Display thoughts

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

I’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on a new display. Not because there’s anything wrong with my current one, but after the kerfuffle that was made by Dota 2 players at the Shanghai Majors over not having 120Hz monitors to compete on, I figured I wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

(There’s also the vain hope that it will somehow improve my game by a few percentage points, but that’s a story for another time.)

A little back story: since December 2014 I’ve been running with a Dell P2715Q, a 27-inch, 60Hz, 3840×2160 IPS display that was a substantial upgrade from the U2711 display I had previously. It’s pretty nice, with a few caveats: since my primary usage is with the display attached to my MacBook Pro, running it a native res means things get pretty unreadable unless I’m pumping up the size of everything. It’s fantastic when using a scaled resolution (I use a tool called EasyRes to switch between resolutions quickly), as it gives the quality of a “Retina” 2560×1440 display (3840×2160 downscaled to half that), making everything as crisp as the freshest iceberg lettuce.

But I don’t usually use it at native res, because things tend to slow down a bit, and the fans are audible all the time. I bought the best graphics card that Apple offered at the time, so maybe the Oculus CEO has a point when he says he’ll offer VR on the Mac when Apple decide to put a powerful enough GPU in their machines. (Stringent heat and power requirements mean that probably won’t happen in the MacBook Pro lineup anytime soon, as much as it pains me to say that.)

So I run my wonderful series of pixels at a non-Retina 2560×1440 when plugged into my Mac, even though text looks worse that way, and I have no more screen real-estate than I did with my previous screen.

My PC is a different story entirely. I like to think I have a pretty great graphics card in the GTX 980, which lets me run whatever resolution I like a a near-constant 60 FPS. And because I hardly play anything other than Dota, which runs on the Source 2 engine, it means I can run that game at the native res of my monitor without getting any noticeable frame-rate drops. Newer games like Dragon Age Inquisition, Fallout 4, or The Division are more of a toss up – I can either choose between maxing all the settings at a lower resolution, or turning down the fanciness for more resolution, and what’s “better” mostly depends on the game.

I’ve experimented with >60Hz monitors before. A few months before moving to Brisbane, I picked up a cheapie 144Hz display from Kogan to use for gaming. The colours were average, the resolution was inadequate for anything other than gaming, but overall I think things did feel “smoother”, even if it was just some kind of placebo effect.

Alas, when making the move to Brisbane I left that monitor behind. On the plus side, it now leaves me the chance to upgrade, but therein lies my dilemma — do I buy the same thing again and use it for a longer period of time to see if I can tell the difference, or do I get something a little nicer? Buying a 1080p display in 2016 seems like a waste of time — 1080p isn’t a useful resolution for anything other than gaming. And if I’m getting a gaming monitor, I might as well get something that has G-Sync, seeing as I’m Team Green for the long haul. Anything more than 24-inches is overkill for my desk, but at the other end of the scale, a 144Hz, IPS, G-Sync capable display runs into the four digits, which is more than I paid for my 4K Dell.

I mean, the Kogan cheapie was worth it because I only used it for gaming and nothing else. I can’t justify spending four digits on something that’s only going to get used when I’m gaming, even if I do that every day and twice on Sunday. I have no desire to run a triple-head setup on my poor MacBook Pro, as I already have enough resolution and real-estate there to keep me occupied for days, and I won’t have any idea what to do with another 27-inches.

The best compromise for my ideal gaming display right now is a 24-inch, 1080p, 144Hz, G-Sync, IPS display, but it seems like nobody is making one of those. AOC and Acer both sell a 24-inch, 1080p, 144Hz, G-Sync display with a TN panel, but even it goes for around the $500-600 range. If I cut IPS and G-Sync from the list of requirements, the price drops to around the $400 mark, but then I’m losing out on some seriously interesting display technology. It’s probably not worth spending the extra $400 for the extra size, resolution, and image quality when I’m “only” going to be using it for gaming, right?

Two of my friends have higher-than-60Hz refresh rate monitors now, and both of them swear by it. Now that I want to try out a higher refresh rate, it seems as though there’s no product out there that satisfies all my needs, and all that remains is a compromise, one way or another.

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