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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The best high refresh rate monitors in 2023

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Once you’ve tried one of the best high refresh rate gaming monitors you’ll never go back. That’s not to say you absolutely, positively have to be playing on a 360Hz gaming monitor, no matter if you’re playing CS:GO or Football Manager, but as soon as you make the step up from 60Hz you will 100% notice the difference it can make.

If you are a serious competitive gamer, however, you will want to pick a higher refresh, almost to the exclusion of all else. And if you really want to make the most of a 360Hz panel you’re likely to need to pair it to a 1080p resolution unless you’ve got the most powerful graphics card known to humankind. If you can hit 360 fps with a 360Hz monitor that’s the ideal, and will offer an experience that’s akin to looking through a pane of glass at your gaming world.

But the majority of the screens on this list are around the 160 – 175Hz range, which is the sweet spot in terms of both price and application with an affordable graphics card. Refresh rate is just one element of modern gaming monitors, however, and what else you desire is up to you. Should you go for an IPS or VA panel, for instance. And what about panel, size, shape, and resolution? Is the 16:9 aspect ratio still the most versatile and compatible, or is ultrawide the way? Do curved panels add anything? And what about resolution? 4K? Or does 1440p strike a better balance? Is 1080p obsolete?

We’ve tested each of these high refresh rate gaming monitors in this list to see whether their claims stand up and make sure no compromise has been made to post those sky-high refresh rate claims.

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Best high refresh rate gaming monitors

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1. MSI Oculux NXG253R

The best super-fast 360Hz gaming monitor

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 24.5-inchPanel type: IPSAspect ratio: 16:9Native resolution: 1920 x 1080Response time: 1msRefresh rate: 360HzRefresh rate technology: Nvidia G-Sync

Reasons to buy

+Esports-tier refresh speed+Neat IPS colours+Some handy bonus features

Reasons to avoid

A lot of money for 1080pBasic bezel and standStill feels like a trade-off

Refresh rate, resolution, black levels, panel size: pick two. That’s been the PC monitor buyer’s dilemma for several years now, since we collectively realised that yes, playing at a higher refresh rate does actually make you better at Counter-Strike. MSI’s latest panel, bearing the catchy moniker Oculux NXG253R, aims to at least address the most common tradeoff in modern gaming panels: refresh rate for colour quality. 

Whereas the majority of high refresh rate panels are VA or TN screens with limited viewing angle and shallow colours, MSI’s latest is built around an IPS panel, with all the inky blacks and rich colours that technology brings with it. Traditionally IPS has been slower to the party since it’s costlier to manufacture high refresh rate panels, but evidently enough of us are sold on 120Hz and beyond. 

Way beyond, in fact. This is the first 360Hz monitor I’ve played on, and I must admit to being sceptical about whatever marginal gains I might see in performance. 60Hz to 120Hz is transformative, but 120Hz to 360Hz? Surely one’s gaming performance doesn’t increase exponentially. And don’t eyes only see 60 fps anyway?

It turns out that while that performance gain might not exist on a linear curve, 360Hz does look and feel smoother than 120Hz, and the decreased ghosting of any targets in your shooter of choice does make them that bit easier to connect with. If your aspirations for online competition are pretty serious, that’s really all you need to know.

At enthusiast level, there’s still just a sense of pure enjoyment in watching Overwatch or Quake Champions zip along. Anecdotally, I found D.Va’s out-of-suit pistol combat that bit easier with frames and refresh rate way up at 300 (the game’s capped there) since my targets were always where my screen told me they were. In similarly frenetic Quake Champions matches, I pulled off Ranger’s tricky teleport kill with a bit more ease, too.

But something to bear in mind: you still need the GPU to get your frame rate up there in the hundreds in order to feel the benefit of that 360Hz refresh.

This being an IPS panel with typically darker blacks, it definitely looks more vivid in-game than even a good TN screen, and the colours hold up at any viewing angle. You’ve got a few preset brightness and color balance modes to cycle between on the OSD, arranged by genre. FPS is super-bright and saturated, racing is a bit more subdued by contrast. Out of the box, the default colour and brightness settings are easy on the eye and really sell the IPS benefit. 

G-Sync itself is present here too, and although that won’t be a big deal to competitive players due to the miniscule latency increase it adds to the signal chain, for the rest of us dropping this much on a 1080p monitor, it sweetens the deal. Whether or not it actually feels smoother than 300+ fps of non-v-synced gameplay is really in the eye of the beholder, but it has always been, and remains, a useful tool in one’s armoury for those slower games, the Fallout 4s and Cyberpunks, who need all the help they can get to smooth it all out.

The Oculux NXG253R’s mandate is sound, then, but there are still compromises made in this pricey 1080p monitor in order to optimise esports performance. The most obvious are the screen size and resolution, 24.5-inch and 1080p respectively. You could certainly argue that nobody’s getting 360 fps at 4K in… well, anything outside of CS:GO or MOBAs, and quite rightly so. But spending this much on a monitor that won’t even give you 1440p feels like a serious tradeoff, and that resolution dictates a smaller panel size. Nobody wants to see the individual pixels at 1080p on a 32-inch screen.

There’s a real performance benefit here, and a sheer enjoyment multiplier. You just have to make peace with the idea of buying into a piece of specialist equipment, not an all-rounder.

Read our full MSI Oculux NXG253R review.

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2. Dell S2722DGM

The best budget high-refresh 1440p gaming monitor

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 27-inchPanel type: VAAspect ratio: 16:9Resolution: 2560 x 1440Response time: 1msRefresh rate: 165HzWeight: 9.4lbsRefresh rate technology: FreeSync Premium

Reasons to buy

+1440p and 165Hz is a very nice combo+Strong inherent contrast from VA panel+Affordable for a gaming panel

Reasons to avoid

No HDR supportAdequate rather than excellent response

The classic 27-inch Dell S2722DGM marries that screen real estate with a 2560 x 1440 native resolution, which gives you a great pixel pitch for fine detail. At 1440p it’s also a decent resolution for getting high frame rates without the GPU demands of a 4K display. It’s also capable of delivering that resolution at 165Hz, which is appreciated.

At 2ms GtG response, it’s just a hair behind the 1ms and 0.5ms ratings of the best IPS panels, so you’re covered when it comes to speed. That said, you can find quicker panels if you really want to chase speed. This VA panel does have a high contrast ratio, at least, given the technology’s inherent strong contrast.

As for picture quality, the Dell S2722DGM is a reasonably punchy and vibrant monitor considering it’s a pure SDR panel. The strong inherent contrast certainly helps with that, ensuring you don’t feel short-changed running games like Cyberpunk 2077, which support HDR, in SDR mode.

We’d steer clear of MPRT mode, which hammers the panel’s brightness and vibrancy. ‘Extreme’ mode, which is rated at 2ms, does suffer from a whiff of overshoot, but that’s only just visible in-game, while ‘Super fast’ resolves the overshoot but allows just a little smearing of darker tones.

USB Type-C connectivity doesn’t feature. But the dual HDMI and a single DisplayPort connections are just fine, even if the HDMI ports top out at 144Hz rather than 165Hz.

This Dell monitor is most importantly available at a great price. Dell delivers high-quality gaming panels, with all the features you need and a few extraneous ones to bump up the price. And that makes it one of the best gaming monitors for most PC gamers today.

Read our full Dell S2722DGM review.

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3. Alienware 34 QD-OLED

The best high refresh rate OLED gaming monitor

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 34-inchPanel type: QD OLEDAspect ratio: 21:9Native resolution: 3440 x 1440Response time: 0.1msRefresh rate: 175HzBrightness: 1,000 nits peak HDRRefresh rate technology: Nvidia G-Sync Ultimate

Reasons to buy

+Fabulous contrast and colors+Stupendous pixel response+Genuine HDR capability

Reasons to avoid

Not a great all-purpose panelLatency isn’t a strong pointNo HDMI 2.1

The Alienware 34 QD-OLED curved gaming monitor completely took us by surprise. It made us believers in Samsung’s new QD-OLED panels, which we are hoping means the OLED PC monitor revolution has begun. 

This monitor isn’t perfect. But it is dramatically better than any LCD-based monitor by several gaming-critical metrics. And it’s a genuine thrill to use. Of course, that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First, we need to cover off the basics.

What makes the AW3423DW far superior to your typical LCD panel on a PC gaming monitor is the near-percent color saturation and screen brightness capable of hitting a peak brightness of 1000 nits. It’s done all this while providing a ridiculously fast 175Hz refresh rate and a response time of .1ms. It might just be the best 3440 x 1440p gaming monitor we’ve ever used, and, boy, do we look at a lot of ultrawide. 

Common to all OLED tech are two critical advantages over any LCD panel, namely contrast and response. Put simply, every pixel in an OLED panel is its own light source, which can be turned completely off, essentially delivering ‘true’ black levels and more or less infinite contrast. There’s no need for any of that complicated, problematic local dimming to stop the light from leaking through an LCD panel. OLED is the real HDR deal.

Not only is it OLED, it’s also Samsung’s hot new QD-LED tech, which combines the ideal RGB subpixel structure with quantum dot technology to produce both excellent color saturation and an even brighter panel. Net result? Alienware is claiming both an impressive 99.3 percent coverage of the demanding DCI-P3 color space and fully 1,000 nits brightness, albeit that brightness level can only be achieved on a small portion of the panel, not across the entire screen.

Unlike LCD monitors with claimed HDR capability, this OLED screen needs to be in HDR mode to do its thing. And that applies to SDR content, too. Alienware has provided two HDR modes, HDR 400 True Black and HDR Peak 1000. The latter enables that maximum 1,000 nit performance in small areas of the panel but actually looks less vibrant and punchy most of the time.

Instead, it’s the HDR 400 True Black mode that generally gives the best results. That includes SDR content. For SDR content to look its best, you have to jump into the Windows Display Settings menu and crank the SDR brightness up, after which it’s much zingier all around. That’s actually handy because it means that once you have the AW3423DW set up properly, you’re all done. There’s no need to switch modes for SDR and HDR content.

But for most types of gaming on that very platform, this is as good as it currently gets. Put simply, the Alienware 34 AW3423DW sets new standards for contrast, HDR performance, and response.

Read our full Alienware 34 QD-OLED (AW3423DW) review.

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4. BenQ Mobiuz EX240

The best budget high refresh 1080p gaming monitor

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 24-inchPanel type: IPSAspect ratio: 16:9Resolution: 1920 x 1080Response time: 1msRefresh rate: 165HzWeight: 8.2lbsRefresh rate technology: FreeSync Premium

Reasons to buy

+Zippy IPS panel+165 refresh and good latency+Slick, well-built chassis

Reasons to avoid

Very limited HDR support‘Only’ 1080pSilly OSD menu and options

You can find 1080p screens for cheaper, but there are few genuinely affordable 1080p gaming monitors as good as this. It’s especially a good fit for competitive gamers that don’t want to break the bank.

In an age of megabucks GPUs, $200 seems like a pitiful amount of money for, well, almost anything. But BenQ is here to tell you it’s enough for a pretty darn good gaming monitor, the BenQ Mobiuz EX240, to be precise.

On paper, this 24-inch panel ticks a lot of boxes for entry-level esports. It’s a 1080p model—predictable enough—hits 165Hz, and offers IPS panel tech with 1ms response times.

BenQ rates the Mobiuz EX240 at 350 nits brightness and includes HDR10 support. There’s no VESA certification or local dimming. So this isn’t a remotely serious attempt at an HDR panel, but it will process an HDR signal correctly, which is something.

As for actual image quality, the first out-of-the-box impressions are good. This is a pretty vibrant, punchy panel. The viewing angles are good and the default color calibration betrays no real nasties. There is a little compression at the darker end of the color spectrum. But, generally, this monitor has been fairly well set up well.

Head in-game and the good news continues. BenQ claims 1ms response by the MPRT metric. In broad terms, MPRT response figures tend to be lower than grey-to-grey for a given monitor, putting this panel roughly in the 2ms region for GtG response.

And it feels very much good for 2ms. This is a snappy little panel. In subjective terms, it looks little different to the best 1ms GtG IPS monitors. Sure, you could tease out the differences with high speed photography, but in terms of actual gameplay, motion blur is kept to a thoroughly acceptable minimum.

All told, there’s a lot to like here. Granted, this monitor has plenty of limitations. 1080p feels pretty stingy these days as native resolutions go, but on a smallish 24-inch monitor, the pixel density is tolerable and the main benefit is that you don’t need to be running a cryptocurrency Ponzi scheme to pay for this monitor.

That you can have a decent IPS gaming panel running at 165Hz with good pixel response, reasonable overall calibration, generally punchy and pleasing image quality, and nice low latency, all stuffed into a good looking chassis, for just $200 is a blessed relief here in inflationary 2023. For that we can only thank BenQ. Nice job.

Read our full BenQ Mobiuz EX240 review.

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5. ASRock Phantom PG34WQ15R2B

The best affordable high refresh ultrawide

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 34-inchPanel type: VAAspect ratio: 21:9Resolution: 3440 x 1440Response time: 1msRefresh rate: 165HzWeight: 19lbsRefresh rate technology: FreeSync Premium

Reasons to buy

+Punchy VA panel+165Hz refresh+34-inch ultrawide immersion

Reasons to avoid

Pixel response is merely decentNeeds a little setting up

Does less than $400 buy you a premium gaming panel? That kind of money barely touches the sides when it comes to graphics cards these days. But the new ASRock Phantom PG34WQ15R2B gives you a 34-inch ultrawide experience, with 165Hz refresh, 1ms response and even HDR support, all for just under $370.

What more do you really need? The catch, of course, it that mere specifications rarely tell the whole story with gaming monitors. We’ve seen several $2,000 screens with outrageous on-paper capabilities recently that thoroughly disappointed. What are the odds that ASRock has delivered at well under $400?

Beyond those headline figures, the PG34WQ15R2B certainly is promising. Predictably, it’s based on VA rather than IPS panel tech given the appealing pricing. That typically means compromising on pixel response performance, but not necessarily by a huge amount.

Brightness is rated at a punchy 550 nits, which is impressive at this price point, and you get DisplayHDR 400 certification, which is entry level stuff but better than nothing. Given the punchy backlight and the fact that the VA panel offers 3,000:1 native contrast, it actually all bodes pretty well for a half decent entry-level HDR experience.

What about response? ASRock claims 1ms MPRT, but VA panel tech generally lags behind the best IPS panels. Unfortunately, the ASRock’s fast MPRT mode crushes brightness so badly, it’s hard to imagine anyone actually using it.

As good as the best 1ms GtG IPS screens? Not quite, but at this price point, the response is good enough. The same goes for the 165Hz refresh and overall input latency. If extreme esports are your thing, you’ll be better off with a higher refresh 1080p panel. But For everyone else, the PG34WQ15R2B is going to be quick enough, it really is.

So, yeah, this really is a surprisingly nice screen for the money. 34-inch ultrawide remains a really nice form factor for immersive gaming, you get a nice, contrasty VA panel, plenty of backlight punch provided you run the screen in HDR mode (in which setting SDR content in any case looks better), reasonable pixel response and high enough refresh for most gamer’s purposes.

That you can have all that for $370 really is fantastic. That this is ASRock’s first stab at a gaming screen is even more impressive.

Read our full ASRock Phantom PG34WQ15R2B review.

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6. Gigabyte M32UC

The best affordable high refresh 4K gaming monitor

Our expert review:

Specifications

Screen size: 32-inchPanel type: VAAspect ratio: 16:9Resolution: 3840 x 2160Response time: 1ms MPRTRefresh rate: 144Hz (160Hz overclocked)Weight: 17.9lbsRefresh rate technology: AMD FreeSync Premium

Reasons to buy

+Affordable 4K+Up to 160Hz refresh overclocked+Great panel performance+No frills approach+Handy USB hub

Reasons to avoid

Stand is pretty basicDisplayHDR 400 isn’t much

We’re finally in an era of gaming where an affordable 4K monitor and a fast 4K monitor are one and the same. You could still buy a lower resolution panel for a whole lot less, and there are less desirable 4K panels out there, but as the Gigabyte M32UC proves you can get a whole lot of screen for what feels like a fair price.

You can find this monitor going for as low as $600, which is an awfully competitive price tag for a speedy 4K gaming monitor at this size. Gigabyte has figured out a heady blend of features for that sort of money too, with two HDMI 2.1 ports, 1ms MPRT, FreeSync Premium Pro, and even a USB 3.2 hub.

The M32UC runs at a perfectly reasonable 144Hz out of the box—and you’ll need a powerful graphics card to make the most of that at 4K. However, if you hook this monitor up via DisplayPort 1.4 you can also overclock the panel via the OSD. That bumps the refresh rate up to 160Hz, and while that’s probably excessive for most, if you’re going big with the rest of your rig (or plan to pick up a powerful next-gen GPU sometime in the future) then it’s a decent option to have at the ready.

But something to consider with the M32UC’s blend of resolution and refresh rate is that even a high-end GPU won’t always make the most of it. That’s what makes the M32UC’s FreeSync capabilities so crucially important. Keeping this panel in sync with your graphics card when it’s under the max refresh rate of the screen, as it is likely going to be at times, prevents a whole lot of screen tearing.

It should come as no surprise that the 32-inch panel running at 4K results in a stunningly crisp image while gaming. I’ve been playing arguably too much Destiny 2 right now and the M32UC is a stunning way to experience the game. Fine details are well preserved and this panel doesn’t struggle with saturation, which makes for a luscious and vibrant image.

The M32U also offers a DisplayHDR 400 rating on the box, though I wouldn’t consider it for its HDR capabilities. It’s lacking much of what’s required of a true HDR monitor, such as a higher brightness and local dimming. You also have to look past what is otherwise a fairly bland outer shell on the Gigabyte.

In terms of value for money, Gigabyte has hit the nail on the head with the M32UC. If you look around for competition with similar specs at around the same price, you’ll often only find other Gigabyte models coming close, including a handful of often discounted Aorus models. That makes the M32UC a great choice if you’re planning ahead for a next-gen 4K-capable gaming PC or if you already have a high-end GPU but are not yet making the most of it.

Read our full Gigabyte M32UC review.

High refresh rate gaming monitor FAQ

What’s the best PC monitor panel type for gaming?

If in doubt, go IPS. There are now VA screens with good response speed, like the fabulous MSI MPG ARTYMIS 343CQR. But IPS more consistently delivers the goods and is now sufficiently fast in terms of refresh rate that you absolutely needn’t settle for TN anymore.

What refresh rate do you really need for PC gaming?

If you’re asking the question, 144Hz is probably plenty. Esports fiends who will really appreciate higher refresh rates already know who they are and what they want. And that answer is likely getting on for 240Hz these days.

What’s the best resolution for a gaming monitor?

With the latest unobtainable graphics cards, 4K gaming at high triple-digit refresh rates is a stretch in the most demanding games. So, 1440p (at either 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratio) is probably the better compromise. 1080p is only of interest to those who demand the very highest frame rates for competitive shooters.

Should I buy a curved gaming monitor?

For our money, curved panels make the most sense in larger formats and with super-wide 21:9 or wider panels. A curved panel on, say, a smaller 27-inch 16:9 panel isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, nor does it really add much to the experience. 

Does HDR matter for PC gaming monitors?

The problem with HDR in this context is that few LCD monitors offer a true HDR experience. What’s more, monitors with HDR-boosting local dimming remain painfully pricey and for what is really only marginal benefit. That said, HDR certification usually ensures high brightness, and HDR 600 and beyond requires wide color support.

G-Sync or FreeSync: which adaptive screen tech is best?

We think screens with Nvidia’s G-Sync module built-in have the edge when it comes to smooth performance at lower frame rates. At higher frame rates, mere G-Sync compatibility is fine, and AMD’s FreeSync is likewise much of a muchness.

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