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Monitors: This is what the different types of panels mean

When buying a monitor, the same questions arise again and again: How big should it be and what resolution do you want. In addition to the price, these are the most frequently asked questions. The intended use is just as important, because depending on the type of display, a monitor is sometimes more and sometimes less suitable for the intended purpose. We will briefly explain the most important types and their properties.

Last updated: November 2019

There are basically three common display types: TN (Twisted Nematics), (P) VA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) and IPS (In Plane Switching). In terms of price, they also increase in exactly this order - TN is usually the cheapest, VA derivatives in the middle class and IPS is usually the most expensive. Of course, it also depends on the other equipment, a fully equipped gaming monitor with a TN panel can be more expensive than a monitor with an IPS panel.

TN

Image: digitalversus.com

As already mentioned, TN is the cheapest technology and can therefore usually be found in the entry-level area. TN panels have been around since thin LCD monitors hit the market. They have also been able to maintain their supremacy since then. There are many reasons for this, for example the very low production costs, which make it possible to offer larger displays for comparatively little money.

Another aspect is that TN panels are extremely responsive compared to the competition. Of course, this is an extremely important aspect, especially for gamers. Most fast gaming displays therefore also rely on TN panels. Refresh rates of up to 240 Hz are now possible with response times of just 1 ms (gray-to-gray). If you combine such a panel with various, often manufacturer-specific techniques for blur reduction, the result is an extremely sharp image, even with fast movements. Especially players with fast FPS titles like CS: GO benefit from such fast monitors.

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In addition to the advantages for gamers and comparatively low prices, there are also disadvantages. The viewing angle is very limited, especially horizontally, which means that the color representation is not optimal either - graphic designers and photographers who work with color-critical content should prefer to use displays with other panel types. In the case of films, the frequently used overdrive can also lead to artifact formation and increased noise.

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In the past, TN panels were also considered to be low-contrast with poor black levels. These times are now largely over. Only extremely cheap, mostly older displays still suffer from these symptoms. A good mid-range monitor usually no longer has both weaknesses.

VA / MVA / AMVA

Image: Digitalversus.com

The three types of panels take a fairly similar approach and emerge from the same foundation. VA stands for "Vertical Alignment", which means that the sub-pixels are arranged vertically. The main advantage of this arrangement is the comparatively large viewing angles, which are clearly superior to those of a TN panel. Classic MVA panels are much slower on the other hand, so they are not suitable for gamers. For office work or for home use, however, they provide a good mix of viewing angle stability, high contrast, and still an affordable price.

Newer VA types, above all AMVA, can in some cases already keep up with TN panels in terms of speed. Displays with a native 144 Hz and 1 ms response time are possible, as well as high-resolution WQHD displays. This can be too slow for extremely fast FPS titles, but it is usually sufficient for most other titles. The AMVA panels also offer a very high viewing angle stability without drifting into color distortions. Only the contrast suffers if the viewing angles are too steep. High contrast values ​​of 3000: 1 to 5000: 1, paired with the very good color rendering, are also suitable for color-demanding tasks in graphics or photography.

Of course, there are also disadvantages here. For example, there are no real matt displays because the anti-glare coating is semi-glossy - i.e. slightly glossy. On the other hand, it doesn't look as grainy as with TN panels. In spite of the high viewing angle stability, there is also a contrast shift if you do not look at the display in the center, which can be a disadvantage in color-critical applications. Also important for graphic designers: there are currently hardly any VA panels with 10-bit support.

IPS

Image: Hitachi Displays

The abbreviation stands for In-Plane Switching and is technically superior to VA and TN panels in most respects - but it also costs more. Originally, IPS displays had to struggle with very high response times, the contrast was low and the anti-glare coating looked grainy and almost "dirty". Some of these properties are still in people's minds, although IPS technology has undergone great improvements since its inception.

IPS panels now offer good contrast values ​​and even relatively short response times of just 5 ms. In addition, the viewing angle stability is unsurpassed, as IPS panels do not suffer from contrast shift, as is the case with VA panels. The color rendering is also best with IPS displays, in the high-end area there are also some 10-bit models that are particularly interesting for professional graphic designers. Since displays with diagonals of over 30 “and 4K UHD resolution are possible, there should be something for almost everyone.

Even gamers can now use IPS panels, as there are already some monitors that natively support 144 Hz. Technologies such as the blur reduction backlight are also slowly finding their way into IPS panels.

Image: LG.Display

If you are looking for a curved or 21: 9 display, you will not be able to avoid a VA or IPS panel, because until now these display forms have only been available with these panels.

But of course IPS also has disadvantages, although these are almost negligible compared to the other display technologies. Older IPS displays, for example, increasingly suffer from a coarse-grained anti-glare coating. IPS-Glow, a white shimmer that appears to cover dark areas at certain viewing angles, is still quite common - LG in particular is already working on solutions here.

Fast displays for gamers are also still quite rare and usually very expensive. In general, the price for a monitor with an IPS panel is always slightly higher than comparable models with a TN or VA panel.

What kind of display should I buy now?

If you are now spoiled for choice, you should first think about what the display should be used for and how much you can or would like to spend.

The first choice for gamers is actually always the TN panel. Here you can often get very fast 144 Hz displays with various additional functions for relatively little money. Even models with AMD's FreeSync technology are available for less than 200 euros. Even as an all-rounder for home use, a TN panel is usually a good compromise between performance and price.

Fast-reacting IPS panels can now be found for less than 400 euros. If you want to take the money in hand, you get a better color display and better viewing angles for the money than with a monitor with a TN panel.

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If you sit in front of the monitor frequently and for a long time, you should use at least a VA, but better an IPS panel. The higher viewing angles and better anti-glare coatings are quickly noticeable in everyday work. Above all, it is also important that VA and IPS displays are often available in combination with a flicker-free backlight - your eyes will thank you for this decision.

Graphic artists, photographers, videographers and everyone else who depends on clean, natural colors and large viewing angles should definitely use an IPS panel. Often there are already specially designed models that offer particularly natural color rendering. Especially in the professional sector, where every nuance counts, 10-bit IPS panels are the only option.

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