You’re in the market for a monitor and you’re suddenly confronted with a whole bunch of acronyms affixed to otherwise similar monitors, with similar resolutions, screen sizes, and prices. What the heck do they mean? Do you need an IPS display, a TN panel, or a VA panel? Is there a right option? The answer is complicated. Let’s find out more:
What are these exactly?
All three of these are different flavors of LCD monitors. They’re built using fundamentally similar technology–this isn’t the difference between LCD and OLED. All three have advantages and substantial weakness. This means that they are ideal for different use cases. You’ll want to know these as a gamer to identify what’s right for you.
TN is short for “twisted nematic,” referring to the LCD substrate that’s used in this type of display. TN panels are a very mature technology and are the cheapest kind of LCD display to produce. This means that you’ll get TN panels for a given screen size/resolution at a lower price than other options.
TN panels aren’t just cheap. They tend to have lower response times than other monitor types. This makes them exceptionally well-suited for low-latency use cases like eSports gaming. As a result, many eSports-oriented high-refresh rate monitors utilize TN technology.
There are notable downsides, though. For starters, viewing angles are terrible. Even if you look at a TN panel from its exact center, you’ll experience picture quality degradation at the edges. Poor viewing angles mean that color is only accurately reproduced at the very center of the panel, from your perspective. Some TN panels have better viewing angles than others, but almost all are beaten by even budget VA and IPS sets in this respect.
Another thing? Color reproduction is poor on TN panels. Colors, in general, appear washed-out. But what’s most noticeable is the poor contrast levels. In poorly-illuminated scenes, black appears grey. All in all, we find TN panels hard to recommend anymore. If you want an eSports panel, but can’t afford a high-performance IPS, a TN panel might be right for you. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
IPS is short for in-plane switching. IPS displays were actually developed to address the shortcomings of TN panels. In IPS panels, the orientation of liquid crystal molecules is arranged and switched parallel to the substrate. This allows for accurate color reproduction across a much wider range of viewing angles.
IPS panels have clear advantages over TN panels. For starters, color reproduction is excellent. High-end IPS monitors that cover a significant amount of the sRGB gamut not only look great–they’re an excellent choice for professional photographers and graphic designers. Contrast is much-improved on IPS: while you don’t get the inky blacks of OLED, dark areas look reliably dark, while retaining detail. IPS panels tend to have a slower refresh rate than TN panels.
However, gaming-oriented IPS models are available with low response time and higher refresh rates. They just cost a lot more than comparable TN parts. IPS panels are our go-to recommendation. They offer great image quality, while also allowing for low-latency, high refresh rate gaming.
VA is short for vertical alignment. In these displays, LCD cells align vertically when no electricity is passing through. They align horizontally when it is, allowing light through. VA panels offer excellent image quality. Even budget VA monitors deliver contrast ratios in excess of 3000:1. This translates into rich colors, and detail preservation in dark scenes.
VA is ideal if media consumption is your primary use case: you get excellent image quality. The trade-off here is that VA panels tend to have the worst response times. Response times higher than 4ms are typical. On the worst offenders, input lag is actually somewhat notable. And while viewing angles are better than TN panels, VA panels often exhibit color shifting–with colors going off-hue at wide angles. Some VA panels also have a “ghosting” issue, especially when handling rapidly moving images.
This makes VA panels a questionable choice for eSports gaming. If you mainly play single-player titles, though, VA panels are a great choice. Price-wise, they tend to be cheaper than their IPS counterparts while offering great image quality.
Which one is right for you?
If you’re an eSports gamer, you need a monitor with the lowest-possible response rate and a high refresh rate. Both IPS and TN panels enable this. At a premium budget, you should look at IPS panels, as they offer the best combination of picture quality and low latency. If you’re on a tighter budget, a TN panel can get the job done, although you’ll be compromising somewhat on the image.
For slower-paced experiences, take your pick between VA panels and IPS: whichever offers better color accuracy and contrast at your budget.