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Computer Monitor Buying Guide
On Display

Although they still cost more than conventional displays, 4K monitors are increasingly becoming available for computers. They’re best for graphics pros looking for a monitor that can show the finest detail.

If you’re looking for a monitor for more typical everyday use, you’ll find lots of choices at great prices. Finding a wide-screen and 16:9 (aspect ratio) 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.

Types

Smaller monitors suffice for office work, but if you watch a lot of media or play games, you may prefer a monitor with a larger screen.

Smaller Than 24 Inches
You can easily find good deals on monitors smaller than 24 inches, but spending just a bit more can open up the possibility of roomier displays.

24 Inches and Larger
Prices start around $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. The most common resolution today is 1920x1080, also known as 1080p. It can be found on monitors across a range of sizes, from monitors smaller than 24 inches to monitors 26 inches and larger.

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’s display response time indicates how quickly the screen can respond to video image transitions. Typical monitors measure 60 hertz, which is adequate for everyday tasks. More expensive models can be found with refresh rates of 120 Hz or 144 Hz (or higher), which is useful for serious gamers who demand smooth motion during gaming sessions.

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 advertised figures are not reliable because the way manufacturers measure contrast ratio is not uniform.

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 onscreen controls. Most monitors also have controls for color balance (usually called color temperature), adjusting the screen geometry, and similar functions.

Connectors
HDMI connectors, like the kind you’d find at the back of your TV, have become commonplace on computer monitors in recent years, replacing the earlier DVI standard. (HDMI carries audio and video over the same cable.)

DisplayPort is another connector beginning to show up on monitors, particularly higher-end monitors. It can provide the same functionality as HDMI, but because it is royalty-free, it costs less for manufacturers to use it.

Touch Screen
If you’re planning to buy a touch-screen monitor (which are not as common as their nontouch counterparts), 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
In the earlier part of the decade, 3D monitors were marketed toward gamers, but in recent years they’ve have fallen out of favor among manufacturers.  

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 onscreen directly from a camera. A built-in TV tuner is another feature to look for if you want your monitor to double as a TV.

What We Found

Prices keep falling on LCD monitors, even for bigger screens. If you’re buying a monitor bundled with a new computer, you can often upgrade from the standard display to a larger one for a modest amount. Here are some things to consider before you shop:

Do You Really Need a New Monitor?
While computer monitor technology has improved in recent years many of these improvements may be more appreciated by demanding users than by everyday consumers, such as serious gamers or professional creative types. Newer technologies such as faster response time (typically 120Hz or 144Hz) can make onscreen movement, such as resizing windows or scrolling through documents, appear much more smooth, and high-density resolutions like 4K make it easier to fit more content on the screen at one time—at the expense of making text and images quite small.

CRT monitors, which Consumer Reports has tested in the past, have largely disappeared from the consumer market outside of niche uses like playing old video games on as close to the original equipment as possible. Still, a new monitor may offer bells and whistles not found in your current monitor, such as built-in speakers or integrated USB ports.

Standard or Wide-Screen
The vast majority of computer monitors on the market are 1920x1080, the same resolution as 1080p (also known as Full HD) wide-screen televisions. The aspect ratio of this resolution, 16:9, is great for video content but not necessarily as well-suited for scrolling up and down through documents. If you find yourself using Microsoft Word, Gmail, or Facebook for most of the day, a monitor with a more square resolution of 1920x1200 (which has an aspect ratio of 19:10) may be more useful because you’ll have more screen real estate at the top and bottom to work with. These are not as common as 1080p monitors but can still be found at most online retailers. Note: 4K monitors, which measure 3840x2160, maintain the 16:9 aspect ratio of 1920x1080 monitors.

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. Most 1080p monitors range from about 21 to 24 inches, with prices around $100 on the lower end of that size range. Expect to pay $200 to $300 for larger (around 27 inches) 1080p monitors. Typically, 4K monitors start around $350.

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. Almost 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 anti-reflective surfaces help minimize this problem. If possible, view the screen in bright light before buying.

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; others will replace a monitor during the warranty period if it has even a single faulty pixel.

Brands

Companies like Dell, 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. You can compare monitors by brand with this guide.

Acer: Has 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: Is owned by Dell. This company produces laptops, desktops, and monitors for gamers.
AOC: Offers a range of wide-screen monitors, some of which offer higher-end specs and are aimed at serious gamers.
Apple: While Apple no longer sells its own monitors (the company sells LG models on its site), the company's previous monitors earned high marks in our testing. Used models are still readily available on sites such as Amazon.com and eBay.
Asus: Produces a range of lower-end to higher-end monitors, some of which are aimed primarily at gamers.
BenQ: Offers an array of models, some of which are aimed at serious gamers.
Dell: Is among the top market-share brands in this product category, offering a wide range of monitor sizes and features.
HP: Is among the top three largest brands in this product category.
LG: Offers attractive monitors at midrange to high-end prices.
Lenovo: Its ThinkVision line is made up of several monitors across an array of sizes.
NEC: Produces a small number of monitors in various sizes, including models intended for professional users.
Planar: Offers monitors that range from 15 to 27 inches. Some models feature touch screens.
Samsung: 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.
ViewSonic: Offers a large variety of monitors for every target customer. Prices run the gamut from budget to expensive.
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