What is an IPS Monitor?

Image of a silver and black monitor on a white desk featuring a black keyboard, mouse, and a plant next to it.
Credit: Dell

Image of a silver and black monitor on a white desk featuring a black keyboard, mouse, and a plant next to it.
Credit: Dell

A monitor is your eyes and sometimes even ears when plugged into a computer, flinging all sorts of information your way. Not all screens are built equally, however, and it all comes down to what panel lies under the hood.

Cutting through the acronyms isn’t easy with TN, VA, and OLED in the mix, but we’ll dissect the pros and cons of an IPS monitor and how it compares to other panels out there.

What is an IPS monitor?

IPS is a term you’ve probably come across in your hunt for the best gaming monitor, and rightly so. The top level is that the technology is uniquely vibrant compared to most alternatives, with miniLED and OLED being the only exceptions. It features some drawbacks, such as the risk of backlight bleeding where you can see an IPS glow in the corners, but they’ve rapidly come down in price over the years, making for an attractive option.

To understand what an IPS monitor is and how it can benefit you, you first need to know the underlying technology and how it’s evolved over the past few decades.

The genesis of monitors

Image of a white CRT Mac monitor.
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Credit: Pablo Martinez

The monitor technology dates back to when we used CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors. These types of monitors were bulky, cumbersomely heavy, used a lot of power, and thankfully, due to the advancements of science and technology, they no longer exist today.

The CRT was known to produce images using the three colour electron guns: red, blue and green – which can produce any colour on the spectrum. This worked because these guns would shoot beams of electrons on the screen and create the images we see. The beams would repeatedly shoot across the face of the monitor many times per second and constantly redraw the images we see on the screen.

Next-gen - LCD monitors

Image of a black LCD monitor featuring a blue and orange field painting on the display next to a laptop.
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Credit: BenQ

LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors were the next generation of monitors that were made and succeeded the CRT. They are lighter, thinner, more space-economic and use less power than the CRTs. LCDs are also known as flat panel displays.

The working principle of LCD monitors was quite simple: they produce images on flat surfaces using liquid crystals. A backlight shines through these crystals to create an appearance on the screen, and the images pass through a filter to create the different colours we see.

These backlights needed for LCD monitors to show images are of two types, the common one that uses fluorescent lamps and the one that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The first lamps produce ultraviolet light when the mercury vapour inside the lamps is ionised, while the latter has different light-emitting diodes arranged in a pattern.

In essence, LEDs are still LCDs but with LED backlighting. LEDs were better because they had a better contrast ratio than the standard LCDs, producing brighter whites and darker black colours.

IPS monitors - The evolution of LCD

Image of a silver IPS LG monitor featuring a mountain scene on the display with an orange and green skyline.
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Credit: LG

IPS monitors, otherwise known as "In-Plane Switching" monitors, use parallel-aligned liquid crystals to produce vibrant colours.

The liquid crystals in IPS panels' dynamic patterns give them a distinctive look. These monitors were created to get around the drawbacks of TN panels and are seen as upgrades. The horizontal shift capability of the liquid crystal produces better viewing angles.

What is an IPS monitor good for?

An IPS monitor is best for users who demand colour accuracy and consistency, without breaking the bank. IPS monitors have excellent colour performance and extensively wide viewing angles, contributing to their ability to produce exceptional colour no matter which direction you’re peeking from. One key distinction between IPS and TN panels is that colours on an IPS monitor won't shift as dramatically when seen at an angle as on a TN monitor.

Several IPS monitor variants include S-IPS, H-IPS, e-IPS, P-IPS, and PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching), the most recent version. These versions are grouped as "IPS-type" panels because they are all similar. Great colour and vast viewing angles are the main advantages of IPS displays that they all promise to give, which makes them the best gaming monitors.

Summarily, an IPS monitor is best used for:

  • Professional applications that need a precise colour.
  • Technology enthusiasts.
  • Advanced commercial/residential use gamers that prioritise responsiveness above graphic quality.

Is an IPS monitor better than an OLED monitor?

Image of a widescreen Alienware monitor on a desk next to two black speakers and behind a white keyboard.
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Credit: Dell Alienware

First, the best OLED monitors are more expensive and relatively recent compared to the IPS, which is now becoming a classic. They differ in a lot of ways and serve different purposes, although OLED tends to win the head-to-head if you don’t mind taking the hit in your bank account.

  • Backlight: Each pixel that makes up an OLED emits light. This precise illumination can produce true blacks and realistic colours in spectacular photographs. Although we are not missing much because newer 'true black' IPS technology is available.
  • Response time: OLED pixels' rapid response rates shield them from overshoot, ghosting, moving objects, and scenes that are changing quickly. Although there is an extensive range in IPS screen reaction times, the slower response time shouldn't interfere with watching or gaming if the screen has a high refresh rate.
  • Refresh rates: in the earlier parts of this writing, we discussed how vital refresh rates are. Most 4K OLED screens have refresh rates of 120Hz. While IPS displays offer a significantly more extensive range of refresh rates ranging from 60Hz to as high as 390Hz.
  • Display sizes: One of the first considerations when selecting a monitor is size. OLED screens are 4K 60Hz and employ panels at least 42 inches long, ideal for widescreen viewing but far too massive for PC or gaming use. However, IPS has a broader range of screen sizes and form factors than OLED.

Seeing these differences, most gamers lean towards the IPS because you save more money and get better display sizes, refresh rates, unnoticeable backlight differences and response time.

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