While the PC itself is important, the monitor can make or break your computing experience. After all, you’ll spend your entire time using the PC, interacting with it by looking at that monitor. It’s not just about size any more. There are more choices than ever, and a huge range of features to consider. A computer monitor also expands the abilities of your laptop, when connected. Picking the right monitor ensures you’ll get the most out of your PC and this guide will walk you through the options to ensure you pick the perfect computer monitor for your situation.
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What can the monitor do for you
What do you use your PC for? Determining the primary use is the first step toward picking the right monitor. There is a huge difference between the monitor you’ll need if you primarily use you computer for PC gaming, versus the options if you generally use your PC for a few minutes here and there to check e-mail and maybe surf the web.
If your computer sees occasional use, primarily for casual tasks like web surfing, checking e-mail or occasionally completing a homework assignment, you don’t need a fancy computer monitor. Pick one based on price, the size you want and connectivity—there’s no need to invest in fancy high tech features that you probably won’t use.
Heavy on the Multimedia
Many home PCs are used mostly for casual, basic computing tasks, but also see use for multimedia applications. Maybe this computer is where you store and edit your family’s digital photo album, or maybe it’s used sometimes to stream videos. In this case, you’ll want a monitor that’s a little more advanced. A larger screen size, Full HD resolution (or higher), built-in speakers and accurate colour reproduction are factors that you should consider.
If you will be spending hours at a time working on a PC the monitor is extremely important. Any professional use calls for a large display panel (possibly multiple monitors for a productivity boost), high resolution and features like wide viewing angles, anti-glare treatment and adjustability.
Any work involving editing or creating media will benefit from a computer monitor with advanced colour management capabilities to ensure accuracy.
In addition, some monitors will use a blue light filter and/or offer a flicker-free mode for a picture that that is less harmful on the eyes. Your eyes will feel less fatigue after many hours in front of the screen!
Gamers have very high demands when it comes to computer monitors. Many of the requirements are similar to professional use: a large and high resolution panel, anti-glare treatment and wide viewing angles. But gamers will also want fast refresh rates, high contrast and gaming optimization features such as 144Hz, G-Sync, and FreeSync technology.
PC Gaming is an area that continues to drive monitor development. At CES 2020, Acer was showing off the Predator CG552K, a 55-inch OLED gaming monitor. Alienware and ASUS were displaying new gaming monitors with 240Hz refresh rates, and there was even a 360Hz gaming monitor at the show.
Monitor Size Comparison
Computer monitors are available in a wide range of sizes. Size is indicated in inches, using the diagonal measurement of the display panel. Small monitors of 22-inches or less are intended for basic computing, typically when budget and space are concerns. For a little more room, higher resolution and more capabilities, look to the 23-inch to 24-inch monitor range. Gamers tend to prefer monitors starting at about 24-inches (although if they have the space it’s more of a “the bigger the better” approach).
Those interested in multimedia tend to start shopping the 25-inch to 27-inch monitors, and going up from there, while professional are now turning to 4K and widescreen monitors starting around 34 inches and even larger. For those who can use every bit of screen real estate available, the selection of impressive 30-inch and larger monitors continues to grow.
Bulky CRTs are a thing of the past and flat LCD panels now dominate. However, there are multiple types of panels, each with its own strengths. Most are now LED backlit although some LCDs still use cold cathode fluorescent tubes.
Twisted Nematic (TN) panels have limited viewing angles, brightness and colour accuracy, but they offer ultrafast response times (often 2ms or less) making them popular with gamers. Vertical Alignment (VA) panels have the advantages of high brightness, excellent colour reproduction and good black levels, but can’t match TN panels for refresh rate. In-plane switching (IPS) panels are a preferred choice where colour accuracy and viewing angles are prized, however their weakness is relatively response times. You may also see PLS, which is essentially Samsung’s take on IPS. You may also see Samsung monitors using Quantum Dot technology—using nanocrystals that offer wider colour range and deeper blacks.
And as we saw at CES 2020, premium OLED panels are beginning to make their way into computer monitors, especially on the PC gaming side.
Features to Consider
Resolution is another of the most important choices to make when choosing a new computer monitor. The higher the resolution the monitor is capable of, the more information can be shown. Higher resolution also means crisper text and images. How crisp the display looks overall is a combination of resolution, size and viewing distance.
Most computer monitors today offer at least Full HD (FHD) resolution, or 1920 x 1080 pixels. With monitors in the 25-inch to 29-inch size range, Quad HD (QHD) resolution becomes common, offering 2560 x 1440 pixels onscreen. Choose a widescreen monitor and its extra wide panel may offer WQXGA (2560 x 1500) or WQHD (3440 x 1440) resolution. An increasingly popular choice on large computer monitors is 4K Ultra HD resolution. This offers 3480 x 2160 pixels, for extremely sharp content. The next step in ultra high resolution is 5K. It’s still uncommon but the 5120 x 2880 resolution puts over 11 million pixels onscreen at once.
Popular for productivity and gaming, widescreen monitors use a different aspect ratio than traditional monitors. This makes them wider (thus the name), a setup that’s ideal for viewing multiple documents side by side, or providing a wider frame of view in a video game.
Curved screen computer monitors began to gain in popularity several years ago, and many companies now offer them.
The panel on these monitors has a subtle curve that offers a more immersive view, making these monitors especially popular with PC gamers and those who like to watch video on their computer.
At CES 2020, Samsung introduced a new gaming monitor that takes size and curves to extremes. The G9 is a 49-inch ultra-widescreen with a deep, 1000R curve.
Refresh Rate and Response Time
Two factors that impact how content appears to the viewer are refresh rate and response rate. Refresh rate is a measurement of how many times per second the image on a monitor is displayed. With most monitors, 60Hz is the default refresh rate—or 60 frames per second. A 120Hz refresh rate for faster response to user input and minimal motion blur is increasingly common. New gaming monitors introduced this year have 240Hz and even 360Hz refresh rates.
Response time measures how long it takes for the monitor to change the colour of a pixel. Different colours take different times, but the standard usually used is transitioning from the lowest grey value (black) to the highest (white). Faster response times mean less visual effects like ghosting or smearing.
Gamers and those who use their computer for multimedia will want to pay close attention to these two measurements, aiming for a high refresh rate (ideally 120Hz) and a low response time (5ms or under is considered optimal).
This is a measurement of the deepest black the monitor can produce, and the brightest white. It’s shown as a ratio, such as 1000:1, and the higher the ratio the better. With high contrast, images on a computer monitor appear more vivid.
Some monitor makers will list the Dynamic Contrasty Ratio (DCR), which sounds much more impressive. Sometimes DCR can hit 10,000:1 or higher, however … DCR measures a pure black when the LED backlighting is turned off, then compares that to the brightest whites when the backlighting is back on. Although useful, this isn’t quite a “real-world use” number and you have to be careful not to compare DCR to contrast ratio—they’re not the same thing.
Where actual contrast ratio can easily hit those huge numbers is with OLED monitors. Their panel does not rely on backlighting so they can produce pure blacks and contrast ratios of 300,000:1 or even higher.
This is just what it sounds like: the maximum brightness the monitor can produce. This is particularly important if you use your computer in a room that’s already brightly lit, since the content on the computer monitor still has to stand out despite the ambient light. It’s measured in cd/m2 and the higher the number the better. If you use the monitor in a darkened room, you can always dial the brightness down.
For casual use, you don’t need to worry about this. Gamers will likely want to pay attention to it and professionals will absolutely need to be on top of a computer monitor’s colour gamut. This is essentially the palette of colours the monitor is capable of displaying. This is shown using one of three standards: sRGB, Adobe RGB, and NTSC, and the percentage of the colour gamut the monitor is capable of accurately displaying. As is usually the case, higher numbers are better. The more demanding standards of the three are Adobe RGB, and NTSC—these are the two media editing professionals in particular will watch. A monitor with a high Adobe RGB colour gamut has the specs needed to satisfy graphic designers and other media professionals.
If you sit directly in front of your computer monitor, viewing angle isn’t a big deal. If you view it from one side, or have multiple people looking at it (so someone is going to be off centre), then a higher viewing angle is going to make things better. The higher the number, the more extreme the angle you can look at the monitor without the image displayed being distorted.
The business side of a computer monitor is a big sheet of glass. If you work in a room with windows or lots of lighting sources, that sheet of glass can be difficult to see for all the reflections. A monitor with an anti-glare treatment helps to reduce the reflections, and that helps to reduce eyestrain. This is usually a matte finish, but may also be a film.
Fans of using touch gestures with Windows 10 may wish to choose a computer monitor with multi-touch capability. Doing so lets you pinch, swipe and interact with the onscreen content just like you were using a tablet, smartphone or touchscreen-capable laptop.
When looking for a new computer monitor, connectivity is an important consideration. Many higher end monitors will come with multiple connectivity options, but others have limited input ports.
Most current computer monitors offer HDMI, for high definition video and audio using the same cables you use to connect accessories to your flatscreen TV. Other digital options that are popular are DVI (video only, no audio) and DisplayPort, with USB-C expected to be offered as computer monitors start to reflect the growing popularity of high bandwidth USB-C ports on the latest crop of computers. For old school analogue connectivity, many computer monitors still offer VGA.
When choosing a monitor, look for one with a connectivity option that matches your computer, preferably one of the digital options for support of high resolution content. Adapters are available, but having a native connection is always easiest (and less expensive).
If your PC is short of USB or USB-C ports, look for a monitor with output ports so it can effectively double as a hub for your peripherals.
Electricity is more expensive than ever, so power use is a consideration for many people. Generally speaking, the bigger the screen and the higher the resolution, the more power a computer monitor uses.
For maximum savings on your power bill, look for a monitor that carries an ENERGY STAR certification—this means it uses on average 25 percent less power than other computer monitors in its range.
For casual and occasional use, a basic computer monitor on a fixed stand may suffice. But adjustability goes a long way toward making a monitor more ergonomic and may also be a key feature, depending on what you use it for. Ideally, a computer monitor should be able to swivel back and forth on its stand, as well as tilt up and down. This ensures you can get a good viewing angle and lets you minimize glare. For more comfortable viewing, look for a monitor that lets you adjust the height as well. Some professional users in particular look for a monitor that can pivot, so the display can be used in portrait mode instead of the traditional landscape mode.
You may also want to do away with the stand altogether and wall mount your computer monitor to free up desk space. In this case, look for one that is compatible with VESA mounts. Another space-saving option is a monitor that has a stand with a minimal desk footprint.
Computer monitors aimed at gamers feature various gaming optimization features. This could range from a pushbutton game mode to the ability to quickly switch between refresh rates, High Dynamic Range (HDR) support, 3D support and technology to reduce motion blur.
One of the more popular advanced gaming features is G-Sync, which allows monitors connected to computers with supported Nvidia video cards to reduce lag, stutter and screen tearing. FreeSync is a similar feature, but optimized for use with AMD graphics cards.
Eye Saver Technology
Some computer monitors offer so-called “eye saver” technology. Designed to prevent fatigue when someone is sitting in front of a screen for extended periods of time this includes features like reduced flickering or reduced blue light levels in the display panel output. Curved monitors may also help to reduce eye strain.
Computer monitor manufacturers offer many extras that may make their products more desirable. This could be a software feature like support for picture-in-picture viewing. There are also many hardware extras that may be important to your decision. Among the most popular are built-in webcams (ideally 1080p), pass-through USB ports (so the monitor can be used as a USB hub), USB charge ports for accessories and mobile devices, and integrated speakers. Some computer monitors also support being connected to multiple devices simultaneously, letting them do double duty as a display for a video game console, for example.
Once you have your computer monitor, you might want to accessorize it in order to make the most of your computing experience. This is also a great way to add on features that weren’t included on your monitor at time of purchase.
For example, you can add a webcam to virtually any computer monitor, or upgrade the existing one with a 1080p Full HD model. If your monitor lacks speakers—or the built-in ones lack the oomph you want—add a computer speaker system. This can be as straightforward as two-channel stereo or as impressive as 5.1 channel surround audio. If your computer monitor just doesn’t adjust to the perfect position, a monitor stand can make a huge difference. This can be as simple as riser shelf to set the monitor on, or as adjustable as an articulated wall mount. Power users can even get monitor stands that mount multiple monitors, side-by-side.
Remember to Take Your PC’s Specs Into Account
Just a quick reminder that before you choose a new computer monitor, you should take your computer’s capabilities into account. For example, if your PC is equipped with video output that maximizes at Full HD resolution, you won’t get the full benefit of picking a 4K UltraHD computer monitor. If your only video output is HDMI, make sure you choose a monitor with HDMI inputs.
Adapter cables and video card upgrades can take care of these issues, but you’ll want to plan ahead first so you have everything on hand to take full advantage of your new computer monitor.
Take the Next Step
You now have a better understanding of the technologies involved. You know what your computer will primarily be used for and you know its specs. And you know your budget. Now’s the time to check out the huge selection of computer monitors at Best Buy, where you’ll find the perfect monitor for your situation.