The process of PC buying and building is full of jargon and that doesn’t stop when it comes to choosing a monitor. There are some key data points to consider when choosing the display you’re going to be looking at while you work and play, and it’s important to understand them before you drop your money.
One such piece of potentially confusing information is response time. Here, we’ll help you cut through the jargon and try and make the right decision for your setup.
What is monitor response time?
This definition provided by a member of the Overclock forums describes it perfectly:
Response time is how quickly the display can have a LCD pixel to change from fully active (white) to fully inactive (black), then back to fully active again. A lower response time typically means less ghosting of the image and better picture quality.
This differs from refresh rate, which is how many times per second the panel can redraw the image. With refresh rate you want a higher number, response time you want to go lower. It’s measured in milliseconds, so a five-millisecond response time means that a monitor can go from white to black to white in 1/200th of a second.
So just get the lowest?
Yes and no. Like refresh rate, response time will vary depending on manufacturer and what type of monitor you’re getting.
Gamers will traditionally want the lowest possible response time, and one-millisecond monitors are commonplace, particularly in eSports. What you don’t want when you’re gaming is image ghosting interfering with your experience. You want the sharpest picture you can get.
There are some great, inexpensive gaming monitors out there with a 1ms response time, like the BenQ RL2455. It costs under 200, has a 1ms response time and a 60Hz refresh rate and is a solid all-rounder for PC and console gaming.
Not to be confused with input lag
Unfortunately, the performance of your monitor is still at the whim of the manufacturer actually producing it. In theory, the lower response times should always be better and reduce image ghosting. But the type of panel used and its quality will still be a factor.
A bad monitor will still be a bad monitor.
What’s important to point out is the difference between response time and input lag. Response time is how quickly an image can be displayed, input lag is how long it takes the monitor to react to an action you performed. If you have a one-millisecond response time, it’s no guarantee of a great gaming experience if the input lag is too high.
Imagine you’re playing a competitive shooter like CS:GO or Call of Duty. You’ve got a low response time for ghost-free, sharp images. But if you move the mouse or your controller and there’s a noticeable delay between that action and the in-game equivalent, you’ve got high input lag and the experience will be tainted.
Ideally, you want a balance of three things in your gaming monitor: low response time, high frame rate, and low input lag.
Updated May 22, 2018: We added a section on input lag along with some fresh monitor recommendations for low response times.