The Best 4K Gaming Monitors – Early 2022

If you want the best HDR gaming experience on PC today, you should check out the 48″ LG C1 OLED. Until we get smaller OLED panels, or more affordable true HDR gaming monitors, buying a TV like the LG C1 is the best way to go and is also the cheapest option. HDR experience.

The OLED panel has self-lit pixels, meaning it can deliver impressive black levels and an effective infinite contrast ratio with no blooming or haloing issues from LCD-based local dimming. This leads to astonishing HDR performance with a level of contrast that LCD monitors simply cannot achieve. The C1 is also strong in terms of gaming features, with low input lag for a TV, a 120Hz refresh rate, plenty of HDMI 2.1 ports and all sorts of other potentially useful processing and TV-related features. The price tag is also very tempting.

However, as we detailed in our full review of the C1, there are drawbacks to actually using this as a monitor. It’s a massive display that requires a larger than normal viewing distance. The risk of permanent burn-in and low brightness levels makes it poorly suited to productivity and everyday desktop app usage; you should really only use the C1 for content consumption. It also only has HDMI 2.1 ports, so 4K 120Hz is limited to the newest graphics cards.

If you’re desperate for an HDR gaming display, we’d probably choose the LG C1 for that purpose only (gaming, not desktop work), but if that’s not your case, I would genuinely consider buying something else and waiting for the HDR gaming monitor ecosystem to mature.

Beware or “HDR” monitors?

There aren’t many true HDR gaming monitors on the market today. The vast majority of displays that you see advertising “HDR” capabilities don’t have any meaningful HDR hardware, and therefore are fake HDR monitors. To give you a hint: if the monitor doesn’t tell you the amount of local dimming zones, or if the number of zones isn’t in the hundreds, don’t bother buying it for its so-called HDR capabilities, because the reality is that the HDR experience will be poor at best.

With that said, there are a couple of true HDR displays on the market. One of them is the Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 we mentioned before. With the firmware fix applied, the Neo G9 is capable of great HDR, through its 2.048 zone full array local dimming backlight and respectable level of brightness. It’s also a strong performer overall with its superwide screen, 240Hz refresh rate and 1440p-class resolution. The same downsides over Samsung’s quality control also apply, so buy it with caution.

If you don’t want an ultrawide, the best 16:9 aspect ratio HDR gaming monitor is very expensive in the Asus ROG Swift PG32UQX. It’s also, all things considered, not that amazing due to its slow response time performance by modern standards, something I would have expected to be improved given its monstrous $2,900 price tag.

It also lacks HDMI 2.1, limiting its compatibility with modern 4K HDR capable gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5. However the HDR experience is undoubtedly strong thanks to peak brightness that exceeds 1600 nits, 1152 zone full array local dimming backlight and very wide color gamut. It’s also a decent size at 32-inches, it uses IPS technology and features a 144Hz refresh rate. It’s an expensive monitor if you have the cash to burn.

If you want the best HDR experience on PC and don’t want to pay $3,000 for the PG32UQX — and who could blame you — then by far the best choice is to get a 48-inch OLED TV. Although this is clearly not a monitor in terms of size and it won’t be suitable for all setups, the value proposition offered by OLED, as well as its performance in HDR games and content, totally destroys the LCD-based alternatives on the market today.

The benefits to OLED are based around its self-lit pixel technology. Because each pixel is individually lit, they can also be fully switched off to display black, leading to deep blacks, detailed shadows, and infinite contrast ratios. This is perfect for HDR where contrast is so important. With an OLED panel you don’t get blooming due to low backlight zone counts, and this looks stunning in practice. Once you’ve used an OLED it’s hard to go back.

The nature of OLEDs is also conductive to extremely fast response times, far faster than any modern LCD. Motion performance at the same refresh rate as an LCD is in the range of 5x better or more, and this allows for backlight strobing (or black frame insertion) that smokes what LCDs can do in terms of clarity. Today’s 48-inch OLEDs can reach 120Hz refresh rates which isn’t the fastest going around, but sufficient for a smooth, high refresh experience at 4K.

We’ve tested two 48-inch OLEDs for gaming and PC use, and our recommendation is to get the LG C1 OLED, or its very similar brother the LG CX OLED, depending on pricing and availability in your region. The C1 is a feature-rich TV with outstanding image quality, motion clarity, and HDR performance which is worth its asking price provided you have enough space for the large panel.

The LG C1 typically sells for around $1,500 which is not inexpensive, but not a bad value for what you’re getting; it’s half the price of the PG32UQX and is better in almost every way. Just make sure you have an HDMI 2.1 capable GPU from the latest Nvidia or AMD GPU series, as there’s no DisplayPort on this TV – although the HDMI 2.1 ports are full bandwidth and support Dolby Vision, so the C1 is compatible with lots of other devices including media players and game consoles.

We have no trouble recommending the LG C1 to someone using it for content consumption or gaming, but there are some drawbacks that are worthy of mention. The first is the risk of burn-in, which is not that relevant for viewing mixed content, but is likely to happen if you are using the C1 as a desktop monitor. Static content like web browsers, the Windows taskbar, and other desktop apps are not ideal for OLED panels, and some of the panel protection features are ineffective or annoying for desktop use, like the automatic brightness limiter and pixel shifter.

These OLED panels haven’t been designed for desktop use. Their RGBW subpixel layout is not great for text clarity, the massive size is inconvenient for a lot of setups, and brightness is low compared to today’s LCDs (though acceptable for HDR content in the HDR mode). Again, amazing for content consumption, not great for desktop users.

If you truly want the best 4K HDR experience on PC and don’t want to go with any of our previous options — don’t want to spend $3,000 on the PG32UQX, don’t want a QD-OLED ultrawide, and don’ t want to wait — then the next best choice is to step up to a larger format gaming monitor. And right now there’s no better choice than an OLED TV.

The benefits to OLED are all based around self-lit pixel technology. Because each pixel is individually lit, they can also be fully switched off to display black, leading to extremely deep blacks, detailed shadows and infinite contrast ratios. This is perfect for HDR, as contrast is so important; with an OLED panel you don’t get blooming due to low backlight zone counts, and this looks stunning in practice. Once you’ve used an OLED, it’s hard to go back.

The nature of OLEDs is also conductive to extremely fast response times, far faster than any modern LCD. Motion performance at the same refresh rate as an LCD is in the range of 5x better or more, and this allows for backlight strobing (or black frame insertion) that smokes what LCDs can do in terms of clarity. Today’s 42-inch and 48-inch OLEDs can reach 120Hz refresh rates which isn’t the fastest going around, but sufficient for a smooth, high refresh experience at 4K.

Our recommendations in this segment are LG C-series OLED TVs. We’ve yet to test the newer C2 series, hopefully we’ll be getting to that soon, but the C1 series in a 48-inch size is very impressive. The LG C2 brings with it an even smaller variant, the 42-inch model, which we feel could be a lot more suited to PC gaming and desktop use — and it should deliver similar performance to the 48-inch models we’ve already tested.

The 48-inch LG C1 can be found for as little as $1,000, which is great value for what it offers. If that sort of size is suitable for you, we’d have no hesitation jumping in to grab one. If you’re more interested in the new 42-inch C2 model, they’re just coming to market now in some countries, with an MSRP of $1,400, which is still a decent price if performance holds up.

While we’d have no trouble recommending OLEDs to someone using it for content consumption or gaming, there are some drawbacks that are important to mention. The first is the risk of burn-in, which is not that relevant for viewing mixed content, but is likely to happen if you are using the C1 or C2 as a desktop monitor. Static content like web browsers and other desktop apps are not ideal for OLED panels, and some of the panel protection features are ineffective or annoying for desktop use, like the automatic brightness limiter and pixel shifter.

These OLED panels also haven’t been designed for desktop use. Their RGBW subpixel layout is not great for text clarity, the size might be inconvenient, and brightness is very low compared to today’s LCDs (though acceptable for HDR content in the HDR mode). Again, great for content consumption, not so great for desktop users.

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