Gaming Monitor Vs. 4K TV: How To Pick Which One Is Right For You
What's the best screen to use for gaming in 2021: a monitor or TV? We break down everything you need to know.
Aside from your console or PC itself, the most important part of any gaming setup is the screen you're playing on. But what's the best option for 2021--the competitive edge of a gaming monitor or the size and bombast of a gaming TV? The question of which is better--gaming monitor vs. TV--was a lot easier to answer when gaming monitors had the clear advantage in speed, accuracy, and response time, but in recent years, many gaming TVs have adopted features that have helped bring them in line. Still, there are key differences between a gaming monitor and TV that are worth noting, especially if you're a dedicated gamer who spends a lot of time looking at your screen of choice.
While gaming TVs have started to enter the world of higher refresh rates, gaming monitors have pushed their speeds even higher, climbing up to 360Hz. This makes them hard to beat in the realm of competitive gaming, but if you're looking for the best image possible, a 4K gaming TV with an OLED panel is unbeatable. There are some great 40-inch-plus monitors out there that provide gorgeous visuals, but they can't quite match up to the best TVs. And few gaming monitors use the new HDMI 2.1 interface technology to push 4K and 120Hz, which makes gaming TVs a more viable option for utilizing the full capabilities of the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Of course, an excellent 144Hz monitor is still a great choice for PC gamers who use a keyboard and mouse as their main tools--or those who own the smaller Xbox Series S.
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Despite these differences, gaming monitors and gaming TVs have started to tie up their loose ends, and both can provide an excellent gaming experience. You can't go wrong either way, but there are still some different benefits that each type of screen has, and depending on the type of gamer you are, one might just edge out the other.
Terms to know
Before we break down the main differences between gaming monitors and TVs, here's a quick overview of key specs to know.
- Resolution: Resolution refers to the number of pixels on a screen (4K is 3840 pixels by 2160 pixels). 1080p and 1440p are only seen in gaming monitors, often with high refresh rates, while 4K can be found in both gaming monitors and gaming TVs. This is what we typically see in the vast majority of cases, but it can differ, especially with ultrawide monitors.
- Refresh rate: Refresh rate refers to the frequency at which a screen refreshes its image--the higher the refresh rate, the smoother the image becomes. If your refresh rate is 120Hz, that means your screen can display up to 120fps. 60Hz is the most common refresh rate you'll find in displays, but gaming TVs have started to feature 120Hz screens. Gaming refresh rates most commonly seen in monitors include 144Hz, 240Hz, 360Hz, and anything in between.
- Response time: Response time refers to the time it takes for an action to register on screen after you've pushed a button. Lower response times will make games feel more responsive. It's typically measured in milliseconds (ms), and you'll often see gaming monitors with response times of 5ms or lower.
- Input lag: Input lag refers to the amount of latency there is between your button presses and the action appearing on screen. Input lag directly affects the response time of a monitor and can be caused by a number of factors. Most gaming TVs have specific modes or technology (like HDMI 2.1's auto low-latency mode) that lower input lag. Using capture cards or splitters can also add input lag.
- Interfaces: The type of interfaces you have will depend on whether you're using a monitor or 4K TV. HDMI is ubiquitous between the two, though HDMI 2.1 is not as common as HDMI 2.0. DisplayPort is a monitor-specific interface that allows for higher resolutions and faster refresh rates. You'll need the right type of cable to take advantage of a specific interface's bandwidth and capabilities.
- HDR: HDR stands for high-dynamic range and refers to the technique displays use to show a wider range of color and brightness. While most think of HDR as producing bright, vibrant colors, it also helps provide deeper blacks and more accurate dark scenes. HDR is better implemented in gaming TVs, while most gaming monitors lack the brightness to produce it properly.
Differences between monitors and TVs for gaming
Size and resolutions
Gaming monitors are typically much smaller than gaming TVs, with many options ranging from 24 to 32 inches. Gaming TVs, on the other hand, typically start at around 48 to 50 inches and range all the way up to 85. However, this isn't a strict rule that either display needs to stick to as there are a number of great 40+ inch monitors that are worth buying. More than any factor in this guide, deciding what size you need is really up to you. If you're going to sit far away from your screen, then you'll likely need a bigger screen to get the most out of it. Likewise, if you're sitting closer, a smaller monitor or TV will work better for that situation.
Resolutions are a bit different. Gaming TVs only come in 4K, while gaming monitors can be 1080, 1440p, 4K, or any number of ultrawide resolutions. Higher resolutions will look nicer on bigger screens than lower resolutions will, but this also depends how close you are to the screen. If you're rocking a 24-inch screen and you're about 12-inches away from it, then 1080p doesn't look as bad as it would on a 65-inch screen at 12 feet away.
If you're primarily a console gamer, then choosing your resolution isn't that hard--a 4K monitor or tv will let you get the most out of your platform of choice. With PC gaming, on the other hand, it becomes a little more complicated. Choosing your resolution entirely depends on the hardware you have in your PC and the graphics settings you use in-game. Expectations should be in line with your PC's graphics card and other specs and what they're able to push effectively--4K and 60fps is hard to push unless you fine-tune your settings so your PC is capable of handling the extra load.
When it comes to gaming PCs, you'll really only see two different refresh rates--60Hz and 120Hz. Refresh rates higher than 60Hz used to be a PC-only thing, but the PS5 and Xbox Series X both have games that feature 120Hz modes, allowing you to take advantage of TVs with that refresh rate. 120Hz TVs are still perfectly capable of displaying games at 60fps--and it looks great--so future-proofing yourself with a 120Hz gaming TV is a good idea.
Like resolutions, if you plan to use your display for PC gaming, you'll need to consider your specs, resolution, and how many frames it can push. Higher refresh rates like 240Hz and 360Hz will be easier to take advantage of at 1080p. However, modest PC builds are capable of a good balance with 1440p and 144Hz. It really depends on your setup and how you plan to use it.
Response times and input lag
Response times typically range between 1 and 5 milliseconds on monitors. TVs have typically had slower response times than monitors, but over the last few years, they have started to get in line with their smaller-screen counterparts. Most 4K TVs for gaming also have modes that turn off post-processing filters and the like to achieve a lower input lag and faster response time.
TVs with HDMI 2.1 are able to take advantage of the technology's features, including ALLM (auto low-latency mode). When used with an HDMI 2.1 device that supports ALLM--like the Xbox Series X or RTX 30 graphics cards--there is virtually no input lag in addition to a near-instant response time. OLED panels--featured on some HDMI 2.1 TVs--also have a very fast response time.
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Gaming TVs tend to have better HDR performance than gaming monitors due to being able to achieve a higher level of brightness. HDR10 is the standard, while VESA HDR400, HDR600, and HDR1000 are levels within HDR10. Gaming monitors tend to stick to these VESA levels, which can't achieve the same level of brightness, vibrancy, or accuracy. Some monitors support HDR10, but if you're looking for the best HDR experience, you'll want to stick to TVs that support HDR10 or Dolby Vision, the latter of which produces the most accurate and vibrant scenes possible today.
Pricing can differ widely based on the type of gaming monitor or TV you want. Gaming monitors can be much cheaper than gaming TVs, even reaching sub-$200 levels, but nicer monitors are going to cost more than budget TVs. Alternatively, gaming TVs can call for thousands and thousands of dollars--though don't be surprised if you see a gaming monitor in the $1,500 range as well. There's really no rule on how much specific types of monitors or TVs cost, though TVs do typically cost more than monitors.
TVs for gaming
TVs have often felt like a console-only display, but with 120Hz panels and HDMI 2.1, they now feel viable for PC gaming and competitive multiplayer. Of course, the big reason to get a TV is for that superior image quality, especially from those with OLED and QLED screens. The best 4K TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X are also great displays for PC, especially if you have an RTX 30 series graphics card and enjoy a wide variety of video games--whether you're into cinematic single-player experiences or competitive multiplayer, gaming TVs in 2021 can handle it deftly. Here are some of the best TVs to use as a monitor in 2021.
Monitors for gaming
There's a wide range of gaming monitors out there, and if you're a PC gamer, that makes it easier to pick one that suits your needs, right down to the very last spec. Solid gaming monitors for PS5 and Xbox Series X, however, are a bit harder to pin down as the consoles have very specific needs that need to be met--they're not as fluid or customizable as a PC is. HDMI 2.1 is slowly being adopted by monitors, but there are still some excellent options for both PC and consoles that won't leave you disappointed.
Final thoughts: Gaming monitor or gaming TV?
You make the call. It's really as easy as that. Different types of gamers will have different needs with their screen, but with how TVs have developed over the past couple of years, they're now an incredibly viable option for everyone, from those that enjoy single-player experiences to more competitive gamers. HDMI 2.1 is a huge boon to gaming, and the TVs that feature the interface tech are impressive, providing 120Hz and the best image quality out there today. Of course, monitors still outpace TVs when it comes to refresh rates, reaching as high up as 360Hz and providing competitive experiences that can't be beat. 120Hz is still nothing to sneeze at, though, so it really comes down to what's most important to your particular situation. Whether you go monitor or TV, you'll be able to find an incredible display that won't disappoint.
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