Wondering whether or not a monitor with a 4ms response time is fast enough for gaming? We’ve got you covered!
If you frequently play eSports games (especially fast-twitch shooters), you need quickest, most accurate image possible. This is where a fast response time comes into play.
There are plenty of cheap, blazing-fast 1ms monitor options out there, but many of them are TN panels with low image quality or limited viewing angles. So, chances are good that you’re going to be seeing lots of 4ms IPS monitors if you’re looking for monitors that boast higher image quality.
Generally, 4ms is plenty fast enough for the vast majority of gamers. The actual, realized difference between 4ms and 1ms is extremely low and imperceptible to all but the most elite eSports players. It’s also important to note that many monitors claim a response time that isn’t achieved in reality.
That’s the way-too-short answer to a question that really needs more explaining.
We’ll dive into the details to help you determine exactly what you should (and shouldn’t) compromise on when it comes to response time in a monitor.
What Monitor Response Time Actually Means
A monitor’s response time is just the time it takes for the monitor to change a pixel from black to white. So when someone says something about a monitor having a 4ms response time, they just mean that the monitor takes 4 milliseconds to change a pixel from black to white.
This also applies to the time it takes the monitor’s pixels to change to and from other colors, but “response time” usually only refers to the black-to-white measurement.
The concept of response times is pretty simple and straightforward, though that hasn’t stopped some more unscrupulous manufacturers from muddying the waters. Some manufacturers have taken to advertising their monitors’ grey-grey response times instead of the black-to-white times, and they aren’t always up front about which is which.
This is a bigger problem than it seems.
Grey-grey response times refer to the time it takes for a monitor to change a pixel from one level of grey to the next, which naturally takes less time than going from black to white.
That means manufacturers can (and do) advertise their monitors as having low response times while conveniently omitting the fact that their monitors’ black-to-white response times—IE, the actual response times—are significantly higher.
Even worse: manufacturers measure color levels differently, so going from one level of grey to the next may mean very different things from one manufacturer to another. Or in other words, grey-grey response times are basically meaningless and should be ignored.
It’s also worth pointing out that response times are not the same as latency or input lag. Response time only refers to the time it takes for pixels to change colors, not to the time it takes for a computer or monitor to catch up to your inputs.
Now that you know what “response time” means, it’s time to talk about what it means to you.
How Monitor Response Time Affects Gaming
The general rule of thumb is that lower is better when it comes to response times. Monitors (and TVs) with high response times can be fine when streaming shows, browsing the internet, and playing slow-paced games, but they tend to struggle with faster games.
A high response time means the monitor’s pixels take a while to change colors, so they may not be able to keep up with the action on screen. The monitor literally won’t be able to respond quickly enough to accurately display fast-moving characters, vehicles, or objects, which can result in distracting visual artifacts like motion blur and ghosting (when there’s a shadow or silhouette around moving objects).
Motion blur and ghosting also occur when you play at lower frame rates, which makes sense if you think about it.
A high response time and a low framerate both involve the monitor’s pixels not changing colors quickly enough, and response time and refresh rate are directly related. After all, how could a monitor display over a hundred frames per second if its pixels couldn’t change color quickly enough to keep up?
For more information on the benefits of high refresh rates versus image quality, check out our guide to the pros and cons of 144Hz monitors or our guide to high refresh rate monitors versus 4K monitors.
Is a 4ms Response Time Fast Enough?
Lower is better when it comes to response times, but is 4ms low enough?
In a word: yes.
A millisecond is a thousandth of a second. Four milliseconds is four thousandths of a second. That means a monitor with a 4ms response time can change its pixels’ color 250 times every second.
How fast is that really? Well, you know how blinking your eyes feels pretty much instantaneous?
Get this: blinking takes 100ms on average, meaning a monitor with a 4ms response time can change the color of its pixels 25 times in the split-second it takes to close your eyes and open them again. At that speed you’re very unlikely to encounter artifacts like motion blurring or ghosting, and even the fastest games should look great and feel smooth and cohesive.
What Response Time is Right for You?
Some argue that any monitor with a response time faster than 5ms will work just fine for gaming. Others argue that 4ms is too slow, and that serious gamers should opt for monitors with the fastest-possible response times.
The fastest monitors on the market today boast response times of 1ms, but how do they compare to monitors with 4ms response times?
There’s a difference of 3ms between 4ms and 1ms response times. That’s three thousandths of a second, or 3% of the time it takes for you to blink. Now, how much of a difference do you think 3ms will really make? Here’s a hint: it won’t.
Some gamers will claim they can tell the difference between any response times under 5ms, but chances are they’re just saying that to sound cool. Only the best, most seasoned gamers with nearly superhuman reflexes will be able to tell the difference between 1ms and 4ms response times, and even they’ll admit there’s very little difference.
Sure, going from a 4ms response time to 1ms may give you a small advantage, though it’ll be less like upgrading a Formula One car’s engine than fine-tuning its aerodynamics or weight distribution to shave fractions of a second off the final time. It’s the kind of upgrade that won’t benefit you unless you’re at the very top of the ladder, and it may require you to make some sacrifices.
Until recently your only options for sub-5ms response times were IPS or TN monitors. This is still mostly true, though you may find a few new monitors with other panel types that purport to achieve response times of 5ms or less.
For the most part though you’ll still be limited to monitors with IPS or TN panels if you’re looking for lightning-fast response times, with TN panels typically being among the only ones capable of hitting 1ms.
You’ll be much more likely to find a monitor with a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel that can hit 1ms response times than one with an IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel. This and cost are the only advantages that TN panels have over their IPS cousins. TN panels have very limited viewing angles compared to IPS panels, and IPS panels can reproduce a much wider range of colors.
So, a TN panel may give you a marginally faster response time, but IPS panels will give you much richer, more accurate colors, better contrast, and a more immersive picture in general. The narrow color gamut also makes monitors with TN panels less than ideal for any kind of graphic design, photo or video editing, or any task that demands accurate colors.
So what does this all mean for you? Simply put, it means that you’ll often have to choose between a true 1ms response time or a significantly better picture.
Chances are you’ll be using your monitor for more than just playing intense fast-twitch games, so an IPS monitor with a 4ms response time will be the best bet for all but the most elite eSports players.
It used to be a no-brainer to opt for a TN panel if pure performance was your only priority. Nowadays, IPS panels have largely closed the gap and have made TN panels harder to recommend for 99% of consumers.
A monitor’s response time is a measure of how long it takes for it to change a pixel from black to white. That means a monitor with a 4ms response time takes four milliseconds to change the colors of its pixels, or 4% of the time it takes for you to blink.
A monitor with a low response time may cause distracting artifacts like motion blurring and ghosting in fast-paced games, but a 4ms response time is more than fast enough to eliminate those annoyances. And even though you can find monitors with faster response times, the tradeoffs involved may not be worth it to anyone but pro gamers.
Your best bet will probably be to find a monitor with a high refresh rate, a good native resolution, and a response time of 4 or 5ms…until you go pro, that is.