explain what the pros and cons are for each relevant panel.


IPS (In Plane Switching)
IPS panels have some of the best image quality, color accuracy and viewing angles of all the panels but they CAN suffer from poor contrast ratios and and high black uniformity (the ability to display solid black, lower is better).


firefox_2020-02-25_23-28-50.png
Showing especially bad black uniformity on the left and a decent level to the right. Source: https://www.rtings.com

firefox_2020-02-25_23-46-58.png
Showing common IPS contrast to the left and VA to the right. Source: https://www.rtings.com

Well now you might be asking why you ever would go for a IPS panel over a VA panel.
The contrast and black uniformity issues is far less visible in a bright environment then in a dark environment.
So it boils down to what you prefer, light or darkness!

There are some variations of the IPS technology such as P-IPS, E-IPS, H-IPS, AH-IPS, AS-IPS, IPS-Pro and S-IPS.
The differences aren't that big between them if you account only for the recently produced panels but i should note that P-IPS offers 10-bit panels.
You should always do some research when buying a monitor.

Best uses:
  • Color-sensitive work.
  • Gamers who value Image quality over response time.
  • People who will use the monitor in a well lit environment.

VA (Vertical Alignment)
VA panels is usually the best bang for your bucks when it comes to image quality and viewing angles. I have owned mostly just VA panels because they're cheap, decent color, good viewing angles and is usually very overclock-able. They're not as good as IPS panels but if you're not doing color sensitive work and want a cheap monitor you will be hard pressed to go wrong with VA panels.

They're usually decent for gaming as they tend to have about the response time as IPS but usually higher than TN panels.
My VA Monitor (Samsung 24" S24F352H) was able to be overclocked to 72Hz from 60Hz and it only cost around 100$


OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes)
OLED is the holy grail of monitors, it features true blacks as each pixel is lit individually, amazing response times and great image quality.
Though there is problem with OLED; burn-in. Like those old Plasma TV's back in the days OLED suffers from the same issue. It isn't as serious as old plasma technology and some manufacturers even say their panels "can't" get permanent burn-in. I would still be careful if you view a lot of static content over a prolonged time.

There's another issue as well; There is a pretty steep price premium of actual monitors with OLED panels because of limited supply and high production costs. Most OLED panels are produced for the TV market so their presence in the PC-monitor market is very recent.

When/if the kinks gets worked out these will be perfect for Color-sensitive workloads.

(There are more emerging technologies like MicroLED but they haven't come to the market yet)


TN (Twisted Nematic)
These are the most common of panel types. They're cheap and offers superb response times, perfect for fast-paced gaming.
The response time varies from 1-5ms but most TN panels suffers from poor image quality, viewing angles and contrast ratios.


With TN panels you're able to get high refresh-rates for a pretty penny due to their cheap production cost and availability.


VESA
VESA is your best friend if you have multiple monitors and limited desk space. Monitors with a VESA interface can be attached to wall mounts or stands all from a single anchor point.
firefox_2020-02-24_18-33-50.png

VESA stands can be pretty cheap even with swing,tilt and pitch modifications. If you feel cramped by your desk, get one!

Be careful! There are different VESA standards, make sure you're buying the correct one for your monitor(s).

🏴‍☠️
 

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Shenandoah

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Nice guide, my dude! Now I can finally pick the right monitor for me, hehe.
 
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