Monitor Buying Guide

Last Updated on by Nicholas Frost

Even if you own the most premium CPU or GPU, none of it means anything if you do not invest in a good monitor. Among the components in a computer, the significance of the monitor is often taken for granted. After all, its purpose is the most basic relative to others – to display a picture. However, don’t make the same mistake that plenty of computer-users do. A monitor is just as vital as all the other components of a machine.

Think of a monitor as the window to your PC’s soul. Without it, you won’t get to maximize and enjoy the cool specs of your rig. So, whether your existing monitor has given up on you or you think it’s about time for an upgrade, you have to treat picking a new monitor with some significance.

In this monitor-buying guide, we will tell you everything there is to know about monitors. We will explain all the technical terms you will most likely hear from salespeople, so you’ll understand everything they’re talking about. And, we’ll even share with you the best monitors for 2019. Don’t worry, because regardless of your budget, you’ll find something that will suit you perfectly.

First of all, what is a monitor?

A monitor is a component of a computer that displays images and videos coming from the machine’s video card. They’re a lot like TV screens, albeit with a much better resolution, And, unlike TVs, monitors are usually perched atop a computer desk instead of being on the wall. A monitor could also be called a display, video display, or screen.

A monitor connects to the computer’s motherboard or video card through a cable port. Keep in mind that it is a different element from your actual computer. For instance, turning off your monitor does not mean that you also shut down the main computer.

While gadgets such as tablets, netbooks, and laptops come with built-in monitors, you can still purchase a separate one if you wish to upgrade your current one. This is called a multi-monitor setup.

Monitor Types Based on Usage

While all monitors do serve the same purpose, different users have varying requirements for it. That’s why a gamer can’t get the same kind of monitor that a general user will. Let’s delve more into this, shall we?

  • General-use monitors are the ones we typically see in homes and offices. More often than not, we use them to write documents, surf the web, and open software programs that do not require heavy graphics processing. And, you won’t necessarily need the latest technology and top-of-the-line specs to take on these tasks, So, if you’re getting a monitor for these purposes, good for you! You can expect to shell out a relatively low price.
  • Professional monitors are the ones used by graphic artists, content creators, and video editors. These tasks require higher specs in a monitor. Because of the nature of your job, it’s a non-negotiable to get a monitor that can display accurate colors.

Don’t make the mistake of cutting on the cost by getting a low-end monitor, because you might end up producing designs with colors that look different on other screens.

  • Gaming monitors need to perform at top speed. We’re talking about fast refresh rates and response times here. Don’t worry, if these terms seem alien to you, we’ll cover them both in another section.

Monitor-buying Guide: Pro-Tips

Before you start picking your next computer monitor, you have to ask yourself: what am I going to use it for?

The purpose for which you are buying a monitor will dictate which features to consider. Naturally, a gaming or professional computer will have higher monitor requirements than a general computer.

Gamers need to look into specs such as response times and refresh rates, while professionals should take into account color contrast, brightness, and accuracy. General users, on the other hand, don’t need to pay attention to specs apart from the VA panel.

Whatever kind of computer user you are, we will be here for you every step of the way.

Monitor-buying Guide: Features

Before you go to your favorite tech store, you might want to brush up on the following terms. These are the elements that go into a monitor. Each component has a significant impact on the quality of the image the monitor will produce. When deciding the specs you want, keep in mind that you don’t always need to get the highest quality all the time. In doing so, you’ll get the best bang for your buck.

Size

You might think that the larger the screen, the better, but such is not the case. Before getting a 17-inch monitor, first, consider the size of your workstation. If you do not have enough space to hold such a huge screen, then it might not be worth it.

But, you don’t want to get something too small, either. When it comes to monitors, the lowest you should consider is 20 inches. If you want something smaller, you probably need to consider getting a laptop instead.

If you sit about an arm’s length away from your monitor, we suggest you get a 23- to a 24-inch display. These monitors are just enough for you to see images correctly without straining your eyes.

Also, the size of the monitor goes hand in hand with pixel density, as this will dictate your screen’s resolution. Believe us; there is no point in getting the largest monitor if its pixel density is low.

We’ll go into this in more detail in a bit. But for reference, if you’re getting a 23- to a 24-inch monitor, 1080p will give you a pretty sharp image. Beyond these dimensions, you’d want a resolution of at least 2560×1440. For 27 inch-monitors, an excellent resolution would be somewhere between 1440p to 1080p (Full HD).

You don’t want to go overboard on the resolution, either. If you choose a 20-inch screen, it might not be a good idea to get a 1080p resolution. All that does is compress the images, such that you’d have to do an additional (and annoying) step of enlarging them to see or read them better.

Resolution

The resolution dictates how vivid you’ll see pictures and videos on your monitor. It is determined by pixel density, which is measured in pixels per inch or PPI. The higher the PPI is, the more pixels there are. More pixels means you get a brighter and better display. In the old days, 1080p was considered high-res, but nowadays, it’s become the bare minimum.

If you have some money to burn, you might want to consider a monitor with a higher PPI, especially if you’re a gamer.

Here are what you should expect from the different monitor resolutions:

  • 1080p. This resolution will give you good picture quality without burning a hole in your pocket. If you want to invest in other monitor features, you won’t go wrong with 1080p. It’s the ideal resolution for 21- to 24-inch monitors. However, if you want a larger display, 1080p is not going to cut it.
  • 1440p. If you’re a gamer, 1440p is a good resolution to get. If you’re coming from a 1080p resolution monitor, you’ll immediately notice a significant improvement in visuals. And, prices for this resolution are pretty reasonable, giving you more allowance to invest in other more essential features.
  • 4K. This ultra-high-def resolution measures 3840x2160p. With this resolution, you get sharper and much more detailed images compared to 1080p. However, we don’t recommend this for monitors between 20 to 27 inches, as you won’t be able to enjoy it that much.

Also, you’ll hardly find an affordable monitor to support it. You’ll have to get yourself a correspondingly powerful graphics card to run your machine, and these things don’t come cheap.

Considering that 1080p and 1440p monitors also deliver impressive image quality, it might not be worthwhile to invest in this resolution at the moment, unless you’re getting a 40-inch monitor. It is only with these huge displays that you’ll quickly notice the difference between a 1440p and a 4K resolution.

  • 5K. Apple introduced the 5K resolution on the iMac a few years ago, but since it doesn’t offer as much difference compared to 4K monitors, it remains an unpopular choice among computer users.

Refresh Rate

Refresh rate refers to how many times your monitor updates images per second. It is measured in hertz (Hz), and the higher the number, the smoother the images will be. A refresh rate of 60Hz means the monitor can display 60 frames per second. This level is good enough if you’re not a gamer.

But, if you are, a 60Hz won’t do. You’d want to get a monitor with a refresh rate of at least 75Hz. This level will give you smoother movements, which is ideal for fast-paced games. If you have more cash to spare, we recommend that you get a 120-144Hz, or even better, a 240Hz monitor. The key, though, is to get a corresponding high-powered graphics to support it.

Response Time

The response time refers to the time it takes for pixels to switch from one shade to another. This is measured in milliseconds (ms), and mainly, the shorter the response time, the smoother the transition of movements will be. A slow response time, like 16ms, will give you blurred images when displaying fast-moving scenes. If you’re a gamer, a good number would be between 2 to 5ms. Thankfully, there are tons of monitors that offer this spec. Some monitors even offer a 0.5ms response time – a great option if you enjoy playing fast-paced games.

Note: The response time is often tied with the refresh rate. If you’re a gamer, look for a combination of at least 144 Hz refresh rate and 5ms or less response time.

CRT vs. LCD vs. LED vs. OLED

  • Monitors have come a long way over the decades. It all started with the CRT monitor – that bulky, old-fashioned TV-like box.
  • Years later, it was replaced by the LCD monitor, a much thinner and more energy-saving display that offers better image quality.

Its name, liquid-crystal display, is derived from the fact that it is made of two pieces of glass with a form of liquid between them. The screen is then divided into thousands and even millions of pixels (or “picture elements”).

Cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLS) then push out the pixels so that you can view them on your monitor. These lamps have a lifetime of 30,000 hours.

Because they’re much older, LCD screens tend to be heavier and thicker than LED screens. But, this also means that they’re much cheaper than LED monitors.

However, you’ll only find a few of these supporting Full HD resolutions. And, if you’re a supporter of the environment, you need to know that these screens emit mercury pollution at the end of its lifespan.

  • LEDs are also similar to LCDs in that they’re also made of 2 pieces of glass with liquid between them. But, they use different technology to shoot out the images to your monitor. Instead of the lamps, these screens make use of light-emitting diodes (hence the acronym).

This technology allows LED monitors to have a brighter and more energy-saving display than LCDs, and have a lifespan of 50,000 hours.

LEDs also have a much faster response time, better picture quality, and color contrast than LCDs. And, they’re also a lot thinner and lighter, making them easy to transport and install. Because of these impressive features, LED monitors are naturally more expensive than LCDs.

  • Recently, an even newer technology called OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is making its way to the cyberworld. We’re starting to see it in more modern models of smartphones and TV screens. OLED screens are made of carbon-based materials that produce light when jolted by electricity.

OLED displays offer images and viewing angles of an even higher caliber than the LED, but it does require more power to run.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio refers to the dimensions your screen displays images in. The most common is 16:9 (length x height), and it works on most games and movies. However, some monitors also offer unusual aspect ratios, such as 21:9. This ratio is best for working professionals and hardcore gamers. 16:10 is another format that allows you to see images in a more vertical point of view – this is great for viewing documents. 3:2 is a standard ratio in laptops and is ideal for surfing the net.

Brightness

If you’re working or gaming in a dimly-lit area, you want to pay attention to this feature. You can get high-end monitors with brightness levels as high as 300 to 350 cd/m2. If you’re getting a monitor with HDR support, you’ll want to get one with this brightness level, to better appreciate its HDR capability.

But, if your rig is placed in a well-lit space, don’t bother getting such high specs, as this will only strain your eyes. A good brightness level is 250 cd/m2.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio refers to how well a monitor determines the difference between black and white. The higher the contrast ratio, the better it is at differentiating colors.

Touch Screen

Nowadays, you will hardly see a screen that does not have touch functionality, but this feature is rarely present in monitors. You’ll see them more often in phones and tablets, and are used for educational purposes. But while most monitors come with physical hardware controls that adjust your screen, some newer models do offer a touch screen option as well.

HDR

High Dynamic Range is an imaging technique where a more excellent luminosity range than the standard imaging quality is produced. It was first used in photography, where the quality of the images was enhanced by creating whiter whites and darker blacks. In monitors, HDR technology allows you to see true-to-life pictures on your screen. As we mentioned earlier, you will only enjoy this feature if your monitor has exceptional levels of brightness.

Viewing Angle

If you use your monitor for film-viewing, then you’ll want to pay attention to this feature. If you like having guests over for a movie night, get a monitor with a large viewing angle – about 170 degrees or higher. Otherwise, you don’t need to prioritize this feature as much.

UltraWide monitors are screens that stretch out on either side such that you get more significant screen space. When you use an ultrawide monitor, It’s like having multiple monitors placed side by side. This is ideal for professionals who need to open various applications at once.

Curved monitors are top-rated nowadays, as they offer a larger field of view, thereby more immersive viewing experience. Manufacturers also claim that these monitors are less eye-straining. But, they tend to be prone to glare, especially when viewing from certain angles. If you’re considering a curved monitor – get an ultra-wide one and at least 30 inches. Just take note that while these features are impressive, they also come with a much higher price tag.

Panel Technology

Panel technology is what drives your monitor’s response time, brightness, viewing angle, and color accuracy. There are four types of panels, each of them offering their own set of advantages and disadvantages. For years, manufacturers have tried to bridge the gaps among the four panels, but until today there exist significant differences among them.

  • TN (twisted nematics) is the most common and affordable type of panel. It offers good visuals and the best response times, making them an ideal choice among gamers. The problem with it, though, is that these monitors have poor viewing angles and color reproduction. And, apart from washed-out images, you also won’t get the best brightness levels in a TN panel. If you’re more concerned about response time over image quality, this is the panel for you.
  • VA (vertical alignment) panels, also sometimes called MVA or PVA, produce better viewing angles, colors, and brightness and darkness levels, but do not have the fastest response times. They cost higher than TN panels.
  • IPS panels are the most expensive among the four, but they do offer much clearer viewing angles and more vibrant, more accurate colors. However, these panels are still no match to TN panels when it comes to response time. So, if you’re a gamer, you might want to think hard before getting a monitor with IPS panels.
  • Samsung introduced PLS panels on its tablets. However, they’ve also recently released PLS-based monitors, as well. They offer better brightness levels than IPS monitors and are less expensive.

Inputs

It’s important to check this feature, especially if you need to connect various devices to your computer.

  • DVI. These connections are a lot similar to HDMI, except it does not carry audio signals. These ports are slowly being phased out and replaced with HDMI and DisplayPort connections.
  • HDMI. The most standard connection of them all, especially for HD displays. It is smaller than DVI cables and can carry audio signals up to six channels. It is the most common port, with PCs, Blu-ray players, game consoles alike using it.
  • DisplayPort. This interface is becoming more and comer nowadays in the electronic world. It’s also similar to HDMI, such that it delivers both audio and video signals, but it offers a little bit more. DisplayPorts do not rely on internal hardware as HDMI does, so you get monitors with thinner displays. And, it can support four monitors at a time without a need for a breakout cable, whereas an HDMI can only support one.

Adaptive Syncing

If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably experienced screen tearing at least once in your life. This happens when the frames-per-second and refresh rate do not match. You see those annoying lines when your monitor’s frames try to catch up with one another.

To combat this pesky bug, NVIDIA and AMD manufacturers have created the adaptive refresh technology feature.

This feature aims to provide smooth gameplay, low input lag, and matched FPS and refresh rates.

NVIDIA’s feature is called G-Sync and makes use of a chip to link the gap between FPS and refresh rate.

AMD does the same thing in their technology called AMD FreeSync and makes use of the Adaptive-Sync standard that requires DisplayPort 1.2a. If you want to use FreeSync, you’ll need a DisplayPort with at least a 1.2a standard.

If you’re considering these technologies, you need to get a monitor (and GPU) that could support either.

Stands

Common monitor stands will let you adjust your monitor’s height and tilt the display side to side. But, if you often use your computer for surfing the net and typing reports, then you might want to get a stand that allows monitor rotation. You’ll find it surprisingly useful if you can switch from landscape to portrait mode.

Some monitor stands will also let you swivel the screen without actually moving the stand. These features will naturally come at a higher price, but if you think it will improve your work life, then it might be a good investment.

Monitor-buying Guide: FAQs

What is an overdrive or motion blur?

Ghosting refers to that blurry trail you see on your screen when it displays a fast-moving object. It is a result of uneven pixel transition, or when your monitor takes a long time to switch from one color to another.

Overdrive is a feature in specific monitors that lessens ghosting by speeding up your screen’s refresh rate. Motion blur reduction, on the other hand, controls the screen’s resolution during extremely intense movements. While both features are great at minimizing ghosting, take note; however, that motion blur reduction tends to lower your screen’s brightness.

What’s a reasonable price for a good monitor?

Tech stores almost always offer excellent discounts on monitors (especially during Black Friday), so you’ll likely get a good bargain. You’ll know you’re getting good value for money if the monitor has the following rates:

  • A 27-inch with a 144Hz refresh rate and 1080p resolution should not cost you more than $200.
  • A monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate at 4K resolution should cost about $250.

Are there features I should prioritize over another?

This depends on what you’ll use your monitor for. But, if you’re on a budget and don’t need a specialized monitor, here are our suggestions:

The most vital aspect of image quality is contrast. The higher the contrast range is, the more dynamic and realistic the images are. When it comes to contrast and image quality, VA panels offer much better quality than TN or IPS monitors.

If you have to be in front of your screen for eight hours a day, you’ll want a flicker-free screen. This feature prevents your screen from flickering despite its brightness level.

Low blue light. Blue light is known to increase eye strain and a plethora of vision problems. That’s why most operating systems have modes that lessen blue light, so you don’t need to worry about this too much.

Is it okay to buy a monitor online?

While it’s so much easier and convenient to order a monitor online, we highly recommend that you check them out in person. This will allow you to test and truly see the monitor’s features for yourself.

Monitor-buying Guide: The Best Monitors of 2019

And of course, this monitor-buying guide will not be complete without a list of the best monitors of 2019. So without further ado, here are our favorites for this year!

Best Monitor for Gamers: Razer Raptor 27

Specs:

  • Resolution: 2,560 x 1,440 pixels
  • Panel type: IPS
  • Refresh rate: 144Hz
  • Response time: 4ms
  • Weight: 25 pounds
  • Price: $699

While Razer is not famous for gaming monitors – because they’ve never developed one – its first and only model so far is one of the best out there. The Raptor 27 is valued at $699 and has an impressive color accuracy, low input lag, and a distinct Razer design.

Let’s start with the design. Just by looking at it, you’d already know it’s got potential. It’s among the unique styles we’ve seen thus far. Its stand is both wide and heavy, which is perfect for supporting the 25-pound monitor.

At the back, you’ll find that the stand also has a good cable management system. The rear panel is even covered in some fabric made of elegant material.

And, while typically RGB lighting tends to make images too bright and washed out, the Razer has managed to put some restraint into the feature. Its sole RBD LED strip located at the monitor’s base emits a soft reflective light off your desk. It has several customizable patterns and could be adjusted using the Razer Synapse 3 software.

The monitor may be adjusted vertically up to 5.25 inches from the base. It can also tilt up to 90 degrees for simplified port access. Monitors usually have their ports underneath them, making it a tad difficult to plug cables in. But, thanks to this 90-degree feature, you can easily plug your cables by tilting the monitor. Very nice!

As if these features weren’t great enough, Razer even came up with a great navigation tool to adjust display settings. Its five-way joystick allows you to modify contrast, brightness, color, overdrive, and motion blur settings, among many others.

The Raptor 27 also boasts of a picture-in-picture AND picture-by-picture features, perfect if you need to display multiple video sources at once.

The Raptor 27 carries one DisplayPort 1.4b and HDMI 2.0 port each, one USB Type-C input, and two USB 3.0 ports. It does not support headphones jacks, though.

Key Features

  • Unique and stylish design and build
  • Compatible with FreeSync and G-Sync
  • HDR Contrast
  • 5-way joystick

Best 4K Monitor: BenQ EL287OU

Specs

  • Resolution: 3,480 x 2160
  • Refresh rate: 60Hz
  • Response time: 1ms
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Contrast ratio: 1000:1
  • Panel type: TN
  • Viewing: 170 degrees horizontal, 160 degrees vertical
  • Color depth: 10-bit RGB
  • Price: $299

The BenQ EL287OU is definitive proof that you do not have to break the bank to get yourself a 4K HDR monitor. In fact, you can get one for less than 300 bucks! This is exactly why it made it to this monitor-buying guide’s top list.

What the BenQ lacks in viewing angles, it makes up for in a myriad of other features. Unlike the majority of budget monitors, this one has built-in speakers. And while they’re not precisely top-tiered speakers, they’re good enough to play music and your favorite game’s audio in a small room. Or, you could choose to use its headphone jacks as an alternative.

The BenQ is also compatible with FreeSync support, so it’s perfect if you have an AMD graphics card. But, it does not support G-Sync, though. It does have two HDMI 2.0 ports and one DisplayPort 1.4, though.

Truth be told, the monitor is not the best in performance, so we don’t recommend it for gamers. BUT, it is a superb monitor for movie nights and general use. It has impressive front layers that can prevent reflections well without sacrificing display clarity.

It is HDR compatible (HDR10), but it has low native contrast (10-bit) limits due to its TN panels.

But perhaps its most significant feature is its ability to adjust brightness and blue light levels automatically to protect your eyes from strain. True, it may not be the most reliable, nor is it the fastest of monitors, but for the price (which usually goes on sale), it’s not a bad deal at all.

The monitor also has an HDR button you can use to enable HDR-emulation mode and adjust brightness and color temperature levels. There are five control keys and a power toggle underneath.

The BenQ’s stand is straightforward and minimalistic. It comes in three pieces that you attach using a Phillips-head screwdriver. It allows you to tilt the monitor 15 degrees to the back and 5 degrees forward. You can’t adjust the height, however.

Key Features

  • 4K HDR
  • Built-in speakers
  • Inputs: one DisplayPort 1.42 and one HDMI 2.0
  • Audio: 3.5mm jack
  • Warranty: 3 years

Best Monitor Overall: Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ

Specs

  • Resolution: 3,480 x 2160
  • Refresh rate: 144Hz
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Size: 27 inches
  • Color depth: DCI-P3 Gamut
  • Price: $1,999

The Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ is boasting with a wide array of features, making it an excellent choice for both professionals and gamers alike.

With the Asus Swift, you get a DCI-P3 color gamut that offers vibrant colors, a whopping 144Hz refresh rate that ensures smooth gameplay, and an ultra-high-resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 that gives you images of the highest caliber. It also supports Nvidia G-Sync and HDR 10, as well. There is nothing this monitor cannot offer.

Considering all its many many jaw-dropping features, it comes as no surprise that it is quite costly. But, at $1,999, we say it’s worth investing in, especially if you have tons of cash to spare. And, comparing it to its closest competitor, the Acer Predator X 27, which costs $3,000, it is the more affordable option.

The Asus ROG (for Republic of Gamers) Swift also has a stylish look that’s expected in any Asus ROG monitor. It has a glowing ROG logo at the back of the screen, which you can control using the Asus Aura Sync software.

The 27-inch screen is more than enough to display your favorite game. Its standard aspect ratio is 16:9, a measurement good enough to immerse you in your game. At the rear of the monitor, you’ll find buttons that control the screen’s menu.

But, more than its eye-catching design, its more impressive features are its specs – lightning-speed refresh rate, 4K UHD resolution, and HDR technology. It also has an LED backlight that offers excellent contrast between light and dark images. It even provides 25% more color range than typical sRGB monitors, allowing for more color accuracy.

The Asus ROG Swift has one DisplayPort 1.4, one HDMI 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, and one 3.5mm jack.

Overall, we consider the Asus ROG Swift, the best gaming monitor today.

Key Features

  • 4K Ultra HD Resolution
  • Supports Nvidia G-Sync and HDR 10 Technology
  • LED Backlight
  • Inputs: one DisplayPort 1.42 and one HDMI 2.0, two USB 3.0 ports
  • Audio: 3.5mm jack

Best Monitor for Professionals: Eizo ColorEdge CS2730

Specs

  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Resolution: 2,560 x 1440
  • Size: 27 inches
  • Contrast ratio: 100:1
  • Color depth: sRGB Gamut

While 4K resolution-monitors are all the rage nowadays, this lower-resolution monitor can still definitely compete with higher-end displays.

The Eizo ColorEdge’s resolution may only be 2540×1440. Its pixel count is just around 3.7MP, as opposed to the regular 8.3MP. And its pixel density may only be 109ppi, compared to the common 163ppi. Nonetheless, it still manages to deliver incredibly sharp images. This is what we love about this monitor.

The Eizo ColorEdge has one HDMI, DP, and DVI ports each, and two USB 3.0 ports. It comes with a Quick Color Match software that allows you to match the colors on the screen and the printed material – making it an ideal monitor for professionals. With the monitor, you also get the ColorNavigator software for free, but you can only use this with separate calibration hardware.

The greatest thing about the Eizo ColorEdge is its impeccable color accuracy. It has an outstanding color gamut for both Adobe RGB and sRGB alike. It offers brightness uniformity across the monitor and has minimal backlight bleed.

And while it may not have the most premium of resolutions, we still consider it one of the top screens in this monitor-buying guide.

Key Features

  • Color accuracy
  • Outstanding brightness levels

Our Final Thoughts

By now, you’ll have realized that there is much to learn about monitors and that you can’t only buy the largest or cheapest one you find. We hope that this monitor-buying guide has helped you learn the vocabulary and jargon to make your shopping easier.

 

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