Computer Monitor Buying Guide

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 jumping around among 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 email inbox semipermanently pinned to one side of the monitor while you browse the web in a separate window.

Laptop users can benefit from better ergonomics, because working on a laptop for hours on end tends to put you in a hunched-over position, with the screen and keyboard at the wrong height to sit upright. You’ll also benefit by having two screens active at once, with the laptop showing secondary tasks and the new monitor acting as the primary one.

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. 

You don’t have to pay a ton of money to get a decent monitor. CR’s recommended monitors include options for right around $200.

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

Computer Monitor 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, aka 1080p or Full HD. You can also spend more to get a 4K screen.

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 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, and you can usually find it listed on the company’s website. 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 such as built-in speakers, headphone jacks, and USB ports for connecting peripherals like mice and keyboards. These may or may not be useful, depending on your setup.

Monitor Size

The monitors in our ratings range between 24.5 and 38 inches, which covers many of the models you’ll find on store shelves. A larger monitor can feel luxurious and help your productivity. But larger monitors tend to cost a lot more, and of course they take up more desk space.

Shopping Tips

Like other tech items, monitors have been subject to supply chain issues that make many models unavailable and tend to drive up prices. However, you can still find a good deal if you’re flexible about your choice of model and can take the time to shop around. Here are some things to consider before you buy.

Decide on a Screen Size
More screen real estate is always a good thing, and we recommend buying the largest screen you can afford and find room for. 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 for the smaller ones around $100. Expect to pay $200 to $300 for larger (around 27 inches) 1080p monitors. Typically, 4K monitors start around $350.

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 Gmail, Facebook, or Microsoft Word 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.

Consider Easy Adjustments
Almost all new monitors 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.

Look for a Long Warranty
Many monitors come with a three-year warranty on parts and labor, but others have only one year of 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 or dead pixels acceptable; others will replace a monitor during the warranty period if it has even a single faulty pixel.

Do You Really Need a New Monitor?

It’s worth asking why you’re getting a new monitor.

Computer monitor technology has improved in recent years, but those improvements may be more important to demanding users such as serious gamers or professional creative types, as opposed to the average user. So a purchase just because you’re upgrading your workspace might not be worthwhile.

However, if you’re currently working on your laptop screen, getting a separate monitor can make your work more productive and more pleasant. 

Another option? If both your monitor and computer are aging, it’s possible you want to renew both, and one consideration is an all-in-one computer that’s essentially a monitor with the computational hardware built in. Of course, that’s not the best option if you want to work primarily on a laptop.

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 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.