The Best 4K Monitors, and How to Choose a 4K Monitor

fore1gn

(Note: If you want to skip to our recommended 4K monitors below, scroll down to “Our favorite 4K monitors.”)

For desktop PC users, 1080p (1920×1080) monitors are ubiquitous today, but that was not always the case. A little more than ten years ago, they were just starting to hit the market. Monitors with an aspect ratio of 16:10 (for instance, 1920×1200) first started appearing back in 2004, with 16:9 (1080p) monitors coming a year or two after.

Today, 4K monitors are continuing to creep into the mainstream. Finally, the most powerful mainstream graphics card, the GTX 1080 Ti, is capable of playing most modern PC games at 60+ frames per second with maximum settings at 4K resolution. The GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 are also fully capable of gaming at 4K, though they usually can’t achieve 60 FPS at maximum settings. But with those cards, most games’ settings can be lowered to high or sometimes even a mix of high and medium fidelity to achieve a steady framerate close to 60 FPS.

4K resolution brings out the finer details. Source: 4k.com

With the prices on 4K monitors going down, buying one for work and play is not a bad idea at all. 4K monitors allow for vastly increased workspace and image clarity when doing creative work. Downscaling to 1080p on 4K monitors is also better than downscaling from 1440p, since 4K is exactly 4x the pixels of 1080p at the same aspect ratio.

But how to choose a good a 4K monitor? Let’s lay out some important factors to consider when choosing a 4K panel for gaming or work.

Screen size

The size of the screen plays an important role because if you choose a 4K monitor too small, you may run into some problems. Depending on how far the monitor will be from the eyes, it is important to choose the right screen size. It is generally recommended to avoid 4K monitors smaller than 27″ — especially the 24″ models that you can often find on sale. The usefulness of 4K at that screen size is questionable. The advantages of additional pixels are more pronounced as screen size increases.

Panel type

A close-up of a typical LCD

There are four main panel types: TN, IPS, PLS and VA.

TN (twisted nematic) is the cheapest and thus the most common. It has very low input latency (1-5 ms), which is a must for fast-paced competitive gamers. TN also has good contrast. TN’s downside is its poor color reproduction and color shift when viewing at extreme angles (severity depends on the quality of the TN panel).

IPS (in-plane switching) and PLS (plane to line switching) panels, on the other hand, are generally better at precise color reproduction, but usually suffer from higher input latency (5+ ms), which can be a problem for competitive gamers. These panels are also more expensive to produce.

VA (vertical alignment) panels usually have good color reproduction, very good contrast, but the highest latency. They are rare though.

Connectivity

You’ll find a variety of ports on the back of most modern monitors.

It is also important to know what ports the monitor has. This mostly depends on personal needs. Will there be multiple input devices connected? A console would require HDMI 2.0 for 4K 60 Hz, but DisplayPort is best for PC. Is there a need for USB on the monitor? All these things should be considered when choosing any monitor.

Support for dynamic refresh rate technologies

We have written in detail about dynamic refresh rate and adaptive framerate synchronization, which you can read here. In short: FreeSync is what AMD GPU users should be looking at and G-Sync is for NVIDIA GPU owners.

Adaptive framerate synchronization can in some cases improve your gaming experience much more than increased resolution or screen size. Technologies like FreeSync and G-Sync remove stuttering and screen-tearing, making the gameplay smooth even at times when the graphics card struggles and the framerate drops to 40 FPS or lower. It is highly recommended to look into either a FreeSync or G-Sync monitor when buying a new one, especially if you’ll be doing much gaming.

Color reproduction and depth

The width of different color specters. Source: colbybrownphotography.com

If you require serious precision with your colors, it is important to look at the color reproduction capabilities of the monitor. This is often referred to as a % of AdobeRGB or % of sRGB, with higher being better. This is very important for anyone doing color-sensitive photo or video work, but less important for gamers.


Our favorite 4K monitors:

For general users and AMD GPU owners: ASUS PB287Q ($400)

  • 28″ TN panel
  • 1 ms response time
  • FreeSync support
  • 10-bit color depth (8-bit + FRC)
  • 65% AdobeRGB

Colors are very good for a TN panel, but not good enough for serious professional use. Very good 4K gaming monitor. Excellent value.

 

For NVIDIA GPU-owning gamers: ASUS ROG PG27AQ ($880)

 

  • 27″ IPS panel
  • 4 ms response time
  • G-Sync support
  • 10-bit (8-bit + FRC)
  • 75% AdobeRGB

Better color reproduction than the cheaper ASUS PB287Q, and G-Sync, but it comes at a price.

 

For general users with a bigger budget: BenQ BL3201PH ($800)

  • 32″ IPS panel
  • 4 ms response time
  • 10-bit color depth (8-bit + FRC)
  • 65% AdobeRGB

Another good monitor for gamers. Good colors and response time.

 

For content creators who need perfect colors: Dell UP3216Q ($1,300)

  • 31.5″ IPS panel
  • 56 ms response time
  • 10-bit color depth
  • 99.5% AdobeRGB

Best color reproduction of any selection here, with a 31.5″ size for pixel peeping.


That’s it! Did we miss your 4K monitor of choice? Please let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out.