What Are The Best Monitor Settings for Gaming

The purchase of a gaming monitor has been completed. Everything is all up, and you're ready to go head-to-head with your opponents, right? Surely not! Getting a new display up and running isn't as simple as plugging it in. To get the most out of your new monitor, you'll need to set up the display and make a few changes in Windows' display settings to do so. Fear not, for I've got your back if that's too terrifying. In this guide, I'll cover the most often asked questions and settings so that you can jump into the game quickly and get the most out of your new gaming display. Let us now begin.

Why Take the Time to Configure?

Before making a final purchase, you presumably conducted some research and comparison shopping, whether you're putting together your very first gaming PC or simply replacing your display. What would you say if I told you that many of the most prominent features listed on the product page for a monitor are probably not even activated by default? It is correct. In a similar vein, features that appear to have a lot of potential on paper might not actually be all that useful in practice. It is one of the most crucial components of owning a gaming monitor to take the time to correctly configure your display and to know what each setting does. Taking the effort to do so also includes knowing what each setting does.

When you've finished reading this tutorial, you'll be confident that you have everything you need to conquer any game you play, and you'll be able to set up your monitor and begin playing right away.

Connections Aren’t Created Equal

If you buy a new monitor today, there’s a good chance it’s going to accept HDMI and DisplayPort for video inputs. If you’re using one that’s a little older or more budget-oriented, it may also have VGA, DVI, and/or DVI-D connections. Each of these has different limitations, so it’s important to know what type of connectivity, and capability, your new monitor has to offer.

If you buy a new monitor today, there’s a good chance it’s going to accept HDMI and DisplayPort.

If you’re completely new to monitors, there are two terms you need to know, resolution and refresh rate. Resolution refers to how many pixels a monitor can display and the most common are 720p (1280x720), 1080p (1920x1080), 1440p/2K (2560x1440), and 2160p/4K (3840x2160).

A monitor’s refresh rate (referred to as “Hz” or “Hertz”) is the maximum frames per second (FPS) it is capable of displaying regardless of the amount of frames a game may output. A 60Hz monitor, for example, will only ever display 60 FPS, even if your graphics card is capable of more than that.


Here are the most common types of connections and the maximum resolutions/refresh rates common to PC gaming monitors. In several cases, I’ve included the “next step down” to give you an idea of the more popular resolution/refresh rate for that connection.


VGA*: (A vintage connection, largely incompatible with modern video cards)

  • Maximum resolution and refresh rate: There is no maximum resolution limit, though the image begins to degrade by 1920x1080 (1080p). The maximum refresh rate varies depending on resolution but, in general, you will be limited to 60Hz.


  • Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 1920x1200 (1200p), 144Hz


  • Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 2560x1600 (1600p), 144Hz


  • HDMI 1.0 - 1.2*: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 1920x1200 (1200p), 60Hz

  • HDMI 1.3*: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 2560x1440 (1440p), 60Hz

  • HDMI 1.4: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4K), 30Hz

  • HDMI 2.0: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4K), 60HZ

  • HDMI 2.0a: Same as above but supports HDR

  • HDMI 2.0b: Same as above but supports HDR10 standard

  • HDMI 2.1 (upcoming): Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4k), 120Hz; version includes support all the way to 10K at 120Hz.


  • DisplayPort 1-1.1*: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160, 30Hz

  • DisplayPort 1.2: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4K), 75Hz; 2560x1440, 165Hz

  • DisplayPort 1.3: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4K), 120Hz (or two 4K displays at 60Hz each)

  • DisplayPort 1.4: Maximum resolution and refresh rate: 3840x2160 (4K), 120Hz (or two 4K displays at 60Hz each), HDR 10 support added

Connections and HDR Support

Many gaming monitors today also support high dynamic range, or “HDR.” The fidelity of HDR content will vary from panel to panel, but when it comes to connections, you will need at least HDMI 2.0a, 2.0b or DisplayPort 1.4 to display HDR content. HDMI 2.1 is ideal as it supports frame-by-frame Dynamic HDR.

One hugely important thing to be aware of is that, as of right now, there are still trade-offs if you would like to view HDR content at high resolutions like 4K. I’ll get to how to enable HDR on your PC soon, but be aware that running a 4K 144Hz panel with full RGB 10-bit color is currently not possible. DisplayPort 1.4 is designed for 8-bit color, 120Hz. Full 10-bit color without subsampling will demand a refresh rate closer to 100Hz. HDMI 2.1 looks to solve this problem but is currently not available at the time of this writing.

To take advantage of HDR and maintain 120Hz+ refresh rates, you’ll need to use chroma subsampling. You may be familiar with the term from the console and television worlds but, in essence, this saves bandwidth by slightly reducing the resolution of the image. In gaming, this is very difficult to notice, so it’s a reasonable trade-off but for text and still images, sub-sampling can become very clear and leave off-color casts around images and text. I suggest taking advantage of it (skip ahead to “Configuring Color Depth” to see how) where necessary in games and even leaving it enabled at a the level of YCbCR444 where the degradation is more difficult to notice.

Thankfully, changing settings related to resolution, refresh rate, and HDR is very easy and can be quickly once you know where to go.

Choosing Your Resolution and Refresh Rate

Note: From this point on, directions are based on an updated version of Windows 10.

If you’re an Nvidia user, make sure you’re running the latest driver, right-click on the desktop and select “Nvidia Control Panel.” From there, click on the “+” sign under “Display” and select “Change Resolution.” You’ll now be at a screen where you can select your new display and choose its maximum resolution from a scrollable menu. If you have a 1080p monitor, you’ll need to find the entry that says “1080p, 1920x1080,” for 4K, you’ll find the entry for 3840x2160, and so on.

To the right, you’ll see a drop-down menu to select the different refresh rates available for that resolution. Choose the highest one you’re able to select. Note that this will change if you alter the color settings on the bottom of this window (when adjusting for HDR), you may need to adjust your refresh rate.

  • Resolution/Refresh Rate Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> Nvidia Control Panel -> Display -> Change Resolution


If you’re an AMD user, right-click on the desktop and select “Display Settings.” From here, scroll down until you reach the “Resolution” setting and select your monitor’s native resolution from the drop down menu.

  1. To change the refresh rate, scroll to the bottom of the page and select “Advanced Display Settings”

  2. Underneath your monitor, select “Display adapter properties for Display 1” (the number may change if you have multiple monitors connected) and a new window will open up

  3. Click the “monitor” tab. Under “Monitor Settings” and “Screen refresh rate,” where you will find another drop-down menu

  4. Select the highest refresh rate available.

Note that if you change color settings when configuring HDR, you may need to revisit this step.

  • Resolution Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> Display Settings -> Resolution

  • Refresh Rate Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> Display Settings -> Advanced Display Settings -> Display adapter properties for Display 1 -> Monitor -> Screen Refresh Rate

Configuring Color Depth

Configuring your monitor’s color depth is crucial to being able to display high dynamic range content, but even on an SDR monitor, proper configuration will allow your display to present rich, well-blended colors. Here’s how to get the most out of it.

  1. If you’re an Nvidia user, return to the Nvidia Control Panel and navigate back to the same screen where we adjusted our resolution and refresh rate

  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page

  3. Under “Apply the following settings,” select the radio button for “Use NVIDIA Color Settings.”

  4. Below that you will find drop-down menus for Desktop Color Depth, Output Color Depth, Output Color Format, and Output Dynamic Range. Start by setting all of these to their highest value, choosing “Full” under the Output Dynamic Range menu and “RGB” for Output Color Format.

  5. Click apply to save these settings.

If you’re running a 4K, 144Hz panel, you may notice that the Output Color Depth value has lowered. If this occurs, set it back to its highest setting and then change Output Color Format to YCbCr444 (this will change Output Dynamic Range to “Limited”). Click apply again. If the color depth continues to change, lower Output Color Format to YCbCr422.

At this point, you will likely notice an ugly, off-color halo appear around still images and text, so I recommend only using it for games and video. If that still doesn’t work, you will need to either lower the refresh rate or drop to an 8-bit Output Color Depth.

  • Color Depth Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> Nvidia Control Panel -> Display -> Apply These Settings -> Use NVIDIA Color Settings -> Color Drop-down Menus

If you’re an AMD user, this step is a bit simpler for you. Right-click on the desktop and select “AMD Radeon Settings.” Select the “Display” tab in the window that opens. From there, you will see boxes for “Color Depth” and “Pixel Format.” The first represents the Output Color Depth we found in Nvidia’s Control Panel. Pixel Format represents chroma subsampling (analogous to Nvidia’s Output Color Format). Set both of these to their highest settings.

  • Color Depth Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> AMD Radeon Settings -> Display -> Color Depth and Pixel Format

How to Enable FreeSync/G-SYNC

You are in for a real treat if you bought a monitor that supports AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-SYNC. These technologies enable your graphics processing unit (GPU) and display to work in tandem, which results in the delivery of an adjustable frame rate. This frame rate helps to prevent screen tearing and provides a gameplay experience that is significantly more fluid.

Since Nvidia very recently made it possible for G-SYNC to work with FreeSync-enabled monitors as well, if you have an Nvidia GPU and a FreeSync monitor, it is quite likely that you will still be able to make use of adaptive sync. It is important to keep in mind that the list of displays that have been officially approved by Nvidia as being "G-SYNC Compatible" is continuously being expanded, thus there is no assurance that your monitor will provide a G-SYNC experience that is flawless if it is not included on this list. Having said that, a significant number of people do, and I believe that you should give it a shot for yourself.

If you’re an Nvidia user, once more navigate to the Nvidia Control Panel. Under “Display” click on “Set up G-SYNC.” From there, check the box “Enable G-SYNC, G-Sync Compatible.” Below, you’ll find two radio buttons for enabling G-SYNC in full screen and windowed modes or just full screen. Start by selecting the box for both. If you notice stuttering or other odd behavior in-game and switch this setting to full screen mode only. Next, select your display and check the box that says “Enable settings for the selected display model” and click apply.

  • G-SYNC Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> Nvidia Control Panel -> Display -> Set up G-SYNC

If you’re an AMD user, you’ll first need to enable FreeSync through your monitor’s on-screen display. This can usually be found under the “Gaming” sub-menu, selected, and enabled with a few quick presses. Once that’s done, you’ll need to go back into the AMD Radeon Settings menu, click the Display tab, and click the AMD FreeSync button to enable it. It’s likely this will already be enabled but don’t forget to check to be sure.

  • FreeSync Shortcut: Right-click the desktop -> AMD Radeon Settings -> Display -> AMD FreeSync

Does Your Monitor Have Speakers? Make Sure They’re Turned On!

Many monitors these days come with speakers built right in. Usually, they’re small and not very impressive but there are exceptions to this rule and it’s worth exploring what kind of audio your monitor is capable of producing.

  1. To turn on your monitor’s speakers, first open the on-screen display using the buttons built into the monitor

  2. Find the setting for Audio (it’s usually its own sub-menu) and be sure they aren’t muted

  3. Next, open the Start Menu and type in “Control Panel” and press Enter

  4. The Windows’ Control Panel will open in a new window

  5. Select the icon for Sound. If you’re connected over HDMI or DisplayPort, your new monitor should appear under the Playback tab

  6. Right-click and choose “Set as Default Device” if you want Windows to output sound through your monitor by default

  7. Right-click again and choose “Test” to make sure that sound is properly transmitting.

If not, go back into the monitor’s on-screen display and make sure the volume is turned up. If you’re still not hearing anything, double check that your monitor has speakers built-in and isn’t limited to sending audio through a headphone jack, usually located in the rear near your video inputs (you would be surprised how often this happens).

Once you have sound coming through your speakers, right-click the monitor again and select “Configure Speakers” for a quick configuration wizard to get them sounding their best.

  • Sound Shortcut: Start Menu -> Type “Control Panel” and Press Enter -> Select “Sound” -> Right-click monitor under Playback tab -> Set as Default Device

Common OSD Settings and What They Do

Every monitor comes with a built-in menu that allows you to customize the panel's picture and make changes to the monitor's basic functionality. These menus and what they offer vary substantially from monitor to monitor but there are many common settings I’ll go over here. Be aware that the names of these settings tend to change slightly between manufacturers.
Important note: adjustments to picture settings can negate the Windows Color Calibration we explored in the previous step. Here’s a basic overview of the most common settings and what they do

Picture Settings

Presets: Many monitors ship with a handful of picture presets tailored toward specific types of content. Gaming monitors regularly base these on certain genres, such as Racing or RTS. You should click through and see what you enjoy but don’t be afraid to customize your picture yourself which often gives the best results.

  • sRGB Mode: sRGB mode is a color preset mode often used by content creators. It flattens the colors to provide a balanced, accurate picture. This isn’t the best for gaming as it makes the monitor look quite bland but is great for editing pictures and videos as it matches the format in which the photos were processed.

  • Brightness: Adjusts how bright the display is. This is often tuned between 50-80% from the factory. Adjust to taste.

  • Contrast: Adjusts the level of contrast presented by the monitor.

  • Gamma: Gamma relates your monitor’s luminance and directly impacts the color, brightness, and contrast characteristics of your monitor. It is sometimes necessary to adjust this to bring it in line with a “standard” gamma setting of 2.2 but take the time to re-calibrate your monitor if you find it necessary to this setting.

  • Dynamic Contrast: Dynamic Contrast is a system built into many monitors that will automatically adjust the its contrast based on what is displayed. This causes the monitor to shift from bright to dark. If you prefer a static look to your monitor that maintains the brightness you choose, leave this setting OFF.

  • Sharpening: Sharpening applies a filter to the image with the intention of removing softness, especially with content that’s less than the monitor’s native resolution. In small amounts this can be quite effective, though at higher levels can lead to very unnatural images. Adjust to taste.

  • Blue Light Filter: Too much blue light can strain your eyes and effect your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep at night. This setting, which is sometimes adjustable, adds a yellow filter to the image to reduce your exposure.

Gaming Settings

  • Overdrive: Overdrive kicks your monitor into high gear. Enabling Overdrive can help to eliminate ghosting but turning it on too high can cause aberrations to appear. Turn this on only as much as you need it to eliminate ghosting (hopefully not at all).

  • Super Resolution: Super Resolution refers to the display’s built-in upscaler for playing content below the its native resolution. Using Super Resolution on low-res games can often make them appear more crisp. When viewing content that’s at the monitor’s native resolution, this can sometimes cause an effect similar to Sharpening. Turn this on only when you need it.

  • Black Equalizer: Black Equalizer is a neat setting that allows you to quickly adjust the black levels on the monitor. Turning it up typically lets you see farther into dark areas, such as shadowed windows where snipers like to hide. This setting is a competitive game-changer with monitors that include a wired remote, but is harder to take advantage of when hidden inside a menu. Tie this setting to a shortcut if your monitor allows it.

  • FreeSync: This setting is usually an off/on and enables AMD FreeSync adaptive frame rate sync.

  • Motion Blur Reduction: MBR does exactly what it sounds like and works to reduce motion blur during quick turns. Turn this setting on if you play fast-paced competitive shooters.

  • Reticle/Aim Assist: This setting places a reticle in the center of your screen, usually with a handful of choices for design and color. Great for shooters that don’t allow you to aim down sights, though can be fairly construed as an unfair advantage. Use in single-player games, disable in multiplayer or risk being labeled a cheater.

  • Timer/Alarm Clock: Despite the name, this setting is usually a countdown timer that can be positioned on-screen.


  • OSD: The OSD menu houses all of the settings related to the on-screen display. Typically, this includes a customizable time-out, which is useful if you find the menu closes too fast.

  • PiP/PbP: Picture-in-Picture/Picture-by-Picture. If you have more than one device connected to your display, such as a console, this is a great way to multitask and be able to view two things at once. Usually reserved for larger monitors and ultrawides.

  • Input: Allows you to change the active video input.

  • Auto-Switching: This setting allows you to control whether the monitor should automatically switch inputs when it receives a second signal.

  • Ratio: Ratio allows you to choose the format for the content you’re enjoying. Most monitors today feature a 16:9 widescreen ratio, which should be enabled by default. If you’re playing a retro console, you may want to switch to 4:3. Often, changing ratio simply adds black bars to a portion of the screen, so it’s best not to play with this unless you really need it.

A good monitor can elevate your gaming experience in a way few pieces of hardware can. Taking the time to make sure it’s properly configured pays dividends in the enjoyment you’re likely to get out of it. Now that you’ve made it through this guide, you’re ready to get out there and start fragging assured in the knowledge your monitor is as finely tuned as it can possibly be.

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