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Introduction — continued

Variable-refresh-rate displays
Since we last checked in on the FreeSync versus G-Sync wars, Nvidia still hasn't chosen to implement FreeSync support in its graphics cards. Gamers who want to experience VRR magic with GeForces will need to invest in a G-Sync display. G-Sync monitors offer a gaming experience that's just as smooth as their FreeSync competitors, to be fair, but these displays often cost quite a bit more than their FreeSync competitors for comparable specs.

Meanwhile, AMD has brought FreeSync's feature set more on par with G-Sync by adding low frame-rate compensation (LFC) to the protocol's toolbox. LFC's software algorithm looks at frame times and sends additional frames to the display as needed to keep motion smoother when frame rates drop below the display's minimum refresh rate. This improved method is a much-needed bit of polish. LFC only works on displays whose maximum refresh rates are at least 2.5 times that of their minimum FreeSync refresh rates, though, so monitors with narrow FreeSync ranges (like 40 to 60Hz) are out of luck.

Some FreeSync monitors can perform the VRR dance over HDMI, something G-Sync can't do yet. The first displays with this technology on board are just hitting store shelves now, and we'd expect more and more of them to appear with time. If this is a feature you're interested in, AMD keeps a full list of FreeSync monitors and their compatible inputs on its website.

There's also this "4K" thing you've been hearing about. In the PC monitor arena, that means a display with a 3840x2160 resolution. If you've got to have a 4K display for gaming today, it makes sense to consider one with variable-refresh-rate technology. G-Sync and FreeSync alike will smooth out animation at the relatively low frame rates that graphics cards will hit in 4K. A little tuning of graphics settings will help keep frame rates within the relatively narrow VRR ranges on these screens—usually 40 to 60Hz with FreeSync displays and 30 to 60Hz with G-Sync.

Current-generation 4K displays have refresh rates that top out at a maximum of 60Hz. The rumor mill's been abuzz with talk about upcoming "gaming" 4K monitors with high refresh rates for some time now, but we don't have a great idea of when those monitors are coming to market. If you buy your displays for the long run and have 4K on the brain, we'd advise you to wait for now. That said, we still offer a few suggestions for 4K, VRR-enabled displays.

To make it easier for all you gamers, we've separated our monitor recommendations between FreeSync and G-Sync models. Thanks to its alphabetic precedence, FreeSync goes first.

FreeSync monitors

Product Type Refresh range (Hz) Price Notes
ViewSonic XG2401 24" 1920x1080 TN 48-144 $249.99 N/A
Acer XG270HU 27" 2560x1440 TN 40-144 $449.99 No height adjustment, no VESA mount
Acer XF270HU 27" 2560x1440 IPS 40-144 $549.99 N/A
Acer XR341CK 34" 3440x1440 IPS 30-75 $849.99 Ultrawide, curved
LG 27UD68P-B  27" 3840x2160 (4K) IPS 40-60 $439.99 Factory calibration, USB Type-C

FreeSync on the cheap: ViewSonic XG2401
People post those "rate my setup" on the internet all the time, but the fact remains that not everyone can afford a high-end monitor. Thankfully, it's quite affordable to get into the FreeSync action these day with something like ViewSonic's XG2401, which will set you back only $250. Despite the affordable price, this 1080p 144Hz monitor still offers a nice stand with height and tilt adjustments, two USB 3.0 ports, and even a pair of built-in speakers. The lower bound of this monitor's FreeSync range is 48Hz, so you want to be sure that your graphics card is powerful enough to keep the framerate higher than that. Thankfully, it doesn't take a lot of horsepower these days to pull that off at 1920x1080, and AMD's LFC tech can kick in on this display if frame rates drop too far.

27" of goodness: Acer XG270HU
A 24" monitor may feel a little restrictive these days, so the logical step up is Acer's XG270HU, a 27" TN display with a 2560x1440 resolution. This sleek, thin-bezeled monitor is our pick for the sub-$500 FreeSync range. The included stand tilts, but buyers will need to be OK with its fixed height and lack of a VESA mount. Where this monitor shines, though, is in its FreeSync range: 40 to 144Hz, which is wide enough to let FreeSync kick in almost 100% of the time. This display also offers support for FreeSync's LFC tech.

Going IPS: Acer XF270HU

Modern-day TN panels offer pretty good color reproduction, but IPS displays still offer better colors and wider vertical viewing angles, too. The step up to the Acer XF270HU gets you a 27-inch, 2560x1440 monitor with one of those fancy panels, and Acer throws in six-axis color adjustment for the exceptionally picky. The XF270HU features the same 40-144Hz FreeSync range as the XG270HU above, and it also offers DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0, and DVI inputs. Acer rounds out this display with USB 3.0 ports and a fully-adjustable stand. Its overdrive functionality also works better than you'd expect at high refresh rates. I know that because I'm writing this text looking at an XF270HU.

A wider vista: Acer XR341CK

Acer continues its FreeSync monitor "domination" (at least for now) with the XR341CK. This unit is a little different from the rest of our picks, though. It's a 34" ultrawide curved display with a 3440x1440 resolution. This should offer any gamer a great view. Naturally, a resolution of 3440x1440 requires some meaty graphics horsepower to drive it, but the XR341CK's lower FreeSync bound of 30Hz should help keep FreeSync running when the frame rate goes down. Acer tricks out the XR341CK with built-in speakers, ambient lighting, and a USB 3.0 hub. Pair this beauty with a powerful graphics setup, and you'd probably have the most immersive gaming experience this side of a VR headset.

4K, good color, and FreeSync: LG 27UD68P-B

We're firm believers that being a gamer doesn't need to come at the expense of good color reproduction. The LG 27UD68P-B is a good example of a display that covers both those bases. This 27" IPS monitor offers a 4K panel, a 40-to-60Hz refresh rate with FreeSync support, and a USB Type-C port with device charging capabilities. That's all good, but the most interesting thing about this monitor is its factory calibration. A certain Scott Wasson has added one of these displays to his test bench, and he says the color reproduction is top-notch. You may be thinking a monitor like this would run you somewhere north of $700, but Newegg is selling it for only $440. We think that's a steal.