Even a desktop packed to the gills with RAM, a powerful graphics card and a superior processor will miss the mark if your monitor bottlenecks all of that great performance into a display with few connection options, slow pixel-response and sub-par ergonomic options. While there is not a huge variance between LCD monitors on a lot of comparison points, some of those differences can significantly impact your visual experience while playing games and watching movies, which are the true performance measures for any display.
Available connections, while not a deal-breaker, are a significant limiting factor when matching your monitor's available inputs with those on your video card. HDMI is increasingly sought after, having become the standard connection for digital audio and video, and monitors like the LG E2350V-SN will work well with any HD video card, not to mention be compatible with DVD and Blu-ray players. A DVI-connection, like that on the NEC Display MultiSync E231W will give you the same video quality without audio, though that's less of a concern unless you have a monitor with built-in speakers. LCD monitors with VGA only, like the ASUS VH197D are becoming more of a rarity, though they work find for non-HD content and regular work computers and they are significantly cheaper than the other two above, even considering the size difference. You can still get decent display resolution over this analog standard, but a lot of HD graphics cards and Blu-ray drives won't export full-resolution -- and sometimes won't send out video at all -- without the HDCP support that HDMI and DVI provide.
When choosing ergonomic features, a lot depends on your preferences. Screens that match VESA mounting standards make it easy to match your monitor with most mounting systems, but that's only a concern if you're not using the accompanying stand and base. Backward-facing connection ports -- rather than downward-facing -- can be much simpler to deal with, though a tilting screen helps. Easy access to buttons for the on-screen display can be either an annoyance or a pleasure when you're adjusting picture settings, too. Again, all of these features are largely preferential and will depend on your workspace and viewing situation.
Resolution has gotten a little tricky since HDTVs have pushed 1080p as the standard for HD movie and TV content. The LG monitor above, as well and monitors like the Samsung PX2370 are matching the 1080p resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio, but there are still a lot of monitors available that have resolutions all across the spectrum. If you plan on watching Blu-ray movies or otherwise streaming video online, 1080p is really the minimum resolution you want for the best video quality.
Both games and fast-moving video content will benefit from a pixel-response time of 5 ms or faster, which makes motion seem less blurry and reduces the lag between your screen image and game control actions. Contrast ratio is less helpful when comparing monitors, since there is no industry standard either for testing or measuring screen contrast, but LED monitors generally see superior color representation and superior detail in extremely bright or dark areas of the screen.
Finally, the design of the bezel (or frame) and post are largely aesthetic, but not irrelevant if you care about the appearance of your desktop. As manufacturers compete with sleeker, thinner designs, you might find a screen that is either a sophisticated piece of modern desk art or a futuristic-looking eyesore. You may need to balance your performance demands with your style standards.
What monitor are you currently using? Let us know the pros, cons and unique style features below.
Posted by Paul Sanders
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