Technology Explained

Monitor Buying Guide: 8 Tips for Choosing the Right Monitor

Dan Price Updated 25-03-2020

Computer monitors are an oft-underestimated part of the computing experience. People who don’t flinch at spending $1,500+ on a laptop computer will often buy a monitor based exclusively on price.

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That’s a shame; the monitor influences everything you do on your PC. It can make games more impressive, movies sharper, and documents clearer.

The plethora of products on the market can make finding the right one hard; what do you even need to look for in a monitor? Keep reading our monitor buying guide to find out.

1. Monitor Sizes

You can find anything from sub-20-inch monitors all the way up to 70 inches and beyond. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You just need to make sure you pick the monitor size that’s most appropriate for your needs.

Most visual experts agree that if you’re sitting at a desk and are a typical distance away from your screen, 32 inches offers the ideal distance-to-size ratio for your eyes. It has become the standard monitor size for most desktops.

Some people will need to go smaller due to size constraints, whereas others may need to buy something much larger for the extra screen real estate. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll never regret buying a monitor that’s too large; you will regret buying one that’s too small.

2. Monitor Resolution

Display resolution is often used as a selling point for a monitor. The higher, the better. 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.

There are options to increase the text size. Windows has built-in accessibility tools A Brief Guide to Windows 10 Accessibility Tools Whether you struggle with poor vision or want to explore speech control, Windows 10 offers plenty of accessibility tools to help you out. We show you where to find and how to use them. Read More , and you can always use the zoom features of browsers and text editors. However, zooming can also 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 monitors work best when displaying content at their native resolution, but if your graphics card isn’t powerful enough, you may have to turn a game’s resolution below the monitor’s native resolution. Doing so will usually result in a slightly blurred image—still playable, but far from ideal.

3. Monitor Purpose

Building on the first two points, you need to ensure you have a clear idea of what you will primarily use your monitor for before you hit the shops. It will affect which monitor specs you should prioritize while browsing.

For example, if you’re buying a new screen for gaming, you should aim to buy a model with speedy refresh rates and lower response times. Or if you’re someone who does a lot of work with Photoshop or video editing suites you’ll need to make sure the new monitor has high levels of color accuracy. General users might be happy with a regular high-contrast screen.

4. Monitor Specs

When you’re shopping for a new monitor, you’ll end up coming across a slew of terminology and specs that might not make a whole lot of sense.

Here are some of the important monitor specs that you need to consider:

  • Refresh rates: Refers to the number of times a monitor updates its screen every second. Don’t consider less than 75Hz. Gamers need at least 140Hz.
  • Response time: The amount of time it takes for a monitor to change a single pixel from black to white. Top-end monitors can have rates of as little as 0.5Hz.
  • Aspect Ratio: The most commonly seen ratio in the shops is 16:9. Laptops are seeing more 3:2 displays, while 16:10 is also popular among desktop users.
  • Curvature: A monitor with 1500R has a radius of 150cm and a suggested viewing distance of 1.5 meters. The lower the number, the greater the curvature.
  • Brightness: We’re not going to get into the details of how brightness is measured. Suffice to say, you should not buy a monitor with less than 250 cd/m2.
  • Viewing Angle: Measured in degrees, it tells you how far from the center of the screen you can move before the image becomes unviewable. Aim for a minimum of 170 degrees.

5. TN vs. IPS vs. VA Panels

You also need to consider the various panel technologies; manufacturers use the different techniques used to build distinct types of computer monitors.

Initially, the most common type of panel was TN (Twisted Nematic). In recent times, TN panels have been superseded by IPS (In-Plane Switching) screens.

IPS monitors are popular because of their ability to display accurate colors and their wide viewing angles, both of which are lacking in TN screens. The tradeoff is that IPS panels typically have slower response times and lower refresh rates. Indeed, some of the best TN panels are better than the worst IPS panels.

VA panels offer a compromise between the TN and IPS screens. They have better color and viewing angles than TN screens, but worse refresh rates than IPS panels.

Of the three types, IPS panels are the most expensive variant.

5. Ports

No self-respecting monitor will ship without an HDMI port. But you need to consider what other tech you own and what ports it needs.

VGA and DVI connections are still knocking around on some legacy devices, while other standards like DisplayPort and USB-C are also becoming more common.

6. Don’t Buy Online

It’s a basic lesson that applies to not only monitors but also TVs, laptops, tablets, and virtually any other device with a display. Glossy images and fancy online marketing are not sufficient to truly gauge a monitor’s picture quality. You need to get down to the nearest Best Buy and see it with your own eyes.

Even then, it’s not always easy. Stores are unusual places, with lighting that is much brighter than a standard home environment and plenty of distractions. For a more definitive word, check out trusted review sites, and even user reviews.

7. More Money, More Quality

There is more to a display than the panel. For example, cheap monitors often come with inexpensive plastic stands that wobble and don’t offer ergonomic adjustments. Expensive monitors usually come with tilt, pivot, and high adjustments as standard.

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.

(Note: To learn more about using your monitor in an ergonomic way, have a look at our list of the best computer chairs The 6 Best Cheap Computer Chairs Looking to improve your home office? Start with your chair! Here are some of the best cheap computer chairs that are affordable. Read More .)

8. Buy for the Long-Term

A good monitor built five years ago is still a decent monitor today. And monitors are typically fairly reliable pieces of tech.

Ergo, 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 a decade?

Learn More About How to Pick a Monitor

Picking the right monitor for your needs is not an exact science. You need to weigh up the pros and cons of the various specs, technologies, and price points before you make your choice.

If you would like to learn more about how to pick a monitor, check out our lists of the best curved monitors The 7 Best Curved Monitors Which is the best curved monitor for your setup? We're here to help with our roundup of the best curved monitors available today. Read More and the best cheap gaming monitors The 6 Best Cheap Gaming Monitors PC gamers should be sure to buy a gaming monitor, and thankfully there are some cheap gaming monitors available to buy. Read More .

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Computer Monitor, Online Shopping.

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  1. Dav532000
    March 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I am still using my Samsung 19" SyncMaster and I am quite happy with it. I have been looking at the 24" Dell IPS Monitor but it will have to drop a bit more price wise befoe I consider buying it. Agree with some others only some basic info here and not much to help someone make a choice if they were looking to upgrade.
     

  2. diego
    March 7, 2012 at 1:37 am

    one more... naming some examples would be great! I'm looking for a 23–27 inch monitor and currently I'm clueless of what to buy.

    Your help would be truly appreciated!

    • Bobinkofp
      March 7, 2012 at 5:05 am

       I just got done reviewing for myself the same size monitors,  the best out there right now are the Dell Ultra Monitors, some may think they are pricey, but they have Great Video display quality & resolution & 16:10 aspect ratio, and you can rotate them to portrait mode also, better warranties also.  Also they are VESA mountable - some monitors you can't mount them. They come in  24, 27 & 30 in. models.  The 27 and 30 in. are super sweet, especially the 30 in model. 2nd best choice is HP.  I spent about 8 hours poring over all of the info, and checking reviews.

  3. diego
    March 7, 2012 at 1:34 am

    I agree, things like response time, contrast and so on would be really helpful. Finally... what about LED?? should I stay with LCD or move to LED??

    Thanks a lot!

    • Budji
      March 7, 2012 at 6:48 am

      FYI, an LED monitor is still LCD but using a LED backlight,  as opposed to cold cathode. 
      yeah, blame marketing for the confusion, and go for LED if you like brighter screens.

  4. GUESS
    March 6, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I was expecting more about the technical stuff on the monitors from this.

    • Matt.Smith
      March 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm

      What sort of technical stuff? It might be the basis for another article.

  5. Ussikene
    March 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I still like my 21"  old school monitor till it works.
    But if I have to buy a new one.
    1. Reaction time
    2. Size
    3. Outputs

  6. Thomas Kainz
    March 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    As long as the monitor has the minimum resolution I need it to have for the task it will be used for and has the necessary connections, price is high on the list of consideration.

    I've had expensive "major name brand" monitors that cost a hefty sum that barely made it more than a year - what a waste.  Right now, I'm typing this note on a 19" I-INC LED that is awesome - which I picked up on sale for only $69!

    If I were heavy into gaming or did photo retouching as a profession, I might be inclined to go the expensive route - might be - but for everyday use.... Price rules!

    Personally.... no matter who made the monitor, I've learned to buy the extended warranty.

    • Matt.Smith
      March 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      Well, like I said, more expensive monitors tend to come with longer standard warranties. Not all of them do, it's common.

      If you're happy with a 19" monitor, that's great. But I suspect that "buy a cheap 19" monitor and call it a day" isn't good advice for most people.

      • Thomas Kainz
        March 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm

        You are correct there in that a 19" monitor would most likely not be good for most but I did note that it depends on the task it's used for.  In my particular case, this 19er is used for emails and referencing documentation while I do my work on the 23" widescreen.  It's all up to individual preference.  I guess that the point that I was wanting to make was that bigger and/or pricier isn't always a better choice for the particular task at hand.  I also use 3 of these inexpensive 19" models for my workbench.  If one gets broken or fried - no major loss. I don't need a 23" monitor to run backups, or troubleshoot a PC issue - unless, of course, the issue is video related.

        In art 100.... form follows function.  This $69, 19" 'tool' does what I need it to do and then some.  For me it works!

      • shipa khan
        May 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

        Well, like I said, more expensive monitors tend to come with longer standard warranties. Not all of them do, it’s common.

        If you’re happy with a 19? monitor, that’s great. But I suspect that “buy a cheap 19? monitor and call it a day” isn’t good advice for most people!!!