Choosing the Best Computer Monitor

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Introduction

It’s worth spending a little research time when choosing the best computer monitor for your PC.

Interacting with your PC is a mainly visual experience and you should therefore be looking to select the best flat screen computer monitor that you can afford – don’t scrimp on a cheap and nasty computer display just to save a few dollars, you’ll be sure to regret it.

Flat Screen Monitor

You will undoubtedly be using your monitor to view photos, video clips whilst surfing the web and maybe movies via your DVD or Blu-ray player so you’ll want to be sure to select the best display you can afford and make it a pleasant experience for your eyes.

Virtually all monitors available now are of the TFT (Thin Film Transistor) LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) type with the vast majority now in widescreen format.

The addition of TFT ‘active matrix’ technology to the original passive LCD matrix has taken the flat screen computer monitor to the forefront of monitor design with exceptional response times that will please film buffs and gamers alike.

If you are on a tight budget you can get a great bargain by looking for last years model which will probably still have impressive specs just not this year’s latest styling!

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Screen size and format

Ok, so the first thing you need to decide upon is size.

Screen size is measured diagonally across the screen from one corner to the other.

Typical sizes range from 19 inches through to 24 inches for the most common models but you can also obtain some very small and quite gargantuan models if your needs differ from the mainstream.

With the advent of widescreen movies the move towards widescreen LCD monitors has followed and the majority of monitors available today are of the widescreen format in 16:10 or 16:9 aspect ratios but you can still obtain 4:3 aspect ratio monitors if you should prefer this format.

A nice benefit of the widescreen LCD monitor format is the ability to view multiple applications side by side at the same time – maybe to compare documents or view multiple web pages simultaneously to compare prices etc.

Hey, with Microsoft Windows it’s a snap to hook up a pair of monitors side by side and run multiple applications on different screens!

Ok, let’s take a look at some of the specifications you should be checking out when choosing the best computer monitor for your system.

Do remember though, there’s really nothing like having an ‘up close and personal’ look at your chosen monitor to really make an informed decision – well, you wouldn’t choose a car without taking a look and a test drive now would you!

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Size

As we’ve already mentioned there are many screen sizes on offer today but the standard tends to lie in the 19 inch to 24 inch range. Most people will be happy enough with a 19 inch monitor but for a great gaming / multimedia experience you will probably want to look at the 22 to 24 inch models on offer and immerse yourself in a truly impressive visual experience – you sure won’t regret it!

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Resolution

Your LCD computer monitor screen is made up of row upon row and column upon column of tiny pixels in a matrix arrangement.

The more pixels packed into that matrix the higher the resolution of the screen due to the shear quantity of pixels.

The amount and configuration of these pixels sets the monitors ‘native resolution’.

Now, for a 22 inch widescreen monitor say you may get a resolution of say 1920 x 1080 pixels – this will be the displays native resolution. You may however wish to set this to a lower resolution for various reasons during use and this will usually mean that you end up with a less than perfect picture as the setting; say for instance 800 x 600 is not an equal division of the ‘native’ 1920 x 1080 resolution giving a very slightly blurred image.

An important point here about resolution – if you are intending upon watching High definition HD formats such as Blu-ray then you will want to make certain that you cover the required 1080 vertical resolution otherwise you will be losing lines of your screen and result in a distorted maximized image.

Also choose a monitor with a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than 16:10 as otherwise you will incur a stretching of the image in order to fill the whole screen.

A good quality 22 inch HD screen will offer optimal picture aspect ratio for a small premium with sharp image quality but some users may find that text becomes difficult to read due to the high resolution of the screen and correspondingly small text size.

Consider choosing a larger 24 inch screen with 1920 x 1200 screen size albeit the slight vertical oversize producing a thin band at the top and bottom when watching HD movies.

Generally, if you want HD then you should be looking at a widescreen monitor of 22 inches and above.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Contrast Ratio

This indicates the relative difference between pixels displaying the brightest white color to the darkest black.

Typically today you may see figures of 2000: and greater!

In theory the higher the contrast ratio the better but be aware of differing methods used by the manufacturers when testing their displays!

You may also see figures for dynamic contrast ratio, this is the figure given for the variance of brightness across the screen due to the effect of the screen backlighting which can be varied up and down to allow darker images to appear darker and lighter images to appear brightened.

Note that with a CCFL type backlight this variance of brightness will be across the whole screen but with the newer LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlight technology it will be possible to vary light levels independently across areas of the screen - impressive eh!

This is a pretty subjective figure and the best suggestion here, as we would always recommend when purchasing a new LCD screen, is to actually view your monitor before you buy.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Response Time

Choose a monitor with a response time of less than 5ms and you won’t go far wrong. There are many screens available now with response times of around 2ms which is great for watching fast action movies and games.

The response time refers to the screens ability to switch a pixel between black to white and back again. Some manufacturers measure the response time from gray to gray which will be shorter than the black to white measurement for the same display so be aware of this when comparing LCD monitors.

Slow response times will make your display sluggish to respond and you may see ‘ghosting’ of fast moving objects on your screen due to the time taken for the pixels to react.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Viewing Angle

This is another important parameter to consider when choosing the best computer monitor for your PC.

A screen with a poor viewing angle will display poor color and hues if you move your head away from the center viewing position to the left or right hand side of your screen or indeed if you view your screen above or below the head on position.

Whilst most people will view their screen head on, if you are using multiple monitors or there are a number of you wanting to view the screen at the same time then this can become quite noticeable and annoying.

The type of panel (see later in this article) can have quite an effect on this parameter and you should, as we would always recommend, check out the screen in person before you buy.

Generally the cheaper TN type panels offer less viewing angle than the more expensive IPS and PVA type screens which offer much wider viewing angle coverage with less color change.

A typical viewing angle of say 170 degrees may be quoted which refers to the angle from which you can move to the side of the screen before viewing becomes difficult.

You will notice figures may be given for both vertical and horizontal viewing angles.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Dead Pixels

Your TFT LCD screen is made up from a vast array of tiny pixels and the manufacturing process, although improving all the time, does not always produce a perfect matrix.

Because it is difficult to ensure that the production of the TFT matrix is perfect the manufacturers have a policy which dictates that a certain amount of ‘dead’ or ‘stuck’ pixels are acceptable in the manufacture of the screen.

In fact there is an internationally accepted standard ‘ISO 13406-2’ which specifies exactly how many of these defective pixels are allowed for different screen sizes and over the area of the screen.

‘Dead’ or ‘stuck’ pixels used to be quite a common problem with TFT LCD monitors but the manufacturing process is improving all the time and its much less likely today that you will experience this problem.

‘Dead’ pixels will appear as dark spots on your screen and ‘stuck’ pixels can show up as red, blue, green or even ‘stuck’ at a certain brightness level thereby appearing brighter or duller than adjacent pixels.

Different manufacturers and retailers have differing policies regarding this aspect and you should check this out carefully before purchasing.

Some online stores offer a ‘dead pixel’ checking service whereby they will guarantee a defective pixel free screen for a small extra fee. A note of caution here for those who don’t wish to pay for this service – one wonders what happens to the ones that do have defects?

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Interfaces

Older graphics cards may only have a VGA (Video Graphics Adapter) type output interface but the more up to date models will have DVI, HDMI or a combination of types and you will need to ensure that the monitor you purchase has the correct signal interface for use with your graphics card.

VGA Interface

This interface type dates back to the days of the old bulky CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) type monitors which required an analog signal to drive them.

A VGA type graphics card will take the digital signal produced by the graphic card processor and convert it to an analog type signal which is then output through the VGA socket.

When your modern day LCD computer monitor receives this signal it immediately converts it back into a digital format again to use with your digitally driven LCD monitor! This process will unfortunately degrade your signal quality a little and should be avoided if possible by using a graphics card and monitor with a DVI type connection for the best performance and quality of signal.

DVI Interface

DVI (Digital Video Interface) as its name suggests is a purely digital signal and, if your monitor is equipped with a DVI input, you should use this in preference to the VGA type interface discussed earlier.

The continuance of the digital signal through to the monitor will provide a much sharper and clearer picture with no shimmering pixels which may occur with the use of the VGA type interface.

HDMI Interface

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is a digital type interface available on some of the latest graphics cards.

Quality wise there is not really a noticeable difference over the DVI type but the HDMI type also carries and audio signal as well as required by the latest Blu-ray high definition formats.

This feature on your monitor may be important to you if you intend hooking up your computer to a games console.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Panel Types

For those of you interested in the technical side of things note that there are three main types of TFT panel available on the market today.

This feature is rarely specified by the manufacturer but is quite important in terms of quality and features.

Most screens available today are based upon the TN type of panel which is inexpensive to produce but correspondingly does not offer such a high quality of color display although most people will be hard pressed to notice this – generally this is of more importance to professional photographers and graphics designers.

Also, the viewing angles of this type of screen tend to be less than the other types available.

Where the TN types do excel though is in their response time which will please the gamers amongst you!

IPS panel types have better color definition and vastly improved viewing angles and quality of display although generally at a price premium.

Older versions do pale in comparison to the TN types as regards response times but the latest models offer ‘ghost’ free images that would keep even a gamer happy!

The last main type of panel available, the PVA type, slots somewhere between the TN type and IPS types as regards quality and cost of display. They have rapid response times, excellent color reproduction and wide viewing angles and are used in a lot of the more ‘up-market’ models.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Backlighting

Up until recently LCD monitor screens were backlit using a CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp).

The CCFL, although performing a perfectly adequate job, takes a little longer to stabilize and contains mercury which poses problems for recycling and the environment.

The new kid on the block is the LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlight which consumes less power than the older CCFL technology, stabilizes quickly and is less problematic to recycle.

This new technology will soon catch on and become more widely used due to these benefits.

Choosing the Best Computer Monitor – Brightness

LCD monitors are backlit by a light source from the back of the monitor and with the CCFL type backlight this brightness can vary across the screen due to the positioning of the CCFL within the back of the monitor.

Most modern LCD displays are extremely well designed to avoid any noticeable difference.

Brightness is usually specified in candelas per square meter such as 300cd/meter squared.

Once again the figures given for brightness of the screen vary greatly dependant upon how the manufacturer of the display performs the testing.

Best advice, go view the monitor of your choice in person or search Google for user reviews for the monitor in question.

We hope you have found this article has given you all the information you need in choosing the best computer monitor for your system from the vast range of LCD monitors on sale today – if you should have any suggestions or additions etc please use the ‘Contact Us’ page to inform us and we will do our best to incorporate these.

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