Monitor Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

Your computer monitor is your window to your programs, files and media. And just like the computers they connect to, monitors and displays differ greatly in design and features, offering varying picture quality and functionality. This monitor buying guide will help you know what to look for in a computer monitor to get the perfect display for your desktop.

Buying a Monitor:

Monitor Buying Guide

Shop Monitors and Displays ▸

  • Monitor types:

    There are two types of monitors: LCD flat-panel monitors and CRT monitors. Most manufacturers have all but stopped manufacturing CRT monitors, but there are some instances where you might want CRT over LCD. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • LCD monitors:

    For most users, a liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitor will be ideal. Flat panel LCD monitors consist of liquid-crystal pixels that make up the image on the screen.

    Brightness: Because of their brightness, LCD flat panel monitors are great for well-lit homes or offices. There's no annoying flicker with LCD, like there is with CRT.

    Viewing angle: LCD monitors don't view well from too extreme an angle, however. This isn't usually a problem, since you'll be sitting directly in front of the screen.

    Energy-efficiency: LCD monitors are bright and use little energy. They don't put off very much heat either. LCD monitors are usually optimized for one resolution, which can mean the picture isn't as clear when the resolution is adjusted to a point above that native resolution.

  • CRT monitors:

    Larger cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors still have their benefits, too.

    Color fidelity: CRT monitors produce rich, deep colors across the whole spectrum. Many graphic ts prefer CRT monitors because the colors are so accurate.

    Flexible display: While flat-panel monitors are optimized for one resolution, CRT monitors offer several resolution options, and the screen is viewable even at extreme angles.

    Energy-efficiency: CRT computer monitors are much larger and heavier than LCD monitors, though. They also use more energy and put off quite a bit of heat while operating.

  • Monitor resolution:

    PC monitor resolution is a measurement of the number of pixels (picture elements) on the screen. Monitors with larger resolutions have a more focused and detailed image. A resolution of 1024x768 is perfect for viewing Web pages and low-resolution videos. If you want to be able to watch high-definition video or play high-end video games, a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels or larger is required. You may see resolution described by various acronyms.

Common Screen Resolutions

XGA (1024x768)

SXGA (1280x1024)

WSXGA+ (1680x1050)

HD 1080 (1920x1080)

  • Aspect ratio:

    Aspect ratio is defined as the ratio of screen width to height. It's an important feature to check on your computer monitor because it affects how images and video display on your screen. The two most common aspect ratios for computer monitors are 4:3 and 16:9. A 4:3 computer monitor will work well for regular computing tasks and even most games. Widescreen monitors use 16:9, which is the same ratio used by HDTVs. If you plan on watching movies in widescreen format on your computer, you may want a widescreen monitor with 16:9 aspect ratio for the best picture.

  • Monitor connectivity:

    The cable that carries video data from your computer to your monitor can affect the quality of the picture. There are several cable types common to computer monitors:

    SVGA or RGB: The standard connection for monitors is a 15-pin super visual graphics array (SVGA) connection.

    DVI: Many LCD monitors also have a digital visual interface (DVI) connection, which allows for uncompressed video data to be shown on the display. A DVI connector could be one of three types: DVI-D (for digital), DVI-A (for analog) or DVI-I (for digital and analog). Most flat panel monitors will have a DVI-D or DVI-I connectors. Your computer needs a DVI port so the monitor can connect to it.

    HDMI: An HDMI connection is sometimes found on HD computer monitors. Often, it can only be connected through a video card or other video device enabled with HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection).

  • TFT LCD panels:

    Many flat panel monitors will also have "TFT" in their title, which stands for "thin-film transistor." This technology stabilizes the image and prevents flickering. TFT also improves response time.

  • Response time:

    The faster the pixels in your monitor can change color, the less motion-blur and "ghosting" you will see in moving images on the screen. This response time is more important for multimedia computer monitors for gaming computers and home theater PCs. Response times are measured in milliseconds (ms). Anything above 12 ms can cause annoying motion effects and eye strain.