LCD Panel Types: IPS, VA, PLS, AHVA & TN Monitors
There are many different types of LCD panel technologies used in the production of LCD monitors. They range from budget TN panels to expensive, professional quality H-IPS and MVA panels. The average consumer usually has no idea what LCD panel technology is used in their LCD. In fact, many power users are also unaware because the panel type is not often advertised in a prominent area. Sometimes the panel type is even absent from the monitor specifications.
Many users buy monitors based solely on how much it will lighten their wallets. Price should be a factor, but you should still be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of all the different LCD panel types and be able to identify them before you decide which LCD monitor is best for you.
IPS Panel Technology
IPS (In Plane Switching) panels are generally considered the best overall LCD technology for image quality, color accuracy and viewing angles. They are well suited for graphics design and other applications which require accurate and consistent color reproduction. IPS panels offer the best viewing angles of any current LCD technology, with wide viewing angles up to 178 degrees.
All these benefits raise IPS monitors to a higher price range compared to VA and especially affordable TN panel LCDs. The response time of IPS is adequate, averaging around 4ms to 8ms with modern IPS technology. This is only slightly slower than TN panels. However, gamers should take this into consideration. Fast paced games may suffer from motion blur or ghosting with IPS panels that have a response time higher than 8ms.
S-IPS panels can often be identified buy a slight purple hue on blacks when viewed from a wide angle. There are currently few manufacturers using S-IPS panels in comparison to the other panels types making choices limited and they often carry a premium price tag. H-IPS is a newer variation of S-IPS with a different pixel structure that improves contrast ratios and lowers pixel pitch to provide better picture quality. New IPS panel types like H-IPS introduced a problem known as "IPS glow". The less obtrusive purple hue present when viewing older S-IPS technology off angle was replaced with a brighter white/yellow tinge that is harsher and more noticeable by comparison, especially in a dark room. IPS glow is the main drawback of this panel type and many users find it to be a deal breaker.
There are various iterations of IPS panels with new and improved versions releasing over time, for example: S-IPS, H-IPS, e-IPS, P-IPS, AH-IPS, AHVA and Nano IPS. They're all relatively similar regarding the technology they use, though H-IPS introduced a slightly different pixel structure from S-IPS and the majority of e-IPS panels only offer 6-bit color depth. IPS LCD monitors are a suitable stopgap display technology until OLED monitors are commercially viable. If you're in the market for a monitor that uses IPS technology you can review our comprehensive list of IPS monitors before choosing.
Top Rated IPS Gaming Monitors
What is Super PLS?
What is AHVA?
What is Nano IPS?
VA Panel Technology
VA (Vertical Alignment) technology such as S-PVA/MVA are middle of the road LCD panels. They offer better color reproduction and wider viewing angles than TN panels, but have slower response times. They are very similar to S-IPS on paper. They also offer large viewing angles and good color reproduction, though not as good as IPS panels. The response times are generally worse than TN or IPS panels and there have been reports of a few VA panels that suffer from input lag, so VA technology is not be the best choice for fast paced gaming.
VA panels have the advantage of higher contrast ratios compared to other panel types, which leads to better black levels. The biggest disadvantage of VA based panels is color shifting. Color shifting is when the image viewed from one angle changes or "shifts" when viewed from a slightly different angle, making various uneven brightness levels across the display. This bothers many users to the point they will not even consider buying a VA based panel, while other users don't notice or aren't bothered by the color shifting. Color shifts also cause a loss of shadow detail in dark scenes when viewed directly from the center.
VA panels are much easier to find compared to IPS since so many manufacturers utilize them for LCD monitors and other displays such as large HDTVs. They offer better image quality than TN at a lower price point than IPS panels. Update: IPS has recently exploded in popularity. They have now overtaken VA monitors in regards to availability and lower price. However, the majority of TV manufacturers still use VA because of the higher contrast ratios and better black levels offered by VA panels.
TN Panel Technology
TN (Twisted Nematic) panels are the most widely used panel type in the manufacture of budget LCD monitors. TN panels are generally cheaper and offer excellent response times, making them perfect for fast paced gaming. The response times of current TN panels can reach as low as 1ms. For comparison, even the fastest IPS panels have trouble averaging below 5ms. Unfortunately the color reproduction, viewing angles and contrast ratios of TN panels are the worst of any modern LCD panel technology.
Unlike most 8-bit IPS/VA based panels, TN is only 6-bit and unable to display the full 16.7 million colors available in 24-bit true color. They can mimic the 16.7 million colors of 8-bit panels using a technique called dithering, but the results are unimpressive. TN panels became popular with the average computer user because they are very inexpensive and once dominated the LCD display market in availability (though IPS and VA have become more widespread over recent years).
Summary of LCD Panel Technologies
Update 2: November, 2020 - IPS panel manufacturers have developed major advancements over the past couple years leading to much higher refresh rates for IPS type monitors. Not long ago a 165Hz refresh rate was considered top of the line; now IPS panels are beling released with refresh rates as high as 360Hz and 240Hz is fairly common/affordable. These high refresh IPS monitors have started closing the gap between TN monitors as far as responsiveness and motion blur is concerned.
Update: As of 2016, much of this information still applies, though prices of IPS-based displays have dropped and they're more readily available. VA panels have also seen improvements to their responsiveness/input lag. Many users now view VA performance and image quality as on par or close to IPS. TN is still the cheapest and most used panel type with the best responsiveness, least motion blur and worst viewing angles/image quality.
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