Buying A Monitor

Category: Hardware

A good computer monitor is one of the best investments you can make. It can save your eyesight and make you more productive. Here are things to consider when buying a computer monitor...

buying a computer monitor

Which Monitor Should I Buy?

The easy answer is "buy the biggest monitor you can afford." The bigger the screen, the more information you can display, and the easier it will be to read. In terms of value, I recommend that you go with a 19-inch LCD monitor, since they cost only a bit more than 17-inch models. Avoid the old 14- and 15-inch models completely.

A bit of quick searching today revealed that one can find decent quality 19-inch monitors for around $125. The 22-inch monitors are a nice upgrade and will cost only $30-$40 more. Stepping up to a 24-inch or 30-inch model starts to get more pricey, since those are generally considered "professional" models for graphic design, video editing, etc.

If you can swing it, consider going with a dual-monitor setup. My desktop sports dual 22-inch monitors, which allows me to easily view both a web browser and a word processor at once.

Monitor Specs and Jargon

The amount of raw info that a screen can display is called its "resolution." Resolution is measured in pixels, the tiny dots that form patterns on a screen. Typical resolutions are 1440 x 900, 1280x1024, and 1024 x 768 pixels. Every monitor can display info in multiple resolutions controlled by the operating system's settings. But physically larger screens display any given resolution in larger text and images which are easier to read. My preference is the 1680x1050 resolution setting, which makes text a bit smaller, but maximizes screen real estate.

Another important factor is the monitor's "refresh rate". That's the number of times per second that the monitor re-draws the patterns on the screen that make up images and text. A refresh rate of 60 Hz (60 re-draws per second) - is barely adequate for simple word processing and display of static images. Video and fast-moving games will appear jerky. A good, responsive monitor has a refresh rate setting of 72 Hz or better. The refresh rate can also be controlled through the operating system settings.

The "viewing angle" of a monitor is important only if the monitor will be used as a TV screen or for presentations to groups of people. Move slowly to one side of the monitor. Does the display remain bright and sharp? There is a sharp drop-off in image quality at some angle from perpendicular to the screen's surface; that is the maximum viewing angle. But if it's just you sitting right in front of the screen, viewing angle isn't that important.

Flat-screen monitors are all you will find for sale these days unless you shop at thrift stores or on Craigslist, where bulky, heavy CRTs are dumped. The main choice here is "LCD or plasma?" The better cost/benefit ratio is found in LCD monitors for all but the most demanding high-speed, 3D animation work. Compare LCD monitors side-by-side and choose the one with the brightest, sharpest, most vividly colorful image you can afford. Be sure they're all displaying the same image!

I've never been fanatical about brands when it comes to computer monitors. I've had some great no-name models, and some dismal ones with well known name tags. But I do recommend that you spend a few minutes researching your picks before you buy, to see how they've performed for others.

Monitor Connectors and Accesories

Modern monitors come with multiple types of connectors to accommodate different digital devices. If your computer is all that will be connected to a monitor, then you need only be concerned with connectors that exist on your computer. Most monitors some combination of RGB, SVGA, S-Video, DVI, and HDMI connectors these days. Go with HDMI if possible, since that will provide the sharpest picture and best performance. Just make sure your monitor can accommodate your computer's video card outputs.

Accessories often built into flat-screen monitors include stereo speakers; USB ports for connecting and powering iPods, flash drives, and tray-less DVD players.

A stand to hold a flat-screen monitor upright is standard factory equipment. But watch out for cheaper stands that don't allow you to tilt the screen. You'll want to tilt the screen at an angle that best suits your lighting and sitting position.

If you wish to hang the monitor on a wall to save desk space, you will find mounting brackets that fit flush against a wall and others that protrude a few inches to allow the monitor to swivel. Be sure your monitor has wall-mount screw holes in its back, and match the spacing and size of the holes to the mounting bracket you select. The hole sizes and spacing come in a few standard configurations for small, medium, and large monitors. There are also swiveling arm brackets that attach to the edge of a desk and suspend the monitor over the desk surface; these, too, must be carefully matched to the size and weight of a monitor.

Here's one final consideration when buying a new monitor, but it applies to your OLD monitor. Don't just toss the old monitor, since they tend to be toxic to the environment. If it still works, donate it to a friend, local school or charity. Freecycle can help you find a taker for unwanted equipment. If it's a junker, contact your local municipality for recycling info.

Got something to say about buying a monitor? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Buying A Monitor"

Posted by:

Julie
05 Jan 2010

I second the recommendation on dual monitors. I have that at work and I think it's better than one larger monitor. I can't really justify the expense at home, but it definitely is a productivity booster at work!


Posted by:

chesscanoe
05 Jan 2010

Over a year ago I decided on a native resolution 1920x1200 LCD monitor for my new PC. I ordered the PC with a video card to support two monitors, and my 8 year old analog 1600x1200 monitor continues to work well as the second of my dual monitor setup. One nice feature of this setup is that a 1920x1200 desktop image on the primary monitor still usually looks good if tiled or centered on the secondary monitor. With a program like JBS you can even have different or multiple images on each monitor.
http://www.johnsadventures.com/software/backgroundswitcher/


Posted by:

Glen
05 Jan 2010

Do not purchase An ACER monitor
They do not honor their warranty
After weeks of phone calls & emails I finally received orders to send monitor to Their Repair depot. I had to pay postage. Received monitor b ack with comments stating that it was repaired & working, but it did not work. Repeated the process again & it came back non working.
Would appreciate any comments on how to deal with Acer.


Posted by:

Chris
05 Jan 2010

Hi Bob,

It might be worth mentioning in your article that when people upgrade from a CRT monitor to a flat-screen LCD monitor that they may need to change the display settings before they swap over. If the graphics card feeding the CRT monitor is set to a high refresh rate (e.g. 85Hz) in order to reduce flicker, the LCD monitor might not work properly at that setting.

Set the refresh rate to 60Hz before you unplug the CRT and the LCD monitor will be fine.


Posted by:

Len
05 Jan 2010

Buying Monitors: Make sure to check where the waranty service gets done. I have some problems with a Samsung monitor and they want to UPS it to Toronto ( I live in Victoria some 2700 miles away) and keep it for 7-21 days.
I don't want to be without my computer for maybe 3 weeks so unless you want to be without your computer for up to a month check out the waranty service before buying.


Posted by:

chris
06 Jan 2010

I want to commend you for your advice on recycling old monitors. Folks, please don't dump these things into your garbage cans!
Thanks, for being green. Used electronics are so toxic, anything we can do will really help.


Posted by:

Rick
06 Jan 2010

Monitor size also might be dependent on the age of the primary viewer. If you're over 40 your eyse just aren't as good -- accept it. The miniimum size for us in the 40+ range is probably 19".


Posted by:

Joshua
07 Jan 2010

What is your advice on using a flat-panel TV as a monitor? I saw 27" LCDs for less than $260.. advantage, I can also plus the PlayStation into it, and ditch my old TV since I use it only for gaming. Is there a reason computer monitors are more pricey than TVs at the same size?


Posted by:

John
07 Jan 2010

What are your feelings about using a TV as a monitor?

I have been using a Toshiba 26" TV as my monitor for several months. The vast majority of the time it works great. Occasionally, the screen goes crazy with just lines. I turn it off and then on again, and everything is fine. Toshiba tech services advised me that this happens sometimes because the unit wasn't built specifically for a computer monitor.


Posted by:

James
07 Jan 2010

Glen, I did an investigative research on Acer's warranty area for a non-profit and found, in my personal opinion, that it was just short of criminally fraudulent. Openly hostile toward customers and their claims. I am unsure how the company feels that telling customers to just ship things in -- only to later deny the claim or return items as is -- is a benefit to them, but that seems to be their overall approach. My $0.02 worth...


Posted by:

DJ
08 Jan 2010

Bob,

Regarding old equipment: Groups like Salvation Army are refusing donations of monitors and other equipment. They told me it was the cost of checking and repairing, and the cost of disposal of unrepairable/unsold items.

In Warren, MI (Metro Detroit) we have a charity on Ryan Rd, just south of 10 Mile that will accept all donations and give you a tax receipt!

Please look for something like that in your towns!


Posted by:

navonod
15 May 2011

I have a Viore 19" HD LCD Television
model LC19VH54PB, it has a VGA jack.
When I hooked my computer up to it, the display would freeze, scramble and go blank, to the point of showing "no signal" window. At one point, I got the "blue screen of death", it said nv4-dsp, video was in a infinit loop.
I have IBM, Pentium 4 1.8ghz process, 2gig of RAM and a nvidia geforce 4000 video card.
I had to reinstall the old monitor and reinsatll the video driver.
Any ideas why it would not run my monitor?, is it the monitor


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