Maybe you just got your first Xbox, the Xbox Series X this holiday season. Or maybe you’re still playing on one of the later Xbox One consoles. Either way, are you getting the most out of your console-gaming experience by playing your games on your TV?
While accessories such as customized controllers or external storage are always useful (especially if you play giant-capacity titles like Call of Duty: Warzone), one of the best upgrades you can make to your console arsenal could be a different kind of display: a new gaming monitor. With the new Xbox Series X supporting all three major display resolutions that today’s ordinary-size gaming monitors do (1080p, 1440p, and 4K), your options are plentiful. But make sure you know the benefits and drawbacks, as well as how to buy the best monitor that suits the types of games you like to play most.
The Right Resolution: The Xbox Marks the Spot
First up, there’s the issue of resolution. As we mentioned above, at the time of this writing (January 2021), the Xbox One (plus variants within the Xbox One family) and the Xbox Series X are the only consoles that support all three major monitor resolutions: 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (a.k.a., 1080p), 2,560 by 1,440 pixels (1440p), and 3,840 x 2,160 pixels (4K).
Here’s a quick breakdown…
The Sony Playstation 5, meanwhile, only supports either 1080p or 4K, which leaves a swath of affordable, high-performance gaming monitors out in the cold: namely, 1440p models.
Indeed, 1440p is seen as the native-resolution sweet spot by many competitive PC and console gamers. Considering that certain key titles (such as Fortnite) have been optimized to run at up to 120 frames per second (fps) on Xbox consoles at either 1440p or 1080p, players of titles like those may want to consider a 1440p option over a straight-up 4K display if getting a high frame rate is their biggest concern. Speaking of high fps, that ties into the next factor…
Refresh Rate: Why Screen Speed Matters
The Xbox supports different resolutions and refresh rates, depending on the model you own. For example, the Xbox One (and its variants) can only support a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz while the console is displaying in either 1080p or 1440p.
The Xbox Series X, however, will support 120Hz mode in resolutions as high as 4K. That said, we recommend checking out this article to see if any of the games you plan to play actually support higher refresh modes in the first place. The support is game-dependent.
Most gaming monitors slot into one of the following refresh-rate tiers: 60Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz, 165Hz, 200Hz, or 240Hz. If you plan to play only on your Xbox console using the monitor (with no PC gaming planned in the near future), we recommend choosing a model that caps out at either 144Hz or 120Hz, so you’re not left paying for extra frames you’ll never see on screen.
Why the Cables (Can) Matter
Next up, a small bit about cables. While all consoles included in the Xbox One lineup only support HDMI 2.0, the newest Xbox Series X supports HDMI 2.1 to connect to your preferred TV or gaming monitor.
Our primer on the current state of HDMI 2.1 will give you a deeper understanding of why this is a crucial distinction. HDMI 2.1 will support up to 120fps in either 1080p or 1440p. However, if you want to play your Xbox Series X at 120fps in 4K, you’ll need to use a 4K monitor that’s compatible with the HDMI 2.1 spec and that supports that refresh rate specifically at 4K. You’ll also need an HDMI 2.1-compatible cable, dubbed an “Ultra High Speed” HDMI cable. (More about that at the link above.)
Monitors with HDMI 2.1 support, 4K resolution, and a 120Hz-or-higher refresh rate were still few and far between at the time of this writing. Gamers should expect any high-refresh 4K models that release anytime in 2021 and beyond to support HDMI 2.1, but you’d do well to verify before buying. Acer (Predator, Nitro) and Asus (ROG Swift) demonstrated high-refresh 4K, HDMI 2.1-capable gaming panels at CES 2021 that should debut this year.
HDR: The Bright Icing on the Cake
Finally, let’s take a second to talk about HDR, or high dynamic range. HDR is a feature that gives your games their best opportunity to shine, displaying color palettes and levels of brightness and clarity that far exceed what you’d see on a non-HDR monitor or TV.
The feature is more common on TV sets than gaming monitors as of the start of 2021, but this trend is beginning to shift in the other direction. As more PC players and console owners upgrade their gaming hardware, the demand for gaming monitors that support HDR has risen along with it.
HDR monitors are rated at different levels that correspond to the peak brightness level you should expect out of the monitor. Currently, you can find gaming monitors rated between HDR10 (the lowest brightness), up to HDR1000 in options like the Asus ROG Swift PG35VQ. In between those, you’ll find monitors rated at HDR400 and HDR600. (In the case of all of these except HDR10, the number indicates the peak HDR brightness.)
Which level you choose should ultimately be determined by how vivid you want your content to be, as well as how much dynamic range you want to have available to play with while tuning settings in multiplayer games. (One strategy, for example, could be pushing greater levels of contrast to see enemies in darker scenes during a multiplayer match, something a high HDR rating can help with.)
So, Which Monitor Should I Buy?
Ready to make your pick? Here we’ve included a list of some of the best gaming monitors we’ve tested that are a good fit for an Xbox in 2021. Keep in mind that several of the high-refresh 4K models are only compatible with DisplayPort 1.4b connections (which is to say, PCs only), if you want to hit refresh rates above 60Hz, though they’ll have an ordinary HDMI for Xbox-connected play at 60Hz. (We’ve included them in the event you want to connect to both a late-model Xbox, as well as a high-powered gaming PC.) With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive into the list! (Also check out our favorite Xbox Series S and X launch games to buy straightaway.)