Are you wondering what display resolution you should get for gaming? In this post, we highlight the main pros and cons between the most common screen resolutions for gaming (1080P vs 1440P vs 4K) to help you decide which option is right for your needs.
Picking a monitor for gaming is a more involved process than most people consider. You spend a long time researching components to build your PC rig, doing your due diligence to ensure you get the best bang for your buck. The last thing you need is for your monitor not to measure up.
Where most get lost is when it comes to screen resolution, and understandably so. Monitor and game component manufacturers make a big deal about the number of pixels their screens can display, which in turn makes us believe that more must be better.
However, the answer isn’t as straightforward. In this post, we want to demystify screen resolutions and how they should be affecting your purchasing decisions as well as go over what the best resolution for gaming is. Let’s start with the basics.
What is Screen Resolution and How Does it Affect Gaming?
When we talk about resolution, we effectively mean how many pixels a display can produce. You can measure it by multiplying its width by its height in pixels. The end result is the total number of tiny flickering dots that constitute your monitor’s real estate. For example, a 1080p monitor is 1920 pixels in width and 1080 in height, leading to a total of 2,073,600 pixels.
Naturally, this means the more of these dots a panel can display, the more detailed the picture it can produce. If you look at comparison shots between two different resolutions, the highest one will always look sharper and with more detail. It makes sense. When there are more dots available, more of an image can be shown. Therefore, when looking purely at picture quality, higher resolutions always win.
What Types of Resolutions Exist?
When resolution became a prominent part of our buying decisions, marketers found a shiny new acronym to entice us to buy the latest and greatest in screen technology: HD. These two letters stand for High Definition and refer to the 720p resolution.
Today, most gamers would scoff at the idea of such a resolution, even on a smartphone. Higher resolutions have become more affordable, with the highest ones slowly gaining prominence in the market.
Full HD (1080P)
This moniker refers to the 1080p or 1920 x 1080 resolution. It’s one of the most common choices for gamers as it’s easily supported by graphics cards that are a couple of generations old
Quad HD (1440P)
Also known as 1440p, this resolution is exclusively found in monitors and not TVs. It’s a considerable step-up over Full HD as it’s nearly quadruple the resolution of a standard HD monitor.
Ultra HD (4K)
The current king of the screen block is this resolution, commonly known as 4K, is considered the real follow-up to Full HD. Its measurements are 3840 x 2160, which is double that of 1080p. Now, you might be wondering why it’s referred to as 4K and not 2160p. It seems this time around, marketers wanted to move away from measuring by height and went with an approximation of width instead. Either way, 4K packs a lot of pixels which means the picture quality is through the roof.
So, you might be wondering, with all this chatter about pixels, if monitor size matters, and the answer is “yes”.
Does Screen Size Matter?
The number of pixels in a panel has almost no bearing on how physically large a monitor is. You can find TVs as large as 55” and smartphones as small as 5”, yet both can be capable of 1080p resolutions. This is where pixel density comes into play.
Also known as pixels per inch (PPI), this stat refers to how densely packed the pixels are in your screen’s physical real estate. The more space on the screen, the further spread out the pixels are. If you were to stand in front of our aforementioned 55” monitor at the same distance you’d hold a 5” smartphone, you’ll immediately see the individual pixels more clearly. TVs, though, benefit from the fact that we sit much further away from them.
Pixel density is calculated as a ratio that takes into account your monitor’s physical size and its total pixel resolution. It matters more with monitors because we sit in front of them at much closer ranges than TVs. Essentially, when your monitor has a higher PPI, it can display more detailed images and with more vibrancy. As an example, I used this calculator to measure the pixel density of a 27” monitor and a 24” one:
- 27” at 1080p = 81.59 ppi
- 24” at 1080p = 91.79 ppi
As you can see, the smaller monitor wins because of its higher pixel density. Of course, the difference isn’t that large, and you’ll probably not going to tell much of a difference. This is because 1080p works great for these screen sizes. Take a 27” monitor with a 1440p resolution, though, and you’ll get a whopping 122.38 in pixel density.
Hopefully, you’re starting to see the picture (ha!) here. There’s a fair bit to picking a monitor than just getting the one with the biggest resolution. But we’re still not done.
How to Choose the Right Resolution for Gaming?
If you’re here, you likely know that gaming on PCs involves the use of a graphics card. In a nutshell, this card has a dedicated processor for graphics. Before being swiped up by crypto miners, the only job GPUs had was to pump out the bulk of the graphical work your computer needed to produce. Among other things, this includes generating the number of pixels to display on your monitor.
Telling your GPU that it needs to display at a 4K resolution is a significantly higher ask than asking it to display at 1080p resolution. And this is only if we’re talking about picture quality. Another consideration is how well the game you’re playing performs. I’m referring, of course, to how many frames-per-second your games run. The gold standard at the moment is 60 fps which is incredibly smooth.
You likely already know that frames-per-second refers to how many images are rapidly shifted every second to show you game animations. We talked earlier about the number of pixels produced becoming higher the more significant the resolution. A graphics card needs to produce these pixels every 60th of a second in order to give you that buttery smooth performance. If you want to play games at full 4K at 60 fps, you’ll need one of the latest high-end cards, and even still, you may not get this performance consistently. This is where you need to consider what is more essential for you. Most gamers who enjoy single-player games with excellent visuals typically opt to take a hit in performance. Competitive players and esports people, though, value smooth and consistent performance, so they’re fine with reducing the quality of their game’s graphics in favor of better frame rates.
So, what does this have to do with monitors? It’s simple. Your monitor’s refresh rate needs to match that of your graphics card’s performance. Even if your card can give you 60 fps, if your monitor only goes up to 30Hz, then you’ll either need to reduce your frame rate or experience screen tear. Say you choose a card that can produce a consistent 1440p picture at 60 fps, you’ll want a monitor that has at least a 60Hz refresh rate that supports this resolution.
Does Screen Resolution Matter for Console Gaming?
We’ve been talking a lot about PC gaming, but what about consoles? Well, it’s complicated. The latest consoles, the Playstation 5 and the Xbox Series X, are both capable of 4K resolutions. However, Microsoft’s device also supports 1440p resolutions, whereas Sony opted to focus on the TV experience by only supporting 1080p and 4K. Pro versions of prior gen consoles are also capable of upscaled 4K gaming, but the end result isn’t nearly as good as true 4K. It’s for this reason that 1080p is still better for older consoles.
Which Resolution is Best for Your Gaming Needs?
The answer to this question boils down to what graphics card you own and what kind of gaming you do. Right now, 1440p is considered the more favorable format for monitors because more cards can actually produce images at that resolution while maintaining decent performance. If you have a high-end card from the previous generation, such as the RTX2080, then you can comfortably pick up a 1440p monitor with at least a 60Hz refresh rate. Even with a mid-ranged RTX30 card, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend a true 4K monitor as the performance more than likely will be inconsistent. For console gaming and graphics cards that are older than the RTX20 series, you can’t go wrong with a 1080p monitor.