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Computer monitors

Computer monitor buying guide

Last updated: May 2014
Getting started

Getting started

4K display technology is making a slow entrance into computer monitors, but a few such displays are starting to pop up. We looked at one from Asus, the PQ321Q, that provides a sneak peek at the advantages you'll get with a monitor that has a 3840x2160 resolution. But the monitor is expensive and still had a few shortcomings that prevent it from living up to the full potenial of 4K. Still, for graphics pros looking for a monitor that can show the finest detail, this is an excellent choice with a wide viewing angle.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a monitor for more-typical everyday use, you'll find lots of choice at great prices. Finding a wide-screen, 16:9 monitor is not much of a challenge. In fact, these types of monitors have all but replaced the squarish 17-inch models. Their greater width allows for much easier side-by-side page viewing as well as more viewable spreadsheet columns at once, requiring less scrolling.

Prices keep falling on LCDs, even for bigger screens. You can now get a 24-inch for as little as $200. If you're buying a monitor bundled with a new computer, as many consumers do, you can often upgrade from the standard display to a larger one for a modest amount. Here are some things to consider before you start shopping.

Do you need a new monitor?

If you're still using a CRT, it's time for an upgrade. Low prices on flat panels leave little justification for sticking with that space-hogging relic of the 20th century. They use less power, offer higher resolution, and include the latest ports for connecting to your computer. If you already own a flat panel, good reasons to upgrade include switching to a bigger display for more screen real estate, or a wide screen if you want to watch movies on your computer. Or you may want a monitor with speakers or USB ports.

What type?

About the only reason left for buying a CRT is if you're a graphic artist and need the deep blacks and virtually unlimited viewing angles they provide. But you'll have a difficult time finding one, as most manufacturers have stopped producing them. For most users, an LCD is the better choice. Among the many advantages of LCDs are no flicker or glare, a sharper image, low electromagnetic emissions, reduced energy consumption, and the most obvious, space efficiency.

Standard or widescreen

Even some LCDs are on the endangered list. With wide-screen displays now the norm, only a few squarer (4:3 aspect ratio) screens remain available, mostly 17- and 19-inch models. Some offer good value, and you may even prefer that shape if horizontal space is limited or the extra vertical space better suits your needs.

Decide on a screen size

More screen real estate is always a good thing, and we recommend buying the largest screen you can. So the decision comes down to what fits your space and how much you want to spend. Expect to pay $125 and up for a 19- or 20-inch monitor, $150 and up for a 22-inch, and $200 and up for a 24-inch. And of course you can go even bigger starting at about $400 for a very good 27-inch monitor.

Types

The vast majority of monitors on the market are lightweight, flat-panel LCDs. They come in a variety of sizes including the types of monitors listed here. The smaller monitors suffice for office work, but if you watch a lot of media or play games, you might prefer a monitor with a larger screen.

17 inch


If you're really pressed for space or can find a particularly good deal, a 17-inch monitor could provide enough screen real estate for you. But 19-inch and even some 20-inch models don't cost much more.

19- to 20-inch


For spreadsheet work or home photo editing, a 19- to 20-inch monitor offers a good amount of screen space for a reasonable price.

22 inch


This is the sweet spot for gamers and media fans. You should be able to find a monitor with very good display quality for under $300.

24 inch and larger

Prices start at about $300 once you hit the 24-inch mark. Hard-core gamers and multimedia mavens looking for a big screen for watching movies and TV shows will appreciate even larger sizes starting at 27 inches.

Features


Display quality, the most important monitor feature, isn't a major worry thanks to a generally high standard of performance. But you should also consider these factors when choosing a monitor.

Resolution


A monitor's resolution refers to the number of picture elements, or pixels, that make up an image. More pixels means finer detail. An LCD usually displays its sharpest image when set to its "native" resolution--typically 1440x900 for a 19-inch display, 1680x1050 for a 22-inch, and 1920x1200 for a 24-inch. Typical resolutions for wide-screen monitors are 1600x900 for a 20-inch, 1920x1080 for a 22-inch, and 1920x1200 for a 24-inch. A 27-inch Apple display we tested has a resolution of 2560x2440.

The higher the resolution, the smaller the text and images, meaning more content can fit on the screen. Higher resolution is better for working with photos and graphics.

Response time

A flat-panel display's response time indicates how quickly the screen can respond to video image transitions.

Contrast

Expressed as a ratio, this is a measure of the difference between the brightest white and the deepest black. A higher contrast ratio can produce images that are more vivid and punchy. But because the way manufacturers measure contrast ratio is not uniform, advertised figures are not reliable.

Brightness

A bright screen is important if you're working in a brightly lit room. The spec is expressed as candelas per square meter, or cd/m2. The higher the number, the better. You can also control an LCD's brightness with buttons or on-screen controls. Most monitors also have controls for color balance (usually called color temperature), adjusting the screen geometry, and similar functions.

Connectors


Virtually all new monitors have the DVI (digital visual interface) ports you need to take advantage of higher-end video cards for a sharper image. Not all include the necessary DVI cable, however (you can buy one for about $10). HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports are becoming more prevalent. You'll also find them on some newer computers and electronics equipment such as Blu-ray/DVD players. One of the advantages of the HDMI interface is it allows for video and audio to be sent over the same cable (useful only if the monitor has built-in speakers). If you choose a monitor without one, you can buy an adapter for $25 or less that turns a DVI port into an HDMI connector, but you won't get audio through it.

DisplayPort is another connector beginning to show up on monitors. It can provide the same functionality as HDMI, but because it is royalty-free, it costs less for manufacturers to use it. Last year, several computer and display makers said they would eventually replace DVI and VGA connectors with DisplayPort and HDMI ports.

Touch screen

If you're planning to buy a touch-screen monitor, look for three features: smooth movement as you swipe; enough glass on the edge to make it easier to swipe in from the side; and the ability to move the display into different positions for comfort, easier reach, or the ability to play touch-based games and perform touch-based tasks.

3D

You'll find this feature on a few new monitors. 3D monitors we've tested use active 3D technology, which generally does a much better job maintaining the 3D effect at various viewing angles than displays that use passive 3D technology. In our tests, all produced great-looking 3D images. The picture on an active 3D monitor isn't quite as bright in 3D mode as it is on a passive display. You'll need special glasses to view 3D. Compared with glasses for passive 3D, active-3D glasses tend to be heavier, cost more, and might need batteries. Of the monitors in our Ratings, only the Acer HN274H ($680) came with glasses.

Extras

Some monitors include a microphone, one or more USB ports, integrated or separate speakers, and HDMI inputs for viewing the output of a Blu-ray player or camcorder. You may also see LCD monitors with memory-card readers, so you can display photos on-screen directly from a camera, and iPod docks for viewing images or playing music through the monitor. A built-in TV tuner is another feature to look for if you want your monitor to double as a TV.

Brands

AOC arrow  |  Acer arrow  |  Alienware arrow  |  Apple arrow  |  Asus arrow  |  BenQ arrow  |  Dell arrow  |  Gateway arrow  |  HP arrow  |  LG arrow  |  Lenovo arrow  |  NEC arrow  |  Planar arrow  |  Samsung arrow  |  ViewSonic arrow

Apple, Dell, Gateway, HP, and Lenovo market their own monitors for their computers and also sell monitors separately. Other brands of monitors include Acer, Alienware, AOC, Asus, BenQ, LG, NEC, Planar, Samsung, and ViewSonic. Some of those companies don't make their own monitors, but buy them and put their brand label on them. Most of the companies listed sell monitors with LED backlighting and IPS technology, as well as wide-screen, ultra-slim, ergonomic, touch-screen, and 3D-ready models. You can compare monitors by brand with this guide.

AOC

AOC offers a wide range of standard and wide-screen monitors.

Acer

Acer haso become a key brand in this category , offering a line of value-oriented monitors for home and small-office use, as well as business-oriented and gaming monitors.

Alienware

Alienware is owned by Dell. This company produces laptops, desktops, and monitors for gamers.

Apple

Apple offers 27-inch monitors for aficionados. These full-featured monitors generally cost about $1,000. The company recently introduced the world's first Thunderbolt display.

Asus

Asus focuses on innovation and aesthetics. Monitors range from midpriced to high-end prices.

BenQ

BenQ offers an array of models. It recently introduced its first monitors for gamers, the XL and SL series.

Dell

Dell is among the top market-share brands in this product category, offering a wide range of monitor sizes and features. Its newest monitor is an intuitive multi touch screen with IPS technology.

Gateway

Gateway's selection of monitors includes wide-screen HD displays lately. Prices are modest.

HP

HP is among the top-three-largest brands in this product category.

LG

LG offers attractive montiros at medium to high-end prices. Its newest entry is in the Cinema 3D subcatagory.

Lenovo

Lenovo focuses on taking value products to the market. The ThinkVision line offers many features at low to midrange prices.

NEC

NEC is known for value and eco-friendly models, ranging in size from desktop to large screen.

Planar

Planar offers LCD and 3D-ready monitors. Desktop monitors range from 15 to 27-inches.

Samsung

Samsung's selection includes a wide variety of consumer and business-oriented models. The monitors are sleek, with an array of features, and are available at different prices for different consumer needs.

ViewSonic

ViewSonic offers a large variety of monitors for every target customer. Prices run the gamut from budget to expensive.

Shopping tips

No monitor in our Ratings had less than good display quality. Many were very good, and a few were excellent. Even a good score is adequate for many people.

A note to video viewers: Don't expect TV images to look as good as they do on your flat-panel TV. Even the best monitors fell short of most LCD TVs, with blacks that weren't as deep, slight haziness, and some light leakage around the edges of the screens.

Check the viewing angle

Few monitors measure up to the best LCD TVs for viewing from a wide angle. That won't matter for typical computer use. But if you often share your screen with a crowd, say for viewing slide shows or playing games, you may want to pick a model that experiences less image degradation when viewed at an angle. When comparing specs, the bigger the number the better.

Consider easy adjustments

Virtually all new LCD displays tilt up or down, for a quick adjustment. For extra flexibility, look for a monitor that lets you adjust the height as well. Such models may also be able to rotate 90 degrees, from landscape to portrait mode, which is especially useful for viewing a larger portion of Web pages or text documents.

Also look for conveniently placed controls that adjust contrast, brightness, and other settings. We prefer a dedicated front-positioned contrast/brightness control.

Check for ample connections

Some new monitors feature at least one USB port, which can provide convenient connectivity for peripherals if your computer doesn't have many USB ports or if accessing those it has is difficult.

Take a shine, or not

Like laptop displays, LCD monitors are showing up with glossy instead of matte-finish screens. The glossy screen can make dark areas of the image appear deeper and less washed out in bright, ambient light. But it can also reflect light-colored objects in the room like a mirror.

Some antireflective surfaces help minimize this problem. View the screen in bright light before buying, if possible.

Look for a long warranty

Many monitors come with a three-year warranty on parts and labor, but others have only one-year coverage. It's worth looking for the longer coverage, especially if you're purchasing a more expensive model. Another consideration is the manufacturer's defective-pixel policy. Some consider a certain number of stuck, dead or hot pixels acceptable, while others will replace a monitor during the warranty period if it has even a single faulty pixel.

   

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