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Computer Monitor Buying Guide 2016

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A new computer monitor is one the best productivity-boosting and stress-reducing upgrades, considering how much time you may be spending in front of a screen. In this monitor buying guide, we discuss the important specifications and latest display trends so you know which monitor best fits your needs.

Important Specifications

Resolution

A computer monitor’s resolution is a measurement of its display area in pixels, given in length × width. These resolutions will often be referred to in shorthand, such as 1080p, 1440p, or 4K. The majority of computer displays have 1080p resolutions, but 4K seems to be gaining 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

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.

Generally, you will want to pay more attention to the static contrast ratio. This is because manufacturers may have different testing methodologies for active / dynamic contrast ratio and using it as a comparison metric may yield inconsistent results.

Response Time

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

The refresh rate is 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 movements and actions appear on screen.

Viewing Angles

A monitor’s viewing angles 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.

Stand Adjustment

Professional-grade monitors tend to have more monitor stand adjustments than consumer variants. These additional adjustments include height, tilt, swivel, and pivot. Expect to pay a premium for that level of ergonomic customizability however.

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Panel Technologies

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.
  • 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. Like the former though, 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).
  • OLED – So far, only Dell has announced a consumer OLED monitor for 2016—but that could change in time. Professional-grade OLED monitors are available from a handful of other companies, but they are primarily reserved for visual production work.

Video Inputs

The number and configuration of video inputs for monitors depends heavily on their resolution. The most common input types you’ll see include:

  • DVI-I – The standard connector for 720p and 1080p content. Not used for resolutions higher than 1920 × 1200 due to bandwidth constraints.
  • DVI-D – A higher bandwidth version of DVI-I, DVI-D is used for screens up to 2560 × 1600.
  • 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 – Don’t use this one. Just don’t.

New Developments for 2016

Curved Screens

Lately, there has been an influx of curved displays. They offer better viewing angles and a more immersive experience. However, they also have a bigger price tag and those benefits tend to be very niche.

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Ultrawide Screens

Most widescreen TVs and monitors have a 16:9 aspect ratio but in recent years, manufacturers have begun to ramp up the number 21:9 monitors for enthusiasts and creative professionals alike. The advantage of 21:9 is that you have more screen real estate for tiling two windows side by side. With a traditional 16:9 monitor, tiling two windows side by side makes them too narrow. With a 21:9 display, tiling two windows side by side works just fine.

21:9 displays have unique resolutions and terms 1080p and 4K don’t apply to them. Instead of 1920 × 1080 2560 × 1440, you get 2560 × 1080 and 3440 × 1440 respectively.

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Adaptive Sync

FreeSync and G-Sync graphics enhancements from AMD and NVIDIA drove the release of new monitors to support the technology. The feature, called adaptive sync, eliminates screen tearing. 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.

 

Benchmarks

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.

Screen Size

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

Possibly the largest segment, monitors in this range will probably have 1080p resolutions while larger 24-inch models may be 1440p or even 4K.

25 to 29 Inches

Monitors in this range tend to have 1440p or greater resolutions and mainly used by creative professionals. You’ll find many IPS screens represented in this segment as designers and artists need a high degree of color accuracy.

Over 30 Inches

At over 30 inches diagonal, you’re looking at ultrawide monitors and 1440p or 4K resolutions. In any case, these monitors are mainly used by creative professionals and a few enthusiasts.

Conclusion

By knowing what to look for when buying a computer monitor, you can get exactly what you need without overpaying for extra features that you don’t.  This computer buying guide has you covered for the latest developments in 2016.

Summary
Computer Monitor Buying Guide - HardBoiled
Article Name
Computer Monitor Buying Guide - HardBoiled
Description
Our computer monitor buying guide will help you choose a the right computer LCD monitor for your needs, keeping new technologies in mind.
Author
Wallace Chu

Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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