Resolution is essential to gaming.
Higher resolution means that you’ll be able to see more of the game in greater detail. You might see things in-game that would be invisible to you at a lower resolution when you turn up your graphics resolution.
However, there’s more to gaming than resolution, and you’ll have to consider whether your computer can also handle playing the game at a higher resolution.
Let’s take a look at what resolution you should aim for when gaming and how to achieve it.
720p, 1080p, Or Any Other #p: What Does It Mean?
You might have seen the resolution described as “720p” or “1080p,” but we’ll start by explaining what those designate.
While the initiated probably doesn’t need this information, we’ll be safe and assume that some of the target audience of this post will benefit from hearing the exact definition of these terms.
When you see any “#p” (for example, 720p or 1080p) when describing a resolution, this explains how many pixels the screen has horizontally.
Images on your screen are made up of rows of pixels that display colors to create a picture. And a 720p image will have 720 pixels in each row of pixels. So, a larger number (for example, 1080p vs 720p) means the screen has more pixels in each row.
What Resolution Should I Use When Gaming?
You generally want your computer to have a similar resolution to your game.
The image is stretched when the screen has a larger resolution than the image. So one pixel of information is displayed over multiple pixels, and this causes the image quality to degrade.
It also means less data is displayed, and the images won’t be as sharply defined; details in the image will be lost as well.
Conversely, suppose the monitor’s native resolution is smaller than the resolution you’re displaying at. In that case, the image will appear smaller and further away since the game is revealing more information than the screen can natively handle.
You’ll also want to consider whether your monitor is large enough to handle the image at the resolution you want to display it.
Upscaled photos on small screens will be hard to see because there’s too much information, while downscaled images will look fuzzy and undefined because there’s too little information. It’s best to have your resolution as close to the native resolution as possible since that will be the ideal way to get the right amount of information displayed to make the image visible and easy to understand.
In some cases, this may be unavoidable. For instance, playing a GameCube game on a modern TV will necessitate the image being rescaled to fit your television, since the games were made when the standard and maximum resolutions were much smaller.
In short, a big number = more pixels and more information being displayed.
In many modern games, playing in a lower resolution will cause critical battle information to be lost since the game isn’t displaying all of the information it’s using to run the game. You may miss critical visual tells when a boss starts an animation or miss secret areas more easily since the information you’re receiving is less detailed.
For gaming, you want to aim for a resolution of at least 1080p. This provides the most clear picture you can get with a budget system. At a resolution of 1920×1080, you’ll see a clear and defined picture with a high amount of detail.
Most affordable monitors use a 1080p resolution. So, this means that your PC will be displaying the image at the native resolution of your monitor.
More expensive monitors might allow a PC to natively display images at higher resolutions like 1440p or 4K (3820×2160, or exactly four times the resolution of a 1080p monitor.)
However, for most games, a 1080p resolution is fantastic, especially if displayed at 60FPS.
Once you’ve got your PC running a game in the highest resolution your computer can muster, you’ll want to think about the frame rate that your system is displaying the animations at.
Just like with resolution, frame rate determines how your eyes interact with the game and a higher frame rate can give you an edge in-game.
So, Is 720p Good Enough for Gaming?
As mentioned previously, the gold standard for gaming is 1080p or higher. This means that using a 720p monitor for gaming puts you a little behind the competition.
But, does this mean you can’t game at 720p? Absolutely not! A skilled gamer playing on a 720p monitor will still dominate a beginner on a 1080p (or 4K) monitor ten times out of ten.
Simply, a 720p display may be less crisp than a 1080p or better display. But this doesn’t mean your gameplay will be seriously affected.
If you are shopping for a new monitor or laptop for gaming, we strongly recommend a 1080p or better version. But don’t let a 720p monitor on your current setup prevent you from gaming! In fact, on a smaller screen (15 inches or less), many people can’t even tell the difference between 720 and 1080.
Resolution vs Frame Rate
The other major detail information that you need to consider when playing games is your frame rate.
Frame rate is the number of frames being displayed each second to build the animations in the game. At 60 frames per second, the game will display sixty different images each second that you play the game.
Frame data is very important to games that require quick reactions.
If more frames are displayed, you’ll be able to see the beginning of animations more clearly and faster. For instance, if we take a five-second animation of a character walking across a screen and cut the frame data down so that only one frame per second is displayed, you’ll see a choppy five-image slideshow rather than a smooth animation.
Additionally, if you need to react to the character entering the screen, you won’t see the character until you’re already one second into the animation. You wouldn’t necessarily see their leg as they enter the screen, they’d just kind of pop up on the screen once you get close enough.
If we take the same five-second animation and change it to 60 frames per second, you’ll see sixty times the information. So, where you’d not see the character actually enter the screen, you’ll see a smooth animation of the character walking onto the screen. This means you’ll be able to start reacting to the character entering the screen fifty-nine frames earlier than you did with a one-frame-per-second rate.
Frame data is most important to games that require fast reaction times, like fighting games. In these games, one to two frames make all the difference between getting hit and being stuck in a combo.
Many older games can be upscaled to 60FPS but were designed to natively run at lower FPS. So in these cases, upping the FPS can change how the game interacts with what you see since it’s producing extra frames and can make the animations look strange.
How many frames per second you can see is also influenced by the monitor’s refresh rate.
When your monitor displays images, it rewrites the image pixels to display different colors. The faster the refresh rate, the faster your monitor can change the colors of the pixels to display new data.
If your refresh rate is too slow, your monitor won’t be able to keep up with how many images the game is trying to produce, and you may experience slow down as the computer tries to keep up with the game it’s playing. Mostly, though, you’ll just see the game in a lower framerate, which could cause you to see choppier animations.
Monitor refresh rates are measured in Hertz. 60Hz monitors used to be the standard, but they’ve largely been replaced by 120Hz monitors. For a 60Hz monitor, there will be 16.67 milliseconds between each frame, while a 120Hz monitor will have 8.33 milliseconds between the frames.
Gaming is serious business for some and getting your data to the perfect amount can help give gamers the edge.
Whether you’re looking to raise your resolution so you can see more of the game’s environment clearly or your frame rate so you can see animations more clearly, there are a lot of mechanical moving parts you have to think about.
The good news is that most of this stuff won’t cross your mind if you’re a casual gamer. But if you’re looking to upgrade your gaming experience, this is definitely the place to look!