Perhaps you’re in the process of picking out a desktop or notebook PC, or already have a laptop computer but aren’t exactly satisfied with the amount of screen real-estate it provides—either way, it’s time to get the 411 on the expansive world of computer monitors so you can find out what product(s) will fit your exact needs.
Prices and availability of products discussed were accurate at time of publication, but are subject to change.
The Evolution of Computer Monitors
Formerly known as video display units (VDUs), the earliest monitors first implemented lights for computer engineers to be able to monitor the power state of their components and know whether their devices were working properly or not. As technology has advanced, computer monitors have come a long way in relation to what they can display and how they go about doing so.
To put it simply, the monitor you need to purchase is reliant on what you will mainly be using your computer for, and this can be broken down into three overarching categories: general/business use, professional visuals, and gaming. Not every monitor is created equal, as certain physical features and integrated technologies on a certain product may provide the best results for running gaming applications as opposed to office tools or professional graphic-design/video-editing programs.
It needs to be noted that monitors have their own vocabulary and jargon that you need to understand in order to make an informed purchase. Fortunately, Dataworld Insider has a comprehensive guide for monitor terms you need to know before diving in.
Types of Monitors
On the surface, screen size may seem to be the only difference between monitors besides brand. Before we get into everything that’s going on behind each display and what your PC may need in order to get the right results, it’s best to introduce the types of monitors as well as the various shapes and sizes they come in.
General Use & Business
General-use monitors can be found at home or work offices and are mostly used to run Microsoft Office applications, web browsers, or computer programs that don’t need heavy graphics processing. Because of this, you’ll usually be able to tell which monitors are for general use based on their fairly low price tag. Because these products support frugal budgets, your PC won’t need any high-end specs or up-to-date upgrades to properly utilize these standard monitors.
Professional (Graphic Design, Photo & Video)
If you’re a digital artist, content creator or just looking to get started in the field of visual entertainment, getting acquainted with what a professional design/editing monitor can offer you is a must. Whether you’re designing something that will be displayed through print or on a website, getting the right color (and thus creative ambiance) can easily be taken for granted.
If you decide to cut costs and go for a lower-end monitor the color(s) you may have had in mind when finishing up a project could turn up quite differently on other screens. Of course, you’ll need to already have a machine that can run programs like Adobe Photoshop or Apple’s Final Cut Pro.
Just like a good chunk of the video games they display, gaming monitors need to be fast. “Fast” in monitor terms refers to each display’s refresh rate and response time. Refresh rates currently run up to 240Hz, which means that your game’s imagery will be displayed at a range of 240 frames per second (that’s buttery smooth!). Display response times can be crucial in determining whether a monitor’s refresh rate looks good since they are a measurement of how quickly colors can be shifted; currently the fastest response time on a monitor is 1 millisecond (ms).
As will be covered in its own section below, gaming monitors may also include “adaptive syncing” technology that virtually eliminates tearing and stuttering by having the monitor match the refresh-rate of frames being pushed out by your graphics card.
Like their name implies, ultrawide monitors stretch out left and right to provide you with more screen space that can simulate the productive efficiency of using two or monitors at the same time. Great for displaying multiple applications at once, ultrawide monitors can be a professional’s business display of choice.
Screen size (diagonal measurement) and aspect ratio (width by height) are essential to understanding the unique resolutions you get with ultrawide-display monitors—and we’ll be covering more of that along with the features that absolutely need to be considered when you’re in the market for a new monitor.
Fairly new to the consumer market, the curved-screen craze that started around 2014 with Samsung and LG TVs has made its way to computer monitors. Just like ultrawide monitors, curved monitor displays have extended left-and-right width that curves in towards the viewer. Since its inception, the main purpose of this feature has been to provide more immersion. Ultimately, these monitors can present a higher sense of depth that traditional flat-panel displays cannot.
In a nutshell, high dynamic-range (HDR) content uses the latest color-range technology to simulate true-to-life colors on screen. First used within the field of photography, HDR tech revolves around improving contrast quality, producing darker blacks and purer whites. HDR monitors work great with both professional visual and high-quality gaming applications. Of course, your specs should be up to par and meet the latest minimum requirements for these applications—and to get truly high-speed gaming, you should try to find an HDR monitor with a low response time.
It’s 2019 and the majority of screens you see out in the wild come with touch functionality – but these functions remain relatively rare in the monitor world. Generally, all monitors come with integrated, physical-hardware controls to adjust screen and picture settings. Some touchscreen monitors step it up by providing you with an on-screen, touchable overlay. Most importantly, touchscreen monitors are commonly used for compatible educational and commercial applications. Whether it’s an interactive learning app to help 4th grade students or a POS (point-of-sale) device at a sports stadium’s concession stand, touchscreen monitors may require specific hardware and software to properly work.
Features to Consider
On the surface, PC displays are just screens that present various images—but clearly there’s way more here to consider than meets the eye. Now it’s time to go inside the monitor to see how a computer’s display hardware works.
LCD vs. LED
The differences between LCD and LED technology are huge factors in determining what works for your end-goal and budget, and they’re the most common acronyms you’ll come across on computer monitor product pages.
Liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology was first on the scene for TVs but didn’t come to computer monitors until the mid-90s. The name comes from the fact that these displays have screens that consist of two pieces of glass that house liquid in between them. From there, the screen is divided into thousands upon thousands (sometimes millions) of rows and columns, better known as pixels (a term coined in the 1960s to abbreviate “picture element”).
Now, the hardware parts that push out the picture you see on your LCD-monitor screen are known as cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs). These lamps give your LCD monitor a lifespan of about 30,000 hours. Because the technology is older, these products are usually thicker and heavier. Few of them support resolutions above Full HD (1920×1080, width by height), and the color-contrast range may also be limited at times. If you’re concerned about your environmental footprint, the mercury pollution that these monitors may emit is something you will need to properly address at the end of the product’s lifecycle.
On the plus side, LCD displays come at a lower price point and do not suffer from burn-in, a negative effect that occurs if you leave your screen on and the last image displayed remains lightly on the screen—even when it’s turned off.
Technically, LED displays are also LCD monitors since they have the same liquid between their two-piece glass screens. The difference lies within the hardware that’s used to shoot out the image. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are used in place of a LCD display’s fluorescent lamps. Because of this, LED monitors are brighter and consume less power than LCD screens, ultimately boasting a lifespan of about 50,000 hours.
The technology for light-emitting diodes first came about in the early 1960s and were initially only able to produce red color. Of course the color capability of these diodes has evolved, but the efficiency and high level of performance has been consistent. On paper, LED monitors come at a higher price point because of their impressive color contrast and picture quality. If you’re looking for a screen to game on, you’ll have to go LED for the noticeably faster response time compared to LCD displays.
LED technology also makes the majority of these products thinner and lighter for quick and easy portability and installation. The one thing you’ll also have to look out for is that LED monitors have a higher risk of burn-in, so make sure to have a screensaver or turn them off when not in use.
Now that we’ve got an understanding of liquid-crystal displays and the two types of backlighting tech behind them, it’s time to get into the different panel types that LCD monitor screens have and how they relate to your computing needs. Just because certain panel types cost more than others does not mean that more expensive is generally better. It all comes down to which panel type’s features can best serve the tasks of general use, gaming, or professional video/image-editing applications, which will in term depend on color-reproduction technology, viewing angles, response times, and refresh rates.
If you’re a hardcore PC gamer, then twisted-nematic (TN) panels may be your first screen of choice. TN-panel computer monitors boast the highest refresh rates and fastest response times. Being one of the oldest display technologies, TN panels produce picture by utilizing translucent nematic liquid crystals within glass plates, a color filter and two lined filters (one vertical, the other horizontal). Due to the polarizing effect that occurs within TN panels, these types of monitors have the poorest color presentation and viewing angles. On the other hand, these displays are the most-affordable monitors, making them perfect for gamers who have already shelled out a lot of cash for their gaming battlestation.
Again, TN panels should be your panel of choice if you’re looking to get the highest performance from your gaming PC. As of writing, TN panels are the only types of monitors that can support a refresh rate of 240Hz, which means if your system and graphics card can generate and push out 240fps, the monitor in turn will match and refresh 240 frames per second, creating the fastest and smoothest visual gaming experience on the market.
in-plane switching (IPS) Monitors
Compared to TN panels, in-plane switching (IPS) panels house and emit the best viewing angles and most accurate colors. IPS panels were specifically designed to make up for the limitations of traditional TN panels. Perfect for graphic-design artists or cinematographers, IPS computer monitors have their inner crystal liquids adjust their alignment on a single plane (hence the name) to show accurate, true-to-life colors from any viewing angle.
Unfortunately nothing is truly perfect, as most entry-level IPS monitors do not have the same quick response times and refresh rates that TN-panel PC monitors have. Also, because of their high image-color quality and superior viewing experience, IPS monitors generally come at a higher price point than TN panels. Nevertheless, with the right adaptive-syncing technology (see G-SYNC and AMD FreeSync below) and computer specs, an IPS monitor could potentially be the best solution for great-looking, high-performance gaming.
vertical-alignment (VA) monitor
Coming about in the 90s, vertical-alignment (VA) panels have their liquid crystal cells rest in a vertical position when the display is not in use—once voltage is applied to the display, the crystals shift to a horizontal orientation to let light, and ultimately your picture, through. Similar to IPS panels, VA computer monitors were made to provide an alternative option to the forerunner TN-panel monitors.
With decent refresh rates (not quite TN-level in most instances), VA monitors have better color contrast and image depth with their more versatile pixels. Having a higher bit depth means more colors can be used on each pixel. Though VA monitors have better viewing angles than TN panels (generally not as much as IPS), their slow response times make them better as a general-use device for home streaming or office-work applications.
OLED on the Horizon
Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, which is found on many recent televisions and smartphones, is currently in the works for computer monitors. OLED screen technology consists of carbon-based materials that emit light when powered with electricity. Overall, OLED displays do not require a backlight or filters to produce their colors and moving images. They are also great for manufacturers because they are easy to make and are physically light for easy exporting and delivery.
The main attraction of OLED monitors will be that each of the display’s pixels will have their own light source to ultimately produce blacker blacks and truer colors across the board. 2019 may be the year we hear more about this tech for computer monitors, so make sure you check back here for any updates.
Screen Size, Aspect Ratio & Resolution
When searching for your next monitor, screen size will most likely be the first thing you look at. Like any consumer electronic display, screen size is measured diagonally from either bottom corner to its opposite top corner, or vice versa. Currently the screen sizes on NDt range up to 80”, but the average range that should be in your buying sights is between 19” and 43”. Along with the varying degrees of panel and backlighting technology mentioned in the previous sections, a monitor’s screen size and total cost generally rise simultaneously.
Now’s a great time to introduce monitor screen aspect ratios and how they relate to screen resolutions. By definition, aspect ratio is a display screen’s width in relation to the screen’s height. For example, some of the first television sets sold were near-square screens with a slightly larger width than height, making a 4:3 aspect ratio. Now, computer-screen resolutions (though absolutely similar to aspect ratio) are measured and portrayed in width by height pixels.
In 1987, the world was first introduced to monitors that housed 4:3 screens with a 640×480 resolution. As of writing, most computer monitors use widescreen ratios and Full HD resolutions, with the most popular being 16:9 at 1920×1080 pixels. By doubling up the width + height dimensions within an aspect ratio, you can get sharper resolutions (clearer visuals) due to more pixels being packed into the same aspect ratio. Of course, these aspect ratios and resolutions have also evolved due to more variations, such as curved displays and UltraWide monitors.
Aspect Ratios & Common Relative Resolutions
4:3 = 640×480, 1440×1080, 1920×1440 and 2048×1536
16:9 = 1280×720 (720p), 1920×1080 (1080p), 2560×1440 (2K), 3840×2160 (4K), 5120×2889 (5K) and 7680×4320 (8K)
21:9 = 2560×1080, 3440×1440 and 5120×2160
32:9 = 3840×1080 and 5120×1440
If you’re looking to game and get the best performance (graphics card output of frames per second & a monitor’s refresh rate) it needs to be noted that higher resolutions will require more graphics-processing power. Though 4K gaming is not impossible you’ll most likely need a system that runs and implements the power of two graphics cards to one display. If you’re on a budget or want the smoothest gaming experience, it’s best to stick to a resolution of 1920×1080 (maybe 2560×1440, depending on the capabilities of your PC’s components).
The most important ports on your monitor are the video-connection slots. In order to get any image content on your future display, you’ll need a video cable to plug from your desktop or laptop to your monitor. To date, the most common types of video-cable connectors are: DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and VGA.
DisplayPort connectors are one of today’s best options for connecting your desktop or notebook PC to a computer monitor. The latest version, DisplayPort 1.4, has the highly impressive ability to support 4K (3840×2160) gaming at a 120Hz refresh rate with compatible AMD or NVIDIA graphics-card setups. DisplayPort cables are also able to carry audio over for the majority of desktop and laptop PCs, to monitors with a built-in sound system.
High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cables
The standard for connecting devices to high-definition TVs, High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cables also work well in connecting your computer to your monitor. As of writing, the latest standard of HDMI 2.0 will give you a maximum 4K picture at a 60Hz refresh rate with the right components and display. Of course, HDMI is also able to carry over the audio signal from your computer to monitors with built-in speakers.
Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connectors
Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connectors are starting to become legacy tech, but on paper have the same video-output capabilities as the first-generation of HDMI. You’ll need a separate audio cable (or HDMI adapter to the end that goes to your monitor) to get audio from your PC, but DVI can support up to 1920×1080 resolutions at a max refresh rate of 144Hz with the right components and display monitor.
Video Graphics Array (VGA) cables
Being the only analog video connector of the four main types (the rest are digital), Video Graphics Array (VGA) cables are now considered legacy technology. In this day and age, you’ll really only need to use this port if you’re stuck with or need to access older display devices.
Screen tearing has been an ultimate annoyance for gamers for quite some time. Screen tearing occurs when the frames-per-second (FPS) being pushed out by your graphics card does not match the refresh rate (frames being presented and refreshed within a second) of the display. The ugly lines that tear your image are basically the result of frames trying to catch up with another.
For some years now, games have implemented a selectable vertical-sync (V-Sync) feature that adjusts FPS and refresh rate but with the downside of increased input lag and FPS-performance dips. More recently though, the fine folks over at NVIDIA and AMD have developed a monitor-feature now known as “adaptive refresh technology” that properly addresses this age-old issue.
Both syncing technologies look to provide the smoothest gameplay, lowest input lag, and optimally-matched FPS + refresh rates. NVIDIA’s adaptive-sync monitor technology is known as G-SYNC and works by implementing a chip onto the monitor that adapts the monitor’s refresh rate to match the FPS being output by your computer’s graphics technology. AMD FreeSync monitors use the Adaptive Sync standard, first introduced with DisplayPort 1.2a, which utilizes the same function of having the monitor’s refresh rate change to match different output frame rates. So to use properly use FreeSync you’ll need to use a DisplayPort cable that is at least at the 1.2a standard.
Remember, in order to benefit from these technologies you need to make sure the monitor you’re looking to purchase actually has support for either technologies and you have the matching, as well as compatible, GPU (graphics processing unit) from AMD (FreeSync) or NVIDIA (G-SYNC).
To Stand or Mount…
Along with plenty of monitor accessories to choose from, one of the main things that needs to be addressed is how and where you’ll be viewing your monitor. Classically, monitors have been left connected to their included stands and placed on desks. This will usually work in the majority of scenarios, but not all spaces are exactly the same. Unless it’s a really old model, today’s monitors come with VESA-mounting capabilities. This opens up the door to clearing desk space and creating unique computing stations.
Whether you stand or mount, the most important thing to remember is to ensure you have the right viewing posture. The image below shows the optimal positioning for looking at a monitor while sitting or standing.
As you’re working on setting up your monitor, pay attention to how you’re angling your neck. Monitor stands are highly adjustable but if you run out of space, find something sturdy (and trustworthy) to place your monitor on for increased height. Mounting gives you a bit more versatility with height and angles—just make sure you’re perfectly comfortable while mapping out your measurements.
Lots of monitors come with built-in speakers, and you’d be surprised by the power, quality, and accuracy of sound these built-in devices are able to provide. If your monitor doesn’t come with built-in speakers, the only options left are the ports that are on the device. HDMI, USB and an audio-out jack can give you the option to connect to compatible speakers or headphones. Ultimately, if your monitor does not come with any options for playing audio, you’ll have to go through your computer or laptop’s audio-compatible ports.
Picture Settings & Viewing Modes
Like TVs, monitors come with on-board settings for common picture adjustments such as brightness and color contrast. In addition to these video settings, some monitors also come with preset viewing modes. For example, activating a “Reader Mode” can make the screen simulate the visual aspect of reading words on paper. Similar to Reader Mode, eye-care technology such as blue-light filters reduce the strain on your eyes, allowing you to spend more time computing.
If keeping your carbon footprint low is important to you, stay on the lookout for eco-friendly badges on certain monitors. From adding power-saving features to using organic and recyclable materials, many manufacturers share your goal of keeping our Earth cleaner for a brighter future.
Choose the Monitor That’s Right for You
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn in the ever-changing world of monitors. Hopefully the information you’ve gained here will help you visualize how you want your final setup to function. Of course, it is recommended that you check any available reviews and specifications before making your final purchase—and as with anything found on dataowrld Insider, make sure you check back here for the latest updates.
Besides all that, if you need a little push to get started, you can start your search by checking out the consumer, business, and gaming monitors Dataworld has to offer.