HOWTO: Buying a Computer Monitor
A reader asks: 'My 7-year-old monitor is slowly fading, and it's time for a bigger screen, so I'm ready to buy a new one. Does brand really matter, and what features would you say are important when buying a new monitor?'
What To Look For in a New Monitor
Computer monitors come with a bewildering array of specs. Some are important; others, not so much. If you are buying a monitor for home or office use, here are the specs you should carefully consider and the ones you can safely ignore.
Screen size is important, obviously. LCD screen size is measured diagonally across the viewable area of the screen. The size you choose depends on your budget, available space, and comfort. The screen should be large enough to comfortably display all the windows you are likely to have open simultaneously, but not so huge that you strain your neck to look into its corners.
Given that you can find 20-inch monitors for under $100 now, I would set that as a minimum size. You can find good quality 24-inch monitors for under $150. Expect to pay around $200 for a 27-inch model. When you move into the 30-inch realm, prices start to spike into the $500 to $100 range.
My personal preference is to go with dual monitors, and the pair of 22-inch monitors I've had on my desk the past few years has served me well. I think it makes a big difference in productivity, especially if you use the computer several hours a day. Quite often, I will have a web browser open on one screen, and a word processor, speadsheet or graphics program on the other. See my related article Dual Monitors: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade.
Other Monitor Specs to Consider
The monitor's resolution is the number of pixels in its display matrix. Images and text look their best when displayed in a monitor's native resolution. The larger the screen size, the higher the native resolution, generally speaking.
Common resolution sizes are 1280x1024, 1600x900, and 1920x1080. The latter qualifies as "Full High Definition Television" resolution, which may be important if you plan to watch HD movies, if you do photo editing, or you're a gamer. Before you buy a new monitor, check your computer's display adapter to see if it supports the monitor's native resolution. If not, you may need a new display adapter too.
You should also consider the connectivity options on a monitor. Check the back of your computer to see what type of video output ports it has. The most common ports are DVI and HDMI. Some laptops have only the older VGA ports. Ideally, a monitor will have all three ports for maximum flexibility. You'll want to make sure the monitor you buy has input ports that match your computer's video outputs.
The display aspect ratio is either 16:9 or 16:10 in most modern LCD wide-screen monitors. The 16:9 aspect ratio is gaining popularity because it is the same as most wide-screen movies. A 16:9 movie displayed on a 16:10 screen will look a bit "squashed.
The response time of a monitor (sometimes referred to as latency)is measured in milliseconds, and indicates how well it can display moving images. Slow response times can cause jittery or blurry images. Ghosting can occur when the monitor is struggling to keep up with the video action. For most office tasks, anything under 15 milliseconds (ms) will be sufficient, but I recommend a response time of 10 ms to avoid any display quality problems. If you're into gaming, you may prefer a monitor with a response time of 5 ms or even 2 ms.
Specs That May Not Be As Important
You may see some manufacturers touting the virtues of their monitor's high contrast ratio. Technically, the contrast ratio refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest images that a monitor can display. Subjectively, it means "how black are the blacks." So a higher contrast ratio should mean a richer, deeper image. The problem is lack of standardization. Each manufacturer uses a different formula to calculate the contrast ratio, so the numbers end up almost meaningless. You'll see advertised contrast ratios all the way from 300:1 to 30,000,000:1. If you have the opportunity to compare monitors side-by-side in a retail store, you probably won't be able to tell the difference. So my advice is to take these numbers with a grain of salt, when considering which monitor to buy.
Here's one bit of jargon you should know if you're looking for a higher-end monitor. IPS (In-Plane Switching) and TN (twisted nematic) are two display technologies. IPS is a cut above, so colors are richer and more lifelike, even when viewed from extreme side angles. Avoid a TN-based monitor if you're into graphic design or photo editing.
Display colors is the number of distinct colors a monitor can display. Standard computer monitors display 16.7 million colors, which is fine for all but the most demanding users. Some IPS monitors can display over a billion shades of color. Just keep in mind that the human eye can distinguish only about 10 million colors.
Personally, I've not found brand to be an important factor in computer monitors. Some people are loyal to ASUS, LG, Samsung, or other well-known brands, but I've always had no-name or off-brand monitors that have served me well. Pay attention to the specs I've mentioned above, and check consumer forums for experience with specific models before buying, and you'll do fine.
Do you have something to say about choosing a computer monitor? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Sep 2013
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- HOWTO: Buying a Computer Monitor (Posted: 26 Sep 2013)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved