When you're shopping for a PC monitor, what exactly does response time mean and how does it affect your buying decision?

PC buying and building is full of jargon and that doesn't stop when it comes to choosing a monitor. There are some key data points to consider when choosing the display you're going to be looking at while you work and play, and it's important to understand them before you drop your money.

One such piece of potentially confusing information is response time. Here, we'll help you cut through the jargon and try and make the right decision for your setup.

What is response time?

This definition provided by a member of the Overclock forums describes it perfectly:

Response time is how quickly the display can have a LCD pixel to change from fully active (white) to fully inactive (black), then back to fully active again. A lower response time typically means less ghosting of the image and better picture quality.

This differs from refresh rate, which is how many times per second the panel can redraw the image. With refresh rate you want a higher number, response time you want to go lower. It's measured in milliseconds, so a 5ms response time means that a monitor can go from white to black to white in 1/200th of a second.

What you need to know about monitor refresh rates

So just get the lowest, then?

HP Omen 32

Yes and no. Like refresh rate, response time will vary depending on manufacturer and what type of monitor you're getting.

Gamers will traditionally want the lowest possible response time, and 1ms monitors are commonplace, particularly in eSports. What you don't want when you're gaming is image ghosting interfering with your experience. You want the sharpest picture you can get.

There are some great, inexpensive gaming monitors out there with a 1ms response time, like the BenQ RL2455. It costs under $200, has a 1ms response time and a 60Hz refresh rate and is a solid all-rounder for PC and console gaming.

If you're looking at higher resolution panels, right now you're not going to be finding much in the way of 1ms displays, but 5ms is still a great middle ground that shouldn't give off much ghosting.

Does lower always mean better?

AOC monitor

Unfortunately, response time is still at the whim of the manufacturers actually producing the monitors. In theory, the lower response times should always be better and reduce image ghosting. But the type of panel used and its quality will still be a factor.

A bad monitor will still be a bad monitor, sadly.

But combine a lower response time with a higher refresh rate and you should be onto a winner.