I built a high-end PC recently. You can read about the woes of the build here, and you can read a whole lot more about it in the PC PowerPlay Tech Special that should be on sale now (or soonishly). To complement the innards, I was loaned two screens which, on the surface, seemed pretty comparable, but after more research and testing, they cater to two distinct tastes.
The first was a 24.5-inch Asus ROG Swift PG258Q, and the second a 27-inch Acer Predator XB1 XB271HU. Both are G-Sync screens. Initially, I spent a lot of time playing on the XB1, honestly, because of the size difference, but this later proved moot once I reconfigured my desk (my new tower is gigantic, and doesn’t fit under the boardroom-sized desk). With the monitors closer, it felt less like the 2.5-inch size difference between the screens even mattered.
The PG258Q has a traditional Twisted Nematic (TN) panel and has a maximum resolution of 1080p. The XB1 has a newer In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel and a max resolution of 1440p. On paper, this makes the XB1 look like the better bet, even before playing dozens of hours of games on both screens, but it’s not as simple as that. The higher resolution and colour depiction of the IPS panel are both gorgeous.
But there’s a catch. The IPS panel in the XB1 has a 4ms response time, compared to the 1ms response time in the Asus panel. If you’re a fan of online shooters, like I am, you’ll start to notice the difference, too, especially when shifting between screens. Yes, we’re dealing in fractions of seconds, and I’m fully willing to admit that it might be psychological, but as I get older and my reaction speeds continue to diminish in fractions of a second, I’ll take all the gains I can get.
It’s not the same as a gaming equivalent of a fountain of youth, but it’s the next best thing. I much prefer gaming on the Acer screen for offline gaming, or any online games that don’t involve faster reaction times. When it comes to shooters, though, I’m a big believer in removing all possible hurdles to ensuring you have the best chance of being as competitive as you can possibly be. After all, when online tick rates are measuring things in fractions of a second, it’s important to ensure that your rig (frame rate), internet connection (lag/packet loss), and peripherals (input lag) aren’t letting you down.
The unifying value between both screens is G-Sync. Honestly, if you’re serious about online gaming and have a compatible Nvidia card, you really should consider investing in a G-Sync screen. Because that’s what it is: an investment. I’ve upgraded every possible peripheral to ensure I have a competitive edge, except for my screens, and after seeing how I can spot more detail while moving (thanks to the smoother image), I’m now saving up to buy a G-Sync screen.
Another thing to take into account is today’s needs versus tomorrow’s. On paper, a 240Hz screen sounds great, but it’s not easy to hit this frame rate in modern games, even on low settings and with a 1080 Ti GPU (which is what I have). I was able to reach 220fps in Rainbow Six Siege, but couldn’t consistently get beyond 120fps in Battlefield 1, especially on the new DLC maps, which appear to be quite taxing on frames if my early tests are any indication [please note: after troubleshooting sporadic frame stuttering in BF1, I discovered that my resolution, read: supersampling, slider was at 175. I honestly don’t remember moving that, but dropping it back to 100 greatly improved frames, so I was able to hit higher fps, but had returned the screen].
PUBG is a similar affair, except slightly more complicated by the fact that playing around with fixed settings from Very Low to Ultra isn’t the best way to make enemies visible. With my current settings, with a mix of Very Low and Ultra options, I’m at around 120fps in version 1.0 with the latest Nvidia drivers. This means the Asus monitor is reaching (close to) its full potential in only one of the three online shooters that I’m currently playing.
Obviously, a big chunk of a game’s performance is also determined by how well optimised it is. Frostbite, for instance, is pushed more in Battlefield 1, but can hit much higher frame rates in Battlefront II (there’s less going on in that engine, though), Siege has had some recent engine optimisations, and so too has PUBG. The bottom line is, unless you’re playing Siege, Counter-Strike, or other older shooters, 165Hz is probably all you need right now. There’s also an argument that you’re dealing in diminishing returns once you split hairs between 165Hz and 240Hz.
On the other side of things, you have to take into account that not every game has a frame-rate limiter. This is crucial for G-Sync (and FreeSync) screens, to ensure that the hardware-powered Sync technology is doing its job. For instance, playing Siege at 200fps on the XB1 is silly because the G-Sync support maxes out at 165fps.
It’s also worth flagging that the jump from 60Hz to 165Hz is much more noticeable than the jump from 165Hz to 240Hz. I’d definitely say this is indicative of my experience. The other catch is, at least for me, there’s cognitive dissonance between owning a really expensive GPU, then lowering your in-game settings to facilitate higher frames. It just feels yuck. The things we do for a competitive edge.
Given the week or so that’s passed since I drafted this article, I’m still not closer to definitively choosing between the PG258Q and the XB1. My twisted game-loving heart tells me I would love both—the XB1 for everyday gaming, and the PG258Q for ultra-responsive online shooters—but the practical part of my brain that controls boring things like budgets balks at this idea.