Computer monitors are an often underestimated part of the computing experience. Geeks who don’t flinch at spending $500 on a tablet or $1,000 on a computer will often buy a monitor based exclusively on price.
That’s a shame, because the monitor influences everything you do on your PC. It can make games more impressive, movies sharper and documents clearer. The plethora of monitors on the market can make finding the right one hard, so let’s see if we can arm you with the right information.
Resolution Is A Double-Edged Sword
Display resolution is often used as a selling point for a monitor. The higher, the better. It is true that a high resolution will result in a sharper image, but you need to know about some potential downsides as well.
One problem is the perceived size of text and icons. If you increase the resolution of a display without increasing its physical size, everything on that display will appear smaller. For many people this is not an issue, but users with poor eyesight may have problems with a display that features a high resolution and a small display size. The most common example on the market today is a 21” monitor with 1080P resolution. Some people will find text on a monitor such as this to be too small to read.
There are options to increase text size. Windows has built-in adjustments, and you can always use the zoom features of browser and text editors. However, zooming can cause formatting issues. If you are concerned about your eyesight, picking a monitor with a low native resolution is the easier solution.
Gaming also can conflict with a high display resolution. Modern LCD monitors work best when displaying content at their native resolution, but if your graphics card isn’t powerful, you may have to turn a game’s resolution below the monitor’s native resolution. This will usually result in a slightly blurred image – still playable, but far from ideal.
1080p is incredibly common, but if you have poor eyesight or are concerned about your GPU’s performance, consider a monitor with a resolution of 1440×900 or 1680×1050 instead.
IPS Doesn’t Mean Instantly Superior
There are a number of different technologies used to build LCD panels. One of these is IPS, which is generally well regarded because of its ability to display accurate colors and offer wide viewing angles. High production costs have kept IPS out of the mainstream for years, but there’s recently been a marketing push in favor of IPS, which has resulted in cheap displays featuring the technology.
IPS panels do have advantages over the more common TN panels, but some cheap IPS displays have problems of their own, and the best TN panels are better than the worst IPS panels. I’ve already covered this topic in a separate article, so if you want to know more, read 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy A Cheap IPS Monitor.
You Can’t Judge Image Quality In A Store
I was recently reminded of this when I bought a monitor at Best Buy. It was meant to be a simple replacement monitor for a gaming system, and it looked decent enough on the shelf.
When I took it home and placed it next to the older monitor, however, I was surprised to find that the new monitor had difficulty with dark images. I also noticed that the backlight was uneven. I could see more brightness leaking into the display from certain portions of the bottom edge, and this bothered me. I had to take the monitor back to the store.
This only reinforced a basic lesson that applies to not only monitors but also HDTVs, laptops, tablets and virtually any other device with a display. Stores are unusual places, with lighting that is much brighter than a normal home environment and plenty of distractions. You can’t trust your eyes.
What should you trust? Reviews. Sites like Anandtech, CNET, and TFT Central can provide excellent information. User reviews aren’t a terrible source, either – they can at least steer you away from products with obvious problems.
The Details Matter
There is more to a display than the panel. For example, cheap monitors often come with inexpensive plastic stands that easily wobble and sway and don’t offer ergonomic adjustments. Expensive monitors usually come with tilt, pivot and high adjustments as standard.
Don’t neglect connectivity. Two models might look identical, but if you turn them around, you’ll find that one offers only a single input and the other offers four. You will also run into monitors that offer a built-in USB hub, which can be useful if you are connecting to a mini-PC or a laptop.
Warranty is important, too. Many cheap monitors come with a one-year warranty, while more expensive models often offer a three-year or five-year warranty. Any added protection beyond the standard one-year warranty adds value to a monitor that you’re considering.
A Monitor Is A Long Term Relationship
While most areas of consumer technology have advanced at lightning speed over the last ten years, monitors have made only small leaps. A good monitor built 5 years ago is still a decent monitor today.
Monitors tend to be reliable, as well. If you’d like proof, just go visit a business with an insufficient IT budget. They’ll still be using a fleet of monitors that’s nearly ten years old.
This means that you should buy a monitor under the assumption that you will be keeping it for some time. Cheap monitors are appealing, but they also lack input options and have so-so image quality. When spending your money, consider the value that you are receiving for your dollar. Do you really want to be staring at a sub-par display for five years?
If you use your computer for gaming, productivity or multimedia, I recommend that you purchase a quality monitor even if you have to spend twice as much. An extra $100 or $200 spread over five years is peanuts.
The Bottom Line
As you might have noticed, I have a bit of a bias in favor of the more expensive monitors on the market. When I took back the inexpensive monitor I purchased at Best Buy, I picked up a Dell Ultrasharp 2412M online to replace it. I had to pay just over twice as much, but in exchange I received superior image quality, an excellent display stand, more connectivity options and a three-year warranty. In retrospect, I was foolish to even consider the cheaper option, as the value it offers is significantly less.
Don’t buy based on price and don’t buy based on your own subjective impression on the store floor. Read reviews, evaluate your needs and pay attention to details like the warranty and connectivity. Don’t be afraid to buy a monitor without viewing it in person if all the reviews are excellent. Most retailers will let you return a monitor within 15 or 30 days without a restocking fee, so if you strike out, trying again only costs you more time.
Image Credits: Rob Lawton,