If you’re a gamer, or your work involves extensive attention to detail (like photo and video editing), you have probably come across terms such as IPS, VA and TN. The abbreviations can seem random and rather confusing if you don’t know what they are, and that’s where we come in.
All these terms are used to describe different kinds of displays. Both PC monitors and laptop screens use LCDs, but not all LCDs are created equal! Whether your dilemma is IPS vs TN, VA vs IPS, or VA vs IPS, this is an extensive look at how they all work and how they compare with one another.
The Need for LCDs
In order to understand how LCDs work in general and how these variations work in particular, it is important to understand how LCDs became a need, and what they replaced. Early monitors, the bulky kind you probably remember, used a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT).
A CRT needs a lot of space (hence the bulk) and has many downsides: it is heavy, it produces an audible, high-frequency noise, it consumes a lot of power, it has some flickering, etc. LCDs were made to eradicate these problems and sure enough, there’s a drastic difference between the sleek LCD and the old school monitor.
The main advantage that CRTs had over LCDs was their refresh rate which led to a smoother gaming experience. However, that has been mostly eradicated due to advancements in technology.
Get to Know Your Displays
So now we take a quick look at TN, IPS, and VA displays, before heading on to a proper comparison.
The Twisted Nematic Panel, or TN, was the first kind of LCD that was widely produced, and still remains one of the most used displays today. TN panels are about ninety percent slimmer than CRT monitors and about 10kg lighter on average. These also produce a lot less heat and radiation.
TNs have very low response times, even for LCDs. They can change state faster than most other LCD technology. Less glare and more sharpness mean that TNs are popular for gaming, but more on that later.
Basic TNs aren’t difficult or expensive to produce, but these work well on a smaller scale, such as for calculators and watches. But in order to use TNs in larger screens (laptops or TVs), the technology has to be upgraded to handle color filtration, so that color reproduction in the display is improved.
Another issue with TNs is limited viewing angles. This is again, a problem for larger displays, where looking at the screen from certain angles leads to a distorted and/or dim view.
Just like with TNs, IPS displays were created to overcome the shortcomings of their predecessor. IPS or In-Plane Switching displays have pretty much succeeded in solving the color reproduction and viewing angle problems we’ve talked about.
IPS displays are used a lot in smartphones and laptops. The difference in performance arises from there being two transistors per pixel in IPS, compared to TN’s single transistor per pixel. Because double the transistors in IPS means more backlight is required, it becomes possible to have a wider viewing angle and better colors.
Another interesting difference is that IPS LCDs don’t show where the screen has been touched, the way that some older monitor displays do. However, an IPS will have a longer response time than a TN and will consume more power.
An alternative to IPS is Samsung’s PLS (Plane to Line Switching) which has similar benefits as IPS, at a 15 percent lower cost. PLS also has some other benefits that give it an advantage over IPS, such as a brightness increase, better image quality, and an even better viewing angle.
Vertical Alignment or VA panels are a sort of in-between to TN and IPS panels. VA was designed to combine the benefits offered by TN and IPS, but it does have some cons as well. While VAs have good color reproduction and contrast ratios, they also tend to have higher response times.
Unlike with TN and IPS, in VA the liquid crystals are vertically aligned, as the name suggests. This means that the crystals in VA are perpendicular to the substrate, instead of being parallel with it as in the other two panels.
VAs can be expensive at times, and it is usually the more expensive ones that match IPS in performance. Even in these the response rates are still usually higher. Samsung makes an alternative to regular VAs as well, called SVA.
Now let’s compare how each panel performs in terms of certain factors, which are listed below.
This is the first thing a person notices when using a monitor, so let’s take a look at it first. Both VA and IPS have better viewing angles, which means that you can view the screen from shallower angles without experiencing the color degradation or distorted images that you would in TN.
IPS will have still better viewing angles than VA, but VA doesn’t have problems with brightness like IPS. IPS can have a distracting glow at certain angles, which you’ll probably only notice if watching a dark scene. Most people aren’t bothered with this, but this is just a heads up in case you are.
Color quality depends on two things: color depth and color gamut. Color depth is also called bit depth. Most TNs are 6-bit, but some of the higher-end ones can be 8-bit. Still, an 8-bit TN is rare; that is mostly found in IPS or VAs. An IPS can even be 10-bit, and some higher-end VAs are as well.
VAs and IPS have better color gamut too. What this means is that overall, IPS and VA panels where have much better color quality than TN panels.
Response times are what determines how much a panel ghosts, as well as its overall clarity. TN has the fastest response times. IPS and VA panels aren’t as slow now as the early models, but they are still slower than TNs.
Transition time for TN panels is usually 1ms, and it’s even lower in newer releases. IPS panels are next in speed with a transition time of 10ms for entry-level ones, but the extremely high-end ones can be at 4ms. VA panels finish last, with a typical transition speed of 10ms as well, but the difference is that even high-end VAs only go to 5 or 6ms.
Because of this, TN vs IPS gaming monitors is what most gamers can’t decide between. VAs are also an option, but not a popular one.
VA wins when it comes to contrast and brightness control. It has the lowest black level but still can produce bright colors. This means that VA panels are the best for watching movies, and are thus used most in TVs.
Contrast ratio is what determines this performance. VAs usually have a 2000:1 ratio, but can even go up to 4500:1. Expensive ones can even have a 6000:1 ratio! An IPS or VA panel will have a 1000:1 ratio, but some of the more common ones can go even lower.
So, Which Panel is Best for You?
Look at it in terms of combined benefits; an IPS will give you good viewing angles and color quality, but it won’t have the fast response times of a TN. VA panels are the slowest but have the best viewing experience.
If you work with a lot of visual detail (like video editing) we would recommend going for a monitor that has a VA panel, and you might find one that suits your needs at a good price tag. You can also calibrate whatever monitor you choose, in order to get the most out of it.
When it comes to gaming, if you prioritize visuals over performance, go for an IPS panel. High-end IPS panels are the best option for you, but they are a bit expensive. Similarly, if you want the best bang for your buck, then TN panels are definitely the one for you.