It’s hard to say whether monitors or GPUs are more difficult to understand. Both types of hardware are constantly evolving, but monitors, in particular, seem harder to shop for (at least to me). There’s a lot of confusion around what 4K is and isn’t. What do UHD, QHD, and true 4K even mean? How many different sub-varieties of 4K resolutions are there? What about aspect ratios—is “ultrawide 4K” a thing? (No, at least not yet.)
There’s only one thing you can say about all 4K gaming monitors: they’re bonkers expensive in comparison to lower-resolution varieties.
That’s fine—it’s still one of the latest and greatest technologies, after all—but is a 4K gaming monitor worth the price, and do you have sufficiently powerful hardware to go with it? 🤔🖥️
In this article, we’ll break down the advantages and limitations of 4K gaming monitors to help you understand what you’re getting into. We’ve picked five of our favorite models from all over the price spectrum and answered some of your most pressing questions about 4K technology.
Top 4K Gaming Monitors
“True 4K” refers to one of two resolutions: either 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160, so called because it’s four times the pixel resolution of standard HD (1920 x 1080). True 4K displays shouldn’t be confused with 8K, QHD, or ultrawide displays. More on that later—all you need to know for now is that all of our top picks in this article are either 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160 displays.
One important thing to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a 4K monitor is that you’ll need a GPU roughly four times more powerful than what would be required to achieve your desired frame rate on a similarly sized 1080p display.
In other words, the additional cost of a 4K monitor also comes with extra costs for one of the best graphics cards for gaming (which could, in turn, necessitate a good gaming motherboard or CPU). Make sure you’ve budgeted for the whole package accordingly.
Best Choice: LG 43UD79-B
Pros & Cons
- Great for both working and gaming
- Enormous screen for a fantastic price
- Crisp image with excellent color depth
The LG 43UD79-B 42” 4K monitor was a pretty easy choice for the best gaming monitor. Given all that you get for the price, this one’s hard to beat.
- Built-in split screen control
- 4x HDMI and 1x USB-C inputs
- IPS technology for wide viewing angles
LG 43UD79-B Review
I’m writing this article on a 38” Samsung 21:9 ultrawide monitor that I bought for $700. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I don’t regret the purchase, but I probably would have gone with the LG 43UD79-B if I had known about it while I was shopping. It’s currently about $565 on Amazon and it’s an absolutely fantastic dual-purpose gaming/working monitor.
With 42” of screen space and a built-in split screen feature, writers and graphic designers will love being able to see a ton of stuff on a single display. It lacks DisplayPort inputs, which might be a minor bummer for some gamers, but as long as HDMI is good enough for you (it’s got four of those inputs), you’ll still find it to be a superb gaming monitor.
In terms of image sharpness and color depth, this isn’t the single best 4K monitor we’ve ever seen, but it’s near the top of the list, and it blows most comparable displays out of the water when it comes to price.
As a tradeoff, it has a response time and a refresh rate of “only” 5ms and 60Hz, respectively—but come on, that’s still good enough for most of us. Don’t pretend you notice the difference between 5ms and 1ms unless you’re a world-renowned MLG champion or something.
This monitor is quite heavy at 25 pounds, but we truly can’t find any other real faults with it. Our top three picks in our PC hardware buying guides are usually pretty close contenders, but we think this monitor is a clear winner for “best overall.”
Best Quality: Acer Predator X27
Pros & Cons
- HDR capability plus true 4K resolution equals stunning image quality
- No ghosting
- Convenient pre-set gaming display modes
- Screen size is a bit small for the price
The Acer Predator X27 may be quite a bit smaller than the LG43-UD79-B, but if frame rates and refresh rates are your top priorities, it might be the way to go (provided you can afford it).
- 4ms response time
- 144Hz refresh rate
- NVIDIA G-Sync technology
Acer Predator X27 Monitor Review
In a nutshell, HDR (high dynamic range) technology makes both the brightest and darkest areas of an image look better. IPS stands for in-plane switching; it’s a form of wizard magic that makes a computer monitor look good regardless of the horizontal angle it’s viewed from.
Combine both of these things with a 144Hz refresh rate and you’re in for a supreme gaming experience with the Acer Predator X27.
This is simply one of the best 4K monitors around when it comes to making your games look really, really pretty. Images are sharp, colors are deep and rich, and ghosting (duplicated or blurry images) should never be a problem.
There are a total of eight pre-set display modes to choose from, including “cinema,” “low-light” and “vivid” modes, all of which make their respective activities look great.
The Predator X27’s biggest drawback is its price, especially in relation to its small-ish 27” screen. The lowest price we found for a new model was $2,000, which is nearly four times the price of the LG-43UD79-B. Still, if the noticeable increase in gorgeousness is worth it to you, that’s not a bad deal.
Best Value: LG 27UK650-W
Pros & Cons
- sRGB 99% color gamut produces bright, vivid images
- Screen Split and Dual Controller features
- 5ms response time claim is somewhat misleading
- The stand is slightly flimsy
If you want a true 4K monitor for the lowest possible price—and if you’re okay with a bare-bones set of features—consider the super-affordable LG 27UK650-W 27” monitor.
- AMD FreeSync
- IPS display looks good from all angles
- HDR10 compatible
LG 27UK650-W Review
A real 4K monitor for $350 is certainly a tempting deal. LG’s great budget-friendly monitor 27UK650-W looks great with its rich colors and 178/178 viewing angle, it just doesn’t do much else. It does have a few extra productivity features like Screen Split and Dual Controller, but both are of questionable utility given the screen size.
If you think that’s ideal for you, check out the best 27-inch gaming monitor on the market.
The biggest thing to be aware of here is the 5ms response time, which allegedly isn’t actually 5ms, at least not consistently. Multiple reviewers report actual average response times closer to 14-15ms (we haven’t performed this test ourselves). If this claim is true, it could explain why the response time is conspicuously absent from the Amazon product page tech specs.
As long as that (potentially) slow response time doesn’t bother you, the 27UK650-W is otherwise a solid, no-frills 4K monitor at an unbeatable price.
Best Lighting: ViewSonic XG3220
Pros & Cons
- Killer price for what you get
- Built-in blue light filter is gentle on the eyes
- 3-year warranty
- MVA panel is inferior to IPS in terms of viewing angles/distortion
- May be prone to dead or stuck pixels
ViewSonic’s XG3220 32” 4K monitor is another excellent all-purpose 4K monitor on par with the LG 43UD79-B, they just specialize in different things.
- AMD FreeSync
- Dual integrated speakers
- 5ms response time, 60Hz refresh rate
ViewSonic XG3220 Review
A high-quality 32-inch gaming monitor for about $550 is already a pretty good deal, even if that’s the end of the features list. It seems to be geared toward gamers who also want to use it for work or reading; its 5ms response time is pretty respectable, but the 60Hz refresh rate may not be high enough for portions of the hardcore crowd.
Its most notable feature is a built-in blue light filter that can be switched on or off with a single button. Seriously, you should start using a blue light filter in your 20s, at least at nighttime. By the time you’re 40, your eyes will thank you.
This monitor comes with AMD FreeSync, which isn’t just for the best AMD GPUs anymore; in recent months it’s become increasingly compatible with consoles. Xbox One support is pretty consistent by now, although Sony’s position still amounts to a non-committal, “Maybe someday.”
There are two big things to watch out for with the ViewSonic XG3220: inferior viewing angles and a somewhat increased risk of dead or stuck pixels. ViewSonic’s decision to use MVA panels for this monitor is likely a cost-saving measure; it’s hard to keep a true 4K monitor under $600.
The screen looks pretty good within a range of about 80 degrees, but you certainly won’t get the nearly 180-degree experience you may have come to expect from IPS panels.
As for the dead/stuck pixel problem, it’s hard to say how widespread it really is, but we found at least 3-4 Amazon reviews complaining about it. Look on the bright side, though—the monitor comes with a stellar 3-year manufacturer warranty, so you if you do end up with some bad pixels, just ship it right back.
Best Cheap Pick: LG 24UD58-B
Pros & Cons
- One of the most affordable true 4K monitors out there
- NVIDIA FreeSync eliminates screen tearing (when used with NVIDIA GPUs)
- Robust 3-year warranty
- Simple and affordable, but lacks extra features
- No built-in speakers
- Infrequently updated drivers cause problems with some games
Decent 4K gaming monitors for less than $300 are hard (but not impossible) to find. The LG 24UD58-B 4K monitor would be a solid choice for image-conscious gamers on a budget. (We’ve put together a collection of some of the best budget gaming monitors over here if you’d like to browse some more options.)
- 5ms response time
- 60Hz refresh rate
- VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort input options
LG 24UD58-B Review
When a true 4K monitor costs less than $400, you’d expect it to kind of suck overall. LG 24UD58-B LED 4K monitor certainly isn’t a super-premium display, but it does a lot more than its modest price tag might suggest. For one thing, it’s FreeSync compatible (not many 4K monitors are).
FreeSync is a fancy extra for NVIDIA GPUs that basically amounts to enhanced V-Sync. It eliminates screen tearing regardless of your other graphical settings, and as far as we can tell, it does so consistently in most games.
This monitor doesn’t have many extra features, but it looks just as good as some that cost twice as much. (Image quality is the main reason you’re buying a 4K display, right?) Its static contrast ratio of 1000:1 isn’t top-tier, but we’d call it respectable. Another potential downside could be its 5ms response time—it’s not bad but it could be much better. Its refresh rate tops out at 60Hz, though, so don’t expect frame rates higher than that.
4K Gaming Monitor Buying Guide
Setting out to buy the best 4K gaming monitor without having done any research is like joining a Rainbow Six Siege match and deciding to go for a melee build: you won’t have a good time.
There’s an absolute butt-ton to know about 4K gaming monitors. Some engineers go to school for 6+ years to learn how to design and build them, after all. Fortunately, you don’t need to achieve that level of knowledge to make an informed buying decision.
In our short and sweet buying guide, we’ll cover the 101-level stuff: resolution, response time, refresh rate, HDR, contrast ratio, and color accuracy. If you know what those things are and how to evaluate them, you should be well-prepared to make a list and start narrowing it down to find the perfect 4K gaming monitor for your setup.
4K vs. Other Resolutions
It’s easy to buy the wrong monitor if you haven’t done your research ahead of time. There are a ton of different resolutions and aspect ratios competing for market share these days, many of which are quite similar to one another. Allow us to quickly break down the major players for you.
- 8K is the highest resolution you’re currently going to find outside of very niche (and ludicrously expensive) specialty products. 8K monitors are 7680 × 4320 pixels and they’re not cheap.
- True 4K and Ultra HD both describe one of two resolutions, either 3840 x 2160 or 4096 x 2160. Most (but not all) TVs and monitors for home use are 3840 x 2160, while 4096 x 2160 is typically found in movie theaters. There is little to no visible difference between the two.
- Ultrawide more precisely describes an aspect ratio rather than a resolution, which is 21:9 (16:9 is still the most common aspect ratio for most displays, including 4K displays). The best ultrawide gaming monitor displays are 3440 x 1440.
- Wide Quad HD or WQHD is 2560 x 1440 and shouldn’t be confused with “true” ultrawide. These are 16:9 displays. 16:10 2560 x 1600 displays are also sometimes referred to by this name.
- QHD, Quad HD or 2K all refer to resolutions of 2048 x 1080, which is twice as many pixels as standard HD.
- Standard HD is 1920 x 1080.
The above list is arranged from most expensive to least expensive, provided you’re comparing monitors of similar size that have similar features. As of 2020, 4K displays are in that nice “sub-premium” territory; they still count as fresh, new technology, but they’ve dropped considerably in price since ultra-premium 8K displays came out.
Given that graphics technology is advancing more slowly as time goes on, 4K displays should still look great 3-5 years into the future.
Whichever kind of monitor you decide to buy, double-check to make sure that it’s a good fit for the rest of your hardware. Any of the GPUs in our roundup of the best 1080 Ti cards would be excellent for 4K gaming.
Response time is a pretty simple concept; it describes how long it takes for the effects of a button press or mouse click to appear on your monitor. Response times of 5ms or less are considered pretty good for gaming, with 1ms being the current gold standard in 2020.
Although 10ms is considered a slowish response time for gaming, it’s a stretch to say that it’s unacceptable or constitutes a significant hindrance to your gameplay experience in most cases. If you’re really paying attention, you’ll probably notice the tiniest delay, but you likely won’t notice after a short adjustment period.
Monitors with response times longer than 10ms don’t exist in the 4K world, as far as we know. That combination of high-tech and low-tech would be kind of weird.
Simply put, your monitor’s refresh rate is the number of times per second that it can show you a distinct image. If you’re thinking, “That sounds like the same thing as frame rate,” you’re kinda-sorta-partially right; frame rate describes how many frames per second your GPU is drawing, whereas refresh rate is the number of frames per second that your monitor is capable of displaying. They are separate things, but they’re closely related.
The simplest way to conceptualize that relationship is to remember that your monitor’s refresh rate is the maximum upper limit of frames per second that you’re going to get. Even if your GPU is capable of drawing 100 frames per second, you’re only going to see 60 of them on a monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate. That’s admittedly an oversimplification, but for most gamers, it should be all you need to know.
If you’re not sure how to check your monitor refresh rate, we’ve got a quick and easy guide to help you out.
HDR, Contrast Ratio, and Color Accuracy
HDR stands for “high dynamic range.” It’s a new-ish technology that essentially makes images look better by doing hyper-fast Photoshop work on each individual frame. Any photographer will tell you that lighting is the bane of their profession, and game developers face similar challenges.
Dark areas are often too dark, and extra-bright areas can look washed out or just “wrong” somehow. HDR monitors do a pretty good job of correcting both problems in real time, resulting in a final image that’s more consistent in terms of your ability to make out fine details in dark and bright areas.
Contrast ratio is one of the most important things to look for when shopping for a new monitor. It’s a measure of how bright the brightest colors (whites) are in relation to the darkest colors (black).
A high contrast ratio makes any display look better because it makes all colors look more distinct from one another, which means you’ll be able to see more detail. A contrast ratio of around 3000:1 is considered pretty excellent, while anything under 1000:1 will probably look noticeably poor.
Color accuracy describes… well, how accurately colors are displayed on-screen. It’s usually presented to customers as a percentile, with 99% being widely recognized as excellent. Monitors with a “wide color gamut” are capable of displaying more distinct colors, but there’s a catch: A wide color gamut doesn’t necessarily mean higher overall image quality.
The same applies to every other bullet point on any monitor’s product page; no single criterion accounts for a monitor’s overall image quality. If you’re serious about getting the best possible image, look for a monitor with HDR, a high contrast ratio, and high color accuracy. Those three factors don’t account for everything, but you’ll be off to a good start by prioritizing them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions Google is fielding about 4K gaming monitors, along with our answers to them.
What Is a Good Refresh Rate for Gaming?
If you Google “can the human,” the search engine will helpfully suggest “can the human eye detect more than 60 frames per second?” It’s an old (and still highly controversial) question. The short answer is yes, but the long answer is really long. Suffice to say that you will notice a difference between 60 and 120 frames per second, but only in certain situations.
Basically, the faster things are moving on-screen, the more noticeable high frame rates become. During regular gameplay (in most games), a frame rate of 30 will look fairly similar to 60. Most of the time, that difference will be more noticeable than the difference between 60 frames and anything higher.
There’s a reason that a frame rate of 60 is the gold standard among gamers (or the bare minimum, for some). It looks really good, and above that, you start to get diminishing returns. A 60Hz gaming monitor is perfectly serviceable for most gamers; only the extra-picky will demand more. (We aren’t judging your preferences, extra-picky people. Your hobbies are valid.)
What Resolutions Are Best for Fast-Paced Games?
As objects move faster, they get more blurry in our vision. Whether we’re watching IRL or on a screen makes no difference in terms of the basic scientific principle. Cramming more pixels into an image is one way to show more detail and thus partially compensate for motion blur.
So, yes, there’s some validity to the claim that higher resolutions are better for games in which things move super-fast. The sky’s the limit, really. Moving objects in your game will always look better at higher resolutions, all other factors being equal.
What Inputs Are Best for Gaming Monitors?
DisplayPort and HDMI 2.1 are the current inputs of choice for 4K gaming. HDMI 1.4 supports 4K, but only up to 30 frames per second, which is fine for movies but no bueno for gaming. You can achieve true 4K with DVI cables, but it requires more than one of them and it’s a pain to get it to work right. VGA cables are not capable of transmitting 4K video signals, but who (other than your parents) still uses a VGA cable?
Which Brand of 4K Monitor Is Best?
Competition in the 4K monitor market is fierce. No one company dominates, and there’s a good reason for that. The question of which monitor is “best” is both highly contextual and not simple. The features you care most about will determine which monitor is best for you, and gamers often have very different priorities.
That being said, LG, Acer, ASUS, Samsung, and Dell are some of the biggest players in this industry. They all make a bunch of fantastic monitors as well as some that aren’t so great. This list is by no means exhaustive, either. Virtually every company has made both awesome and crappy monitors.
We know this answer sounds like a cop-out, but we promise it isn’t. There is simply no substitute for setting aside at least a few hours to do your own research based on your own priorities. No search engine algorithms or one-size-fits-all answers exist here.
How Much Does a 4K Monitor Cost?
The five monitors we’ve reviewed in this article cover the 4K price spectrum pretty well. You can find a 4K gaming monitor for anywhere from $350 to $2,000 or more. There are a ton of factors and features that determine a monitor’s price, so it can vary widely.
We’ve done our best to demystify the world of 4K gaming monitors for you. We love them for the same basic reason we love 1080 Ti video cards: the technology is still relatively new and more than powerful enough for most gamers’ needs, but they’ve come down considerably in price since they’re no longer the newest, hottest thing. Investing in a high-quality 4K gaming monitor in 2020 will future-proof your gaming setup for a good long while.
- David Nield, Everything You Need to Know About 4K Gaming, Gizmodo, June 14th, 2017