Updated: Aug 17, 2021
THE CHOICES & WHY
At Sim Dynamics I am privileged to have used and worked with a massive array of hardware. This article on monitors will, I hope help some of you out there make the right informed choices to suit you.
First let us have a look at the facts of use on a simulator:
The number one factor with monitor choice is not what you want or think you want, it is what your PC performance will allow you to run now or in future. The fact is technology by its nature is always advancing and whatever you run now, in 2 to 5 years will not be a patch on what is to come so lets not get carried away with the numbers and instead look at the values for use.
First thing to consider with a monitor is the more pixels your monitor needs to show, the more pixels your PC Graphics (GPU) needs to push out. Software updates and hardware are always asking for more load as the manufacturers develop more detail. Unlike a film or PC Game, the response time of multiple inputs (steering, sound, monitor, pedals... as a minimum) are being re-calculated and processed by the PC every millisecond before it can send that info to the GPU for rendering to the monitor.
What this means as an example, is a PC that can run 3 x 1080 monitors at 160 frames per second (fps) could be running below 90 fps with 3x1440 monitors and that is now, in 2 or more years where will it be with the software updates? What that fps change means is you now have stutters, blurring or jumps in your image negating the value of having a 1440 resolution. To compensate we can cut graphics features such as shadows and numbers of cars being seen but what was the point in improving resolution to then lose detail!
The key thought must be what do I really need for my best purpose with my budget, you can always add the frilly bits later when it is more relevant and cheaper.
What should we be aware of in monitor choices to meet budget and goals?
Width is king, not size, but width. The best monitors for simulation are either 32" triples or 49” Ultra wides and definitely not a large TV, 4k or otherwise! Hight is useless on a simulator because we need to look width ways not up and down when driving. So all hight offers is increased initial impact and a degree of additional immersion.
The bigger overall we go with our monitor the bigger or more disproportionate the cockpit render becomes plus we demand more from our PC to fill space with graphics that are of no use to anyone, therefore hiking the cost of ownership… and for what? I’ll tell you for what, first impression, that’s all, you won’t go faster with bigger, and you won’t feel more immersed because you will notice the dashboard and steering wheel are way bigger than ones you are sat holding, it just looks more bling on face value. Once done though it is difficult to step back, we are human after all!
The sweet spot for monitors is 3 x 32” or 1 x 49” ultra-wide. The difference between a 27” and 32” in triple set up is small so frankly the choice should about bezel width, resolution, and refresh rate relative to your PC’s potential, the monitor cost and your budget. A top line 27” 1440 144Hz monitor will serve you much better for simulation than a 32” 1440 60Hz for example.
Resolution is where we hit a little contention in sim land. A 4K TV is utterly useless in serious simulation because it was built to look nice for tv sport and films, so the processing power is slow simply because it doesnt need to be fast to transmit a fixed input image. 4K TV's even the most expensive ones typically struggling to reach 60Hz (60fps) some are even 30Hz! This means your monster spec PC would be showing you its pushing out, say 120fps at 4K which sounds amazing untill you release the TV can only show 50% of that... if your lucky, resulting in a slower and ultimately vague game like response. You wont notice unless you back to back and compare lap times. No one goes quick in eSports using big posh TV's! Great for learning tracks though!
A fast refresh 1080p (the original HD resolution) monitor is more than enough for great quality sim racing and it requires a less expensive GPU to achieve top performance. You will still see amazing shadows, reflections, dust, tyre smoke and all the other details of eSports on a 1080 resolution. All that improves at 1440 resolution is immersion because the reflections and writing will become crisper/tighter thanks to the extra pixels. I have seen enough people use a 1440 and then go straight to a 1080 and not notice until it was pointed out, proving to me its small gain only and not just opinion.
What does this tell us… 1080 is as much as we need but 1440 is nice to have, so if you are feeling flush and ultimate immersion detail is your goal then 1440 becomes the choice! If you are starting out in eSports, a fast 1080 is a much better option particularly if it allows you to invest in better steering, rig and pedals first... these parts are worth much more than a 1440 resolution in simulation performance terms.
The refresh rate is another serious factor in a good simulation monitor. We recommend a minimum of 100Hz with 144Hz being industry standard. Provided your PC is up to speed the higher Hz rate will allow a smoother cleaner image. 60Hz will work fine but you will have some subtle motion blur which can be ignored but it will in effect create some lag for the driver. Years ago this was not a problem, its only when you see a well set up 120Hz+ monitor working you will realise the difference.
A note on monitor response times. The claimed figures of 1ms plus are generalised as there is no consistent way to measure these figures. In my experience if you are looking at 120Hz or more monitors they usually have response times below 5ms anyway.
Finally, the big choice between triple monitors or ultra-wide is frankly subjective. Ultra-Wide is my personal choice because they are easy to use, relatively low demand on a good quality GPU so settings can be cranked high and once you are driving, cover all the view angle you need in the same way as a real car. The other advantage is they take up less space in a house situation.
Triple monitors, particularly 32” ones do offer deeper immersion though, so this where the choice comes in, however the extra view they offer is not practical in use, the gain comes from greater peripheral immersion not useable gain. Triples require a little more technical know how to set up and maintain but like all things PC related once you get the hang of the set up routine, its not hard. The final consideration is 3 monitors draw a lot more work from your GPU so the same PC running triple 1440 will run around 30fps slower than it would with 1440 49” Ultra-Wide for example.
Ultimately the choice between the triples and ultra wide is personal and I've yet to have anyone say they made the wrong choice with which ever path they chose.
Top Monitor Tip: Always use the Display Port (DP) cable never the HDMI for simulation. DP transfers data significantly faster than a HDMI which was built for TV (slow moving) image transfer. If using triple 1440 monitors upgrading to high quality DP1.4 cables can save you a world of issues and bumps up the fps to. Standard DP cables are DP1.2 which can struggle to reach 100Hz over the extra distance required for a 3rd monitor and therefore create some unusual issues. DP1.4 offers no value over good standard DP1.2 cables in 1080 resolutions.
Our monitor top choices:
Best all-round simulation monitor: Samsung LC49HG Ultra-Wide 1080 144Hz. It’s the right size, its fast, its cheap to run and has a low GPU draw so you can run high settings and still keep well north of 120fps in a busy race with an inexpensive but quality GPU like the GTX1660. We also think its priced nicely to. The 1440 120Hz version is very good but is it worth the extra cost when compared to our ultimate eSports single monitor!?
Ultimate monitor: Samsung G9 49” Ultra-Wide 1440 upto 240Hz. This monitor is the latest and greatest from the worlds leading tv/monitor/screen manufacturer and it shows. The G9 has a more aggressive curve than any monitor before it which improves immersion. It has a lovely well lit 1440 resolution and super high 240Hz refresh rate. All this alongside NVidia GSync technology, so it looks amazing in simulation although it is the extra curvature and lower GPU draw than triples that really makes this the top dog for us. Yes its pricey to buy an run, but if you and your PC can do it justice, its worth it.
Best 32” for triple set ups: We’ve used many but not all over the years and to be honest each model offered a plus and minus that neutralise a stand out suggestion, partly because different features matter to different people.
The Benq EX3203R creates a lovely looking image but it is not the most practical to use, in fact it’s the least practical on so many levels, but if the best-looking image is your goal and you have patience and a bit of luck (the very expensive VESA mounts being in stock for example) plus a good understanding of how to manipulate GPU software so the desired resolution can be generated, then this is a great option.
On the other hand, the Gigabyte GQ32A 165Hz is a really simple monitor to set up in triples, delivering a silky smooth image at 1440 and a comfortable 165fps with a 3080 GPU. The image perhaps lacks the punchy vibrance of the Benq EX32 and Samsung G9 but then again its the ability to be fast and consistent that maters most right?
Thankyou reading and hope it was usefull to someone.