A good computer monitor is not just about overall picture quality, but comfort and ergonomics can also have a major impact on productivity.
If you are particularly concerned about good colour reproduction, you should also consider whether an IPS screen is something for you. These monitors are also based on LCD technology, but are known to have both better colour reproduction and viewing angles than normal LED screens.
It wasn't that long ago that a quality computer monitor would cost you quite lot of money, but in line with developments prices have dropped sharply in recent years. But although it may be tempting to go for one of the economical monitors, there are also 24-inch models that can cost 5 times the price.
There are several reasons why a monitor can carry a high price tag. You can pay for the brand, design, setting options, connectivity and of course the quality of the image itself.
Because you may be spending several hours a day in front of a computer screen, it might be smart idea to budget for a monitor that suits your needs. If you are hesitant about spending extra you should also calculate that a good monitor has a long life, and it can easily survive two or three PC upgrades.
In this guide we will therefore look at what is important to think about before you buy a new PC monitor.
Size and Resolution
As with TVs most computer monitors are now available in widescreen. Traditionally, computer monitors had a width/length ratio of 16:10, but the last few years we have also seen that 16:9 has gained greater inroads. The size is measured diagonally and is specified in inches.
The larger the screen you want, the higher the resolution will typically be. With resolution we mean how many individual pixels that can display on the screen. A 22-inch monitor can have a resolution of 1680x1050, another may have 1920x1200.
What one prefers when it comes to the resolution depends partly on the distance you sit from the screen. If you are unsure of what suits your needs you can visit a retail outlet and test the screens out. A higher resolution will enable icons, text and windows to take up less space compared to the display area.
For gameplay a high resolution will also produce snazzier graphics, but remember that it is also harder to run a game at full resolution on a high resolution screen. If you think the resolution is too high for you, you can, of course, turn it down.
One more thing: before you buy a monitor with a very high resolution (typically 1920 x 1080 or higher) you should determine whether your graphics card actually supports that resolution. This will be stated in the card's specifications.
Options and accessories
The fact that certain monitors are more expensive than another does not necessarily have anything to do with picture quality - it can mean it has extra options and features that make it more enjoyable to use. Extra options and features can be:
Height adjustment: The most economical displays can usually be tilted up and down, but often lack height adjustment, which means you have to improvise if you are not satisfied with its position.
Pivot: Some monitors can be rotated vertically, so you can get a "standalone" screen. This can be an advantage if, for example, you want display images taken vertically, or work with whole document pages and don't want to scroll up and down all the time. Some monitors also have (VESA) mounting holes, making it possible to attach it to a table or wall.
USB and card reader: A built-in USB port is an added bonus, and some monitors also come with a memory card reader.
There are several ways to connect a monitor to your PC, and exactly how you want to do this really depends on your graphics card or hardware.
VGA: The good old analog connector allows in practice a very good RGB signal, but is vulnerable to disturbances and loss of quality. Nevertheless, you can usually have a high resolution (1920x1200 or more) and you have to be rather picky to distinguish VGA from digital alternatives.
DVI: Digital Visual Interface is found on most graphics cards, and is also regarded as the digital standard for monitors. DVI can carry both analog and digital signals. Resolutions of 1920 x 1200 normally requires a dual-link DVI, which has an additional channel for data. Not all graphics cards support this. Note that some older equipment with DVI do not support HDCP, ie digital copy protection. In this case, for example, you could have problems with Blu-ray playback on such devices.
HDMI: This standard is mainly by and for HDTV manufacturers, but can also be thought of as DVI with greater bandwidth and the ability to send audio over the same cable. It is not so common on desktops, but notebooks have gladly adopted HDMI instead of DVI to save space. If you're buying a screen for your laptop, it may therefore be wise to check it has a HDMI port and built-in speakers. Otherwise, you'll also be fine with a transition or HDMI to DVI cable.
DisplayPort: Another, relatively new digital standard. It is not particularly common, but it has been adopted by a few major players such as HP, Apple and Dell. Unlike HDMI and DVI DisplayPort is made to send data in the same way as a network, where data is sent in packets.
What about image quality?
There are of course differences in image quality, and here there are several factors that come into play. First and foremost it is the actual LCD panel that uses different technologies here.
The most inexpensive monitors have almost invariably a TN panel (Twisted Nematic), which has only 6-bit colour rendering instead of 8. This means that a TN panel can not completely render the 16.7 million colours that most graphics cards support, but it can simulate this pretty good.
The advantage of TN is that this technology provides a very good response time, usually measured by the time the crystals go from white to black. This gives very little lag in games and movies.
Professionals and enthusiasts usually goes for a screen with a IPS panel (In-Plane Switching), but these are expensive and do not have particularly good response time. On the other hand they very good at colour rendering and have great viewing angles. Between TN and IPS are VA panels (Vertical Alignment). These provide better colour than TN and have good viewing angles. They usually also have better response times than IPS, and some models are even suitable for hard-core gamers. Along with a lower price (than IPS) this makes VA a good choice for a good all-round display. Only real drawback is that they are more expensive than monitors with a TN panel.
In addition to the panel, there are also other things that affect image quality - like fast imaging technology, brightness, backlight and contrast. But it's hard to pick a screen on the basis of specifications, as the contrast varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
TV as a PC monitor
Some might be tempted to consider using an LCD TV as a PC monitor. This is not something we would recommend, unless we are talking about a living room PC. TV's are the intended to be viewed at an entirely different distance than a computer screen, so for regular use, it is not ideal.