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Computer Monitor Buying Guide

Posted in Articles on 13/7/2015 (updated on 27/6/2019)

PIcture of Monitors at PB Tech

Considering how much time the average person spends in front of the computer, having the right monitor should be a high priority when choosing your set up. With so many monitors to choose from, you might be a bit stumped as to what monitor will be best for you. That's why we've put together this quick computer monitor buying guide on what to look for when shopping for the perfect computer monitor.

Here at PB Tech, we have a huge range of computer monitors available to suit every use and budget, so once you've finished reading this guide, start the search for the perfect monitor here.

Screen Size

Computer monitors range in size from about 18-49 inches, the number one consideration when choosing a monitor size, is what you are going to be using it for. You may wish to get a larger monitor if you are going to be watching movies and playing games, whereas if you will mostly be surfing the web and using programs such as Microsoft Office, a smaller size will work just fine and will be less expensive than larger monitors. Common deciding factors on size include the amount of available space you have at your workstation, and your needs and budget. If you're still quite stumped about what size to aim for, here are some basic guidelines. 

Under 20”

If you’re after a reasonably priced monitor that will provide quality performance for simple everyday tasks such as browsing the internet and using Microsoft Office, smaller monitors at 20” and under will often be sufficient. 

21” to 26”

Monitors within this range are recommended for the typical everyday user. They’re a great choice for multi-purpose use in both the home and the office. Whether you’re watching movies and TV shows, doing basic image processing, creating and viewing multi-page documents, or playing games, these monitors will be sufficient to cover all of the bases for these tasks. 

27” and up

Larger monitors offer a larger viewing area, making them ideal for serious gamers and creative professionals (such as photographers, graphic designers, and video editors).

Ultra-wide or dual monitors

For more screen real estate, opt for an ultra wide monitor. Ultra wide monitors have a 21:9 aspect ratio, whereas Widescreen monitors typically have a 16:9 aspect ratio. With the additional screen real estate provided, ultra-wide monitors are ideal for people who regularly work on multiple documents or applications, flick between multiple windows, or for gamers who want an incredibly immersive experience. Some models come with split-screen software to make arranging multiple windows even easier and more efficient.

Alternatively, you can opt for a dual-screen setup. The main downside to a dual monitor setup versus an ultra-wide monitor is the bezel (the casing around the monitor) that splits the screen. However, if your primary reason for needing the extra screen real estate is to work on multiple documents, this shouldn’t be an issue; it can actually be advantageous by providing more defined divisions of visual space. Dual monitors is the typical set up for the office, generally consisting of two identical 22” to 24” monitors side by side.

Resolution

When deciding on a size, it is important to note the distinction between screen size and resolution. A larger monitor doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see more content or information on your screen. A 20” monitor and a 29” monitor with the same resolution will display the same amount of content, at the same quality; contrariwise, if you take two 29” monitors with different resolutions, the one with the higher resolution will display more content and a crisper image than the one with the lower resolution.

So what exactly does the resolution mean? Resolution refers to how many pixels the screen displays – both vertically and horizontally – and therefore determines the clarity and the amount of information that will be displayed on the screen.

High Definition (HD) (720p)

One of the lowest resolutions available is HD (720p). Monitors of this resolution typically measure at 1280 x 720 pixels. You will generally find this resolution on monitors that are 20” and under.

Full HD (FHD) (1080p)

Full High Definition refers to monitors with a resolution equivalent of 1080p wide-screen televisions. Monitors at this resolution are typically 1920 x 1080 pixels. This resolution provides a crystal-clear picture and is a great choice for everyday use (including watching movies and videos).

Quad HD (QHD/ WQHD) (1440p)

Quad HD, also known as Wide Quad HD (WQHD), is commonly found on ultra-wide screen monitors delivering 1440p resolution, typically 2560 x 1440 pixels. It delivers exceptional image clarity for those who need to view highly detailed images, such as graphic designers, video editors, engineers, and gamers.

QHD is sometimes referred to as WQHD to simply emphasize the fact that it uses a wide aspect ratio. However, both refer to the same spec. 

At a wider aspect ratio of 21:9 (as opposed to 16:9), QHD / WQHD monitors also deliver resolutions of 3440 x 1440 pixels and 3840 x 1600 pixels.

Ultra HD (UHD/4K) (2160p)

Ultra HD, commonly referred to as 4K, delivers 2160p resolution. True 4K displays (used in professional production) feature 4096 x 2160 pixels. However, consumer displays typically deliver 3840 x 2160 pixels. With four times as many pixels as Full HD, it displays the finest details. Monitors at this resolution are ideal for professionals doing high-resolution photo and video editing, gamers or movie fans who want a fully immersive experience, or anyone who needs extra space to view windows or documents side by side.

5K2K (4K Ultrawide) (5K Ultrawide) (2160P Ultrawide)

A fairly new resolution at 5120x2160 that offers exceptional clarity at the 21:9 aspect ratio. As I write this the only monitor available at this resolution is based on LG’s nano IPS panel which boasts 98% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour gamut (135% sRGB) for stunning colour quality and accuracy - making it overkill for all but the most professional of graphic artists, video and photo editors.

Does your graphics card need to be updated?

Make sure your computer can support your new monitor, especially if you're upgrading to 4K Ultra HD or 10bit colours. If you buy a top-of-the-line monitor but have an older computer, you won't have the best picture quality. Check the monitor's hardware requirements to see if your computer or graphics card needs to be updated.

Panel type

Before we go any further, you might be interested in what an LCD panel is? LCD stands for liquid crystal display. LCD uses liquid crystals to display what is shown on the screen. The liquid crystals use a backlight or reflector to release light and produce either monochromatic or coloured images. There are a few different types of LCD panels on the market include TN, VA, and IPS.

Twisted Nematic (TN) LCD panels are the most common, known for being inexpensive while boasting excellent response times and high refresh rates. This makes them a popular choice for gamers. The downside to TN panels is that they have poor colour reproduction, contrast ratios, and viewing angles when compared to IPS and VA panels. If you’re searching for a monitor for regular everyday use, a TN monitor will suffice. However, if colour is important to you, consider a different type of display.

Vertical Alignment (VA) LCD panels fall somewhere between TN and IPS panels. While the colour production and viewing angles for VA panels are better than TN, they fall short of the when compared to an IPS panel (however, VA panels tend to have greater contrast than IPS panels). They also have slower response times than both TN and IPS. VA panels are usually found on mid-range standard monitors, and are generally more expensive than TN panel monitors, yet cheaper than IPS panel monitors.

In-plane Switching (IPS) panels have the best overall image quality, offering vibrant colour reproduction and contrast, and better viewing angles.  IPS panels are ideal for creative professionals such as graphic designers or photographers, where colour accuracy is important. Even users who aren’t creative professionals often prefer an IPS panel due to their more attractive display. IPS panels have slower refresh rates than TN panels, so if that’s important to you, you might want to consider a different display type.


Comparison of colour representation on the different panel types

Backlight

When considering backlight, it's important to first understand that LCD and LED are not mutually exclusive technologies. LED monitors are still LCDs, but simply use a different type of backlight; what we know as LED TVs are essentially LED-backlit LCD TVs. Up until the advent of LED backlighting (now the backlight of choice), many monitors used cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) tubes as a backlight. There are three types of backlights currently being used in computer monitors: EL-WED, RGB LEDs, and WLED.

EL-WLED stands for edge-lit white LEDs, and it’s the most commonly used backlight in many monitors available today. It features white LEDs aligned along the edge of the monitor mix. Less power is drawn from WLED backlights opposed to any other backlight technology. This and the fact that EL-WLED are the smallest and cheapest of the technologies, result in them being the most used backlight by many users.

RGB LEDs are aligned all over the panel matrix. Each single light produces red, green or blue colours enabling the display to access a high colour gamut, with more accurate colours than what EL-WLEDs are capable of producing. As a result, monitors with RGB LEDs are the preferred choice for graphic design professionals.

WLED backlights are much like RGB LEDs, only it uses white LEDs as opposed to red, green, or blue colours. 

Connections

In order for your monitor to operate you will need to ensure the monitor you purchase has the type of connector you will be using. See below for the common connector types: HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort and VGA.

HDMI – HDMI is the most common connection and is found on most computer monitors. It carries both audio and video signals to the display. It is commonly used to display high-definition content from devices such as your computer, gaming consoles and Blu-Ray players. Version counts here also, so if you're not getting 4K 60Hz from your HDMI 2.0 output it's likely you have a version 1.4 cable.

DVI – DVI connections are similar to HDMI, except for the fact that it doesn’t carry audio. They support a variety of different resolutions, with some carrying a 1920 x 1200 resolution, and others carrying more.

DisplayPort – Touted as the successor to HDMI and DVI, Display Port is a higher bandwidth connection that carries both audio and video signals. HDMI connections can carry 4K UHD at 30fps (frames per second), while DisplayPort can carry 4K UHD at 60fps, providing a smoother picture for fast-paced games or movies. DisplayPort is the number one choice for very high resolutions and frame rates.

VGA – VGA is the old analogue technology and is typically found on budget-focused monitors. While it has reasonable support for high resolutions and frame rates, the image quality won’t be as clear as what you would get with a DVI connection.

USB - Portable monitors that connect via USB have come a long way in recent years, thanks to the improvements offered by the USB Type-C connection. With super slim profiles and low weight making them ideal for travellers who want a multi-monitor setup for their laptop.

Other things to consider

Refresh rate

The refresh rate refers to how often the screen image is refreshed per second. Most monitors have a minimum refresh rate of 60Hz, meaning you can view 60 frames per second; refresh rates above 75Hz are considered good refresh rates; and refresh rates between 120Hz and 144Hz are top end. Monitors with Twisted Nematic (TN) display panels typically have the highest refresh rates, but now IPS screens are emerging with high refresh rates too! Be sure to check out our article on How to choose the best Gaming Monitor for your Gaming PC for more info on how to choose the best one.

Response times

The response time refers to how quickly a pixel can change colour. A low response time (i.e. a fast response time) means much less blur and ghosting of images, while a high response time (i.e. a slow response time) means a higher likelihood of blurring and ghosting. Low response times are good for gaming, fast-paced action videos, and similar activities. If you’re mainly only looking at static images however, response times won’t be of much importance to you.

Screen finish

A matte screen coating effectively eliminates any reflection by acting to diffuse ambient light. While a reduction of glare is desirable, the downside is that the coating may reduce image quality, by making them slightly more dull and hazy. Images may appear slightly less crisp, and you’ll see a reduction in contrast and colour vibrancy.

A glossy screen, on the other hand, will generally have more vivid colours and greater contrast. However, if used under sunlight or bright ambient lighting, you’ll experience glare and reflections; as a result, this could potentially increase the likelihood of eyestrain as you have to focus harder to see through the glares and reflections.

Ultimately, the ideal screen finish comes down to personal preference. The number one thing you’ll want to keep in mind though, is the environment you’ll be using your computer in. If there will be bright room lighting or you’ll be working outdoors a lot, you will be better opting for a matte screen. However, if this isn’t the case for you and you like the idea of crisp and vibrant images, you might prefer a glossy screen instead.

Ergonomics

Seeing as you’re going to be sitting in front of your computer for long periods of time, you should consider ergonomics to ensure maximum comfort and minimal strain. Ideally your monitor should sit about an arms-length away from you, and the top of the viewing area should be about eye level. A monitor that is too high or too low can lead to neck aches and pains, strained eyesight, back problems, and excessive fatigue. Monitor mounts are a cost-effective solution that allow monitors to be easily adjusted to suit every user with ease. Not only will can you adjust the height and angle for optimum comfort, but some mounts will also allow you to rotate the screen or change the position entirely, adding extra versatility to the way you work. Check out our monitor mounts here.

Recommendations based on usage

General Use

If you’re searching for a monitor for general day-to-day use such as office work, surfing the web, and watching movies, just about any LED LCD monitor will do. While monitors with high specs are certainly qualified for general-use, we recommend sticking to mid-range models so you can still experience image-quality, without breaking the bank on unnecessary specs.

We recommend a screen that is at least 22 inches, with a minimum refresh rate of 60Hz. For standard everyday use, high refresh rates or fast response times aren’t an important factor, so choosing a display panel comes down to your personal criteria. If you have a lower budget, you might prefer to opt for a TN display; if an attractive display with great contrast ratios and colour reproduction is the most important factor to you, spend a bit more on an IPS display; or if your somewhere in between, we recommend a VA panel.

Multimedia/Professional

For creative professionals, having a ‘good’ monitor simply isn’t enough. Creative professionals such as photographers, graphic designers, special effects artists, and video editors need a monitor designed for content creation. This generally means larger screens with a resolution that is at least FHD or QHD/2K for more screen real estate and crisp, detailed images. In terms of a display, an IPS panel is a great choice for its accurate colours, great contrast ratios, and wide viewing angles. Professionals who are working with moving content (such as video editors or motion graphics artists) should look for a monitor with a low response time of 5ms or less so that motion blurring and ghosting is kept to a minimum. With that in mind, here are a few other things you can consider when shopping for a professional monitor.

Professional monitors

Some monitors are targeted specifically towards professionals and come with the finest LCD panels and backlights, with manufacturers conducting rigorous calibration tests before they leave the factory. This means that they are accurate out of the box. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process for manufacturers, so you’ll pay a premium for professional monitors, but it’s a great way to ensure quality. See our range of professional monitors here.

Uniformity compensation

Some professional monitors also list backlight uniformity compensation as a feature. This is when the manufacturer measures the monitor to eliminate variations in brightness and colour temperature from the screen, ensuring balanced brightness and colours in every zone. This process can reduce contrast slightly, but it results in a more even performance across the panel. While some manufacturers go to great lengths to address this issue, very few monitors have visible uniformity issues, so it’s not a priority when searching for a professional monitor but it’s something you might want to be aware of.

Bit-depth
As a creative professional, colour range will be important to your work, so don’t neglect to consider the colour depth. This refers to the total number of colours that the monitor can display to the user. Some different colour depths you might hear of include 8-bit (256 colours), 16-bit (65,536 colours), and 24-bit aka True colour (16.7 million colours); 8-bit is the most common colour depth that you will find on monitors.

In most cases, an 8-bit panel won’t cut it for professional designers. You want at least 10-bit, or even 12-bit. Most professional monitors have a colour depth of at least 10-bit, but it’s important for you to be aware of this as you won’t benefit from the extra colour depth if your video card is not capable of outputting it. Most consumer-grade video cards only support 8-bit output, and while some premium ones support 10 and 12-bit, your best bet is to use something based on Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro processors.

Gaming

Choosing a gaming monitor is bound to start off discussion and debate amongst gamers as no one is more passionate about computer hardware. Gamers need a monitor that can keep up with the speed and intensity of their games, so choosing the right one is important. Aside from the specs themselves, budget and experience-level are other factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor so recommendations will vary based on these things. However, as a base minimum, we recommend a refresh rate of 75Hz or higher; if you’re aiming for top-end quality and your budget is a bit higher, go for 120-144Hz. When it comes to response times, we recommend a minimum of 5ms; we recommend 2ms or lower for gamers who are fans of online shooters.

Display panel
When it comes to choosing a display panel – it’s pretty simple. TN monitors are generally the best choice for games due to their high refresh rate and low response times, so you can keep up with fast-moving action without any lag. Even better, they’re the most bang for your buck as well!

Resolution

Some gamers might say that a higher resolution is always better – however, this isn’t necessarily true. While smoother and more realistic images will look better, they’ll also require more power. If you opt for a higher resolution such as UHD, you’ll have to accept that you’ll have to sacrifice certain things such as a higher refresh rate; as current video interfaces don’t support higher than 60Hz for UHD / 4K signals. We recommend a FHD resolution for ultimate speed that still delivers crisp and high quality images. However, if you want the extra detail and have a video card that can handle it, a QHD resolution is a great option.

Adaptive Refresh

Adaptive sync technology (G-Sync and FreeSync) has been revolutionary in video processing. It has largely eliminated the issue of screen tearing – when horizontal lines appear across your screen when playing fast-paced games. This problem occurs as a result of monitor refresh rates that don’t match up with graphics card outputs. When your graphics card pushes images to your monitor outside of its set refresh rate, your monitor shows a portion from two separate frames onscreen simultaneously, resulting in screen tearing.

Adaptive sync solves this issue by synchronizing your monitor’s refresh rate with the refresh rate of your graphics card (up to your monitor’s maximum refresh rate). As a result, your monitor simply refreshes at the rate at which your graphics card generates, resulting in smooth gameplay.

AMD FreeSync works by piggybacking on top of the VESA Adaptive—Sync standard, which is part of DisplayPort 1.2a. It simply adds new functions to the existing DisplayPort specification. Additionally, AMD doesn’t charge royalties or licensing costs, making the addition of FreeSync to a monitor essentially free. Because of this, FreeSync is more widely available on monitors at a lower price than Nvidia’s G-Sync.

Nvidia’s G-Sync technology requires display makers to use an exclusive hardware module and Nvidia keeps a tight grip on quality control, working with manufacturer’s right up until the end. Unlike AMD, Nvidia charges licensing fees for its G-Sync technology, further upping the premium on G-Sync monitors.

There’s a lot of debate between which technology is better and there are plenty of articles and discussions you could dive into about the topic. However, the main consideration is which one is compatible with your graphics card as unfortunately, neither works with its rival’s graphics card. G-Synch requires a GeForce GTX 500-series (or newer) graphics card; while FreeSync requires a Radeon Rx 200-series (or newer graphics card), though some models are not supported. To ensure FreeSync is compatible with your system, check out the AMD FreeSync page.

Now that you're filled in on the basic terms when it comes to computer monitors, you can finally start searching for that perfect monitor. Start checking out our entire range of computer monitors here! And don't forget to keep your eyes on PB Tech Tips & News for latest on tech!

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