There’s never been a better time to get involved with 4K or to find the best 4K monitor or the best 4K gaming monitor. This high-resolution standard is the benchmark for the world’s best PC games, and having a 4K screen doesn’t just mean top-notch gaming – it means better work and improved movies, too. It can be tricky to know where to start, though; even enthusiasts can find it hard to understand the terminology, and it pays to do your research when you’re spending so much cash. That’s where we can help, as our guide can point you in the right direction of the best 4K monitor and the best 4K gaming monitor.
We’ve explored latest 4K panels to explain exactly how they work and to highlight common pitfalls. We’ve also recommended some of our favourite products.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: The Big Picture
The term 4K refers to the screen’s resolution – the number of pixels that produce its image. 4K screens have a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160, which means more than eight million pixels are needed to build these monitors.
That’s a long way from 1080p, which requires just over two million pixels, or 2,560 x 1440, which needs about 3.6 million pixels.
The increased pixel count means games and movies are sharper and more detail is crammed onto the screen.
4K screens are great for work, too: the extra screen real estate makes it easier to multi-task, and designers, video professionals and photo editors can use the extra pixels for pin-point accuracy.
However, the increased pixel count means there’s more to consider before taking the plunge. Many of these factors are unique to 4K.
Take Scaling. This is how operating systems and applications make text and graphics easier to see on screens with high resolutions. The increased pixel count of 4K makes everything on a screen too tiny if it’s rendered at its standard size, so scaling makes everything larger, smoother – and easier to see.
Windows 10 and Mac OS X use scaling that can be modified – so if you want smaller text that’s still easy to read, that’s possible, or you can make the text huge if that’s preferred. Most applications scale automatically.
Having a 4K screen means you’ll need to get to grips the increased graphical demands of 4K, too.
If you want to play games, run photo-editing applications, stream games or create video, you’ll need a graphics card. Work applications like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign will only need a modest card, but you’ll need to spend big to get a graphics card that’s capable of gaming at 4K.
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Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: Different Types of Screen
4K monitors use one of three kinds of screen technology: IPS, VA or TN. They’ve all got different strengths and weaknesses
One of the most popular is IPS. It stands for In-Plane Switching, and these screens generally have the best colour accuracy and depth. That’s because they’re better at managing and manipulating light.
They have solid response times, because their crystals don’t have to do as much movement, and they also tend to have the best viewing angles.
The superb colour accuracy, great viewing angles and reasonable contrast make IPS panels great all-rounders. They’re also good for colour-sensitive work applications.
However, IPS screens suffer when it comes to response times and refresh rates, which means gamers will want to look elsewhere – any panel with sluggish performance means a competitive disadvantage.
Gamers should turn to TN screens, which have the best response times. The best esports players use TN panels, because they need to get wins in scenarios where milliseconds matter.
However, TN screens don’t have brilliant colour accuracy, contrast or viewing angles. But if you’re sat in front of a screen and playing competitively, those attributes don’t matter.
The third type of technology is called VA. These panels tend to sit between IPS and TN when it comes to their common attributes. They’ve usually got reasonable colour accuracy and viewing angles, and its mechanism blocks light physically – so it’ll often have better contrast than either rival.
Response times are fine, colours are solid, and VA’s class-leading contrast mean these panels are great for movies and multimedia.
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Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: LCD and OLED Explained
LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. These displays use a layer of crystals that are manipulated by tiny bursts of electricity. The layer sits in front of a backlight, and the minute movements alter the light passing through, therefore creating different results.
The backlight and Liquid Crystal movements combine, and the light also passes through a couple of filters. The adjustments to the crystals, and the properties of the filters, create different kinds of screen – including the three types we’ve already described.
LCD isn’t the only option, though. OLED screens have far better response times than any LED panel because they don’t work by physically moving crystals.
They also create their own light, which makes them slimmer and more frugal than conventional LCD screens.
OLED panels are expensive, though, so they’re only usually found in high-end TVs, expensive laptops and the best smartphones. They’ve barely begun to appear in 4K monitors, but they’re still notoriously expensive – so we look forward to prices coming down throughout 2018.
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Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: Key Technical Attributes
You’ll want to consider the brightness and contrast levels when you buy a 4K screen. If you’re going to be using the screen under office lights then you’ll want something with a higher brightness level – something like 200cd/m2.
While most panels deliver contrast levels around 1000:1, it’s worth aiming for as high a figure as possible. Better contrast will mean deeper dark shades, more intense light colours, and more varied and subtle shades across the whole range.
The Colour Space refers to the range of colours that a monitor can display. Two of the most common are sRGB and Adobe RGB. The former guarantees that a screen will adhere to the same colour palette used on the vast majority of other panels – like other screens, TVs, smartphones and tablets. That’s important, because it means that content will look consistent.
Adobe RGB is for people who use Adobe’s applications for professional usage, and it’s less common – but it’s crucial if you need accurate, standardised colours for work.
Every screen will be display a certain percentage of its Colour Space. If you find a screen that displays more than 90% of the sRGB Colour Space, that’ll be fine for gaming, movies and most work.
If you need a 4K screen that displays 100% of the Adobe RGB Colour Space, expect to pay more – a high-quality 100% Adobe RGB screen can cost £500/$500 – or double that amount.
There are other attributes to examine if you need a screen for professional purposes. Many panels are calibrated before they leave the factory, which means they will have already been set up to deliver the best possible colour.
And, finally, consider the physical size of your screen. We’d recommend a 4K screen with a diagonal measurement of at least 27in – anything smaller and you won’t notice the increased sharpness those extra pixels.
Beyond that 27in figure, it’s down to personal preference, the amount of room you’ve got on your desk – and your budget.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: Play the Game
Other technical considerations are important for gamers and competitive esports players who need a 4K gaming monitor.
Input lag refers to the time between a mouse movement being executed and that action appearing on the screen. The difference is measured in milliseconds – but those miniscule gaps can still make a difference when you’re playing competitively.
Similarly, enthusiastic gamers will need a good refresh rate. This term refers the speed at which the image updates. Most consumer monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means the screen refreshes sixty times per second.
A 60Hz screen will be fine for gaming, movies and work. However, a new breed of screen ramps this figure up to 120Hz or beyond to deliver better gaming performance.
These panels can display 120 frames per second or more rather than 60, which means games will appear smoother. You’ll get better responsiveness from your mouse, which can report thousands of times to your PC every second.
A high refresh rate is a boon for competitive gamers, but it also means you’ll need a monster PC – modern graphics cards struggle to run many games at 4K, and doubling the refresh rate to 120Hz puts a greater strain on a graphics chip because a game has to run beyond 100fps to make the monitor worthwhile.
Once 120Hz 4K screens are commonplace, we’ll start to see 144Hz screens – the next step up, and a move that’s already been adopted at lower resolutions. It’s a sensible next stage that provides even more gaming smoothness. And, beyond that, 240Hz 4K screens may appear.
Remember that as refresh rates get higher you’ll see less obvious improvement. These diminishing returns means only the most serious gamers should invest in one of these screens.
Response times are linked to Refresh Rates. A monitor’s response time refers to the time it takes for each individual pixel to change its colour.
Only keen gamers need to pay attention. Those folks will want to look for a screen with a 2ms response time or better. TN panels tend to offer the best speed. Most monitors offer a 5ms response time, which is fine for most players.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: Everything But the Kitchen Sync
The increase in high refresh rates has lead to AMD and Nvidia developing their own technologies. These are used on a lot of 4K gaming monitor products.
That means that games run smoothly, because the monitor isn’t left waiting for new frames from the graphics card, and the graphics card isn’t delivering frames faster than the monitor can render them.
It’s a natural evolution of a high refresh rate, because a 120Hz screen can deliver 120fps gaming – but without matching the monitor’s screen refreshes to the graphics card output.
These methods are the best way to get smooth gaming, and they’re available on various 4K panels. Most screens with AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync have a peak refresh rate of 60Hz or higher. You’ll need a graphics card that’s powerful enough to play 4K games at 60fps, Otherwise you’re just wasting your money.
On the Nvidia side of things, that generally means you’ll need a GTX 1080 at least. However, a GTX 1080 Ti would be better. With Nvidia, expect to pay at least £450/$550 for a 4K-capable graphics card.
On AMD’s side, the bare minimum would be a Radeon RX 580, but a Vega 64 would be better. Expect to pay around £260/$300 for the entry-level RX 580, but more than £500/$650 for a Vega 64 card.
You’ll also need to make sure you’ve got a good processor. Anything from the Intel Core i5 or Core i7 ranges from the last couple of years will be fine.
On the AMD side, you’re really better off with one of the more recent Zen or Threadripper processors.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: 4K on Consoles
The Xbox One X beefs up Microsoft’s hardware with more transistors and faster clock speeds in order to render some new games at 4K and deliver upgrades to existing titles.
Sony’s PS4 Pro doesn’t have quite a leap when it comes to pure hardware. That means that most games benefit from graphical improvements and upscaling rather than true 4K. However, on the plus side, it’s cheaper than the Xbox.
The situation with both of these consoles is murky because games use a variety of techniques to either run at proper 4K or mimic 4K graphics through clever upscaling – it’s not as simple as the PC, where games will just run at true 4K.
With 4K TVs getting cheaper all the time, though, it’s an effective way to take your gaming way beyond the entry-level – and even if you don’t always get true 4K, you’ll always get noticeable improvements.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: Further Considerations
We’ve covered the main attributes, but there’s plenty more to consider depending on exactly what you want out of your new screen – whether it’s a 4K monitor or a 4K gaming monitor.
Every monitor will have ergonomic considerations. Some will have sturdy, stylish stands that look fantastic, but they won’t move. Other screens have height adjustment, tilting, side-to-side movement and can be swung round to a portrait position.
Many monitors have speakers, but don’t assume that these will be good enough for gaming or movies – most of the time they’re tinny and underwhelming.
Many panels have options for different types of game, or for movies and working, but most aren’t very good – they make minor adjustments to the brightness or contrast, or make wholescale changes that ruin picture quality.
Most monitors look their best when they’re out of the box, or with minor, manual adjustments. We’d stick with those rather than use any of the pre-set options.
If you do want to make any adjustments, you’ll need to dive into the On-Screen Display. Check what control method is used before you buy: if you’re going to be annoyed by touchscreen controls, or a joystick, you’ll want to know about it.
Make sure that you’ve got the right ports on your new monitor and your existing PC, too. It’s no good buying a 4K screen that’s only got DisplayPort if your system doesn’t have that connection.
Check what other ports your monitor has. Some 4K monitor have audio jacks for easier headphone use, or USB ports for simple peripheral connectivity.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: The Best 4K Gaming Monitor
We’ve picked our three of our favourite 4K gaming monitor products.
The Asus PB287Q costs £373/$350. It’s a stunning 4K gaming monitor that has several key gaming attributes. Its 28in diagonal strikes a great balance between size and sharpness. The 1ms response time makes it perfect for fast-paced esports. That’s because it’s a TN panel, which is the fastest type of LCD screen around.
It runs at 60Hz, which is fine for most types of game, and it has true 10-bit colour – which means it can display more than one billion different shades.
It’s got HDMI and DisplayPort connections, and it has the full range of adjustments, which makes it versatile too. It’s an extremely good all-rounder.
The £575/$659 Acer Predator 4K XB271HK is another stunning gaming screen. Its 27in diagonal makes it a little sharper than the Asus, and it’s made with an IPS panel – so it’ll have incredible colour accuracy and viewing angles as well as high-quality attributes in most other areas.
It has a stylish black-and-orange stand. It’s got Nvidia G-Sync that functions at a peak refresh rate of 60Hz. That means games can run with perfect smoothness at a maximum framerate of 60fps.
It’s a 10-bit panel, just like the Asus, and it has height adjustment. It also has thin bezels, which make games more absorbing, and it can display 100% of the sRGB colour gamut.
Our third gaming choice is the £330/$344 LG 27UD58. This 27in panel has AMD FreeSync at a peak refresh rate of 60Hz – just like the previous screen. That means butter-smooth gaming at a top framerate of 60fps.
It has a solid 250cd/m2 brightness level, a 1000:1 contrast ratio, and a 5ms response time – so while it’s not quite quick enough for esports gamers, it has enough speed to sate everyone else.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: The Best 4K Monitor for Work
One of our favourite productivity panels is the LG 32UD99-W. It costs a mighty £870/$845, but you get a lot for your money. It’s IPS, so you’re going to get world-class colour accuracy. It adheres to several Colour Spaces – including those used in broadcasting and the film industry.
The LG works with separate calibration devices to ensure pitch-perfect accuracy, it’s got a tiny bezel, and it has USB Type-C for data transfer and easy device charging.
It’s got great on-screen controls, top-notch viewing angles, an adjustable stand and a huge peak brightness level of 550cd/m2. It’s clearly one of the best screens available for proper productivity.
The £480/$490 Philips BDM4350UC is another excellent productivity panel. It’s got a 43in diagonal, so it’s huge, which is a boon for getting up-close to work projects. It has pairs of HDMI and DisplayPort inputs, which make it very versatile too.
This 4K monitor uses IPS technology, which is best for work thanks to its great colour accuracy and viewing angles. It has extra Philips technology ensure brightness and contrast consistency. It’s got USB 3 ports and speakers, and it has a VESA attachment.
Finding the Best 4K Monitor and 4K Gaming Monitor: The Best 4K Monitor for Everyday Use
Sometimes you need a 4K monitor that’ll handle work, play and everything else. For that, a screen like the Samsung U28E570D is ideal. It’s a 28in TN screen that’s got the deep black levels to excel with films. It also has a 1ms response time and a three-year warranty – so it’s good for gaming.
It has a smart silver stand, a modest price of £330/$350 and a 100% sRGB Colour Space, so it’s a true all-rounder.
Our final general-purpose recommendation is the AOC U2879VF. It’s another affordable panel, at £330/$330, and it pairs solid brightness with a 1ms response time. It’s a TN panel with loads of display inputs, so it’ll work with all sorts of computers. Its subtle and smart design ensures it won’t look out of place in a home office or next to a gaming rig.