Considering how much time office workers spend in front of a screen, selecting the right computer monitor impacts productivity. In this monitor buying guide, we discuss the important specifications and latest display trends so you know which monitor best fits your needs. Any time you buy a computer monitor—really any piece of technology equipment—first ask, what’s the use? The answer to that question determines most specifications right out front and makes buying a computer monitor much more straightforward.
Below we’ll match business monitors to fit the type of work you and your users do. But first, let’s make sure you understand the key specifications listed on PC monitor product pages.
Glossary of PC monitor specifications
Screen Resolution is a measurement of its display area in pixels, given in (width × height-pixels). These resolutions will often be referred to in shorthand, showing the numeric value of the height. 1080p, 1440p, or 4K. The majority of computer displays have 1080p resolutions, with 1440p 4K gaining mainstream adoption. Other not as common resolutions include 2560 × 1440 (1440p or 2k) and 1600 × 900. You can also find displays with 5K resolutions, but there are only a few models available at this time.
Contrast Ratio is the difference in light intensity between the brightest color (white) and darkest (black). You want a high contrast ratio for a more brilliant image. Computer monitors often have two separate contrast ratio measurements: active / dynamic contrast ratio and static contrast ratio. Active / dynamic contrast ratio measures the brightest and darkest colors over a period of time, while static measures them at a single point in time. Pay more attention to the static contrast ratio.
Manufacturers may have different testing methodologies for active / dynamic contrast ratio. Using it as a comparison metric may yield inconsistent results.
Response Time refers to how LCD monitors constantly refresh the displayed image, but it isn’t always smooth process. When there is a lot of action happening on screen, the panel may not update quite fast enough to keep up with how the eye perceives motion. This results in a slightly blurry image. Response time measures how quickly it takes a monitor to update from one frame to the next. A lower response time means much less blur while a high response time means more blur.
For movies and gaming, a low response time is better, while for production work with static images it doesn’t really matter.
Refresh Rates refer to the amount of times per second the monitor will update the image. You’ve probably seen the terms 120 Hz or 240 Hz when shopping for TVs and monitors—those are refresh rates. 120 Hz means that the display refreshes the image 120 times per second. The higher the refresh rate, the smoother the movements and actions appear on screen.
Viewing angle refers to the maximum angle you can view the monitor at for the image to still be color accurate. The angle is measured from one side to the other and viewing the monitor straight on is 0 degrees. So a monitor with a 160 degree viewing angle has acceptable color accuracy when viewed 80 degrees off-center.
Ergonomic Stand Adjustment
Professional-grade monitors tend to have more monitor stand adjustments than consumer variants. These additional adjustments include height, tilt, swivel, and pivot. Ergonomic customizability is the foremost trend in the business PC monitor conversation.
Ultrawide Screens: a better dual monitor alternative?
An ultrawide monitor delivers all the benefits of a dual monitor setup—without gaps and bezels getting in the way. Manufacturers gear ultrawide 21:9 monitors toward gamers and movie buffs, but creative professionals find them useful as well. The advantage of 21:9 is that you have more screen real estate when tiling two windows side by side. On a single 16:9 monitor this might feel too narrow. Another advantage is that you only connect one cable to your PC graphics card, meaning you have free video outputs for even more screen space if desired.
Panel Technologies – TN, IPS, VA, OLED
When LCD monitors first came out, people did not pay much attention to the type of panel a monitor used. However, as users are becoming more educated on the advantages of certain types of panels, manufacturers are starting to advertise that information.
Twisted Nematic (TN) – The most common type of TFT display, TN provides very fast response times but poor color accuracy and viewing angles. Popular display technology for gaming monitors.
Vertical Alignment (VA) – VA panels are found in higher-grade monitors and tend to have better contrast ratios, viewing angles, and color accuracy compared to TN panels. They typically have slower response times than TN panels.
In-plane Switching (IPS) – IPS displays have even better color accuracy and viewing angles than VA and TN panels. IPS displays have slower response times than TN screens. There are several display panel types that are similar to IPS, including plane-line switching (PLS) and Super-IPS (S-IPS).
Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) – The latest in visual display technology, OLED displays comprise of thousands of individually-lit pixels for blacker blacks and truer color integrity compared to LED-backlit displays. We’ve seen OLED smartphones and televisions enter the market, but in the wake of Dell canceling its OLED computer monitor plans, we’re still waiting for the first OLED PC display for consumers. Manufacturers apparently are having issues with screen burn and durability.
Video input & output connections
DVI-I – The standard connector for 720p and 1080p content. Not used for resolutions higher than 1920 × 1200 pixels due to bandwidth constraints.
DVI-D – A higher bandwidth version of DVI-I used for screens up to 2560 × 1600 pixels.
HDMI – There are several different version of the HDMI standard but the latest, 2.0, supports up to 4K at 60 Hz.
DisplayPort – A standard newer than the ones above, DisplayPort pushes 32.4 Gb/s. HDMI 2.0 only allows for up to 18 Gb/s. That difference allows DisplayPort to push 4k content at 120 Hz and 5K content at 60 Hz.
VGA – Obsolete; strictly used in a legacy equipment support capacity.
Curved screens improve wide viewing angles
A curved LCD screen improves viewing angles and offers a more immersive experience. You’ll notice the sides of the screen appear clearer due to a reduction in parallax distortion. They tend to be priced 25-33 percent higher than comparable flat screen models.
Adaptive Sync enhancements prevent screen tearing
FreeSync and G-Sync graphics enhancements from AMD and NVIDIA drove the release of new monitors to support the technology. For enthusiasts, adaptive sync technology eliminates screen tearing, which is a visual artifact that occurs when a monitor displays multiple frames at once. The end visual result is that a vertical line running down the screen may appear to be segmented or broken up. Screen tearing occurs when the number of frames sent to the display from the computer doesn’t match the display’s refresh rate. G-SYNC and FreeSync ensure a monitor’s refresh rate matches the frames sent to the display.
Understanding benchmarks on monitor review sites
Monitor benchmarks typically focus on backlight levels, contrast ratio, color gamut, viewing angles, uniformity, pixel response time, and input lag. Methodologies may vary depending on the review site, so it is best to compare monitor benchmarks from the same source.
How do manufacturers measure monitor display size?
Manufacturers describe the display size of computer monitors according to the distance from corner to corner of the screen.
Under 20 inches – Monitors measuring 20-inches diagonal are the budget side of the market, with resolutions maxing out at 1080p. Most screens may be 1600 × 900 or 720p at 19-inches or under. Monitors this size will be sufficient for office work if they are used in a multi-monitor configuration.
21 to 24 inches – This most popular monitor size; 1080-pixel resolution is predominant. Larger 24-inch models have QHD or 4K specifications.
25 to 29 inches – Monitors in this range tend to have QHD or greater resolutions, and are popular among creative professionals. You’ll find many IPS screens represented in this segment for their high degree of color accuracy.
29 to 34 inches – Ultrawide monitors and curved ultrawide monitors benefit work that demands having multiple windows in view.
Desirable monitor specifications for the professions
For office work in a dual-monitor setup: Two identical 23- or 24-inch monitors, 16:9 aspect ratio, full HD 1080-pixel resolution, inputs (DVI, HDMI) that match video outputs on your desktop PC, low-end (60 Hz) refresh rate. Bear in mind that certain business systems and applications have minimum resolutions.
Beyond picture quality, make sure to understand user needs: look for USB inputs for monitor peripherals, built-in speakers, and configurable ergonomic stands that tilt, rotate, and swivel. Flicker-free screens and pulse width modulation (PWM) brightness control features, and low-glare matte finished displays reduce eye strain.
Monitors for editing photo and video
A larger monitor (25- or 27-inch) is recommended for visual production and a higher resolution QHD (2560 x 1440-pixel @ 16:9 aspect ratio) is advantageous. IPS panels are highly recommended, and deliver superior color matching compared to less expensive TN monitors. Should be compatible with hardware calibrators like X-rite, Display Pro, and Datacolor Spyder if designers use them.
For healthcare, you should know what constitutes a medical monitor. Doctors use high color accuracy monitors (1 billion+) for medical diagnostics. Not every monitor in a medical facility needs to medical grade; standard office monitors suffice in a non-diagnostic capacity.
Computer monitors and total cost of ownership
Eco-friendly or green features usually means the monitor has an automatic power saving mode setting. A company will realize real energy savings in large deployments; on a grander scale we’ve started to see a measurable carbon footprint reduction.
- NEC MultiSync EX241UN-BK – 18 watts; 14 watts in ECO-1; 12 watts ECO-2
- Dell UltraSharp U2417H – 18 watts, no power-saving mode
Remote management over monitor settings: NEC ControlSync Allows remote management of up to 25 NEC EX Series monitors. A ControlSync cable is required:
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- What Does Medical Grade Mean for Computer Monitors?
The computer monitor buying guide is updated annually. Most recently, January 4, 2019.