Do you own a gaming monitor with a VA (vertical alignment) panel and want to reduce the amount of visible trailing behind fast-moving objects in dark scenes? Or perhaps you’re considering purchasing a VA monitor but are concerned about the notorious dark-level VA smearing. This article will guide you through everything you can do to minimize black-level smearing and address any controversy surrounding this panel technology.

Understanding VA Smearing

First, let’s delve into why dark-level smearing occurs. Consider a 144Hz gaming monitor as an example; it refreshes the screen 144 times per second, so there’s a new ‘frame’ every 6.94 ms. If pixels change from one color to another slower than that, you will see trailing artifacts behind fast-moving objects.

Monitor Response Time Speed
Monitor Response Time Speed

A certain 144Hz gaming monitor might have a 4 ms GtG (gray to gray) pixel response time speed specified. However, this is just marketing jargon, as it doesn’t actually refer to the average pixel transition speed but rather the fastest possible.

For instance, pixels might transition from 80% gray to 60% gray in 4 milliseconds, as specified, but it can take them over 30 milliseconds to go from 0% gray (black) to 20% gray.

VA panel monitors, in particular, have very slow pixel transitions from dark to gray or bright shades (rise time), which results in a lot of visible ghosting (i.e., trailing) artifacts behind fast-moving objects when a lot of dark pixels are involved in the scene.

The KTC M27T20 and Samsung’s Odyssey G9, Neo G9, and G7 curved gaming displays are the only exceptions to this, which affects the majority of VA monitors. So, is there anything you can do about this?

Mitigating VA Smearing

Proper Overdrive Settings

To begin with, you need to ensure you’re using optimal response time overdrive settings. Go to Blur Buster’s ghosting test and track the moving UFO with your eyes; you’ll notice that it leaves trails as it moves.

OSD Menu
OSD Menu

Now go to your monitor’s OSD (On-Screen Display) menu and find an option called something along the lines of Overdrive, OD, Response Time, SmartResponse, TraceFree, etc.

You will find a few different options there, such as weak, medium, strong, or off, normal, or extreme. Try out the different options available, and hopefully you will see some improvements.

Stronger overdrive makes the pixels transition faster, but a too aggressive setting can cause inverse ghosting (i.e., pixel overshoot), which leaves bright (instead of dark) ghosting artifacts.

If you are using AMD FreeSync variable refresh rate (VRR) technology, you might also need to change the overdrive mode depending on your frame rate. For instance, the ‘Strong’ overdrive might look the best to you at 144Hz, but if your frame rate is around 60FPS, VRR dynamically changes your refresh rate to 60Hz and the ‘Strong’ mode might be too aggressive here thus causing overshoot.

So, you will need to see which overdrive mode works best at 60Hz and use that instead when using VRR around 60FPS, and so forth.

You should also keep in mind that monitors have better pixel response time performance after they’ve warmed up a bit. So, let them run for at least 30 minutes before testing and choosing the best overdrive mode.

Lower Refresh Rate

If you’re already using optimal overdrive settings, another thing you might want to consider is lowering your refresh rate in order to reduce VA smearing. The pixels might not be quick enough to change in time at 144Hz, for instance, but at 100Hz or 120Hz, you leave them more headroom, which can result in less noticeable smearing.

Black Equalizer

Another method to reduce VA smearing is to use the monitor’s Black Equalizer feature. Depending on the brand, this feature can go under different names, such as Shadow Boost, Black Boost, Shadow Control, Black Level, and similar.

Black Equalizer
Black Equalizer

This feature essentially alters the gamma curvature, making blacks lighter and dark objects easier to distinguish in shadows; the downside is that blacks won’t be as deep.

If your monitor doesn’t have a Black Equalizer feature, you can change the gamma settings – 2.2 is the default, lower gamma (2.0 and 1.8) will have lighter blacks.

Since using any of these features makes the overall image appear more washed out, you might want to use it in conjunction with color vibrancy settings, either via GPU drivers or if your monitor has such an option available in its OSD menu.

Motion Blur Reduction

If your gaming monitor has MBR (Motion Blur Reduction) technology, it might help clear up the smearing a bit. MBR uses backlight strobing to reduce perceived motion blur at a cost of picture brightness. Most MBR implementations cannot be used at the same time as VRR.

Motion Blur Reduction
Motion Blur Reduction

Further, MBR introduces screen flickering that’s invisible to the human eye, but may cause headaches or eye strain to those sensitive to it after prolonged use.

For best backlight strobing results, you’ll need to have your frame rate match the refresh rate as closely as possible. On a 144Hz monitor, for instance, lower the refresh rate to 120Hz and limit your frame rate to 120FPS.

Proper Post-Processing Settings

Some post-processing settings used in addition to VA’s slow pixel rise times can cause glimmering when using a mouse/controller to pan at a certain speed. By simply disabling the sharpening setting in the game’s graphic options, you can prevent this from happening. Applying some anti-aliasing can also reduce this effect if you prefer to use the sharpening option.

In other games, it might be another post-processing option that causes this (usually temporal anti-aliasing or TAA) so if you experience it, try enabling/disabling different settings.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you managed to reduce VA smearing a bit using one of the methods above! If you’ve been considering buying a high refresh rate VA gaming monitor, this article wasn’t intended to dissuade you from it. In truth, a lot of gamers wouldn’t even notice this dark level smearing until someone pointed it out to them, and even then, a lot of users wouldn’t be bothered by it.

Of course, in case you’re sensitive to these artifacts, it’s best to just get an IPS gaming monitor with a fast response time speed. Nowadays, you can find them at the same or similar price as their VA counterparts.

You should also keep in mind that VA monitors suffer from VRR brightness flickering and gamma/saturation shifts, whereas the main downside of IPS monitors is the low ~1,000:1 contrast ratio and IPS glow.

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