Should you be aiming for maximum quality, or pushing for the highest resolution?

Unless you have the cash for the world’s fastest rig, PC gaming is always going to be a balancing act. Given a system with a specific CPU, GPU, SSD and RAM configuration, you’ve got to work out the best way to use the firepower at your disposal. On the one hand you can push resolution, gunning for 1440p or 4K if your monitor can take it. On the other hand you can prioritise image quality, sticking with a lower resolution of, say, 1080p, but pushing the graphics settings as far as they can go before the frame rate drops through the floor. 

The argument for resolution is pretty obvious. At 1440p or – better still – 4K, you get a sharper image with more scope to appreciate the amount of texture and detail in the art. You get a stronger, clearer visual experience. This works in games just as it does with 4K Blu-ray discs or streaming services. Once you’ve seen that sharper image it’s hard to go back.

What’s more, higher resolutions can have a practical side in games. In strategy games, you might be able to see more of the interface or get a wider view of the game map. In shooters, it’s easier to see and identify enemies in the distance – there’s a reason why great long-distance marksmen are often known as sharpshooters.

However, resolution is not the be-all and end-all. Back in 2014 digital image standards body, the Imaging Science Foundation, said that it was only the fourth most important factor in picture quality, behind contrast, colour saturation and colour accuracy. Clarity matters, but rIch colours and high dynamic range are also crucial.

If you’ve ever played a game at 4K resolutions with the graphics settings turned to low, you’ll also see that lower-quality lighting, shadow, detail and anti-aliasing effects can leave the image looking flat and dull. The effects we take for granted in today’s games have a profound impact on the experience, making you feel that you’re absorbed in a richer and more immersive game world.

Some gamers will even advocate taking a hit on resolution to maintain high image quality settings, or that frame rate is more important to both the visual experience and the gameplay. After all, there’s a reason why so many eSports champs are happy to run at 1080p with a 144Hz or even higher refresh.

Of course, deprioritising resolution has its downsides. Some games can look muddy or fuzzy at 1080p, and you might be limited by your monitor. What do you do if you can’t use higher graphics settings at your screen’s native 1440p, but that screen does a woeful job of scaling 1080p to fill the frame?

The secret, as always, comes down to balance, and PC gaming always gives you a choice. When you’re playing a new game, check out how it looks at 1080p with High or Ultra settings and how it looks at 1440p on Medium. See if adjusting a few settings downwards could help you reach a higher resolution without too much impact on the overall image quality. Alternatively, see what you can do with NVIDIA’s DLSS tech, where it’s supported, or AMD’s FSR. That way you can render at the lower resolution with the graphics settings turned to High or Ultra, then rely on those clever AI algorithms to upscale the image to your screen’s native resolution. Give both approaches a try, and find out what works for you.

Of course, if you’re buying your first gaming PC you might be wondering how to spread your budget – if you go for a high resolution monitor, can you afford a graphics card to run games at the native-res? And if you go for a screen with a lower pixel count will your games of choice still give you the ‘wow factor’ that you’re looking for by making the jump to PC gaming?

Thankfully, Alpha Beta PC can help you make the right decisions. Just contact our expert advisors and they’ll help you configure a PC that will deliver the best visual experience for the games you love, without busting your budget.