You should choose between different panel types according to what you’ll mostly be using the monitor for — gaming, color-critical work, or watching movies and other everyday activities.
VA panels have the highest contrast ratio, but it usually comes at a cost of slower response time, so they’re excellent for watching movies, but not suitable for competitive gaming. TN panels are cheap and have fast response times, but inferior image quality and viewing angles.
IPS panels offers the most consistent colors and a quick pixel response time speed as well as the widest viewing angles, but they don’t have as high contrast ratio as VA panels, and they are usually more expensive.
Apart from the screen resolution, the display’s panel type will have the most significant impact on the overall image quality.
All three panel technologies have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s vital to choose the one that’s perfect for you.
TN (Twisted Nematic) Panel
We’ll start off with TN panels, which are nowadays mostly found in gaming monitors as they have the quickest response time speed.
All newer TN monitors will offer a rapid ~1ms response time (gray to gray pixel transition or ‘GtG’ for short), which eliminates ghosting/trailing behind fast-moving objects.
When paired with a high refresh rate, TN panel gaming monitors provide a buttery-smooth gaming experience at an affordable price, which is why they are usually the first choice of many professional FPS gamers.
But it’s not all good news:
TN monitors have the worst color reproduction and narrow viewing angles (170° horizontally, 160° vertically), which causes the image to shift in color, contrast and brightness when it’s looked at skewed angles.
The viewing angles aren’t an issue as long as you’re sitting in front of the monitor, apart from some gamma/saturation shifts, so if you’ve got a limited budget and care more about performance than pretty colors, a TN panel monitor is for you.
They can be quite bright, and more expensive models will have more vibrant colors, but not as good as that of IPS or VA panel alternatives.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) Panel
IPS panels provide the most accurate and consistent colors as well as wide 178° viewing angles, meaning that you can look at the screen from basically any angle without the image shifting in color and contrast.
If you’re a designer or a photographer, an IPS monitor is definitely for you.
While most IPS monitors have a slower response time speed (usually 4ms or 5ms GtG) than TNs, many casual gamers would hardly notice the difference.
In fact, ghosting and motion blur really isn’t an issue with IPS monitors unless you’re a hardcore competitive FPS player.
Newer IPS panel displays, such as the LG 27GL850, actually have just as fast 1ms pixel response time as certain TN monitors! So, many older TN models are now obsolete as they have no advantages over the newer IPS models.
Alas, the main downside of IPS monitors is ‘IPS glow.’
Here’s the deal:
If you’re watching particularly dark content in a dark room, you will be able to notice light ‘glowing’ around the corners of the screen. This is an expected side effect caused by the excess light passing through the panel.
It’s rather tolerable as it’s only mildly bothersome in certain scenarios i.e., watching pitch-black scenes of a movie in a dim-lit room. In some rare cases, mainly due to poor quality control, IPS glow can be distracting, in which case you should RMA the monitor.
Now, another thing to keep in mind is that IPS panels don’t have as high contrast as VA panels. A standard IPS monitor has a static contrast ratio of 1,000:1, whereas a VA alternative has around 3,000:1, or even higher.
So, blacks will be noticeably deeper on VA monitors, but this technology has disadvantages of its own, which we’ll get into later on.
In the past, IPS monitors were more expensive than TN models with the same specs. Nowadays, some IPS monitors are only slightly (if at all) more costly than their TN counterparts.
Keep in mind that there are several variations of IPS panels depending on the manufacturer, and you will also find them named differently. These are the most current versions you should know:
- PLS (Plane to Line Switching) by Samsung
- AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angles) by AU Optronics
- AAS (Azimuthal Anchoring Switch) by InnoLux
- ADS (Advanced Super Dimension Switch) by BOE
- IPS, AH-IPS, Nano IPS by LG
All of these panels imply wide viewing angles, consistent colors and good pixel response time, but naturally, some are better than others.
VA (Vertical Alignment) Panel
Last but not least, we have VA panels that boast a superior static contrast ratio.
While IPS and TN panels usually have a contrast ratio of around 1,000:1, most VA panels have a contrast ratio between 2,000:1 and 3,000:1, with more expensive models offering even higher contrast.
This allows them to display deeper blacks, brighter whites, and an overall more pronounced relation between the darkest and the brightest tones.
However, this also means that pixels take longer to change from such deep blacks to lighter shades.
Even though their specified response time speed may be the same as that of an average IPS display (4-5ms), they actually have a lot slower black to white pixel transition.
Consequently, in dark scenes of fast-paced video games, you get noticeable black smearing behind fast-moving objects, which can be distracting for competitive gaming.
That’s why hardcore FPS players avoid VA panels and opt for IPS or TN panels instead.
Not everyone is equally sensitive to this issue, and many gamers don’t mind a bit of smearing as, in return, you get an amazing image quality with deep blacks and excellent colors at a lower price than what you’d pay for an IPS variant.
Therefore, these monitors offer the most balanced image quality and performance with deep blacks and fast pixel transitions, but they are also more expensive.
Further, some VA panel monitors also support wide color gamut.
In fact, there are VA panels that have just as good colors as certain IPS monitors, but the colors on those VA displays won’t be as consistent as that of the IPS technology.
In other words, a certain shade of red, for instance, might not look the same at the top of the image and at the center of a VA panel monitor due to gamma shifts.
Generally, these slight uniformity issues aren’t really noticeable or bothersome in everyday use, but they are crucial for color-critical work, which is the main reason designers opt for IPS monitors.
Thanks to their high contrast and lack of IPS glow, VA panel displays are particularly great for watching movies in a dark room where details in shadows of the picture really stand out, which is why most LED TVs use VA panels, not IPS.
Lastly, although VA panels have specified 178° viewing angles just like IPS, some minor shifts in contrast and brightness are present at certain angles, but nothing excessive.
Depending on the panel manufacturer, you may also see VA panels marketed as:
- MVA (Multidomain Vertical Alignment)
- P-MVA, S-MVA
- AMVA (Advanced MVA) – not to be confused with AHVA (IPS by AUO)
That’s it! Hopefully, we’ve helped you pick the perfect panel type for you, but there are many other things to consider when buying a new monitor such as screen size, resolution and refresh rate.
You can find more information in our comprehensive gaming monitor buyer’s guide or one of the other guides on our website — depending on whether you need a monitor for photo-editing, office-work, etc.
All in all, if you’re a competitive gamer and don’t care much about image quality, TN monitors offer the most responsive gaming experience at lower prices than the competing fast IPS models.
For color-critical work, we highly recommend IPS monitors.
When it comes to VA vs IPS, there’s no obvious ‘better’ or ‘wrong’ option here.
Some users prefer the higher contrast of VA panels, others would rather have more consistent colors, so it’s up to what you personally prefer.