Last updated: January 2018
The console world may be buzzing about its big shift to 4K gaming, but PC gamers have been able to run games at 3840 x 2160 for quite some time. All you need is a high-end GPU, and a monitor that supports that resolution. 4K monitors have been around for years, but they were extremely expensive and usually came with major trade-offs.
All that changed over the last year, with steep price drops on 4K monitors and the addition of lots of technologies that gamers care about including faster, variable refresh rates and pixel response times. 4K monitors are still pricey, especially those aimed at meeting the demands of gamers, but the big boost in visual quality is worth it.
Before we get to the recommendations, we should quickly explain variable refresh rate (VRR) technologies. Normally, your graphics card draws a frame, and then has to wait until the monitor’s refresh cycle before it can display it. When the timing of these two events isn’t in sync, you would see partially-drawn frames on the screen (called “tearing”). If you have a monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate, and your GPU just barely missed drawing the frame in 1/60th of a second, it momentarily drops down to 30fps instead of something like 57fps, as it waits for the next 60Hz monitor refresh.
Variable refresh rate monitors reverse this relationship to refresh the monitor’s display right when the graphics card is done drawing a frame. If the game finished drawing that last frame in 1/57th of a second, the monitor will run at 57Hz and the frame will be immediately displayed. VRR makes your games look a lot smoother and gives you more freedom to adjust visual quality in games without worrying about causing about a jumpy framerate, or else turning off V-sync and suffering with tearing. This is especially important if you’re an early adopter of 4K gaming, since 4k / 60 FPS is still hard for even high-end rigs to achieve.
There are two such technologies right now, and they’re not compatible with each other. Nvidia’s is called G-Sync. It requires special hardware in the monitor and only works with Nvidia graphics cards. AMD’s is called FreeSync and doesn’t require any special hardware—it’s built upon an optional part of the VESA specification. But it’s only supported by AMD graphics cards.
So, while G-Sync and FreeSync are definitely worth it and make a huge difference, you need to make sure to match your monitor to your Nvidia or AMD graphics card. Your monitor will still work with the wrong brand of graphics card, you’ll just lose VRR support.
We’re breaking our best 4k monitor recommendations into two size categories: 27-inch (or 28-inch) and 32-inch, and providing a G-Sync and FreeSync choice for each. If you’re on a budget but you just gotta have a 4K monitor, check out our 24-inch pick. Honestly, that many pixels on a display that small is sort of a waste and you’d probably be better off with a 1440p monitor. But it does save you a lot of money and some desk space over the 27-inch models.
Most 4K gaming monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz and don’t support HDR, but monitors with support for VRR, high refresh rates, and HDR should hit the market early in 2018.
27-inch G-Sync: Acer Predator XB271HK
It’s hard to call a $700 monitor “cheap” but a 4K, 60Hz monitor that uses IPS technology for better color and has a 4ms pixel response time…that’s the kind of thing you usually pay around $1,000 for. This monitor has great color reproduction, and pretty good response times for an IPS panel. A couple of its USB ports can be a little hard to reach, and the on-screen display for adjusting settings is awkward. But for great visual quality and performance at a reasonable price, you can’t beat it.
27-inch FreeSync: LG 27UD68
Most of the 4K monitors that support FreeSync and are marketed toward gamers are TN panels, which have fast pixel response times but poorer color reproduction and viewing angles. LG has a great IPS monitor that may not be billed as a “gaming” monitor specifically, but it has most of the same features other 4K gaming monitors do. It features great color reproduction, is nice and bright at 350 nits, and even includes a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports that support 4K at 60Hz, so you can plug in a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X and get full resolution (but not HDR). Oh, did I mention it costs well under $500?
32-inch G-Sync: Acer Predator XB321HK
If you want a really big 4K monitor with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, you’re going to have to spend a pretty penny. The only currently available model of that size with a full 3840 x 2160 resolution is the Acer Predator XB321HK. This is the 32-inch version of our 27-inch pick, and has all the same features and specs. Except it’s 32 inches across, for glorious full immersion in your favorite games. It costs over $1,000, but for 32-inch G-Sync 4K monitors it’s currently the only game in town.
32-inch FreeSync: LG 32UD59
Are you ready for some pleasant sticker shock? You can get a 32-inch, 4K monitor with FreeSync for less than $500. Seriously, this is less than half the price of the only G-Sync 4K display at this size! LG’s monitor uses a VA panel, unlike the 27-inch model mentioned above, so color accuracy and viewing angles should be better than a TN monitor but not as good as an IPS monitor. Like the 27-inch LG monitor mentioned above, it comes with a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports that support 4K at 60Hz, so you can also plug in game consoles or laptops.
24-inch budget option: LG 24UD58
There are precious few 24-inch monitors out there with 4K resolution, and none at all that support Nvidia’s G-Sync technology. But LG has a very affordable 24-incher that supports FreeSync. This lets AMD fans, or those who aren’t concerned about variable refresh rate, get into 4K at a very affordable price.
Available for less than $300, you get a lot of bang for your buck. This is an IPS display with excellent color reproduction and great viewing angles. And like the other LG monitors mentioned here, it’s got two HDMI 2.0 ports supporting 4K at 60Hz.
It’s certainly not a looker, with its wide bezels and utilitarian black design. The brightness is only “okay,” too at 250 nits. Frankly, 4K isn’t all that useful in a monitor this size, and you’d likely be better off with a higher refresh rate and a resolution of 2560 x 1440. But if you just have to have a 4K display and you don’t have a lot of desk space or a big budget, this is the monitor to get.