Coding, testing, checking with tutorials and peers—creating a game or an app is the embodiment of multitasking, it weighs on your body and mind the same way it does on your computer. Switching between windows to check on a mail/message from your fellow programmer (or your mom/girlfriend/doc/whoever the hell you mail with) or to watch a video tutorial can sometimes disrupt your focus on the coding itself. Also, it takes time. Seconds at a time, yes, but those seconds tend to pile up, don’t they?
So what to do? How do you boost your performance and stay sane? Generally, there are two solutions the programmers prefer: either use several standard monitors or a single 4K/UHD (or at least UWQHD) one. For those of us coding day and night until our back and neck are in pain with all the head turning, a single monitor is preferable but not everyone can afford it even with the 4K reducing in price recently. And even with several monitors, we still need to decide which to buy. What is the best monitor for game development, exactly?
I think no one will come fight me (although you are welcome if you want to) if I say the most important things are screen size, resolution, and panel type. When I seek a new monitor, I look for those of 24” or more, and 27” are my favorite, not too bulky but large enough. I could fit up to five of them on my desk but three is okay, in fact. I use one to write code, another to test it, the third one goes for everything else. Smaller than 24” can be okay for someone who won’t need to go all squinty-eyed to see the details but unfortunately that’s not me. As for resolution, folks say 1080p is a minimum to consider and I agree though for my 27” monitors 1080p is a bit lacking, I’d go for 1440p any day. 1600p is good, too. 4K resolution is wow but with it, you’ll have to look for not only a monitor but for a GPU with at least 8GB RAM, a large screen like 30”, and some other things. If you have all those—my congratulations, 4K is something!
I usually discard TN panels right away but that’s again because for me color and contrast are more important than responsiveness and I don’t mind paying a little more for an IPS. But that’s me. Also, note that with several monitors they will all stand at different angles around you, and with TN panels this might be not too good. VA can be the middle of the road surface here, they are still slower than TN ones but brighter and have better viewing angles than them yet they are cheaper than IPS.
To the less important (for me) but still good points to consider. When I have several 27” 1440p/1600p IPS monitors to choose from and I can’t decide right off the bat, I go for ports. The more ports the better, if you ask me. HDMI is always present but if there are two it’s better, a DVI or/and a VGA port can also be nice, just in case.
Lastly, many developers love monitors that can go 90°. It is a cool thing, especially for the one monitor you code on. But for me personally, it’s the thing I’d consider at the very end of my parameters list.
Playing Games is just as important
Coding and programming games are only one facet of game development, you have to play your games as well. Refresh rates, different resolutions and high-end graphics all need to be tested and that means finding something that can support a wide range of settings. There is a case to be made for thinking about using a projector for testing games, especially console games. Projectors can easily do 1080p or 4k resolution and are much smaller than a monitor or TV. To get a better breakdown of what projectors would work for gaming, you can check out this excellent guide.
Hunting for a New Monitor
Many game developers at some point come to the realization that your average monitor, same as you average PC, is only good up to a certain level. When you want to exceed that level, you need to upgrade not only your coding skills but your work tools as well. Namely, your PC and monitor, for starters. Here in this article, I’d like to talk about monitors specifically.
The range of monitors we see today on the market is blinding, all of them geared towards different users. Some are for office use, some for movie nights at home, and some are for gamers of varied levels of ‘hardcore’. When you’re a game developer you should use at least the level of equipment those playing your game use, or better. I usually start from a panel. Obviously, IPS are the best ones, they offer the largest viewing angles which is vital when you have several monitors (which I do) and the brightest possible colors. But they are rather expensive, especially when it comes to buying, let’s say, three of the same kind. Monitors with VA panels are a little cheaper and also have fairly good specs although hardly on par with IPS. But they have lower response time. Response time is the best in TN panels but… these are not the best option for testing your game since the viewing angle they offer is little to no good. They say the newest models are better but I’ll know for sure when I see it and up till now, I didn’t have the chance. So what I’m talking about here is, if you want to use single monitor for the whole development process, you should definitely, undoubtedly go for an IPS. You will make better games with it. But, if you can afford several but not several IPS, the one you write code in can even be TN (if you’re budget-strapped) or VA. What matters is that the monitor you test your game on should probably be IPS. You will adjust all the colors right, you’ll see the smallest bugs in the image even if you sit a bit sideways to it. It’s just simply better.
Screen size. Well, this one is clearly the preference issue. I’d say don’t go smaller than 24” but I’ve heard of programmers coding on a 21” monitor just fine. If your eyes are good, you see details clearly, why not? Just be careful to not make those eyes bad in the process. I myself prefer 27” or bigger.
Finally, a resolution. Your resolution will directly depend on your screen size. The bigger the screen the larger resolution you need. You don’t want your 1080p to go blurry on a 34” display. 1080p is good on 21” or 24”, some coders manage 1080p on a 27” but well. What can I say. I’d prefer 1440p at least on a 27” monitor. Maybe 1600p even. And, of course, 30”, let alone 34” begs for even bigger numbers. At the same time, too large resolution on a small screen is also no good so don’t only chase one of these two parameters, they are tight as a knot.
On a side note, I’d recommend a pivoting monitor as a coding one. It will contain more code this way. That is, if you don’t tend to write long lines of code. At 90°, you’ll see more lines at a given time, it will be easier to find bugs.
What parameters do you look at when you choose your own best monitor for game development?