Computer monitor buying guide

Of all the pieces in your PC (or Mac), the monitor is the part you spend the longest time looking at. Our guide helps you select the best model to suit your needs.
 
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01.Find the right screen to suit you

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Big screens are cheaper than ever, but there’s much more to consider than the size and price. You can buy anything from low-cost simple screens for the average user all the way up to high end models aimed at designers and hardcore gamers, with price tags to match. So how do you find one that’s right for you?

Our buying guide breaks down the technical jargon so you can find a monitor to suit your needs. Whether you need a single screen for your PC tower, an additional one for your laptop or a multiple-monitor desktop setup, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

In this guide we look at:

You may remember the old cathode ray-tube (CRT) monitors, those bulky white boxes that precariously perched on your desk. Over the last decade, CRT screens have been completely phased out in favour of liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, which produce a higher quality picture in a much slimmer and lighter package.

Traditional LCD technology still exists, but modern LCD screens are using LED (light-emitting diode) to provide the necessary backlight. LED supposedly produces are richer image while consuming less power than older LCD technology. Manufacturers often advertise their monitors as being LED rather than LCD, but in these cases they are selling LCD screens that include LED backlighting.

Types of monitors

  • Standard LCD/LED: Consumer grade monitors that range from 18 to approximately 30 inches.  There are many variables involved depending on the amount of money you are prepared to spend (see Key features). In most cases, the cost of the monitor will rise as the image quality, resolution and refresh rate increase. There are two types of standard LCD/LED monitors:
    • Twisted nematic (TN): Most common; fast response time; capable of higher refresh rate; least accurate colour reproduction of all monitor types, but still suitable for the average user and gamer.
    • Vertical alignment (VA): Less common; better colour reproduction and slightly slower response time than TN, but more expensive. Usually found on mid-range standard monitors.
  • IPS (In-plane switching): These offer better quality colour reproduction, better contrast, darker blacks and a generally better image overall. Image quality does not degrade as much as standard monitors when viewed from different angles. Their response time is slower than standard monitors although this has improved substantially in recent months. In 2012 Samsung released their own version of IPS called PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching), which claims to offer a brighter, clearer picture and better response time for a lower price.
  • 3D 120/144 Hz: Monitors that can output 2D and 3D images. They require a 3D compatible graphics card.

The right ratio

Although the 4:3 aspect ratio dominated screens for years, industry standards have shifted towards 16:9 widescreen. A few companies still make 4:3 monitors but these are usually cheaper models with lower-quality parts. Most models are capable of HD resolution, some can display at ultra-HD, and a handful of recent releases push their resolution up to 4K (4000 pixel resolution). Some retailers even carry 3D monitors. 

Even though CRT monitors are obsolete, the second-hand market is rife with this outdated technology. Their low cost, usually between around $10 and $30, makes them pretty tempting, especially if you’re shopping on a budget. But their picture quality, size and weight do not compare to modern monitors, and they’ll chew through a lot more power as well.

On that note, if you’re still using a CRT monitor and want to upgrade, see our computer recycling guide to learn how to safely dispose of your old screen.

Price

You can pick up a high-end 27-inch LCD/LED monitor for under $800 with little effort, while low-end models for the budget-conscious start at around $150. They produce reasonable image quality for everyday use, but we recommend buying a good quality monitor unless you’re really strapped for cash. A slightly higher cost can deliver a substantially clearer and sharper picture.

Most major retailers carry a handful of models, while specialised computer stores usually have a broader range of stock. You’re likely to find the largest and latest range of monitors at online-only retailers, with prices that are generally better than bricks and mortar stores.
 
 

 

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