Image of two LCD monitor displays on a table - how to choose a computer monitor

9 tips on how to choose a computer monitor

Since our interaction with computers is mainly through the display, it follows that knowing how to choose a computer monitor that’s right for your is a skill worth learning. It will likely save you money in the present as well as keep disappointments at bay in the future.

So just before you throw your old dump out of the window, you might want to read this article.


Tips on how to choose a computer monitor

1. Bigger is always better.

As much as it is in your power, go for a larger display. This will give you more space on your desktop which will, in turn, allow you to keep more windows and tabs open. Go for anything above 21 Inches. However, in laptops, portability is a factor to be considered. 13 Inches is, in this case, a comfortable size.

2. Pick the highest resolution display you can afford.

The pixel density in your display determines the detail in which your see images and ranges between 1920 x 1080 and 3840 x 2160 pixel in most displays. 1920 x 1080 pixel is perfect for 13 Inch laptop display and isn’t so bad for a 15 Inch display. For anything above this, go for higher resolution. If you plan to do more of reading than multimedia creation or consumption, a resolution of 1920 x 1080 is still a great choice. This is because higher resolution displays often require font scaling to make texts more legible, unlike 1080p resolution displays. Other than this scenario, it makes sense to go for a higher resolution display that will serve you for a longer time before you need to upgrade to a new one.

3. Choose your monitor panel type carefully.

There are three types of LCD panel types: TN, IPS and VA. Your choice of a panel is what will determine response time you get form your display, as well as the viewing angle. If you’re into competitive gaming or need a cost-friendly display, you may best go with a TN panel because of its fast response time. IPS panels are great when it comes to color accuracy, wide viewing angles and clarity, excellent when you’re into photo or video editing. They however often have a slower response time. VA panels lie between the two and are far less common.

4. Choose a monitor with a response time of less than 8ms.

Response time is the time it takes for a pixel to change from one color to another. A display with a slow response time will often result in motion blur in fast moving objects. For gaming monitors, a response time of 5ms or less is preferable, while 8ms being quite sufficient for other uses such as watching movies and photo editing.

5. Be mindful of viewing angles.

IPS panel displays are well known to offer great viewing angles. VA follow closely behind and TN panel display trail, at last, the poorest viewing angles. If you’re a general computer user who often just works seated directly in front of your computer screen, then this actor may prove a non-issue to you. However, if you expect to use your monitor more like a TV (ie. For multi-media consumption) and may not always be seated directly in front of the display, an IPS or VA panel display may be more appropriate.

6. Go for a bright monitor.

Most monitors have a brightness ranging between 200 – 300 candela per square meter (cd/m2). However, a display with 180 cd/m2 is just fine unless you plan on using your computer in a very bright environment.

7. Choose a monitor with the right selection of ports.

Best choose a monitor with a DisplayPort and a HDMI port. VGA or DVI ports are older port systems that are slowly fading finding their way out of the computing stage. Their presence is a bonus though. You will notice that most monitors come with a HDMI port, VGA port and DVi port. This isn’t at all bad. However, if you get one with two HDMI ports or two DisplayPorts, the better.

We’ve done a very comprehensive article on ports and connectors. Have a look at it here.

8. Consider static contrast ratio over dynamic contrast ratio.

The contrast ratio is expressed as the difference between the darkest blacks and the brightest whites that a screen can display. Images on a display with poor contrast ratios will often appear washed out. A far more accurate and informative figure in determining the contrast ratio is static contrast ratio rather than dynamic contrast ratio. A display with a static contrast ratio of 1000:1 is sufficient for video/ photo editing or any other use.

9. Choose wisely between a glossy and matte/ anti-glare finish for your display.

The type of finish the display has depends on the purpose it is intended to serve. Displays with glossy finishes tend to find better application in multimedia devices rather than those used for intense reading. For reading purposes, displays with an anti-glare coating (otherwise referred to as a matte finish) are more often used. The former offers better image quality and brightness while the latter makes it easier on the eyes especially when working over long hours in front of a computer screen.

Apple displays - how to choose a computer display
Image of an Apple monitor and an Apple laptop

Here is more information on the different types of panels

Types of display panels

There are three main types of display panels: TN (Twisted Nematic), VA (vertical alignment) and IPS (In-plane switching). The choice of a display panel depends mainly on the type of work you indent to use your computer for.

  • Twisted Nematic LCD panels

The most common type of panels is the TN panel, and that’s because it is the cheapest. If offers the slowest viewing angles and poorest color accuracy than the other two. The upside to this panel type is that it offers the fastest refresh rates of up to 120 Hz or even 144Hz on premium gaming monitors. That allows them to be 3D vision certified for stereo 3D gaming. For basic users who do not require precise color accuracy, this makes an excellent display panel and should be both affordable and sufficiently functional to meet all their needs.

  • Vertical Alignment panels

PVA and MVA panels are quite similar. They’re significantly better than TN both in terms of their color reproduction and viewing angles. They are generally better than TN panels but don’t quite scale the heights of IPS panels in terms of viewing angle and color reproduction. They are not as common as IPS or TN panels in consumer circle, and you may go a long way in your search before finding a single computer with such a display panel. You’ll probably find one in a Samsung laptop or all-in-one.

  • In-plane Switching panels

The king of the hill in this category are IPS panels. They offer the best color reproduction and viewing angles and are the best choice for enthusiasts and professionals graphics designers. Gamers, however, do not find them very appealing because they tend to have higher input lag and slower response time than TN panels thus resulting in ghosting and motion blur. The good news is that they are catching up fast, and soon will be just as good for competitive gaming. As a matter of fact, there are a few monitors in the market now that perform just as well as TN based monitors. Take for instance ASUS PG279Q (IPS) vs Asus PG278Q (TN). Watch this video to see how they compete against each other.

IPS panels may at times suffer from backlight bleeding at the edges of the screen, especially noticeable in dark frames. They are also the most expensive.

Less commonly, but similar to IPS panels are PLS (Plane-line-switching) panels. They are not very common but are quite good nonetheless. They tend to be brighter than IPS and have even better viewing angles – though don’t expect to find them commonly in laptops and desktop monitors.

In conclusion…

So the next time you’re out shopping for a laptop or even a desktop monitor, keep in mind the tips we’ve shared and you’ll find yourself a monitor that you’ll be proud of for a long time to come.

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Edwin M

Professionally a Mechanical Engineer and a Tech Nerd at heart, Edwin is above all a passionate hobby guitar player and proud gospel music listener. He writes reviews of gadgets he would love to buy and recommend.