Computer Monitor Buying Guide

Few upgrades to a work-from-home setup make as much of an immediate impact as a dedicated computer monitor. Plug one into your laptop and you’ll be able to see more content at once, which means less time swapping back and forth between windows.

You might choose to leave apps like Outlook, Slack, and Microsoft Teams open and always visible on one side of the screen while working on a PowerPoint presentation or Word document on the other. Or you might have your Gmail or Apple Mail inbox semi-permanently pinned to one side of the monitor while you browse the web with Chrome, Safari, Edge, or Firefox.

Adding a dedicated monitor is like expanding the size of your workbench, giving you more room to fit more tools to get more work done.

An external monitor can help with ergonomics, too. They typically have more robust adjustment options than laptops, enabling you to easily tweak their vertical and horizontal orientation. No more having to scrunch your neck at an awkward and uncomfortable angle just to be able to see the screen.

Luckily, you don’t have to pay a ton of money to get a decent monitor. There are many highly rated models in Consumer Reports’ ratings that cost less than $200.

Read on to get up to speed on how to pick the right monitor for you.

Size

The monitors in our ratings range between 23 and 29 inches, which covers many of the models you’ll find on store shelves. A larger monitor may be useful if you play a lot of games or don’t also have a TV, but it may be overkill for typical productivity scenarios. Larger monitors are also likely to cost more.

Features

Display quality, possibly the most important monitor feature, isn’t a major worry because most models in our ratings score well here. But you should also consider the following 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 or Full HD.

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

Response Time
A flat-panel’s display response time indicates how quickly the screen can handle 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 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 there’s no uniform way manufacturers measure contrast ratio.

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.

Connectors
HDMI is the standard connector for consumer-focused computer monitors, making it easy to connect a monitor to a laptop, though some laptops, especially thin and light ones, may require a dongle.

Extras
Some monitors may include additional features like built-in speakers, headphone jacks, or USB ports for connecting peripherals like mice and keyboards. These may or may not be useful, depending on your setup.

Shopping Tips

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?
Computer monitor technology has improved in recent years, and those improvements may be more noticeable to demanding users such as serious gamers or professional creative types as opposed to the average user.

Still, a new monitor may offer bells and whistles not found in your current monitor, such as built-in speakers or integrated USB ports.

Widescreen Is Standard
The 16:9 aspect ratio of 1080p monitors 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.

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.
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's ThinkVision line is made up of several monitors across an array of sizes.
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 in a range of prices.
ViewSonic offers a large variety of monitors for every target customer. Prices run the gamut from budget to expensive.
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