Can You Use a Regular Monitor for Gaming?


Regardless of whether you’re an avid gamer or a casual gamer/PC user a monitor is one of the most important parts of your system. You’ll want something that gives a good, clean image while not breaking the bank.

A regular monitor will typically work perfectly for casual gaming. Make sure it has a screen size of 23 inches, a maximum resolution of at least 1920×1080, a response time of a 4 milliseconds (ms), an input lag of no more than 15ms and has at least a 1000:1 contrast ratio. You can purchase monitors like this for close to $100.

This applies to casual PC gamers, an avid gamer will not be satisfied with a monitor of this kind since the input lag is too long and the response time is too slow for most FPS games.

Best Screen Size

How big can the monitor be without overpowering your senses? For an avid gamer the best screen size is generally agreed to be 23 inches, mostly so you don’t need to do a lot “head swiveling” to take in the entire scene, plus it’s large enough to make a game a lot more engaging than a screen smaller than 23 inches. For the casual gamer or PC user either a 23, 24, or 27-inch monitor should work just fine, with a few caveats concerning the 27-inch size if you’re a casual gamer.

Related Article: Looking for a monitor? Take a look at our monitor recommendations.

Curved Monitors

A 34-inch curved monitor at least deserves an honorable mention if you’re an avid gamer, but if you’re not using your PC exclusively for gaming, or don’t have an alternate monitor set-up, you won’t be satisfied with this kind of monitor. Like everything else in life curved monitors, especially the ultrawide versions, have their pros and cons when compared to flat screens.

A curved monitor wraps the action around you, meaning less head-swiveling during gameplay, and gives you a greater field of vision. Most of these have the same number of pixels as a 27-inch monitor that’s spread out over a wider area (measured in PPI), which gives a fuzzier image, but since you can sit farther away when gaming that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The fuzzier image will make it harder to read text, such as numbers in a spreadsheet, so that’s one drawback if you’re using your PC for other things besides gaming. Other negatives are that curved monitors are more prone to catching reflections and they have a narrower point of focus, meaning the image quality won’t be all that good if sitting off to one side of the screen, bad if you want to watch a YouTube video with someone else.

Screen Resolution

What exactly is screen resolution? Is it something like 1920×1080? Or something like1080p or 4K? Or is it measured in Pixels Per Inch (PPI)?

1080p (the p stands for progressive, drawn in sequence rather than interlaced) is the same as 1920×1080, or a screen that has 1,920 pixels drawn on the screen horizontally and 1,080 pixels up and down the screen vertically. 4k is usually (although not always) another way of saying 3,840 pixels (that’s where the term 4K comes from) horizontally and 2,160 pixels vertically. So, problem solved? The higher the number of pixels the better the quality of the image, right? Not necessarily. There are a lot of other factors, like contrast ratio, HDR (High Dynamic Range) performance, and the size of the screen itself, that affect image quality as well.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR can, and should be, of interest to you if the image quality is your primary concern although not a whole lot of games support it yet if you’re a gamer. HDR tries to display images as authentically as possible. Without going into a lot of technical detail HDR simply gives an image, or game, deeper color and more vibrance.

Once again, to keep it simple, most modern gaming graphics cards will support a monitor with HDR, making hardware a non-issue. Response times are good, with the TN (twisted-nematic) technology providing the best response times that are as low as 1ms. There still is not a lot of HDR gaming support, so unless “future proofing” it isn’t worth the investment if it drives up the cost of the monitor too much.

Contrast Ratio

At least contrast ratio is simpler than HDR. The better the contrast ratio the “deeper” the blacks which gives a better image. A contrast ratio of about 1000:1 is the minimum you would want to have as a casual gamer or PC user but the higher the ratio the better. Most modern monitors easily meet this spec of 1000:1 so it shouldn’t be anything to worry about either.

PPI

PPI is the number of pixels that are packed into one inch of the screen. The higher the PPI the better the resolution will be. PPI is a great way to “standardize” ratings between monitors. PPI will vary according to the screen size and maximum resolution of the monitor. For example, a 23-inch monitor and a 27-inch monitor that both have a maximum resolution of 1920×1080 will have different PPIs, the 23-inch will have about 96 PPI and a 27-inch will have around 82 PPI, so image quality will be better on the smaller screen.

What’s an acceptable PPI? One major influencer is how close you sit to your monitor. If you sit within typing distance of your keyboard, which for me is about 2 feet from a 28-inch monitor, the 82 PPI doesn’t look too bad for normal applications but for gaming it’s terrible, even if I move back to 3 feet. The general consensus is, especially those who like to game on a PC, that a monitor should have a 95 PPI minimum, regardless of screen size or maximum resolution. There is a good PPI calculator at this website if you’re interested in coming up with your own figures, or you can refer to the table below for some popular screen sizes and resolutions. https://www.omnicalculator.com/other/pixels-per-inch

Popular Screen Sizes, Resolutions and PPI

Screen Size (Inches)Maximum ResolutionPPI
231920×108096
241920×108092
242560×1440122
271920×108082
272560×1440109
321920×108069
322560×144092
342560×144086
343440×1440110

Response Time

Response times and input lag (there is a difference between the two) are important. At its most basic definition response time is a measure of how fast the monitor screen pixels can change from one color to another. Faster, or the lower the number, is always better. For avid gamers a response time of 1ms is optimal. For a casual gamer/PC user 4ms works well but you can get by with 8ms if you need to. You will have a slower speed but better image quality.

Input Lag

Input lag is another important factor, especially for FPS games, and most monitor manufacturers don’t even include that in their list of specifications. Input lag measures the time it takes the monitor to respond to inputs, like a keyboard stroke or mouse click. A high lag time will drive you crazy and lead to poor performance in an action game, although, once again, that’s not as important for a casual gamer playing strategy games, or the average PC user.

There are a lot of sites on the Internet that measure input lag and you will probably need to visit more than one to find the particular model you’re interested in. Most sites recommend an input lag time of 15 milliseconds (ms) or less.

Usually 15ms or less is fine for just about any game that isn’t graphics intense, like an FPS game. It’s not all that important for a casual gamer or average PC user. That’s because response time isn’t crucial in the types of application and games they use or play; in other words, they are not relying on the screen to quickly update to reactions during a game. Almost any monitor will have a more than adequate lag time for everyone but the most extreme gamer.

Screen Size

There is some subjectivity involved when it comes to 27-inch monitors for gaming with a lot of gamers saying they’re either too big unless you sit far enough away from them, or the text is too small because you have to sit so far away. Both are very valid arguments. On a 27-inch monitor I must be no farther than 18 inches away to read the text in a Stellaris game, which has a lot of text in it. With resolution set to 3480X2160, unless I use the UI scaling that’s built into this game, which is an exception as games go, the UI is mostly unreadable. More on UI scaling later in this article.

Refresh Rate

Refresh rate is a measure of how often the monitor updates the images it’s displaying per second, higher is better. A high refresh rate essentially provides a smooth picture from frame-to-frame. For a casual gamer/PC user this is a relatively unimportant factor since any modern monitor nowadays has a 60 Hertz refresh rate, which is well suited for checking out the internet, using an Excel spreadsheet and causal gaming. If your image appears jerky, it’s most likely due to a slow refresh rate, most noticeable if you’re doing intense gaming. You will probably want a higher rate for a larger, curved monitor, plus higher rates will give you better images on a bigger screen. Check your PC or graphics card first though, you may need a hardware update in order to drive that new monitor at that 240 hertz refresh rate you’ve always wanted.

UI Scaling

UI scaling makes the user interface in a game larger and is a separate setting inside the game itself. Currently not very many games support 4K graphics, and playing a game on a big 4K monitor may not be the best experience without some adjustments. For example, any text-based game messages might be too small to read, depending on the game. Some games, like Stellaris, are experimenting with UI scaling, which helps readability dramatically. If you can find a game having this feature, then by all means take that into consideration when thinking about buying it. The ability to enlarge text-based messages, names, menu items and other User Interface features makes the gaming experience that much better on a big screen.

Conclusion

Did I follow the advice in this article when I bought my newest monitor? Sort of. I wanted a large monitor, so I purchased one with a 28-inch screen. The specs are contrast ratio of 1000:1, response time of 1ms, input lag of 15ms, and a maximum screen resolution of 3840×2160, for a DPI of 146. Not a top of the line model but not a budget breaker either.

I have a triple monitor set-up, and although this is a little off topic, I do have one major complaint about my new set-up. I use the 28-inch monitor as my central one with a 23-inch monitor on each side of it. Due to the higher resolution setting I like to keep the 28-inch monitor at, and because of the larger screen size and lower resolutions I keep the 23-inch monitors set at, I am constantly losing track of my cursor as it traverses from one screen to another, and that’s when it doesn’t act like its bumping into a wall. Frustrating to say the least, something to keep in mind if you want a multiple monitor set-up.

So, yes, a regular monitor can be used for gaming. For a solution that’s both of good quality and one that won’t bust a budget, I’d take a serious look as a 23-inch monitor with a maximum resolution of 1920×1080. These can be as cheap as $100.

One final thing, and I know you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway. When I was out looking for my last monitor, I did my research, but I didn’t trust any site completely. After researching I went to stores and compared the models I had researched side-by-side, noted any new ones where I thought the image was good and researched those too, all while still paying attention my price range (okay, I may have raised the limit a little while looking), before I made my purchase. There’s nothing better than checking things out yourself!

Hey, maybe you need a new PC or Laptop to go with that new monitor! Following our links will take you to our recommendations pages for those products (the PC recommendation is not for the faint hearted…).

Rich Gallien

I've always liked board games like chess and PC games, especially space based strategy games, which lead to the creation of this site. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it and updating it with new games!

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