Guide: The Best Gaming Monitors On A Budget

The version with the perpendicular panel costs more...

You say jump. My only question is how high? Last time around we dissected the state of play in PC monitors. But there was a problem. Some of you are skinflints. Or just, you know, normal people who may not have £400/$500-plus to blow on acres of liquid crystal magnificence. Either way, if that’s you then this is your post. I bring you profound insights into the more prosaic end of the flat-panel market. Yup, I’ve been slumming it with cheap screens. So, join me on the other side for a deep dive into the maths of colour depth. And some other stuff.

The first problem with budget screens is the sheer, giddy choice available. Using cheap 22-inch IPS panels as an example, at a rough estimate each of the major monitor manufacturers offers roughly eleventy-nine seemingly identical but presumably subtly different models.

Now, I’ve seen a fair few of these over the years. But there’s zero chance of me Mark 1 Eyeballing a plurality much less the majority of what’s on offer. Still, the 22-inch 1080p thing is probably where it’s at as an entry level option. So here goes.

Philips’ sub-£100 IPS wonder
A rather flattering photo of the Philips…

Our muse is the Philips 227E6QDSD, kindly provided by, well, Philips. The cheapest I can find it in the UK is about £90, or about the cost of a mediocre meal and a medium-sized hangover. Remarkable.

I can’t find this precise model on sale in the US, but call it roughly $120. Not bad for a big brand monitor with a full HD 1080p pixel grid and – drum roll, please – an IPS panel. (If you’re already feeling confused by jargon, I recently explained the differences between panel types such as IPS and TN here).

Cheap IPS panels are not anything new, of course. Every sweat-shop produced $50 tablet worthy of the name now has an IPS panel. However, it’s worth noting that there is IPS and then there is IPS.

That 6-bit thing
The cheap ones sport 6-bit per channel colour fidelity as opposed to the minimum 8-bit per colour channel of pricier IPS efforts. The colour channels in question are RGB or red, green and blue and the bit count represents what you might call the number of intensities that can be achieved by each channel.

In other words, each pixel on your screen is made up of three subpixels – one red, one green and one blue. It’s by varying the intensity of each subpixel that a full palette of colours is created. Turn all three full off and you get black, all full on and you get white. Mix ’em up and you get the proverbial rainbow.

Anyway, if you care deeply about the maths, 6-bit refers to six bits of binary data or two to the power of six and thus 64 intensities per colour channel. Got that? Of course, there are three channels, so that’s 64 times 64 times 64, which comes to…262,144 colours.

Some subpixels I made earlier

That sounds a lot until you do the same maths for 8 bits per channel and come up with just under 16.8 million colours, which really is a lot. Now, if you have normal vision, your eye (yes, yours!) can tell the difference, between 262,000 and 16.8 million colours, believe it or not. So makers of cheap monitors came up with a clever kludge years ago.

It’s called dithering and the idea is to rapidly oscillate pixels between two similar but not identical colour states. Do this fast enough and your eye will, in simple terms, observe an intermediate colour that the 6-bit pixel cannot achieve in a steady state. And so this, ladies and germs, is how you end up with 6-bit screens that claim to produce the 16.8 million colours of an 8-bit screen.

It’s also why if you look really closely at a gradient test image on a cheap screen, you may well see the pixels ‘fizzing’ away as they zap back and forth between colour states.

A photo of a screen shown on your screen that’s meant to reveal banding. Yes, all a bit convoluted…

Whatever, the bottom line is that dithering works, but only up to a point, which is why you can also often seen visible banding in gradients on cheap screens. The panel is failing to truly render those millions of colours and your eye is picking up on the crude and relatively abrupt changes or steps in colour across the gradient.

Sorry, I mentioned that Philips panel…
With all that in mind, I can confirm the Philips 227E6QDSD claims 16 million colours but has both fizzing and banding. I don’t even need to look at the specs, it’s clearly a 6-bit panel. But does that matter?

Not especially, which has me wondering why I bothered to explain all that. But hang with me for a moment. In the plus column, the Philips delivers much better viewing angles than any TN screen and decently vibrant colours. Black levels and contrast are tolerable, too, if not as good as the latest pricey IPS screens, much less a really good VA panel.

The Philips 227E6QDSD in its natural environment…

Overall, it’s not a particularly punchy panel, but it is fairly pleasant and scores points for being well calibrated from the factory. Both the white and black scales are nicely executed, which basically means you’ll see good detail in both dark and bright scenes in games and movies.

The chassis is, inevitably, a tilt-only affair and about as shonky as you’d expect for £90. Catflap. Tornado. Etc. But here’s the thing, most of the downsides don’t matter in-game. The colours are pretty nice, it’s responsive (including multiple levels of pixel overdrive if you fancy tuning that aspect) and with a small screen like this, arguably you simply sit a bit closer and it fills the same field of view as a larger panel.

Tilt-only stand and a chassis apparently made from pressed plastic sweepings…

It’s not the brightest or cleanest of panels. Pure whites render with a slightly yellowish tinge. Of course, with 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, there’s the question of sharpness and detail, too. But 1080p still provides a decent amount of detail and the relative compactness of the panel means the pixel pitch is pretty tight and the image decently crisp.

This is what cheap IPS looks like. Courtesy of a smartphone picture. Re-rendered on whatever panel you happen to be using. Er…

Where you’ll really miss a higher resolution is back on the desktop where 1,920 by 1,080 feels awfully cramped if you’re used to 2.5k or 4K ubertrons.

However, overall, I doubt the Philips will disappoint. If £100/$120 was my limit, I’d be pretty chuffed at the kind of gaming fidelity it’ll get you these days. This is not exactly news. But it is good.

An interesting option from Viewsonic
A proper gaming panel?

If that’s the generic cheapo option, what if you can stretch a little higher, perhaps to £200/$275? Again, the choice is pretty suffocating, but I reckon the Viewsonic VG2401mh is an interesting example of something very gaming centric at vaguely that price point.

The cheapest I can find it right now is £228. Again, I don’t seem to be able to find a representative price in the US.

The headlines numbers here are 24 inches and 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. The interesting bit is the combination of a TN panel and 144Hz refresh support (the benefits of high refresh rates are explained here). It also has features like a ‘low input lag’ mode and from head to toe it’s aimed at gamers.

A proper stand. Yay

In that regard, it immediately feels well worth the extra over the Philips. It has a lovely fully adjustable chassis. It looks and feels a quality item, especially for the money.

The catch is that there’s no mistaking the TN panel as soon as you spool it up. The viewing angles, contrast and vibrancy are all clearly off the pace of even a cheap IPS panel. But both the consistency and the quality of the backlight hammers the Philips.

Eugh. Them viewing angles is ugly

And then there’s the 144Hz thing. We’ve been here on many occasions before, but it really is a lovely feature and one you can really make the most of thanks to the modest 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. Even a mid-market graphics card can achieve 100-plus frames per second in a lot of games running at that resolution.

Pulling the 144Hz trigger…

I’d go so far to say that if you’ve got a game running at 100fps-plus, you won’t miss frame-syncing techs like G-Sync or Freesync. You’ll just be enjoying the super smoothness.

VA panel above, the TN Viewsonic below – you can see the better black depth from the VA panel, please tell me you can see it!

The big question for me is whether I’d take this Viewsonic VG2401mh and its mediocre TN colours and viewing angles or choose that £275 / $375 BenQ GW2765HT from last week with its gorgeous but 60Hz-limited IPS panel and improved pixel count.

Is TN really that terrible?

For gaming, I’d take the Viewsonic. For everything else, the BenQ. If I had to pick one of them to do everything, I genuinely don’t know which I’d go for. It’s a real toughie.

The Viewsonic’s low-lag mode disables some other features

While we might not have one overwhelming victor this time, hopefully all this at least gives those of you in the cheaper seats something to think about for your next monitor purchase. Good luck.

58 Comments

  1. Dorga says:

    Thanks Jeremy!
    I just got a 150€ 22″ viewsonic, it’s pretty basic, but I also bought a new pc and i couldn’t cough up any more money.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Nathan says:

    I do love photos of screens on my screen :D Almost guaranteed to be representative.

    • snowgim says:

      I also love the images companies use on the product pages for monitors where they’ve clearly just added a photoshop filter to make it look worse for the monitor without ‘that’ feature. Though I guess that’s equally representative.

  3. TimRobbins says:

    I realize this is an article about monitors, so my point is moot, but is there are particular reason people use them to game on? I’ve been PC gaming on TVs for years now, which offer huge displays at a fraction of the cost of monitors, and frequently have comparable features.

    • melnificent says:

      Response rate and input lag are usually a fraction of tvs… even in game mode.

      My TV runs between 40 and 80ms of input lag depending on the mode. My monitor is within 10ms. It’s a world of difference.

      • TimRobbins says:

        Good point. My plasma in game mode runs at about 25ms input lag, which isn’t noticeable by me, but I don’t play anything that requires twitch reflexes. I can see how that might be unacceptable for people who play competitive shooters and the like.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          That’s not too bad when it comes to input lag.

          Sure, it’s not perfect but more than doable, and besides it can be limited even further if you disable all the weird “image enhancements” which are so popular on TV sets. Unless you already did, off course.

          That kind of fluff never does anything good anyway, if it doesn’t add artifacts it compress the dynamic range, and adds processing time which translates to input lag.

        • Timbrelaine says:

          You’re very lucky to have a plasma. LCD TV screens generally (though not always!) have worse input lag and motion blur than monitors, sometimes greatly so. High/variable refresh rates are also harder to find. And LCDs with good contrast ratios are expensive– not important for every game, maybe, but horror, stealth, and space games with lots of black really suffer from poor contrast.

    • waltC says:

      TVs top out at 1920x1080P and I want 2560x1600P (minimum)–which means a TV won’t do what I want. I also find the sweet spot for me is 28″-30″ in size, because when I sit in my desk chair the monitor fills my field of view when my eyes are level with the middle of the monitor and 18″-24″ away. I prefer sitting in a comfy chair to “lounging” on a sofa and looking at a large-screen TV several feet away. I like the TV for movies–BluRay, streaming, etc.–but not for computer work and games, and I separate the two entirely–TV in one room, computer in another. That arrangement has a lot of advantages, like for instance when the wife watches her TV I can use my computer at the same time–& vice-versa.

      If you use a monitor the way I use it as described here, viewing angles aren’t a problem with TN monitors at all–because you are always directly in front of the monitor. I’ve compared both TN & IPS and find that the IPS is way overrated IF you use monitors the way I do–again, viewing angles are only a problem with TN if you are not actually in front of the monitor but are off to the side or looking down/up at the screen, etc.

      I like the increased pixel resolution of a monitor over a TV and the superior dot pitch a higher-than-1080P (“Ultra HD”, etc.) monitor will have. It’s just a personal preference. When I can get everything I want in an IPS and it costs about the same as a TN, then I’ll be buying an IPS…;)

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        TN is serviceable when viewed head on, but it’s undeniably flawed in the corners no matter your position.

        link to lagom.nl

        This page should appear like a uniform color if you don’t have any viewing angle issues. Perfectly uniform with no flaws.

        Perfection would be that the LAGOM writing completely disappears everywhere, which means perfect gamma settings.

      • Bagpuss says:

        You must only have come across a limited selection of TVs then.

        My brand new gaming screen is an LG 55UF860V, I’ve had it since Tuesday.

        It’s has most gorgeous picture I’ve ever seen and cleans the clock of every monitor I’ve personally come across.. It’s a UHD IPS (but also does real 4K (4096)), hybrid Quantum Dot (Colour Prime) and gives me YCbCr 4:4:4 through 4k @ 60Hz (tested and confirmed), there isn’t one dead pixel, has ZERO banding and despite expecting it has no edge colour gradient difference usually caused by bleed, which it doesn’t have either and I’ve noticed no motion blur despite the aspersions cast, in reviews and opinions, by people who have never seen it. The only thing it’s not top on would probably be input lag, but I don’t notice any of that either considering that I don’t twitch game.

        55 inches of pure visual orgasm.

        Not all TVs are worthy of your scourn, or your limited experience.

      • frenchy2k1 says:

        I’ve been using 32″ LCD TVs as monitor for 7+ years now.
        Just bought a new Vizio for that recently.
        Sure, it is only 1080p for now as it is nigh impossible to find a 4k 32″ TV, but you can be sure they will come. At that time, I’ll upgrade my screen.
        For now, for ~$250, I get a 32″ IPS or VA screen with 1080p resolution and 60Hz refresh. Luminosity, contrast and color rendition are good and screen estate is great. I just select my computer desks appropriately.
        On top of the monitor functions, I can use tuner and smart TV and recycle it later as a second TV in a bedroom.

    • Wulfram says:

      At the cheaper end of the market they’re mostly just a bit cheaper than TVs because they don’t have speakers, tuners and so forth.

  4. RuySan says:

    Not enough! us cheapskates need more options!

    What about a 22′ ips under 200 with a nice rotational stand?

    • El_MUERkO says:

      you could try a korean import, they’re cheap but have a higher chance of dead pixels

    • Alamech says:

      I’ve been pretty happy with the LG IPS235P-BN (that’s 23″ though), I’ve had it for two years now and it’s all I had hoped for. The stand is also very stable and flexible. Goes out for ~150€ at the moment.

    • neotribe says:

      Buy a refurbed HP ZR24W or 2400W.

    • minkiii says:

      Hi RuySan, I went with an Asus VS229H-P 21.5″ IPS. Really happy with it, great horizontal viewing angles, not shiny, and works decent even in a really overlit room. Ordered mine from the US amazon, it’s a bit of risk if it needs sending back, but mine was fine and I think it came to about £130 overall including import fees (way cheaper than what is sold on the UK site).

    • iainl says:

      I paid £199 for my Dell U2414H from ebuyer. 24″ rather than 22″, IPS, it rotates for Ikaruga etc. and it came properly calibrated from the factory. Worth every penny just for the peace of mind, and looks great.

  5. Rizlar says:

    Someone’s using adblock.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Cooper says:

    I managed to get my hands on one of those not-A*-grade Apple 1440p screens that were being imported a couple of years agho (I think Alec covered them).

    I’m doing my best to keep it in good condition, as I can’t see myself ever being able to afford anything anywhere near as good any time soon.

    I’m most glad that the power supply is a seperate brick, given super cheap capacitors etc. are the likely thing to go first…

    • brucethemoose says:

      Don’t worry so much. My Korean 1440p monitor has been going strong since February 2012, I’ve moved it around a bunch, and it’s been running overclocked at 110hz most of that time… As far as I know, I’m the first person on the English speaking Internet to get one:

      http://www.overclock.net/t/1215866/reviewed-400-2560×1440-ips-no-ag-90hz-achieva-shimian-qh270-and-catleap-q270

      And yes, my sample size of 1 means this monitor is 100% reliable!

      • Jannn says:

        Well I want to buy exactly one, so I’ve been looking for tests with sample size one like yours. Otherwise it wouldn’t be representative for my situation of course. Thanks :)

      • RicoXIII says:

        Uh that looks interesting!
        Mind telling where you got yours?

    • brucethemoose says:

      Also, FYI these are still some of the best monitors on the market. IPS/VA, 1440p, and 96hz+ for $300 is impossible to beat today.

  7. fantodant says:

    I myself split the difference and got a 2560×1080 IPS panel – a Samsung 25um56-P. Looks pretty fantastic so far, and was $160 during a relatively frequent Newegg sale. Was a huge pain to get working on my hackintosh, though!

  8. solro says:

    I like my ASUS MX279H, glorious 27″ wide IPS monitor for about $250.

    Also the built-in speakers are really nice for when I don’t feel like using headphones.

  9. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    Bear in mind that gradients still appear in “normal” 8 bit screens that use an 8 bit look up table, for that to disappear a higher bitrate one is needed for processing duties even if the panel itself still can only display 16.8 million colors.

    Good monitors do that, professional ones go up to 14-16 instead, but 10 is fine and anything higher is mostly useful for hardware calibration. Most good quality IPS screens have the 10 bit version.

    One example of an 8 bit LUT messing things up is the software one provided by Nvidia, touch the gamma settings or anything else a little and BAM, gradients appear. Also happens with software calibration in general, that’s one of the reasons a high quality hardware one is preferred.

    Sadly most screens are absolutely off when it comes to gamma, color temperature and so on, often trying to correct them is an exercise in trying to make the most out of a messy situation while limiting the troubles. Sure, if one is shopping for something cheap i guess he/she will cope, but it’s still good to know.

    • carewolf says:

      I think you mean banding and not gradients. Gradients are smooth transitions between colors, banding is the negative effect of too few color, and most noticible in gradients because you can tell when they are not smooth or linear.

  10. Gopheur says:

    link to newegg.com

    The only downside is it that it uses Pulse Width Modulation to dim the screen. It makes me sick, so I have to have the brightness up all the way. It doesn’t happen to everyone though. Pretty sweet display otherwise.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      But have you tried that model in particular?

      I’m asking because i hate PWM aswell, but some of the faster frequency ones do a stellar job with it. The worst are those that came before the issue became mainstream.

      Hipster monitors.

      • Gopheur says:

        Yeah. That’s the one I have now. Pretty sure it’s fairly old, so it probably was before people knew the deal with PWM. Still, for 150 bucks on sale, I can live without being able to dim it.

  11. E_FD says:

    I hope this doesn’t sound like shameless shilling, but I bought an Acer G257HU a couple months back, and I think it’s a great value purchase. 25 inches, 1440p, IPS panel, for $250. Compares very favorably to the monitors featured in this article, IMO.

  12. The Pink Ninja says:

    Okay guys, had this 17″ monitor for 6 years, looking to upgrade:

    This one:

    link to amazon.co.uk

    Or this one:

    link to amazon.co.uk

    Or something else of similar size and price?

    Is the slightly more expensive one worth the extra expense?

    Sound isn’t an issue, I’ve got good speakers that connect directly to the PC.

  13. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Thank you, Jeremy!

    :D

  14. Biscuitry says:

    Based on the experiences of others, I am forced to conclude that I have poor visual acuity. I can’t tell the difference between 30 and 60 fps, and resolutions above 1920×1080 are wasted on me. This is not a good thing.

    It does, however, have a silver lining. It means I can get away with a cheap display and graphics card, and not miss out on any part of the experience I would otherwise have been having.

    This post is also for people like me.

    • oceanclub says:

      “30 and 60 fps, and resolutions above 1920×1080 are wasted on me”

      I definitely notice the difference between 30 & 60. However, higher resolutions are a bit wasted on me on smaller monitors anyway.

      On my wife’s Surface Pro, the high resolution is actually a negative as text is tiny (scaling causes issues in some apps) unless you set the resolution to non-native, beating the point of having a high-res screen in the first place.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Not quite sure what FPS have to do with visual acuity in particular, but then again i’m not there to rain on your parade if you’re happy with it, afterall you can save a lot of money.

      To be really nitpicky not even resolution has a bearing on visual acuity, because it depends on the panel size, but i guess you’re talking about the usual 90-100 dots per inch. I’m saying this because you might love some of those 1440p 32 inchers that are floating around which have more or less the same density as a 24 inch 1080p one.

  15. oceanclub says:

    In the market for a new monitor and thinking of getting the Dell u2515h. Seems to have great colour rendition but still fast enough for gaming (I’m long past the point where i worry I may not be l33t enough online).

    P.

    • pepperfez says:

      I’m intrigued by that one, but I’m afraid of the tininess caused by such a high resolution on a relatively small screen.

  16. Little_Crow says:

    I’ve always felt peripherals are where it can be worth spending a chunk of money as they are more future proof than other components.
    I bought a 24″ NEC 24WMGX3 over 5 years ago and it’s still going strong. But at the time 1920×1200 was about as high a resolution as a single graphics card could support.

    For an ‘enthusiast’, now is a tough time to upgrade. I think 60fps@2560×1440 is almost within grasp of a single ~£300 graphics card, but not quite yet. I had this dilemma building a new PC this summer – in the end I decided to stick with my NEC old faithful and spend less on the graphics card.
    I’ll get 2 years out a of a graphics card before it struggles with the games I want to play, so better to make do for a year or 2, let single graphics cards catch up with monitor resolutions and splurge then.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      1440p is already the new 1080p for high end cards, but for the mid end I’d say 2016 is when we can start considering it the right time, Nvidia’s Pascal seems like a huge jump this time around.

      Not much sure about the AMD part of the equation but i think they’ll catch up at a later date, but hopefully still in 2016.

    • Little_Crow says:

      I have a GTX970 right now, I think it can handle 1440p with some quality settings turned down but future games may be a problem, plus adding a decent monitor was more than I wanted to spend.

      The price of my NEC has worked out to about £70 a year for the 7 years I’ve had it, and it’s done a sterling service. But if I go 1440p it’ll still find service as monitor for my second machine – the huge upside being that it has built in speakers so I can get rid of the USB set I have and giving me room for the 1440p behemoth in the first place!

  17. pepperfez says:

    £90, or about the cost of a mediocre meal and a medium-sized hangover

    TIL that Jeremy Laird is an epicurean and/or alcoholic.

  18. Bobtree says:

    I did a ton of research last year and bought my first LCD monitor, a BenQ GL2460HM. It was the best fit for my requirements on the cheap end (and frequently $130 on sale), intended to hold me over until the serious high refresh IPS 2015 gaming models came out. For the price it’s pretty good, essentially the same as BenQ’s low-end gaming models, minus the marketing.

    The specs: 8-bit color, 24″, 1080p, 60hz, 2ms, 3 inputs (D-Sub, DVI, HDMI), speakers, flicker-free (no PWM), 3 year warranty, model year 2014.

  19. Bugamn says:

    I can see the deeper black in RPS’s soul!

  20. HigoChumbo says:

    I insist that my Iiyama xb2483hsu-b1 was a hell of a purchase for around 170€.

    Couldn’t find a single IPS (and definatelly not one TN) pannel which would beat it for that price.

  21. PegasusOrgans says:

    No mention of Qnix you can get for a crazy price on Ebay? For shame!

  22. Apocalypse says:

    All I want to say on that topic is: Give me 100+ FPS or death. It really is that much better on fast paced games. LCD displays just made some of us forgetting this, well and others seem to be too young to remember 100hz crts.

  23. Dozer says:

    Well, Jeremy, for the price of about a month’s worth of supermarket meal deal lunches, I have two million IPS pixels in front of me now. As well as the one million TFT pixels built into the laptop. First impressions: this is rather nice.

  24. Strategist says:

    Bought the one from Viewsonic a few ways back and its really great.