What’s the difference between IPS, TN and VA monitors?

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Two of the main different types of computer monitor are IPS (In-Plane Switching), TN (Twisted Nematic) and VA (Vertical Alignment). There have been debates over which is best for a long time now, so I hope to be able to lay out the main differences so that you as the reader can form your own opinions.

From a technical standpoint, they all work on similar principles (see fig.1) which have each been adapted to fit their own targeted demographic. Generally, TN panels are often the cheapest and fastest type, but also come with a few drawbacks which I will go on to mention. VA panels fit nicely between TN and IPS panels and these are often used in large TVs. Finally, IPS panels are often the most expensive but can be slower. There are many different benefits and drawbacks to IPS which I will go on to talk about, but despite at first seeming an unlikely choice, they are often the most widely used.

(fig.1)

IPS panels are often the best for viewing angles, however, cheaper IPS panels can be affected by ‘IPS glow’ which is a shining effect seen when viewing the monitor from larger angles. VA panels are also quite strong in this respect and boast a strong colour replication especially with darker colours. Finally, TN panels are the worst for being able to see colour distortion on the image from even a small amount off centre.

TN panels often have a much-reduced response time, often only 1 millisecond (ms) as opposed to the 4 or 5ms that are seen on IPS or VA panels. To the untrained eye this difference is rather small, however, in the intensity of a game it could make all the difference. TN panels are often smoother and are therefore often the choice for FPS games. Some companies also try to increase their response times for marketing, however, it is often not necessarily the case and MPRT (Motion Picture Response Time) is not the same as GTG (Grey To Grey). MPRT is a form of pixel visibility time and represents how long a pixel is continuously visible for, whereas GTG represents how long it takes for a pixel to change between two colours. Marketing teams often use MPRT as it is usually faster, however, the GTG response time is what would often be considered a screen’s “response time”. For a graphical representation of response time see fig.2

(fig.2)

Image Quality is often another important factor. As you may have guessed by now TN panels are the worst, but IPS and VA panels are very similar in this respect. IPS panels have a much broader and vivid colour gamut, whereas VA panels have a smaller colour gamut, which helps to provide much more accurate darker scenes.

The refresh rate is also an important factor and TN panels are often recommended for this due to their often considered higher refresh rate. However, both panels are now able to deliver a high refresh rate even if their response times struggle to hold up.

With the ever-expanding wealth of viewing technologies such as OLED, HDR and localised dimming which are now available, it is hard to make a definitive choice. I recommend starting your search with an idea of what you want to come out of it, whether that be just a high-quality screen, fast response times, or a healthy mix of both. As corny as it sounds making a list of tick boxes for each part you’re looking for and then comparing that to a variety of different monitors is often the best way to find a result that would suit you best.