As Tina recently explained, however, things become more complex once you start looking at the details. In fact, even after you’ve considered contrast, connections, display resolutions and other factors you still have one other choice to consider – the display panel technology you’d prefer.
Display Panel Basics
Before we talk about different display panel technologies, let’s first clarify what a display panel is.
Modern LCD monitors are extremely thin, as if they are made out of a single piece of material. They are, however, made up of multiple components including the display panel. The display panel is a flat sheet of material that contains liquid crystals that react in different ways when electricity is applied.
Your display panel does not work alone. A backlight shines through the panel in order to create a viewable image. Think of it like a kaleidoscope – if you view it in a brightly lit room you’ll see beautiful patterns and colors, but if you try to use it in a dark room you’ll see nothing at all. Today we’re just talking about the kaleidoscope itself and not the light shining through it.
TN Display Panels
There is a very good chance that you are reading this article on a LCD monitor equipped with a TN display panel. That’s because TN display panels are by far the most popular in the world. They’re found in virtually all laptops and a large majority of desktop monitors.
The term TN stands for Twisted Nematic, the technical name for the liquid crystal technology the panel uses. The crystals in a TN panel like to do the twist when electrical current is applied. The image on a TN panel is controlled by turning up the juice and letting the crystals twist away – or stepping off the juice and letting them calm down.
While popular, TN display panels aren’t the best. They can’t display as wide a range of color as some other technologies and the formation of the crystals causes issues when you attempt to view the display from an off angle – an effect you’d probably noticed on your own monitor before.
TN display panels have low response times, however, which means they can refresh the image displayed quickly. This is a trait that PC gamers often appreciate. Also, TN display panels are the least expensive currently available. You can find TN display panels everywhere – indeed, most brick-and-mortar stores stock nothing but monitors with TN display panels.
IPS Display Panels
Efforts to produce a broader range of colors and better viewing angles resulted in the IPS display, which is the second most popular display panel today. There are two major technical differences that make IPS display panels superior. The crystals in the panel are aligned differently, and each crystal has electricity applied through both ends rather than just one.
These differences give IPS panels the ability to display images in gorgeous detail. IPS panels can reproduce full 8-bit color and most companies producing IPS panel monitors proudly boast about their monitor’s ability to display a wide color gamut. This is incredibly important to those who digitally edit photos and art. Monitors with IPS display panels also provide wider viewing angles, which means you don’t have to be viewing your monitor dead-on to receive decent image quality.
IPS display panels do have slower response times than TN panels, and some larger monitors with IPS panels aren’t great for gaming due to this trait. The biggest downside, however, is price – these panels are always more expensive, and as a result even a 24″ IPS display is usually over $400. Dell’s UltraSharp series is the most well known line of IPS panel monitors in North America. You can also find IPS display panels in the iMac, iPad and the iPhone 4.
Other Display Panel Technologies
If you’re shopping for a monitor you will almost certainly end up choosing between a TN or IPS panel. However, there are a few other panel technologies available. These include MVA and PVA, two related technologies.
You won’t find these technologies frequently, and they’re usually in extremely expensive monitors that are designed for professionals and digital artists. MVA and PVA monitors offer full 8-bit color as well (indeed, a few models claim 10-bit or 16-bit color) and these technologies are generally known to provide the widest viewing angles and deepest black levels of any display technology (although the specifics depend on the individual monitor). The downsides are similar to IPS panels – response times are often a bit high and the prices are very high.
I generally recommend monitors with IPS display panels if you can afford them. Monitors tend to last a long time, so laying down extra cash for a better monitor makes sense. If you have any tips or questions relating to display panel technology feel free to leave them in the comments!