Your monitor is lying to you

Response times, color depths and more are far from standardized.

Picking the right monitor can be a real challenge. If you’re building a computer, something like a hard drive is pretty easy to understand, you have to worry about different interfaces or form factors, but specs like storage space or transfer speed are pretty reliable, and comparable. That is to say, if you bought two hard drives advertising a terabyte of storage, it would be a real surprise if one of them actually was only half that big.

Monitors can be a bit more tricky. Response time, how quickly a pixel can change color, in particular, is pretty subjective, and the times manufacturers advertise can’t really be compared between different monitors. It wasn’t always this way, response time used to be measured with a defined standard, but that practice fell out of favor as faster (and less standardized) measurements became popular.

Response time matters for motion blur, which can be measured precisely with tools like tracking camera rigs, but ultimately comes down to user preference. This can also be said for color depth, a metric for how many different hues and shades a monitor can reproduce. People’s preferences for color are extremely personal, some folks prefer more saturated, or warmer tones, but for folks looking for the most accurate color, higher bit depth is a must. This is another place specs may not always be accurate, as manufacturers use dithering or so-called “frame rate control” to achieve color depths beyond what a panel can actually produce. This can work, mostly, but some people find the shimmering it introduces distracting, and for critical applications, it’s just not the same as a true high-bit depth color.

Add in chroma sub-sampling, which can make high-refresh rate gaming monitors go weird at 4K, and monitors are just kind of a mess. We can’t tell you what specs you need, but we can at least help you understand what’s going on.