What To Look For When Choosing A Monitor: A Complete HandbookPopular on CamTrader
Articles / Posted 3 months ago / 103 views
December 21, 2020
Introduction: A Window To Your PC
Whether you’re building or buying, there’s a lot of specs that you need to sort through when getting a PC. Paying attention to the performance features of your desktop rig is important, but you don’t want to neglect the other pieces of equipment you’ll need. This includes your keyboard, your mouse, and of course, your monitor.
The monitor is what we’re going to be focusing on in this handbook. Monitors are the window to your PC through which you’ll see what you’re doing, so it’s a purchase you’ll want to get right whether you’re using the desktop for working or gaming.
Many people won’t put much thought into buying their monitors, and we don’t blame them, a lot of complicated visual tech goes into making modern screens.
That’s why this handbook exists, we’re going to go over just about everything you’ll want to know about buying a monitor, and we’ll do it in plain English for those of you out there that aren’t tech-savvy.
We’ll hammer out some quick buying tips first. If you’re not up for reading so much then maybe you can find what you want to know there. The rest of the handbook will expand on the specs and features mentioned in those buying tips for those who need more info and want to learn about monitors so that they can buy the best models going into the future.
Before we begin, you’ll see that we’ve referenced supporting material online when we can to remain as informative and transparent as possible.
That way you can verify for yourself that we’re presenting accurate information that can be relied upon, and it adds to the net amount of information that this handbook contains since you can read our sources and learn about monitors at an even more advanced level.
Quick Monitor Buying Tips
To start off, we’re going to go through generalized buying tips that can help you seal the deal on a monitor purchase. If you’re in a hurry or you already know some stuff about monitors and just want to brush up on relevant information, these buying tips might be just what you’re looking for:
Finding The Purpose Of Your Monitor
Monitors aren’t made for the same equal purpose, so the natural first step of buying one is to determine what that monitor is going to be used for.
Only you can know that. We’re not mind readers, after all, the best we can do is give some broad suggestions that are in line with what most monitors are used for.
Of course, many people who buy a monitor will have some vague, general use in mind that might include work and gaming, along with a myriad of other activities that they’re not too invested in to want the best monitor.
In that case, let us make this easy for you and advise you to look into a 24- to 27-inch IPS monitor.
It can be HD or 4K, depending on how much money you have to spare, but a monitor with these basic specs should do you just fine.
The main two specific uses for your monitor, and desktop as a whole, would be work or gaming. There are more practical reasons for considering a desktop PC, too, and you’ll need a monitor to go with it. Just like with the PC itself, there’s a distinct difference between specs that are great for dry performance and specs that prioritize graphical fidelity and a pleasing monitor image.
You’ll also want to consider which ports and connection points you’ll need to use. Getting a great high-end monitor isn’t much use if it can’t connect to your desktop in the first place. The main concern here is if your GPU connects via HDMI or DisplayPort. If the monitor and GPU have incompatible ports, there are HDMI to DisplayPort wires available, so that isn’t the end of the world.
If you’re using the desktop for work, there’s more of a likelihood you’ll end up connecting a portable device like a laptop to your monitor. In that case, look for alternative connectors like USB-C or their Thunderbolt 3 variants that can translate a laptop display to a monitor or vice versa.
As always, if your monitor doesn’t have USB-C connectors it’s possible to use an adapter for HDMI to USB-C, but it’s always best to buy for the ports you need if you can.
Higher Resolutions Are Better
Even if you’re totally new to computer monitors, you know it’s the detail and visual clarity of the monitor that’s important. One of the main specs that determine this is screen resolution.
A screen with a higher number of pixels is capable of representing a sharper picture of what’s going on in your computer.
The first figure of a resolution spec is its number of horizontal pixels and the last is the number of vertical pixels.
The current industry standard is 1920×1080 thanks to the dominance of 1080p and HD visuals. As the standard resolution size for HD, we’d recommend getting monitors in this resolution.
Otherwise, 1366×768 has been the most common over the last decade, but these are non-HD visuals that aren’t great for desktop monitors.
You’ll notice that 1920×1080 resolutions fall off in 2018 but this is likely due to the availability of 4K resolutions as the best new thing.
As a general rule, the higher the resolution the better. From lowest to highest, here are the current resolutions we have in play:
- 1920×1080 – The industry standard for HD monitors that are designed to mimic the 16:9 aspect ratio of your TV screen.
- 1920×1200 – A taller variant of the 1920×1080 favored by businesses.
- 2560×1440 – Twice as many pixels as the 1920×1080, hence why it’s called 2K.
- 2560×1600 – A taller variant of the 2K resolution.
- 3840×2160 – Otherwise known as 4K, this resolution has four times as many pixels as 1920×1080.
There are others too, of course, but they’re either outdated non-HD resolutions like the 1280×800 or they’re very high-end 8K displays that aren’t financially viable for most consumers. It’s also worth noting that, at the moment, high-resolution displays can be difficult for those with seeing issues e.g., farsightedness, since the text will look smaller onscreen.
The last thing that needs to be said for our rundown on monitor resolution is that the monitors work best when they’re showing an image that’s the same as the device’s native resolution. We go into more detail about this later when talking about panels and resolution but the takeaway here is that you shouldn’t have your PC show a lower resolution than your monitor.
This can result in aspect ratio issues as well as general blurriness and distortion.
Size Is important
So, we’ve talked about resolution, let’s move onto the size of your monitor.
The resolution of a display can have some bearing on the size of the monitor itself, there’s only so much space that you can cram all those pixels into, after all.
Otherwise, you should mainly pay attention to the dimensions and aspect ratio of the model you’re going after.
The size of your screen is a purely personal choice so we can’t tell you what to go for here.
There’s a practical element here since you need to get a monitor you can actually see.
We’ve already brought up the possibility of users with visual issues preferring smaller resolutions if that makes more sense than larger ones, and that applies to the size of the monitor too.
What advice we can offer is this:
- Many find larger screen sizes productive. The same can be said for having multiple monitors.
- Conversely, those who don’t use their PCs as much can save cash by getting a smaller monitor.
- Gamers should want bigger monitors, same for visual arts like photography or video editing.
- If a monitor is more than 35 inches in size, it’s likely too big to be viewed from your desk. Consider this your upper limit.
As for aspect ratio, 16:9 has the overwhelming majority of market representation. This is because 16:9 aspect ratios are the same as televisions, so people are used to this aspect ratio for consuming visual media. It’s also capable of HD while being translatable to all kinds of devices, making it the most efficient option. It’s also the favored aspect ratio of a lot of the sites we use every day.
Like with resolutions, there are older aspect ratios that are roughly square-shaped like 4:3, but they’re so irrelevant that they’re not worth going into detail with. On the other end of the spectrum, ultrawide monitors that use a 21:9 aspect ratio are going to become more popular in the near future when they become more affordable.
These are, well, very wide, making them great for having many windows open or for immersive gaming.
A Note On Response Times
We’ve established that there are a lot of pixels working in tandem to deliver you the best visuals.
You’ll want to make sure that your monitor is responsive enough that you don’t see the pixels changing, which would result in a motion blur.
All pixels have a lag when changing but you’d be surprised how much difference a millisecond or two can make. This isn’t an important specification, by any means.
If your monitor is having blur or any other visual quality problems related to response times, it’s probably damaged or an old monitor trying to run programs that are way outdated.
Where response times can be important, however, is when you’re PC gaming.
You don’t want motion blur in your games.
It’s even common for gamers to turn off the motion blurs that game developers add for flavor in their games, so why would they tolerate actual motion blur occurring on their own monitor?
Stay under 8 milliseconds and you’ll be fine, anything more and that’s when it’ll start raising some eyebrows.
Image Quality & Panel Tech
Now that we’ve covered the main specs that you’ll find on a monitor’s product listing page, let’s go through some of the secondary and more technical features that you might want to pay attention to.
Image quality is a pretty vague term that’d rely on so many things, the resolution and aspect ratio being some of them.
Of course, without a GPU capable of processing pretty visuals, you won’t be seeing anything at all, so image quality isn’t solely the responsibility of the monitor.
There are three other specs that contribute to image quality that is part of the display device, those being brightness, contrast ratio, and color representation.
Brightness should be self-explanatory and for most people, it wouldn’t even come up when thinking about buying a monitor.
If you’re one of those people then don’t worry, it usually doesn’t matter too much as long as you’re getting the standard HD monitors out there. This is because they’ll be within the 200 to 300 nit range that’s ideal for most.
That’s not as a unit of light measurement, by the way, not the other nits. It means candela per square meter.
All that said, those who work with graphic design or photography might need to pay attention to the brightness of a monitor and how it’ll change their visuals. In that case, you’ll want to look for monitors with over 300 nits for a richer display and more striking colors.
The contrast ratio is just the difference between the lightest white possible and the darkest black possible. Think of it as a gauge of the monitor’s entire color representation since you’re looking at each extreme and seeing the total difference. There’s a problem here, every manufacturer has a different standard for what contrast ratio is and how it can be measured.
This means that ratios often can’t be trusted and even if there was a difference, most of us are laymen who won’t be able to eyeball that difference when the monitor is in front of our faces.
We say to not sweat the actual contrast ratio metrics. If you can bag a reliable 350:1 contrast ratio in today’s market then great, but otherwise just keep an eye out for dynamic or advanced contrast ratio features. These are proprietary technologies that manufacturers use to enhance the contrast ratios of their gadgets.
Color is simple, get a 24-bit monitor. They can report the entire 16.7 million known colors to exist with the RGB spectrum. You can’t do much better than that until we discover another dimension of reality and find the new colors inside of it, which probably won’t be soon.
Last but not least, the panel type is the foundation for your monitor’s image quality. These come in either LCD or OLED, though there are variations for each. For example, LCD is split into twisted nematic, or TN, in-plane switching, or IPS, and vertical alignment, or VA. Going into the technical differences would be its own guide altogether, so let’s settle for this:
|Cheaper to produce, so less expensive.||Better colors but worse response time.||Combines the benefits of TN and IPS, but it’s new and costly.||Very high contrast and color. Mostly found on TVs, very expensive for monitors.|
Curved Or Flat?
There’s been a surge in the popularity of LCD panel screens that have slight curves in them, so nowadays you have to ask the question of which you’d prefer.
Most of the reasons to get a curved screen are for aesthetics and you’d be right in assuming that traditional flat screens are vastly more popular.
Many find them to be more immersive.
A curved screen isn’t necessarily a gimmick, however. There are practical reasons you’d want a curved screen.
To start with, you can get a wider visual with a curved monitor without having to sit back, which you’d have to do with a flat one if it exceeds 27 inches.
Despite how curved screens have become a trend in televisions, this feature makes them more practical when used for desktop monitors. Like any additional or alternative features, you can get from a monitor, it’ll come at a higher price.
If you haven’t got a practical reason for getting a curved screen, we’d advise against it if you haven’t got the cash to spare.