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1080p vs. 1440p vs. 4K: Which resolution is best for gaming?


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Working with web browsers, productivity tools, and other tasks can usually be better accomplished with higher resolutions, but what about games? Higher resolutions require an immense amount of graphics processing power, so what should you be aiming for when looking at a new display?

Display resolutions

Dell S2716DG

One of the major factors to consider when choosing a new display is the resolution. 1080p is the most popular configuration used today, but 1440p and 4K are slowly acquiring market share. Here are the resolutions we’ll be working with when selecting a new monitor (or TV if you wish to get into couch gaming):

  • 1280 x 720 – HD / 720p.
  • 1920 x 1080 – FHD (Full HD) / 1080p.
  • 2560 x 1440 – QHD/WQHD (Quad HD) / 1440p.
  • 3840 x 2160 – UHD (Ultra HD) / 4K 2160p.
  • 7680×4320 – FUHD (Full Ultra HD) / 8K 4320p.

Best gaming monitors

The 4K resolution is considered the successor to 1080p. It doubles the horizontal and vertical resolution, so you can begin to understand just what’s being asked of your graphics card when you throw an intensive application or game into the mix — four times the pixels. As noted above, it really depends on what your PC can handle. We want to be aiming for a steady 60 frames per second (FPS) as an absolute minimum for smooth gameplay.

Higher frame rates are better if your monitor can handle it. Most 1080p screens are 60Hz, while more expensive 120Hz screens can output 120 frames each and every second. An example display could be a 1440p unit with a refresh rate of 144Hz, which will enable you to enjoy smooth gameplay at a higher resolution than Full HD. Again, if your graphics card and accompanying components can muster up enough power.

While we’ve included it in the above list, don’t go for 720p. Ever. A 1080p monitor should be your minimum entry point, with displays having become fairly affordable at around the $100 mark. You can even pick one up with support for AMD FreeSync technology for stutter-free gaming.

Xbox One owners will need to stick with a solid 1080p monitor, while Xbox One S and Xbox One X owners can go for a 4K display. For PC owners, when should you make the jump to 1440p or 4K?

Best affordable PC monitors

Even more pixels

GTA V

1440p

Grabbing a sweet deal on a new 27-incher (or above) for your gaming den will be an ideal investment, allowing you to choose a screen that offers an increased refresh rate and higher resolution. And 1440p is becoming more popular as consumers upgrade to more powerful hardware at affordable prices. Taking AMD’s new RX 480 as an example, the graphics card will be able to handle gaming at 1440p (as well as 1080p) and will even support VR too.

Seeing how your PC handles games at 1080p would be a reliable way to estimate just how 1440p will go down. If you consistently hit the barrier of your monitor’s refresh rate (60Hz being the norm, or 60 frames per second), then the leap to a 1440p monitor may be an ideal enhancement to your experience. Also, check benchmarks from reputable sources to see how your graphics card and setup could handle the extra demand. Going for one with a higher refresh rate will also enable your graphics card to refresh the image on-screen at faster rates to help eliminate blurring and tearing with fast-moving content.

Best 1440p PC monitors

4K or bust

The 4K resolution is a whole different ballgame. This is an incredibly demanding format and should only be deployed if you have sufficient graphics power. We’re not talking high-end specifications, but absolute beastly setups. Even NVIDIA’s new GTX 1080 Ti can struggle with powering content to an external display at 4K. Remember, you need to aim for high frame rates as well as pumping up graphics options and increasing resolution to enhance your gaming experience. And 60 FPS at maximum detail on 1440p would be better than 20 FPS on 4K.

You need to consider response time, resolution, refresh rates and sync tech.

It’s also possible to look into SLI and multiple card configurations when considering the move into the Ultra HD (4K) market. But if you haven’t the space to upgrade to a larger display or simply don’t feel the need to do so, your 21-inch Full HD setup is more than capable of immersing you into the numerous virtual worlds available for purchase today. It all boils down to personal preference, budget, and available computing power.

When looking at new monitors, you’ll need to work out your available budget on not only the display but also necessary computing power in order to be able to push all the pixels out. If you own a powerful card, have experienced stable frames in 1080p or have a new NVIDIA GTX card on order, 1440p is definitely an option that shouldn’t provide many issues. The resolution, response time, refresh rates and other features are worth considering as factors.

Jargon Busting

Resolution Comparison

There’s a lot of jargon when it comes to picking out monitors. Just what are response times, refresh rates, FreeSync, G-Sync, and IPS and TN technologies? Keep reading.

Response time

Measured in milliseconds (or simply “ms”) this figure represents how quickly the monitor in question is able to go from gray-to-gray, as calculated and tested by the manufacturer. It’s recommended that you have a response time of five ms or lower, to help prevent ghosting. Having a monitor with a high response time could lead to image ghosting issues, which is just another hurdle on the road to absolute immersion. Of course, the lower the response time, the more expensive the price tag will be.

Refresh rate

The refresh rate of a monitor is the number of times per second an image displayed needs to be regenerated to prevent flicker when viewed by the human eye. If your GPU is able to regenerate an image to a 120Hz monitor 120 times each second, you’ll enjoy an excellent viewing experience. However, if your PC isn’t able to power through the demanding game, you will see stuttering and possible screen tear as the monitor and GPU become out of sync. (This can be mitigated with FreeSync and G-Sync tech.)

FreeSync and G-Sync

These are systems developed by AMD and NVIDIA respectively that offer smoother gameplay, help prevent what is known as “screen tearing” and also reduce input lag. What essentially occurs is the monitor and graphics card communicate with one another to adapt the current refresh rate to ensure what’s being displayed on-screen is in sync with what’s being rendered. If the monitor or card is above and beyond the other, this can cause screen tears to appear – horizontal tearing across the screen.

An ideal monitor for gamers would be the chosen resolution, screen size, 120Hz or higher refresh rate, with two ms or lower response time, and either FreeSync or G-Sync support. See below for two examples, one with FreeSync (AMD) and the other sporting G-Sync.

What are you using? Sound off in the comments on what your setup sports and what you look for in new displays.

Related resources

Updated June 05, 2018: We updated this guide to include more details on what you should consider, as well as links to our other related roundups.





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