The best high refresh rate monitors absolutely make the best screens for gaming. Want a gaming monitor? Then get something with a high refresh rate. On that we all agree. Everything else? Well, it’s pretty much up for grabs, and boy are there plenty of features and technologies to ponder with the latest gaming panels.
Should you go for an IPS or VA panel, for instance. That’s a conundrum and a half. And what about panel, size, shape and resolution? Is the 16:9 aspect ratio still the most versatile and compatible or is superwide the way to go? Do curved panels actually add anything? And what about resolution? Is 4K the only way to go? Does 1440p strike a better balance? Is 1080p obsolete?
As if all that wasn’t enough to go on, there’s plenty more to consider when selecting a high refresh rate monitor for gaming. There’s the visual minefield that is HDR support, for instance. Next up, various adaptive refresh technologies including Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync, both of which come in multiple flavours. And what about response times? Are claimed pixel response claims reliable or even remotely relevant?
To that you can add considerations including build quality, design and video interfaces, plus extras like OSD options and speakers. A feature like an on-screen refresh rate counter may seem low priority compared to panel quality. But it can be the difference between easily confirming that refresh rate and adaptive sync settings are working correctly and constantly wondering if everything is firing on all pixels.
Oh, and price. Never forget the sordid matter of money. The best high refresh rate monitors ain’t cheap, unfortunately. But nor are they necessarily megabucks. In this round up of the best high refresh monitors money can buy, there’s some conspicuous value to be had.
For a while it looked odds-on curved panels would assimilate the whole gaming market. More recently, the popularity of curved LCD monitors seems to have tailed off just a little. For sure, curved HDTVs proved to be a largely passing fad.
But with the MPG ARTYMIS 343CQR, MSI has clearly decided that if it’s going to keep the faith with curved PC monitors, it’s going to absolutely own the issue. This thing has an incredibly tight 1000R curve. That means the arc of the panel is such that, when extended full circle, the radius of said circle would be just one metre. This is one seriously bent screen.
Beyond that, critical speeds and feeds include 34-inch ultra-wide panel proportions, 3440 x 1440 resolution, 165Hz refresh, 1ms response, and VESA DisplayHDR 400 Certification. Underpinning all that is the 343CQR’s other eyebrow tweaker, beyond the extreme curve, namely VA panel technology. Response has been the undoing of many a VA panel, so it’s worth noting the claimed response of 1ms is courtesy of the more forgiving moving picture response time (MPRT) metric.
Back in the real world, initial impressions of the response aren’t great. But like a lot of VA monitors, you need to allow about 10 minutes for the panel to warm up. At which point, the blurring subsides and the response will satisfy all but the most demanding gamers. Yes, the latest 1ms IPS screens are quicker still. But there’s not a huge amount in it, subjectively.
Instead, what really stands out is the punch and pizazz of the 34-inch panel. VA inherently has better contrast than IPS. Combine that with fully 550 nits-worth of backlighting and this screen positively zings. As it happens, the extreme curve also won us over. For pure visual spectacle as well as gaming immersion, nothing else in this group of high refresh rate monitors comes close. It’s fabulous.
Why, exactly, does the AOC Agon AG273QXP run at 170Hz refresh? Is it a cynical marketing move designed to give AOC’s latest gaming panel a superficial edge over the usual 165Hz suspects? Is there some specific technical reason for the extra 5Hz?
One thing is for sure, there’s absolutely no chance of spotting the difference between 165Hz and 170Hz in-game. It’s hard enough to reliably pick 165Hz from 144Hz or even 240Hz. An extra 5Hz? No chance.
It’s a pity to be distracted by such trivia, because the AOC Agon AG273QXP actually has loads going for it. That 170Hz panel is a 1440p IPS item, which makes it something of a goldilocks model for modern gaming. Not too many pixels. Not too few. But just the right balance between visual detail and frame rate.
To that you can add extras like adaptive sync support in the form of AMD FreeSync Premium Pro and Nvidia G-Sync Compatibility, plus VESA DisplayHDR 400 certification. Rounding it all out is a claimed response time of 1ms.
Yup, this thing ticks a lot of boxes on paper. And so it proves in practice. It’s certainly every bit as punchy a panel as the 400cd/m2 spec implies. Is it really good for 1ms response? Unlikely, in absolute terms. But set the overdrive to medium and it’s a very quick monitor with minimal blur and no ghosting.
CyberPunk 2077 looks glorious, that’s for sure. The Agon sports a pretty decent HDR implementation, too. At least it does for an HDR 400 panel that lacks local dimming. Like any other HDR 400 screen, it’s not a true HDR experience. But this is still a great high refresh rate monitor.
1080p not your bag? Better jog on as the Acer Predator XB253QGX won’t be for you. It isn’t really for most of us, either, given 1440p is a better all-round compromise for most gamers from a purely visual point. But if ultra low latency, and frames rates high enough to give you a nosebleed sounds like your thing, this 1080p 25-incher should be on your shortlist.
It’s very similar to the Alienware 25, but clocks in at a mere 240Hz to the Alienware’s outrageous 360Hz. In truth, only the most demanding esports addicts will be able to tell the difference. But if you are that sensitive to latency, the Acer’s 1080p resolution actually makes sense. After all, the fewer the pixels, the higher your frame rate.
As it happens, this Acer is slightly more vibrant than the ostensibly identical Lenovo Legion Y25-25, even if it isn’t as punchy as the much pricer Alienware. As with many screens of this type, you can fine tune pixel response through an overdrive setting. Predictably, the most aggressive setting introduces some ghosting. But set to medium, this is a very quick IPS monitor. That said, even with a claimed MPRT response time of just 0.5ms this is not an entirely blur-free monitor. That’s LCD technology for you.
Of course, it’s in pure visual punch where a 1080p panel like this stumbles. There’s significantly less detail on offer compared to a 1440p monitor, much less a 4K screen. This would not be our weapon of choice for soaking up the sheer spectacle of Cyberpunk 2077, that’s for sure.
There’s an elephant in this high refresh rate monitor round up. And it’s the inevitable question of diminishing returns. When, exactly, do they kick in? 165Hz? 240Hz? How about 360Hz? Oh yes, this updated Alienware 25 is good for the full 360. In purely experiential and subjective terms, it’s not easy to separate it from otherwise similar 1080p IPS monitors that hum along at a comparatively pedestrian 240Hz refresh. They all feel incredibly quick.
Of course, esports aficionados with ninjascopic reflexes will appreciate the difference. And there’s certainly no penalty to pay, given this IPS panel. It’s not like you’re forced to suffer a dingy TN panel to have all those Hz. As for pixel response, it’s about as good as IPS monitors get, though once again hard to really separate from the cheaper 240Hz brigade.
But it’s actually the Aliewnare’s other qualities that set it apart. For starters, this is the brightest and punchiest of the 25-inch bunch. The integrated Nvidia G-Sync chip also makes for a noticeably smoother low-frame-rate experience than a mere G-Sync ‘Compatible’ or FreeSync display. Ironic, given the 360Hz refresh is the main attraction.
The Alienware 25 also supports Nvidia’s Reflex Latency Analyzer, which helps you fine tune input lag with millimetric precision. Provided you have a compatible mouse and an Nvidia graphics card, that is, and that you are playing a game that supports it.
Our only major reservation given the highly focused remit is that the ‘Esports’ preset in the OSD menu crushes brightness to a fairly intolerable extent. So, the Alienware 25’s very best performance comes at quite a price, both literally and figuratively.
Never mind a new generation of GPUs you can’t buy, and consoles in short supply, 4K remains a problematic resolution for gaming. It’s just sooo many pixels. Over eight million, in fact. Even at a mere 60Hz, that’s 500 million pixels that have to be rendered, rasterised, ray-traced—whatever—each and every second.
That works out at over a billion per second at 144Hz, which just so happens to be the refresh rate of the Acer Predator XB273K, Acer’s more affordable 4K gaming panel. Compared to the pricier Acer Predator X27, it lacks local dimming, delivers lower peak brightness and is merely G-Sync ‘Compatible’. So, there’s no Nvidia G-Sync module onboard.
Of course, affordability is relative and the XB273K is still a pretty pricey panel. Indeed, with 120Hz 4K OLED TVs available for not all that much more than this 27-inch monitor, the value proposition isn’t exactly compelling.
None of which to say this screen lacks appeal. No, siree. Once you’ve seen Cyberpunk 2077 running in full IPS-plus-4K glory, you won’t want to go back to 1440p, let alone crummy old 1080p. The problem is the philosophical incompatibility between maximising image quality and frame rates at the same time. You can’t really have both. Not even with, say, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080.
In other words, while this monitor is capable of 144Hz, you’re not going to get near those kinds of frame rates in the prettiest games. And if you’re not bothered about prettiness, you probably don’t need 4K, if you follow. It’s a very nice screen, this Acer Predator XB273K, and better value than its Acer Predator X27 sibling, but it still doesn’t make much sense for this kind of money.
VA panel technology used to spell certain doom when it comes to pixel response. More recently, Samsung, among others, have proven that VA really can deliver. If not quite IPS-matching response, then certainly good enough performance for all but the most demanding esports gamers.
Unfortunately, the Viewsonic VX2718-2KPC-MHD is a VA screen slightly out of the old school, despite delivering 165Hz refresh. Crank this 27-inch, 1440p curved monitor over for the first time and it doesn’t bode well. In fact, the VX2718-2KPC-MHD is a bit of a blurry mess. It does improve with a little time and temperature. But even fully warmed up, it’s simply not as quick as the latest IPS panels. Or, for that matter, the implied performance of the 1ms MPRT response specification.
Incidentally, the VX2718-2KPC-MHD ‘1ms’ mode does little to improve response, but it does crush brightness and vibrancy pretty effectively. While we’re beating on Viewsonic’s latest, we note it lacks a refresh rate counter. It’s a small detail, but it’s also a very useful feature for ensuring that you’re running at the right refresh rate and also for confirming that adaptive sync is enabled.
Elsewhere, the stand feels a bit cheap and only offers tilt adjustment, while the external PSU adds to clutter. Meanwhile, as the 250cd/m2 brightness rating implies, this screen won’t exactly sear your retinas.
Which isn’t to imply this screen has nothing to offer. The 1440p native resolution on a 27-inch panel is a sweet combo for balancing frame rates with in-game detail, while the VA panel tech delivers plenty of contrast. Of course, as 1440p 165Hz monitors go, it’s competitively priced, but the mediocre response and lack of punch might feel a bit too budget for most.
On paper, the Lenovo Legion Y25-25 is an absolute dead ringer for the Acer Predator XB253QGX. It’s a pretty close cousin of Alienware’s updated 360Hz 25-incher, too. But it just goes to show the specs don’t tell the whole story, because this is clearly the bum of the 25-inch bunch.
That’s not to say the Lenovo Legion Y25-25 is an outright dud. Not with a 25-inch IPS panel that fires at fully 240Hz. Sure, it’s only 1080p. But then so is the competition and the point here is maximum fluidity, minimum latency. Giving up the visual detail and precision of 1440p or 4K goes with the territory, in other words.
The Lenovo also has pretty sweet build quality with a lush alloy stand, full adjustability including height, tilt, rotate and swivel, plus styling that little bit slicker and more grown up than your average, rather adolescent, gaming peripheral. The integrated, rather than external, power supply likewise soothes our collective OCD, and G-Sync compatibility is welcome if expected in this class of screen.
To all that you can add excellent pixel response with the overdrive set to medium (max it out and some ghouls and ghosts turn up uninvited), predictably minimal latency, plus buttery smooth rendering, as you’d expect for a 240Hz panel.
So what, exactly, is the problem? Basic image quality, that’s what. The Lenovo Legion Y25-25 is just a little bit dingier, a little bit duller, than the competition. It’s unclear if it uses a different panel from the Acer and Alienware. But for sure, its colours are less vibrant and games look less immersive. In isolation, and given the esports remit, that arguably doesn’t matter. This certainly isn’t a terrible-looking screen, but when you can have all of the Lenovo’s upsides, plus better basic image quality, elsewhere it is a bit of a non-starter of a monitor.
High refresh rate gaming monitor FAQ
Q. What's the best panel type for gaming?
A. If in doubt, go IPS. There are now VA screens with good response, like the fabulous MSI MPG ARTYMIS 343CQR. But IPS more consistently delivers the goods and is now sufficiently fast in terms of refresh rate that that you absolutely needn't settle for TN anymore.
Q. How many Hz do you really need?
A. If you're asking the question, the answer is 144Hz is probably plenty. Esports fiends who will really appreciate higher refresh rates already know who they are and what they want.
Q. What resolution should you go for?
A. Even with the latest unobtainable graphics cards, 4K gaming at high triple-digit refresh rates is a stretch in the most demanding games. So, 1440p (at either 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratio) is probably the better compromise. 1080p is only of interest to those who demand the very highest frame rates for shooters.
Q. What about the curve conundrum?
A. For our money, curved panels make most sense in larger formats and with super-wide 21:9 or wider panels. A curved panel on, say, a smaller 27-inch 16:9 panel isn't necessarily a bad thing. But nor does it really add much to the experience.
Q. Does HDR matter?
A. The problem with HDR in this context is that few, if any, LCD monitors offer a true HDR experience. What's more, monitors with HDR-boosting local dimming remain painfully pricey and for what is really only marginal benefit. That said, HDR certification usually ensures high brightness and HDR 600 and beyond requires wide colour support.
Q. What adaptive sync technology is best?
A. We think screens with Nvidia's G-Sync module built in have the edge when it comes to smooth performance at lower frame rates. At higher frame rates, mere G-Sync compatibility is fine and AMD's FreeSync is likewise much of a muchness.