Tips on How to Choose a Monitor
By Alex Austin
Edited and Updated by David Boss
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The following article is based on years of experience. It is provided as a free service to our customers and visitors. However, Directron.com is not responsible for any damage as a result of following any of this advice.
What size monitor should I buy? A 17" or 19" or 20" or 22" or 24"+? While this is largely based on personal preference, and often budget, there’s an easy answer. A larger monitor size will generally provide you with the best user experience. However, you have to consider your desk space, will it fit? Also, if you don’t have video card in your computer, the new native resolutions that bigger monitors demand might give your games or multimedia a slide-show like frame rate. If you are a gamer, make sure your video card is fast enough to play at the native resolution of the new LCD for an optimal experience. It’s not uncommon to upgrade your video card along with a purchase of a new monitor to run a new resolution smoothly.
Modern TVs can work well as monitors, specifically those of the LCD variety. This means your monitor size can range anywhere from 26"–65"(or higher). Most TVs can accept at least one variety of computer output. These include VGA, DVI, Display Port, or HDMI. An HDMI input can even be connected from a DVI video card output with the use of an inexpensive adapter.
What is a monitor’s native resolution? Native resolution is the physical count of pixels on the monitor (such as 1920x1080). Non-native resolutions ran on a monitor are scaled to fit the physical pixels, resulting in an image that is often distorted or stretched. It should be obvious that it is best to use LCDs on their native resolution to achieve an optimal image output. You can usually find the native resolution of a monitor in its item description, on the box, or on the manufacturer’s website.
Should I go with a widescreen (16:9) or four-by-three (4:3) aspect ratio? It’s more of a personal preference. Widescreen LCDs allow you to watch new high-definition media with no cut off or image shrinkage. That is to say, they provide an optimal experience when used for multimedia purposes. It’s also great to have the added desktop real estate when doing basic computing tasks and working in multiple windows simultaneously. The four-by-three aspect is all but phased out, although there are still some who prefer it. If you are a gamer, note that very old games will sometimes not work well with widescreen resolutions, and the image might be stretched horizontally or have black bars on the sides. It should be noted that older (pre-2006) video cards were not made to support widescreen resolutions, and that you might need to upgrade to take advantage of the aspect ratio. Another feature that widescreen resolutions provide is the ability to rotate your screen by 90 degrees to view web pages and word documents in their entirety, much like reading a page on a piece of paper.
Most monitors are compliant with the VESA standard of mounting, allowing for the use of different support systems. These mounting systems allow the user to remove the base stand and support a monitor in a variety of ways. The most popular support method is an arm extension that affixes to a table and allows manipulation of a monitor on all three axes. Other mounting systems can hold two or more monitors to produce and array of screens, which are often used in advertisement, medical, and finance industries. However, the mounts are not priced only for businesses. Many home consumers user these mounts with their multiple widescreen monitors to view web pages, multimedia, and games. Newer ATI or NVIDIA graphics cards allow users to fit the desktop on a custom, multiple monitor resolution. This provides an immersive experience for the user. The VESA mounting holes on the back of the monitors usually come in two sizes, 90x90 and 100x100. Most stands come with adapters to fit either of these sizes.
Should I use a DVI/HDMI (digital) or VGA (analog) connection? This depends on what your video card or motherboard supports. Analog input is for the older models of monitors, like CRTs. Currently, DVI and HDMI are overtaking the market share. Before buying a monitor for a VGA connection, you should first consider upgrading your video card. This would be optimal as to ensure that you can fully utilize a DVI or HDMI connection with a respectively supported monitor, which is superior. DVI and HDMI are more advanced than VGA, as they provide a stable picture with less ghosting and more accurate/vivid colors (and even surround sound with HDMI). Analog VGA wire is subject to magnetic interference to a much higher degree than its newer counterparts. Thus, it is recommended to have a DVI or HDMI connection for an optimal user experience. Larger monitors have higher native resolution, and DVI or HDMI are often the only choice to supply the needed bandwidth. Cheaper monitors still feature only VGA inputs while newer models can have DVI, VGA, Display Port, and HDMI inputs for a wide range of compatibility. It should also be noted that DVI or HDMI video cards can be also connected to TVs or monitors, sometimes with the aid of an adapter.
Depending on your video card, you might be able to convert DVI signal to VGA with an adapter (for backwards compatibility). If your video card has DVI-I, then it carries an analog signal which can be outputted to a VGA connector and ran on a monitor which only has a VGA input available. On performance video cards, it is often the case that that the DVI connector is DVI-D, and is only digital, meaning it is without analog signal support. With just a quick physical inspection, you can tell which port is DVI-I or DVI-D. The photo below should help you discern the difference.
If you are using a VGA interface, please make sure you are using a quality cable. Many low grade or abused cables can degrade the picture quality. Common visual artifacts include: a shift in color, blurring, pulsating, or shaking picture. The cable is usually not included with value monitors to keep prices down. Be sure to have one on hand or to order a new cable.
The latest input for the monitors is a Display Port. It is a cheap, license free alternative to its more costly HDMI cousin with a few advantages over DVI. For now the Display Port is featured in the most new monitors, and is expected to be the next popular standard for computer displays.
What else should you look for when purchasing an LCD monitor? Contrast ratio is one important factor. Some ASUS monitors have contrast ratios of 50,000,000:1 (fifty million to one) which will give you deeper blacks and vivid colors than say a 20,000:1 ratio. Also note, more expensive monitor with lower ratios might actually give you a better image than a cheaper one with higher rations (inflated and unsubstantiated ratio). A contrast ratio tells you how close to actual black the monitor can approach. Some cheap monitors can only get close to a dark gray color. These are the ones with lower contrast ratio and a washed out picture due to their inability to represent sharpness well (which is an optical illusion of contrast between light and dark shades). It is also advisable to purchase well known brands for optimal picture quality and hardware longevity.
The response time of a monitor is a major factor, often of high importance to gamers. When the first LCD monitors came out, their response time was about 24ms. Scrolling, gaming, or even fast movie scenes could trigger a blurring or “ghosting” effect. Today, this technological shortcoming has been eradicated. Most monitors manufactured today have 5ms, or better, response times; which eliminate the undesired motion blur effect. Common gaming monitors now advertise 2ms response time (or better). Make sure you get a well known brand for high quality. We suggest ASUS or ACER.
A viewing angle is the maximum angle a display can be viewed at with an acceptable visual performance. If you are standing directly before the monitor and looking right in the center, you witness the best picture. For some brands if you were to move sideways in either direction, you would see that the image sometimes becomes darker. At some point, the colors even seem to invert. Some LCD technology is not perfect and suffers from poor viewing angles. This problem worsens depending on how far you’ve deviated from the center. This can be a predicament if you have more than one person viewing your screen at a time. While most major brands do not have this problem, some smaller brands do. We would recommend getting a LED backlit LCD display to help counter this issue, as this technology provides an almost 180 degree viewing angle.
What is the dead pixel problem? High quality brands have a lesser degree of dead pixels on their panels than cheaper brands that have less quality control. During manufacturing a low percentage of LCD screens are produced with one, or a few, pixels that do not light up or are stuck on a specific color. While the manufacturers could throw away these imperfect screens, they would be operating at a loss. You must be careful when buying a new LCD monitor to check for this issue. There are considerably low chances (around 1 or 2%) of this kind of problem happening to you. The dead pixels are less visible since they are simply black. But some are stuck (colored) and are most visible on black backgrounds. Unfortunately, the manufacturers have their own rules on how many damaged pixels is too excessive to warrant a replacement. It’s possible that you can RMA the product and receive a new, fully functional, unit if this happens. Fortunately, Directron.com offers a service which tests your monitor for imperfections before you take it home or receive it for delivery.
Should I get a monitor with built-in speakers? As a rule, speakers on LCD monitors generally have very poor audio quality and volume. This is usually due to their small size and lack of audio range (no bass). We would recommend buying some stand-alone speakers with a subwoofer, or even a headset for a full sound experience. Even inexpensive speakers will have better audio quality than a monitor’s built-in speaker(s). The monitors that don't have speakers usually have a more attractive and thinner bezel, which helps with immersion.
Gone mostly unnoticed to the public, the beige color is no longer popular or produced. There are only black and silver (or a combination of) monitors available on the market now. These colors do not turn that “off-yellow” color overtime, and are much more stylish. If you are using your monitor mostly in dark environment then it would be advisable to buy a black frame LCD for higher immersion. Some monitors even feature an edge-to-edge display with no bezel at all.
There is a new technology in LCDs monitors that we mentioned briefly before, LED backlighting. Overall, this technology allows for better contrast, truer and wider range of colors, higher viewing angles, and energy efficient operation. In addition, it is believed that LED backlighting will help avoid current common backlight failures that are a result of the current cold cathode fluorescent lamp technology.
The power supply is the most common culprit for failing monitors. During early days of the LCD monitor, they came with an external power supply. All it took is a new "power brick" to heal your monitor. These days the power supply is internal. Because of this, broken LCD monitors are more often discarded and dangerous chemicals are left to poison the landfills. If you are an environment conscious person, LCDs are twofold. While needing much less energy to operate, the LCD screen is poisonous and there are only a few places that truly recycle LCD screens. Please, do recycle your old LCDs properly. If you are in Houston, where our brick and mortar store is, there is a recycle center here. Please use it.
LCD monitors are EXTREMELY easy to scratch verses their older CRT counterparts. Do take care when moving or wiping your new LCD monitors. Do not use any solvents or alcohol based cleaning solutions since they may permanently react with the screen. You may even consider getting a high-gloss edge-to-edge reflective glass finish if you aren’t a gamer (much like Apple displays). However, for most computer users a matte finish is the optimal choice.
Why there is such a price difference among monitors? There are different grades of LCD panels: A-B-C-lower. A cheaper monitor usually means a lesser grade LCD panel was used and there is probably a shorter warranty offered as well. Higher grade LCD panels are sharper, brighter, vivid, and colors don’t bleed. Usually there is also a quicker response time along with truer whites and deeper blacks (better contrast). It is possible that low grade panels may negatively affect your vision if used for an extended amount of time. We recommend investing a little extra to get a high quality monitor for both your user experience and personal health. You only get one pair of eyes!
Last updated 3/14/13