Buying a Computer Monitor (Size Matters)
A computer monitor (sometimes called the screen or display) is often kept for many years, even longer than the computer to which it was originally connected. So when it’s finally time to replace your monitor, bigger is better of course. But there are some new “rules” that that must be considered, that were perhaps unheard of when you last bought one. Read on for some of those new rules; I’ll spare you the geekspeak (and maybe save you some cash)...
Time For a New Computer Monitor?
Technology changes rapidly, but when it comes to computer screens, some rules never change. To start with, shop for a monitor in person if possible, and plan to get the biggest monitor your space and wallet permit. Yes, size matters, especially for those with older eyes. Technical specs are often meaningless compared to hands-on experience with a monitor. For example, the screen may be too reflective, or the connectors may be difficult to reach, or the adjustable stand may be difficult to adjust.
When shopping for a computer monitor, size is usually the first consideration. Personally, I would not consider a screen size less than 24 inches. Your needs, and available desktop real estate may vary. Screens in the 22 to 24 inch range are affordable (typically under $150), and will serve well for most home and office tasks (email, web browsing, composing documents, online video). If you are into photography, graphic arts, or serious gaming, you'll want a monitor that's 27 or more inches. Just remember that screen sizes are measured on the diagonal, just like televisions.
My personal preference is to go with dual monitors, and the pair of 27-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, spreadsheet or graphics program on the other. See my related article Dual Monitors: 7 Good Reasons to Upgrade.
Look for “frameless” or “thin bezel” in the description when buying a pair of monitors that will sit next to each other on your desk, and you’ll better achieve the look and feel of one large screen. And don't forget you can add an extra monitor to your laptop, if you have an available video port.
Your next consideration is screen resolution. A monitor's resolution is the number of pixels (dots) in its display matrix. You'll see terms like 720p, 1080p, HD (High Definition), FHD (Full HD), QHD (Quad HD), UHD (Ultra HD), 4K, and 8K. These all refer in some way to the number of pixels on the screen, and ultimately how crisp and clear the screen image will be. My recommendation is to avoid anything that's less than "Full HD" which is a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, equivalent to modern 1080p HDTVs. Quad HD (2560 x 1440) is a step above, and until recently, 4K or UHD was top of the line, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. You can now find 8K monitors with 7680 x 4320 pixel resolution. But unless you’re a media professional with about $4000 to spend, cross 8K off your list.
There is a sharp price jump between 24-inch full-HD and 27-inch 4K monitors; the former should cost $150 or less, while the latter is probably in the $400 range. (Here's an HP 24-inch Full HD monitor for just $120 at Amazon, and an LG 27-inch 4K Monitor on sale for $377.) If you watch lots of movies or play sophisticated games, the bigger and costlier monitor makes sense. Or, you could put that money into a big 4K television set, and stream your PC display to it.
A curved screen may be helpful on monitors 32 inches or larger. A curved screen puts the vertical edges nearer to your eyes, reducing the amount of refocusing they must do when looking from the center of the screen to one of the edges. Curved screens also reduce the amount of head-turning you must do to view every part of the screen. And they don't have to be super-expensive. This ASUS Gaming 32-inch 1080P Curved Monitor with speaker is priced at $289.
More Monitor Buzzwords
The vast majority of consumer monitors sold today use LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology. Even in so-called LED (Light Emitting Diode) displays, the LED is a backlight behind the LCD panel. LED monitors are helpful when the brightness of the display is critical or room lighting is variable. The most expensive monitors may boast OLED (Organic LED) tech, in which each pixel provides its own illumination.
Another buzzword you may encounter is IPS (in-plane switching). IPS monitors offer deeper blacks and more accurate color rendering than LCD or LED monitors. They also have wider viewing angles, so the picture looks the same, even if you're not directly in front of it. This ViewSonic 27-inch IPS 1080p Frameless LED Monitor is a good example.
Along with IPS, you'll also find TN (Twisted Nematic) and VA (Vertical Alignment) LCD displays. Here's a quick, non-geeky overview of the three types: TN offers the best response times with lesser picture quality and viewing angles. IPS has the best picture quality and viewing angles, but lower reaction time. VA is exactly in the middle - it has good picture image, viewing angles and reaction time.
The ideal aspect ratio of a general-purpose monitor is 16:9, or approximately 1.77:1. That’s the native aspect ratio of most movies, so if your monitor matches it you won’t see any stretching or compression of images. If the aspect ratio is not stated explicitly, divide the horizontal display pixels by the vertical display pixels, e. g. 1,920/1,080 = 1.77.
The refresh rate of a monitor is, loosely speaking, the number of times per second that the entire display area is updated. For old-fashioned, bulky Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors, the minimum acceptable refresh rate was 60 Hz, or 60 times per second. Today’s flat-panel LCD monitors use a slightly different metric called the “frame rate,” expressed in frames (images) per second or fps. Most LCD displays are locked at 60 fps, which is adequate for comfortable, flicker-free viewing at resolutions up to 1,920 x 1,080. But 120 fps will make 4K content much more enjoyable. The trade-off is that a faster refresh rate makes hardware work harder and possibly fail sooner.
Oh, and there's also the response rate, which is measured in milliseconds. A monitor with a good response rate will clock in at 5ms or less. Some gaming displays boast a response rate of 1ms.
If you’re using your computer for email, casual web browsing and word processing, you needn’t worry about any of these specs, acronyms or buzzwords, except screen size. If you watch movies, do image editing, or graphic design on your computer, you should give them consideration.
Computers and monitors often have multiple video I/O ports. Common port types are DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI, and VGA. A new monitor’s video input port must match the video output port on your computer, of course. DisplayPort is best for high-end resolutions, but the HDMI standard is the simplest and fastest connection widely incorporated in monitors and computers today. Avoid VGA, which is an older technology. Don’t let ports you’ll never use influence your monitor purchase.
Strings, Sealing Wax, and Other Fancy Stuff
If you run Windows 10, you may want a touchscreen monitor. But don’t get one if you normally sit at full arm’s length from the screen, or further. It’s just too awkward to use a touchscreen at great distance.
The monitor stand should be adjustable to the height and viewing angle that you prefer. Pay attention to how easily the stand can be adjusted, and how firmly it supports the monitor.
Higher-priced monitors may be packed with extras like speakers, front-panel display control buttons, or even all the components of a desktop PC. Buy what you need, not what’s on sale. The fewer things inside of a monitor, the fewer things that can cause overheating and early death.
Some monitors advertise “low blue light” technology to help protect your eyes and help you sleep better. I wouldn’t pay extra for that, because the Night Light software built into Windows 10 (and Night Shift for Macs) can do that as well.
Read warranties carefully; a five-year warranty doesn’t help if it excludes dead pixels that develop after one year. Don’t buy third-party warranty extensions. They’re pushed so hard by sellers because they are extremely profitable, and they’re extremely profitable because hardly anyone ever qualifies for a replacement under their terms.
Finally, 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 had no-name 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.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 15 Mar 2021
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