Three Monitors Walked Into A Bar

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So, three monitors walked into bar, an IPS, VA and TN……

Sounds like the start of a bad joke doesn’t it? Well this bad joke is a hotly contested topic of debate among PC gamers, with people in each of the three camps ready to grab their keyboards and go to forum warfare over which is the best. However, what if you’re in the undecided camp, which is the best? Well before we begin let me state that there are no right answers for this. How images appear on a monitor is very subjective and further convoluted by multiple variables. There is one variable that I think we can take a stab at; that is how it affects game play.

I have in my possession one of each panel type in a 27” 144hz 1440P monitor. I set these up with machines as close to identical as I can get them. I setup the three monitors with some minor tweaking over the default settings. Next, I asked over a few neighbors as well as my wife and son; about 13 people were involved. They ran the gambit from a non-gamer to an avid gamer, from a tech junkie to someone who couldn’t care less. I then loaded up three games - Bioshock Infinite, Madden 2020 and Battlefield 5 to try and give a good variance of image and color approaches. I set the machines at the same detail and resolutions and fired them up.

Before we get into the conclusions lets talk a little bit about the differences.

TN (twisted nematic) is the budget-oriented solution of the three panel types. Known for lousy viewing angles and poor color reproduction, they have also been the go-to panel for gaming. This is due to a low cost of entry but also the fast response times. These are not bad looking monitors, but they tend to not be as accurate in color reproduction as VA and IPS.

VA (vertical alignment) panels are the in-between of TN and IPS. They have better angles and color than TN, and perform best out of these three when it comes to contrast ratios. This tends to mean deeper blacks and colors that pop more. They suffer from the worst response times of the three and can have ghosting at higher frame rates, especially in darker colors. Pricing wise they tend to fall between TN and IPS panels with similar specifications.

IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels are the premium right now among gaming panels. They offer similar response times to TN panels, better viewing angles and the most accurate color reproduction of the three. This of course comes at a higher cost as well as the phenomenon known as IPS glow. This is where the back-lighting can bleed through on very dark screens.

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This is a very simplified explanation of the three panel types, but I feel it makes the main argument points clear. With this information in hand I presented my judging panel with each of the three types. No knowledge of which was which and asking them which gave them the best gaming experience as well as which they preferred.

On the matter of gaming experience the general consensus was that there was no difference. They all felt the game play was smooth and looked great on each of the three monitors. At no point did they feel the differences in color reproduction and response time had any impact on the gaming experience. I know there are some of you out there with your heads about to explode with this result but recall the goal here was to judge how they enjoyed the game play, not what color calibration system was showing.

The next question was which they preferred.  This got some interesting responses, with 1 of the 13 preferring the TN panel, 7 preferring the VA and 5 liking the IPS best.  You would think the uber gamer in the group would be the TN panel person for the response times, however the total non-gamer was the one that chose it. Things however took a twist when I asked an additional qualifier…

You see the panels, as I mentioned typically come at different price points. Looking around the TN comes in at $199, the VA at $260 and the IPS at $300. When I provided pricing and asked again which they would prefer the numbers shifted dramatically. Seven of the people asked decided the TN was a good panel and the extra cost for the others was not justified. Six people chose the VA panel and none of them thought, from a gaming experience, that an IPS panel cost was worth it.

I understand that 13 people is hardly a meaningful sample size.  I also understand that this was a limited game sampling to work with and by limiting this to gaming experience I was not accounting for other factors. However the point of this was to show that the argument of one being an absolute best for gaming was not unanimous. It is subjective.


Too often as tech enthusiasts, we get locked into absolutes and often there are no absolutes. What is the best keyboard, best mouse, best resolution, detail level in a game, sound solution and so on….. These are subjective opinions and the many unaccountable variables making each person’s choice unique to them.

Which of these panel types is best for gaming? The best one is the one that fits within your budget and gives you the gaming experience you desire.



The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.

Edward Crisler
Edward is the definition of an “old school” gamer, playing computer games as far back at 1977. He hosted a tech talk show for 20 years and is now the North America PR Representative for SAPPHIRE as well as SAPPHIRE’s unofficial gaming evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @EdCrisler.

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