Choosing a... Monitor

8/4/2012 11:41:53 AM

New budget IPS panels have arrived, bringing rich colors and deep contrast to the mainstream. These 18 models start at just $124 and go right up to 27in 30 monoliths

Picking the right monitor isn't simply a matter of deciding how much money you want to spend. At any given price you’ll find a huge range of displays, from large, basic models with mediocre image quality to smaller models with more inputs and a stunning image. Here, we'll explain everything you need to know about choosing a display.

Liquid magic

Description: The various technologies include twisted nematic (TN)

The various technologies include twisted Nematic (TN)

There are three different types of LCD panel available. Twisted Nematic (TN) panels are the most common type of LCD panel. With TN panels, the liquid crystals in each pixel twist when a voltage is applied, blocking different amounts of light to produce the desired color. In Vertical Alignment (VA) panels, the crystals are arranged perpendicular to the screen, resulting in wide viewing angles and better contrast. Finally, in In-Plane Switching (IPS) panels, the crystals are arranged parallel to the screen, which prevents light within the panel scattering producing better viewing angles and color reproduction.

Sizing up

Description: Customer Reviews for Dell 23" Full HD Widescreen Monitor 1920x1080 full HD resolution

Customer Reviews for Dell 23" Full HD Widescreen Monitor 1920x1080 full HD resolution

Every monitor we've reviewed this month has a Full HD resolution of 1920x1080 at the very least, and anything less is simply not worth buying. A Full HD resolution provides plenty of desktop space, so you can easily work on spreadsheets or place two documents side by side. For even more space, consider a monitor with the higher resolution of 2560x1440.

Full HD has other benefits, too. It’s the maximum resolution that Blu-ray discs support, which means you can enjoy high-definition movies on your PC. Many modern graphics cards can render the high resolution of 1920x1080 in BD, too, so if you want to play games at the highest detail settings you need a monitor to match.

Making a connection

The next thing to consider is the type of inputs you need. Connecting your PC through a VGA port doesn't always produce the best picture because the signal has to be tuned, although most monitors now have accurate auto-configuration.

You can use an adaptor to connect an HDMI device to an HDCP-compliant monitor, and if your graphics card supports HDCP you can also play Blu-ray movies; without HDCP, these films will play only over an analogue connection. For the greatest flexibility, look for a monitor with an extra HDMI input, too, because it will allow you to connect a Blu-ray player or compatible games console.

Finally, some monitors support DisplayPort, which is commonly used by Apple devices and can be used in conjunction with AMD graphics cards in multi-monitor setups. It has the same benefits as HDMI, but you typically pay more for a display with this kind of input. Unless you know you need it, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Description: Samsung S27A95DD
Samsung S27A95DD

Take a stand

Another feature that tends to increase the price of a monitor is an adjustable stand. Most displays have fixed stands that only let you tilt the screen. With a fully adjustable stand, you can adjust the height of the display to place it in a more comfortable position. Some even let you rotate the screen from landscape to portrait orientation, which can make it easier to work on long text documents. Our reviews tell you how adjustable each display is.


The most important aspect of a monitor is image quality. A monitor’s specifications tell you only so much about how a screen performs. Our reviews indicate the quality of the image they produce, but even so, it’s worth understanding what the different specifications mean.

A screen’s brightness is measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Most monitors have a brightness of at least 250cd/m2. Generally, the brighter the monitor, the brighter the whites it produces and the punchier the colors become. LED backlighting is prevalent these days, thanks to its lower power consumption and the fact that it allows ultra-thin monitor designs because it takes up less room inside the monitor.

Contrast is described as a ratio, such as 1000:1, and tells you the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black that the screen can produce. The higher the number, the bigger the difference and the more shades the monitor can produce in between.

Some monitors try to boost their contrast ratio artificially by using something called dynamic contrast. This measures the brightness onscreen and adjusts the backlight to increase the contrast ratio. In dark scenes it lowers the backlight to produce more dark shades, and it increases the backlight in bright scenes to produce brighter whites. This method can’t produce bright whites and deep blacks at the same time, though, and often leads to sudden changes in brightness that can spoil a movie.

A monitor’s response time tells you how quickly, in milliseconds, a pixel can change color. When the first LCD displays were produced, some response times were so slow that you’d see ghosting onscreen during fast-moving scenes in films and games. Today, however, it’s almost impossible to find a monitor with a response time over 10ms, and the human eye can’t register speeds below this.

Optional extras

Description: Some of the monitors here have USB hubs built in

Some of the monitors here have USB hubs built in

Speakers on monitors tend not to be very powerful. They’re rarely loud enough to fill a room, and often lack bass and sound tinny. They're fine for occasional Windows use and the odd film or game, but if you want high-quality sound you need dedicated speakers.

Some of the monitors here have USB hubs built in. These can be handy for connecting a webcam or other peripherals without having to reach behind your PC, but they’re not essential. Choose a monitor with a high resolution and great image quality before worrying about extras.

The extra dimension

Some of the monitors reviewed this month support 3D. This comes in a variety of formats, from active shutter glasses that support Nvidia's 3D Vision technology to simpler passive glasses that use polarised lenses and side-by-side images. Nvidia's system is the most sophisticated, but replacement glasses cost around $150. Passive glasses are much cheaper, but the 3D effect isn’t as good.

3D-capable monitors are more expensive than regular 2D models, so it's worth spending some time researching and trying out various systems before you invest in one.

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