Whether you’re an avid PC gamer, a casual online shopper, or someone who stares at a monitor for eight hours a day for work, most of us spend so much time looking at digital screens every day. A lot of people are aware of what features they want when shopping for a new smartphone, TV, computer, or monitor – how thin it is, how the colors look, the display resolution, if it’s curved. However, if there was something I always ignored when looking for new notebooks or monitors, it’s the LCD panel type.
There are so many other specifications to look at when it comes to purchasing a monitor – or anything with a screen, really. Does it really matter what panel technology it has?
How different would the gameplay be between these competitors if the monitors had different panel technologies, but the same specifications otherwise?
To put in perspective, I was shopping for a gaming Monitor last week for a birthday present. I knew for certain I needed something with at least a 144Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time. As the data specialist for the PC Monitor category here at gap intelligence, it was very easy for me to navigate through our database of monitors to see which ones had those specifications, in addition to where they were sold and how much they were sold for.
I already knew to check for which of these bad boys also had AMD FreeSync after writing my last blog, but this time I had a new dilemma: should I even look at the panel technology or should I just start looking at prices?
This screenshot was taken from our PC Monitors weekly Pricing & Promotions Report, for the week of April 22, 2018.
What are panel types, and do they actually matter?
The majority of monitors out there in the market today have a TFT-LCD display (which stands for “thin film transistor liquid crystal display,” if you ever wanted to know). The LCD panel type can improve or restrict other specifications of a monitor, including responsiveness and color accuracy. There are three common types of LCD display panels: IPS, VA, and TN.* The display panel type alone can make or break a purchase for some shoppers.
If you’re looking at a range of specifications, or if you plan to use your monitor for a specific purpose like gaming, streaming, or graphics design, it may be worth your while to check out what panel types would benefit your hobby.
TN (Twisted Nematic)
- More affordable
- Better response rates
- Higher refresh rates
- Poor color reproduction and contrast
- Restricted viewing angles
TN panel types don’t tend to be advertised as often as IPS and VA panels. Both Brent Hale of TechGuided and Adam Simmons of PCMonitors.info mention that if a manufacturer doesn’t specify what panel type a monitor has, you can safely assume it is TN. Also, here's a fun fact: the only 240Hz monitors in the market have a TN panel.
VA (Vertical Alignment)
- Prevents backlight bleeding
- Better colors and contrast (e.g. black colors appear as black colors, rather than gray)
- Better viewing angles
- Poor response times (arguably the worst of all three)
- Less affordable than TN
VA panels tend to be the “jack of all trades” panel, as Michael Kerns from Gamers Nexus puts it; they tend to be the middle ground between TN and VA panels when it comes to image quality and overall performance.
IPS (In-Plane Switching)
- Best viewing angles
- Superior color accuracy and consistency
- Higher resolutions
- Tend to be more expensive
- Poor response times
- Contrast not as good as VA (e.g. black colors may appear more gray)
- Higher power consumption
If you’re going for a higher resolution, IPS panels may be your best bet, as it’s going to be pretty expensive anyway. In fact, according to gap intelligence's great freakin’ database, 5K and 8K monitors in the market all have IPS panels (as of April 24, 2018).
So what should you get?
Similarly to what I said in my blog on adaptive sync technology, the “best” panel type for you really depends on how you use monitors in your day to day life. What’s best for you will ultimately depend on other preferences like refresh rate, resolution, and whether it’s curved or not.
Keep in mind these are just recommendations I have based purely on panel technology. These pros and cons are general as well, e.g. there are some VA panel monitors out there with a 1ms response rate, even though TN panels are touted as having the best response rate of the three.
Casual use: TN. If you’re someone who just needs a functioning monitor and doesn’t care about having the best visuals out there, then a TN monitor would be your go-to. They tend to be more affordable than the other two panels. However, if you don’t mind paying a little more for better colors (e.g. if you occasionally stream or game), a VA panel will work.
Gamers who prefer accurate clicks to visuals (e.g. for competitive multiplayer games like League of Legends): TN. This panel is the best at reducing input lag and isn’t as pricy as other panels with the same response time.
Gamers who prefer better visuals to overall performance (e.g. for single-player games with like Skyrim): IPS. While both VA and IPS panels trounce TN in the visuals department, IPS monitors tend to have better response times in general than VA monitors. (Input lag in a video game bothers me far more than a subpar color contrast, personally.)
For movies and general streaming: VA. You can forego response time for much better colors. Backlight bleeding can also be painfully distracting while streaming, and VA panels tend to handle that better than the others.
For graphics design, image- and video-editing: VA or IPS. While VA panels offer superior color contrast, IPS panels are much better with viewing angles. Your choice here depends on if you need to see the same color accuracy at various angles versus just one.
So what did I get?
You must be dying to know what monitor I bought for my friend afterall. Well, here it is: I purchased a VA panel monitor. I was looking for a 27” 1080p gaming monitor with a 1ms response time and 144Hz refresh rate for good performance. There were no IPS monitors with those specifications, but I still wanted some good colors, so I the paid extra bucks for a VA panel over a TN monitor with those exact specs.
I hope my blurb here helps you the next time you need to look for a new monitor too!
*There are even more panel types when you break these ones down. For example, the AH-IPS and PLS panels are variations of the IPS panel. You can read more about sub panel types here.
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