Monitor Buying Guide

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When it comes to buying a monitor, there is more to consider than the price and the size. It would be wise to spend money on a good quality monitor. Depending on the primary use for your display — whether it’s for gaming, designing, office work or general use — there are various features to consider for the selection process. A little bit of education on the monitor specs will take you a long way in simplifying the process.

Displays have come a long way since the good old days of cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors. You will be lucky to come across one today since they have been mostly phased out by the sleeker and lighter liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors. The cost of a monitor is consistently linked to the image quality, resolution and refresh rate. The type of displays widely seen on the market can be categorised into three main types: Standard LCD/LED, In-Plane Switching (IPS) and 3D.

Standard LCD/LED monitors on the market generally range from 18–30 inches. There are two main types of monitors under this category: Twisted Nematic (TN) and Vertical Alignment (VA). TN monitors are the most commonly found Standard monitors, with higher refresh rate and fast response time. VA monitors are less common, with better colour reproduction and slower response rate. Response time is the time it takes for a pixel to change from black to white and back to black. Most LCD/LED and 3D LCD/LED monitors to respond within 5–6ms, while IPS monitors traditionally have a slower response time. The down side to IPS monitors is that their response time is generally slower than Standard monitors, although the technology has significantly improved over the years.

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3D monitors can output 2D and 3D images, and they require graphics cards that support the 3D format. This may not be worthwhile at this stage, as there is a poor industry uptake to make a truly immersive experience. A computer also needs a very high-end graphics card to process two separate images to create the 3D illusion, which can be costly.

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Touch Screen is an option that is no longer limited to your hand held devices. There are many consumer laptops and all-in-one desktops that come with the touch screen option. But is it worth buying a stand-alone touch screen monitor? Bear in mind that the landscape of desktop software available to take full advantage of a touchscreen is still very limited. The touchscreen is beneficial when there is a second person who wants to interact with content on the screen. For example, if someone is sitting next to you, he or she may not have to reach out to your mouse and keyboard to interact with the system. Touchscreen also has benefits for children, since many prefer touch screens over mice and keyboards. Overall, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find an application that is categorically easier or better to use with the help of a touchscreen. If you do a lot of work in Adobe Photoshop, the precision of a Wacom tablet can’t be matched by even the most accurate touchscreens on the market.

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Size is measured diagonally, usually in inches. Generally, it’s recommended to use a monitor between 21–30 inches for most applications. The advantage of a larger monitor is to spread out various applications across the large space on the screen, which can help you stay organised with your work. Gamers also prefer a larger monitor to get more play space. Most LCD monitors are of 16:9 ratio, while some manufacturers have started producing ultra-wide 21:9 ratio for those who do not want to buy a second screen. It’s important to note that having a bigger screen does not necessarily mean that you will see things better unless the screen has a higher resolution to match the size. An image can look really bad or blurred on a big screen if the resolution is low.

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Resolution is a measure of the pixels on a screen, which determines the image quality. Screen resolution will increase with pixels. High Definition, refers to the detail level of a screen; or to put it another way, the number of pixels that are packed into a display. A pixel is the smallest visible element on a display, the ‘dots’ that combine to make up the overall picture. HD follows from standard definition (the level of detail in analogue colour displays that most of us grew up with), cramming in even more pixels in order to produce sharper, cleaner images when playing video.

720p, 1080i and 1080p are all versions of HD, but they’re all different. A 720p screen is 1280 pixels (wide) x 720 pixels (tall). That’s more than twice the detail of standard definition, which makes for reasonably sharp video playback on a standard TV. However, 1080p goes even further, racking up the pixel dimensions to 1920 x 1080 — that’s five times more detailed than SD. Resolutions listed as a codename such as ‘WXGA’ (1366 x 768) or ‘WQHD’ (2560 x 1440), are also available, though not common.

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Ultra-High Definition monitors (UHD or 4K) have a resolution of 3840 x 2160. They are often used by photographers and designers, who prefer them to HD range, because of the capability to focus on intricate details and their wider range of colour reproduction. 4K monitors are also favoured for watching videos while running other programs on the side. If you are buying a 4K monitor, please make sure that you have sufficient graphic power on your computer to support that much resolution.

Resolutions and codenames

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Refresh Rate, which is also called ‘frequency’, is the stat that tells you how often an image on the screen is redrawn per second. Higher the refresh rate, lesser the image will appear to be flickering, ghosting, double imaging and shadowing. LCD/LED monitors have a minimum refresh rate of 60 Hz, and a decent monitor will have a rate above 75 Hz. You can also get some very high-end monitors with a refresh rate of 120–144 Hz.

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Flat or Curved? Everything goes in cycles. Remember when the flat screens were the hip thing? Well, curves are back! The idea of the curved screen is to provide a wider field of view as the display wraps around your face. Theoretically, a curved screen provides a larger field of view and reduced glare. It’s possible that curved screens will have a big market in the future, as it will make it possible for new types of technology to emerge.

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Gloss or Matte: Depending on what coating is applied on the screen, the displays can be glossy or have a matte surface. Glossy surfaces can display vivid images, but the downside to a glossy screen is that if the room is very bright, there could be glare. Matte screens will not have issues with glare, though colours may appear to be a lot less vibrant.

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Controls and connections: Most monitors are equipped with a panel for controlling inputs and outputs. They could be dials and buttons to fine tune the brightness, contrast, volume, and alignments. Some monitors are equipped with speakers (although it’s recommended that you invest in a specialised pair of speakers over the ones inbuilt in monitors), and in that case, there will be audio controls. Some monitors come equipped with webcams, in which case there may be controls for the webcam. Monitors may have multiple forms of inputs for video, Audio, power, and even memory. Higher-end monitors may have multiple input/output options for video including VGA (D-sub), DVI, HDMI, Mini Display Port, Thunderbolt and in some cases S-Video. Find out what connections you have on your laptop or desktop, to ensure that they are compatible with the monitor. Monitors that offer high refresh rates of 120–144Hz refresh rate require a DVI (specifically dual-band DVI) cable. So make sure that you use that specific cable to get that feature, because HDMI may be able to transmit the data, but it will be limited to 60Hz, as most consumer grade HDMI chipsets built into motherboards are limited to 60Hz. If you want to run a 4K monitor you’ll need to buy an HDMI, DisplayPort or dual DVI cable.

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Stand or mount: When you buy a monitor, make sure that it’s ergonomically friendly so you can adjust its height and angle to your optimal convenience. If you are not happy with the built in stand, you always have the option of investing in a specialised mount to suit your needs.

Which monitor is for you?
So what is your primary need for a display? Is it for an office computer? Are you a gamer? Perhaps you need a nice monitor for graphic design and video editing. Or perhaps you just need a general monitor to do a bit of everything, including watching videos. Depending on what you use it for, there will be a wide range of monitors that may best suit your need.

General User: So you want to use a monitor for a bit of everything, from social media browsing to casual gaming and word processing? For this purpose, it’s recommended that you invest in a mid-range LCD/LED monitor. Try and avoid a cheap monitor, as the extra money will make a big difference in giving better picture quality. We recommend a 23-inch monitor. It’s not likely that you will need a high refresh rate for many of the applications you intend to use.

Gaming: If you are a hard-core gamer, your experience will be enhanced by a monitor with a high refresh rate and low response time. TN monitors are recommended for gamers because of the faster response time. It’s recommended that the monitor have a 75Hz or higher refresh rate. As for the response time, this comes down to whether you are an online or offline gamer. If you are an online FPS shooter gamer, aim for a response time of 2ms or lower. For offline gamers, 5ms response time will suffice.

Design and editing: If you are serious about design or editing, try and aim for a 4K or IPS monitor, as they offer high image quality with colour reproduction that is much better than the LCD/LED screens. On the flip side though, you will get slower response time, but the technology is rapidly catching up.

TV Substitute: There is also the option to get a large monitor to replace a TV, making them ideal for homes, common rooms, and meeting rooms. Look out for large commercial monitors in store.

To summarize, you should first pick the desired size, aspect ratio, and resolution. These characteristics should meet your needs. In the next step, you can compare all available models for further features, most importantly contrast ratio, brightness, and available ports. Finally, the price will decide which model you can afford.

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