[TIPS] For Buying a Computer Monitor

Category: Hardware

A monitor (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, you may find that that new rules apply to its purchase that were unheard of when you bought it. Here are some of those new rules, without getting too geeky or extravagant…

Time For a New Monitor?

Technology changes rapidly, but when it comes to computer screens, some rules never change. To start with, shop for a monitor in person, and plan to get the biggest monitor your space and wallet permit. 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 21 inches. Screens in the 21 to 26 inch range are affordable, 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: Six Good Reasons to Upgrade.

Tips for buying a computer monitor

Your next consideration is screen resolution. A monitor's resolution is the number of pixels in its display matrix. You'll see terms like 720p, 1080p, HD (High Definition), FHD (Full HD), QHD (Quad HD), UHD (Ultra HD), and 4K. These all refer 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 4K or Ultra HD is top of the line, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels.

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 $500 range. (Here's an ASUS 24-inch Full HD monitor for just $119 at Amazon, and an LG 27-inch 4K Monitor on sale for $378.) 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 Samsung 32-inch HD Curved Monitor with dual speakers is on sale for just $249.

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 all you do is email and casual web browsing, you needn't worry too much about response rates.

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 have 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.

Finally, 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.

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 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...

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Most recent comments on "[TIPS] For Buying a Computer Monitor"

Posted by:

Jonathan Skrine
30 Jul 2019

Hi Bob,

I have a 21:9 ultrawide monitor which is a spec you don't mention. 2560x1080 resolution which equates to 1080p or full hd only wider.

It gives that extra size in a limited space that I needed.

BTW modern movies are 21:9 ratio and not 16:9 which is the older narrower standard. So you don't get the annoying bars at top and bottom of the screen when watching things even as old as Independence Day (which we watched last night).

I've had mine for over three years and still think it's the aardvark's nostrils. At 34" diagonal the resolution is spot on for a monitor. Doubling to a 4K wouldn't be visible without doubling the size AND the graphics would need a big upgrade.

As usual a very informative piece thanks for filling in the gaps that get left out by other places.

All the best,


Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
30 Jul 2019

One additional consideration for purchasing a new monitor; YOUR AGE. I'm starting to get up there, and my eyes aren't as good as they were. A bigger monitor makes things easier to see.

Generally. Because sometimes the young, keen-eyed techies designing these things figure that if the monitor is physically larger, they can make the pixels smaller and have more of them. But backing off from the highest resolution often yields a VERY fuzzy display.

Here's a monitor on Amazon that is absolutely huge (34 inches), but with a maximum resolution of "only" 1920x10880. And is crystal clear at that resolution. AND, it's normally $199 from Amazon, and is sometimes discounted to $179.

So when I can't read my laptop, I drag that window over to the "big screen", and it's easy for me to read - and easy for my co-workers to read from several feet away. Win-win!


Posted by:

30 Jul 2019

Don't forget that if you want to plug in two monitors, you either need a graphics card that supports two monitors or you will need to add an additional graphics card.

Posted by:

J Thomas
30 Jul 2019

Hi Bob... Been a follower since the Langalist days.
I buy most of my computer hardware and monitors from www.techforless.com out of Colorado.
Great prices,no tax and free shipping on most.
I have 3 48inch TVs/as Monitors..they are the best.

Posted by:

Robert A.
30 Jul 2019

LOL! Try finding any 1080p television, let alone, a decent quality one, these days. All the major TV makers have jumped on the 4K bandwagon so much so that if they still produce 1080p sets, they're only relegated to the bottom-most tier of the lineup, and generally available only in the sub-50" sizes, or, if one wants a larger size, are from now garbage brands, such as RCA, Magnavox, Sylvania, Craig, etc., who's appeal only seems to be to much of the Medicare-age crowd, who remember those brands from their glory days back from the 1950s through the 1980s.

And, Bob only touched on it, but most monitors sold today DO NOT come with built-in speakers, which means the buyer will have to spend another $30.00, or more, to watch YouTube videos.

Posted by:

30 Jul 2019

I've quit using monitors for years now, current standard is 40" or so Full HD or 4K TV with at least two (or better) HDMI ports. Not had to fool with DisplayPort yet, and never got stuck with DVI either, fortunately. My Insignia 40" TV does fine with my gaming rig, i78750H plus GeForce RTX 2060. 32GB/6GB/2x2TB and I'm happy as a lark. Yup, it's a mere 17" Laptop, tricked out a wee bit, and sits behind my TV minding it's own business!

In my experience, get a decent TV with good protection plan, and if it dies, replace it and roll on your merry merry way. Bob, I'd appreciate your insight on this, just in case I've missed the boat somewhere?

Posted by:

30 Jul 2019

I've quit using monitors for years now, current standard is 40" or so Full HD or 4K TV with at least two (or better) HDMI ports. Not had to fool with DisplayPort yet, and never got stuck with DVI either, fortunately. My Insignia 40" TV does fine with my gaming rig, i78750H plus GeForce RTX 2060. 32GB/6GB/2x2TB and I'm happy as a lark. Yup, it's a mere 17" Laptop, tricked out a wee bit, and sits behind my TV minding it's own business!

In my experience, get a decent TV with good protection plan, and if it dies, replace it and roll on your merry merry way. Bob, I'd appreciate your insight on this, just in case I've missed the boat somewhere?

Posted by:

30 Jul 2019

Monitor? Why spend the big bucks for a monitor when you can buy a TV and use it as a monitor? My husband has two 32" TVs he uses as monitors. For how he uses the computer, the TVs work just fine. The price? We bought each of them for $100.

Posted by:

31 Jul 2019

I never get this insistence on 16:9. I have a 16:10 monitor and it's fine to watch video, who cares about a few black lines above/below the picture that blend into the black monitor bezel? I love the extra vertical pixels to read code or other text. I do miss my CRT monitor, it had good response, good colour, good text all in one package.

Posted by:

31 Jul 2019

you are spot on, as usual.
Personnally, I have two 24" screens for my desk top (at home and at my second residence), and an additional one that I fixed on the wall for my textbook (only 15"). Plus the same for my wife, ... that makes a total of 10 screens, ...
One at a time, I bought them all second hand for $20-40.
You are spot on: my oldest 24" screen must be approximately 15 years old: these bastards never fail!
If I need to buy another one, of course it will be a second hand 27" (that ought to be in a few years, if I want it to be in the price range $50 max)

Posted by:

01 Aug 2019

I have had dual monitors for years and just can't imagine life without them. Being able to have 2 programs open full screen at the same time is awesome.I do tutorial testing for a graphics program group and it is handy to be able to put the tutorial on one screen and work on the other.

Another item I look for is the ability to switch to "night" mode so that the screen is not overly bright at night in contrast with the light in the room.

Posted by:

R J Smith
02 Aug 2019

Another consideration that I have found helpful-- the hard way: buy two monitors of the same model. I have two good 23" ASUS monitors but they are _different_ models and there is NO way I can adjust the colors and tints to be equal. This makes photos and other sensitive images very inconsistent and even erratic. Thanks Bob for all your good work!

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