When you buy a computer screen, you must choose a TN, an IPS or a VA. The best solution for you depends on why you will use it primarily. And, if you are a gamer, different panel technologies are ideal for certain types of games.
Types of panels
As we mentioned above, you will come across the following three types of panels when purchasing a monitor:
Twisted nematic (TN): The oldest type of LCD screen.
Switching in the plan (IPS): This term was coined by LG. Samsung calls similar technology “airplane-line switching” (PLS), while AU Optronics uses a “hyper-advanced angle of view” (AHVA). All are comparable.
Vertical alignment (VA): Also called “super vertical alignment” (SVA) by Samsung and “advanced multi-domain vertical alignment” (AMVA) by AU Optronics. They all share similar characteristics.
The names refer to the alignment of the molecules in the LCD (liquid crystal display) and how they change when voltage is applied. All LCD monitors change the alignment of these molecules to work, but the way they do this can significantly affect image and response time.
Each type of panel has advantages and disadvantages. The easiest way to choose between them is to decide which attributes are most important to you. Much depends on how much you use your computer and how much you have to spend.
If you use your computer for a lot of things, like office work, programming, video and photo editing, or playing games, making a decision can be a little more difficult.
TN (Twisted Nematic) panels
TN screens were the first flat panel monitors produced in series. They helped make bulky cathode ray tubes (CRTs) a thing of the past and are still produced in large quantities today.
While newer panels are still better than their predecessors, TN display technology still suffers from some notable drawbacks. One is its limited viewing angles, especially on the vertical axis. It is not uncommon for the colors of a TN panel to completely reverse when viewed from an extreme angle.
Its color reproduction is not that strong either. Most TN panels are unable to display true 24-bit colors and instead use interpolation to simulate the correct shades. This can result in visible color bands and lower contrast ratios compared to IPS or VA panels.
Another area where TN panels often fall flat is color gamut (the range of colors a monitor can display). Only high-end TNs can be considered as wide range, which means that they display the entire sRGB spectrum. However, many fall short of this target, making them unsuitable for photo editing, color grading, or any other application where color accuracy is essential.
So why would someone buy a TN panel? For starters, they are cheap. They are inexpensive to produce, so they are often used in the most economical options. If you don’t like color reproduction or need excellent viewing angles, a TN panel may be suitable for your office or desk.
TN panels also have the lowest input offset, usually around a millisecond. They can also manage high refresh rate up to 240 Hz. This makes it an attractive option for competitive multiplayer games, especially eSports, where every split second counts.
If you prefer low latency to color reproduction or viewing angles, a TN panel might be all you need.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels
IPS technology was developed to improve the limitations of TN panels, including poor color reproduction and limited viewing angles. As a result, IPS panels are much better than TN screens in these two areas.
In particular, IPS panels have viewing angles much greater than TN. This means that you can view the IPS panels from extreme angles while achieving accurate color reproduction. Unlike TN, you will notice very little color change when you see one from a less than ideal perspective.
IPS panels are also known for their relatively good black reproduction, which helps eliminate the “washed out” look you get with TN panels. However, IPS panels are far from the excellent contrast ratios you will find on VAs.
While high refresh rates were generally reserved for TN, more and more manufacturers are producing IPS panels with refresh rates of 240 Hz. For example, the 27 inch 1080p ASUS VG279QM uses an IPS panel and supports 280 Hz.
Previously, TNs had less input lag than any other panel, but IPS technology eventually caught up. In June 2019, LG announced its new Nano IPS UltraGear monitors with a response time of one millisecond.
Despite the narrowing of the gap, you will still pay more for an IPS panel with a response time as low as for a TN with similar specifications. If you’re on a budget, expect a response time of around four milliseconds for a good IPS monitor.
One last thing to know with IPS panels is a phenomenon called “IPS glow”. It’s when you see the screen backlight shining through more extreme viewing angles. It’s not a big deal unless you’re looking at the sign from the side, but it’s something to keep in mind.
VA panels (vertical alignment)
VA panels are a sort of compromise between TN and IPS. They offer the best contrast ratios, which is why TV manufacturers use them widely. While an IPS monitor typically has a contrast ratio of 1000: 1, it is not uncommon to see 3000: 1 or 6000: 1 in a comparable VA panel.
In terms of viewing angles, VAs cannot quite match the performance of IPS panels. The screen brightness, in particular, may vary depending on the angle from which you look, but you won’t get the “IPS glow”.
VAs have slower response times than TNs and the new Nano IPS panels with their response rates of one millisecond. You can find VA monitors with high refresh rates (240 Hz), but latency can cause more ghosting and motion blur. For this reason, competitive players should avoid the VA.
Compared to TN, VA panels offer much better color reproduction and generally reach the full sRGB spectrum, even on low-end models. If you’re ready to spend a little more, Samsung Quantum dot SVA panels can achieve 125% sRGB coverage.
For these reasons, VA panels are considered the jack of all trades. They are ideal for general use, but they match or fail in most other areas except the contrast ratio. VAs are good for players who enjoy solo or casual experiences.
Media professionals, however, generally prefer IPS panels to VAs because they display a wider range of colors.
All LCD panels share common disadvantages
Compared to CRT monitors, all LCD panels suffer from some form of latency problem. It was a real problem when TN panels first appeared, and it has plagued IPS and VA screens for years. But the technology has evolved and although many of these problems have been improved, they have not been entirely eliminated.
Uneven backlighting is another problem you’ll find on all types of signs. Often this comes down to the overall build quality – the cheaper models loosen up on quality control to reduce production costs. So if you’re looking for a cheap monitor, be prepared for an uneven backlight. However, you will usually only notice it on solid or very dark backgrounds.
LCD panels are also sensitive to dead or stuck pixels. Different manufacturers and jurisdictions have different consumer pixel policies and laws for dead pixels. If you are a perfectionist, check the manufacturer’s policy regarding dead pixels before purchasing. Some will replace a monitor with a single dead pixel for free, while others require a minimum number.
What type of sign is best for you?
Right now, you probably have a pretty good idea of the type of sign you need to get. As is often the case, the more you spend, the more you earn.
Our recommendations for specific purposes are below:
Office or study use: Your budget should be your main concern here. VA is the all-purpose panel, with viewing angles greater than TN, but either would do. You can save money because you don’t need high refresh rates or ultra-low latency. They are still nice. You will notice a noticeable difference in fluidity just when you move the Windows cursor over a monitor with a 144 compared to the refresh rate of 60 Hz.
Photo and video editors / Digital artists: IPS panels are still generally appreciated for their ability to display a wide range of colors. It is not uncommon to find VA panels that also cover a wide range (125% sRGB and more than 90% DCI-P3), but they tend to exhibit more motion blur during rapid action than IPS panels . If you are serious about color accuracy, you should correctly calibrate your monitor.
Datacolor SpyderX ProProgrammers who mount monitors vertically: You might think TN panels are great for programmers, but it doesn’t have to be. TN panels have particularly poor viewing angles on the vertical axis. If you mount your monitor in portrait mode (as many programmers and mobile developers do), you will get the worst possible viewing angles from a TN panel. For the best possible viewing angles in this scenario, invest in an IPS screen.
Competitive online players: There is no doubt that TN panels are still favored in the world of eSports. Even the cheapest models have fast response times and support high refresh rates. For 1080p games, a 24 inch will do the trick, or you can opt for a 1440p, 27 inch model without breaking the bank. You may want to opt for an IPS panel as more and more low-latency models hit the market, but expect to pay more.
Non-competitive high-end PC players: For a rich and immersive image that stands out, a VA panel will provide a higher contrast ratio than IPS or TN. For deep blacks and a sharp, contrasting image, VA is the winner. If you are ready to sacrifice a little contrast, you can go the IPS route. However, we recommend that you avoid any TN unless you are playing competitively.
Best all-rounder: VA is the winner here, but IPS is better in all areas except the contrast ratio. If you can sacrifice contrast, an IPS panel will provide fairly low latency, decent blacks, and satisfactory color coverage.
Try before you buy
As you probably know, you can usually get a cheaper monitor online than at a brick and mortar store. Unfortunately, buying online also usually means buying blind. And with a TV or monitor, this can lead to disappointment.
If you can, consult the instructor you are interested in person before buying it. You can perform simple ghost and motion blur tests by grabbing a window with the mouse and quickly moving it around the screen. You can also test the brightness, watch videos and play with the on-screen display to find out.
If you can’t do any of these things, online reviews are always helpful, but beware false reviews on sites like Amazon.