Computer Monitor Buying Guide

Staff Writer By Staff Writer - updated May 24th, 2024
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Considering how much time the average person spends in front of the computer, having the right monitor should be a high priority when choosing your set up. With so many to choose from, you might be a bit stumped as to what monitor will be best for you. That's why we've put together this quick computer monitor buying guide on what to look for when shopping for the perfect computer monitor.

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There's a huge range of computer monitors available to suit every use and budget, and once you've finished reading this guide you'll be well equipped with the knowledge needed to confidently find the one that's right for you!

Screen Size

Computer monitors range in size from about 18-49 inches, the number one consideration when choosing a monitor size, is what you are going to be using it for. You may wish to get a larger monitor if you are going to be watching movies and playing games, whereas if you will mostly be surfing the web and using programs such as Microsoft Office, a smaller size will work just fine and will be less expensive than larger monitors. Common deciding factors on size include the amount of available space you have at your workstation, and your needs and budget. If you're still quite stumped about what size to aim for, here are some basic guidelines. 

Under 20”

If you’re after a reasonably priced monitor that will provide quality performance for simple everyday tasks such as browsing the internet, checking email, and working on documents, smaller monitors at 20” and under will often be sufficient. The size is also highly portable, making them a good choice for secondary monitors or users who travel frequently.

21” to 26”

Monitors within this range are recommended for the typical everyday user. They’re a great choice for multi-purpose use in both the home and the office. Whether you’re watching movies and TV shows, doing work, creating and viewing multi-page documents, or playing games, these monitors will be sufficient to cover all of the bases for these tasks. They offer a great balance between price and performance.

27” and up

Larger monitors have a larger viewing area, offering a more immersive viewing experience. They're ideal for serious gamers, creative professionals (such as photographers, graphic designers, and video editors), and anyone who wants to multitask with multiple windows open side-by-side.

Ultrawide vs. Dual Monitors

If you need a lot of screen real estate, consider an ultrawide monitor or a dual monitor set up. Ultra wide monitors have a 21:9 aspect ratio, whereas widescreen monitors typically have a 16:9 aspect ratio. With the additional screen real estate provided, ultra-wide monitors are ideal for people who regularly work on multiple documents or applications, flick between multiple windows, creatives who have an expansive workflow, or for gamers who want an incredibly immersive experience. Some models come with split-screen software to make arranging multiple windows even easier and more efficient.

dual-screen monitor setup
dual-screen monitor setup

Alternatively, you can opt for a dual-screen setup. The main downside to a dual monitor setup versus an ultra-wide monitor is the bezel (the casing around the monitor) that splits the screen. However, if your primary reason for needing the extra screen real estate is to work on multiple documents, this shouldn’t be an issue; it can actually be advantageous by providing more defined divisions of visual space. Dual monitors is the typical set up for the office, generally consisting of two identical 22” to 24” monitors side by side.

dual-screen monitor setup
dual-screen monitor setup

Resolution

Resolution refers to how many pixels the screen displays – both vertically and horizontally – and therefore determines the clarity and the amount of information that will be displayed on the screen. A larger monitor doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see more content or information on your screen - this is where the resolution comes in.

For example, a 22” monitor and a 27” monitor with the same resolution will display the same amount of content, at the same quality; contrariwise, if you take two 29” monitors with different resolutions, the one with the higher resolution will display more content and a crisper image than the one with the lower resolution.

That being said, if you've chosen a monitor with a larger screen size, you may want to opt for a higher resolution if you want to maintain super sharp and crisp images. Other factors to consider include viewing distance and intended use. So what are the different resolutions you'll come across?

High Definition (HD) (720p)

One of the lowest resolutions available is HD (720p). Monitors of this resolution typically measure at 1280 x 720 pixels. You will generally find this resolution on monitors that are 20” and under. This may be suitable if you'll be sticking to basic tasks such as browsing the web, checking email, and creating documents.

Pros Cons
  • Most affordable option.
  • Lower pixel density can lead to visible pixelation on larger screens. not ideal for watching high-res content or gaming.

Full HD (FHD) (1080p)

Full High Definition refers to monitors with a resolution equivalent of 1080p. Monitors at this resolution are typically 1920 x 1080 pixels. This resolution provides a crystal-clear picture and is a great choice for everyday use, including watching movies, videos, and even gaming. This resolution offers a good balance between price and performance. 

Pros Cons
  • Good balance of affordability and image quality.
  • May not be ideal if you want the sharpest image quality on larger screens or for creative work.

Quad HD (QHD/ WQHD) (1440p)

Quad HD, also known as Wide Quad HD (WQHD), is commonly found on ultra-wide screen monitors delivering 1440p resolution, typically 2560 x 1440 pixels. It delivers exceptional image clarity for those who need to view highly detailed images, such as graphic designers, video editors, engineers, and gamers.

QHD is sometimes referred to as WQHD to simply emphasize the fact that it uses a wide aspect ratio. However, both refer to the same spec. At a wider aspect ratio of 21:9 (as opposed to 16:9), QHD / WQHD monitors also deliver resolutions of 3440 x 1440 pixels and 3840 x 1600 pixels. This is a popular option amongst gamers.

Pros Cons
  • Offers sharp image quality. Ideal for gamers and creative professionals who work with detailed visuals.
  • Requires a more powerful graphics card to run games and apps smoothly at high settings.

Ultra HD (UHD/4K) (2160p)

Ultra HD, commonly referred to as 4K, delivers 2160p resolution. True 4K displays (used in professional production) feature 4096 x 2160 pixels. However, consumer displays typically deliver 3840 x 2160 pixels. With four times as many pixels as Full HD, it displays the finest details. Monitors at this resolution are ideal for professionals doing high-resolution photo and video editing, gamers or movie fans who want a fully immersive experience, or anyone who needs extra space to view windows or documents side by side.

Pros Cons
  • Delivers exceptional image clarity and detail. Perfect for creative professionals, gamers, or anyone who wants the best viewing experience.
  • Most expensive option.
  • Offers a lot of screen real estate for multitasking or creative workflows.
  • Requires a powerful graphics card to achieve high frame rates in games and apps.

5K2K (4K Ultrawide) (5K Ultrawide) (2160P Ultrawide)

A fairly new resolution at 5120x2160 that offers exceptional clarity at the 21:9 aspect ratio. As I write this the only monitor available at this resolution is based on LG’s nano IPS panel which boasts 98% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour gamut (135% sRGB) for stunning colour quality and accuracy - making it overkill for all but the most professional of graphic artists, video and photo editors.

Pros Cons
  • Provides the ultimate in image clarity and screen real estate for professional use.
  • Very expensive. Requires a top-of-the-line graphics card. Limited content and software support at the moment.

Does your graphics card need to be updated?

Make sure your computer can support your new monitor, especially if you're upgrading to 4K Ultra HD or 10bit colours. If you buy a top-of-the-line monitor but have an older computer, you won't have the best picture quality. Check the monitor's hardware requirements to see if your computer or graphics card needs to be updated.

Panel Type

The display on your device plays a crucial role in your visual experience. Understanding the different panel technologies behind these displays will help you make the best choice for your needs. There are two types of panels: LCD and OLED. LCD panels use liquid crystals that manipulate light from a backlight to produce images. They come in a few different types, like, TN, VA, and IPS, each with pros and cons. And then we have OLED panels which don't require a backlight. Let's take a close look at each of their functionalities, strengths and weaknesses!

Comparison of colour representation on the different panel types
Comparison of colour representation on the different panel types

Twisted Nematic (TN)

TN panels a popular budget choice. They are known for being being inexpensive while boasting excellent response times and high refresh rates. This makes them a popular choice for gamers. The downside to TN panels is that they compromise on colour reproduction, contrast ratios, and viewing angles when compared to IPS and VA panels. Colours may appear less vibrant, blacks less deep, and picture quality suffers when viewed off-center. If you prioritise affordability and responsiveness for gaming, a TN panel can be a good choice. However, if colour is important to you, consider a different type of display.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable - The most budget-friendly option.
  • Poor Colour Accuracy - Colours appear less vibrant and accurate compared to others.
  • Fast Response Time - Less ghosting and blurring, ideal for fast-paced games.
  • Low Contrast Ratio - Blacks appear less deep.
  • High Refresh Rates - This results in smoother visuals.
  • Limited Viewing Angles - Picture quality suffers when viewed off-center.

Vertical Alignment (VA)

VA panels strike a balance between affordability and image quality. They fall somewhere between TN and IPS panels. While the colour production and viewing angles for VA panels are better than TN, they can fall short of the when compared to an IPS panel. They may have slower response times than both TN and IPS, especially in higher refresh rate models (this can vary depending on the specific panel). VA panels are usually found on mid-range standard monitors and are generally more expensive than TN panel monitors, yet cheaper than IPS panel monitors. They're a good choice for those who want a step up in image quality from TN without breaking the bank, and are suitable for casual gamers who don't need lightning fast response times.

Pros Cons
  • Balanced Option - Offers a good balance of affordability and image quality.
  • Not the Best Viewing Angles - Better than TN but not as good as IPS or OLED.
  • Decent Colour and Contrast - Better than TN panels.
  • Not the Fastest Response Times - May have slower response times than TN and some IPS panels.
  • Good Viewing Angles - Improved compared to TN panels.

 

In-plane Switching (IPS)

IPS panels have the best overall image quality, offering vibrant colour reproduction and contrast, and better viewing angles.  IPS panels are ideal for creative professionals such as graphic designers or photographers, where colour accuracy is important. Even users who aren’t creative professionals often prefer an IPS panel due to their more attractive display. Some IPS panels have slower refresh rates than TN panels, so keep an eye on that if this is a concern for you. They also tend to be the most expensive option amongst the three. 

Pros Cons
  • Best Image Quality - Offers the most vibrant colours, excellent contrast, and wider viewing angles compared to other LCD panels.
  • Most Expensive - Typically the most expensive option among the three LCD panel types.
  • Good for Creatives - Offers accurate colour representation making it good for colour-critical work.

 

Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED)

OLED panels blow the rest away when it comes to raw image quality. Every pixel in an OLED display is an extremely small LED light, able to produce both light and colour in a single element. This, along with almost endless black levels, means OLEDs have the best contrast ratio and dynamic range. The ability to switch and and off individual LEDs results in an almost instantaneous response time which means ghosting is a worry of the past. Unlike LCD panels, OLED displays don't require a traditional backlight, making them very thin and lightweight.

The downside to OLEDs is that they a susceptible to burn-in - a permanent faint image that can appear on the screen if static images are displayed for extended periods. They also generally have a shorter lifespan than LCD panels and may dim faster over time. Newer models feature technology that reduces these risks. Despite these considerations, OLEDs are a great choice for those who prioritise image quality, thin design, and fast response times. Check out our Best OLED Monitors!

Pros Cons
  • Superior Image Quality - Offers near-perfect black levels for the best contrast ratio and dynamic range.
  • Burn-In Risk - Susceptible to image burn-in from prolonged static content display (more common in older models).
  • Fantastic Colour Reproduction - Excellent colours, although may vary slightly compared to high-end IPS panels.
  • Shorter Lifespan - Generally has a shorter lifespan compared to LCD panels, and may dim or degrade faster.
  • Fastest Response Times - Virtually eliminates ghosting and delivers smoothest visuals.
  • More Expensive - The most expensive panel type overall.
  • Thin and Lightweight - Doesn't require a backlight to the displays are much thinner and lighter.

 

Backlight

LCD panels themselves don't emit light. They require a backlight to illuminate the liquid crystals and produce an image. Traditionally, Cold Cathode Fluorescent (CCFL) tubes were used as backlights. However, LED backlights have become the dominant choice due to several advantages.

Types of LED Backlights

  • Edge-lit LED (EL-LED or Edge LED): This is the most common and cost-effective option. White LEDs are placed along the edges of the panel, and light diffusers spread the light evenly across the screen. Less power is drawn from these backlights opposed to any other backlight technology. This and the fact that they are the smallest and cheapest of the technologies, results in them being the most used backlight by many users. While efficient, edge lighting can sometimes lead to uneven brightness, especially in larger displays.

  • Full-Array Local Dimming (FALD): This backlight uses an array of white LEDs positioned behind the entire panel. Individual zones of LEDs can be dimmed or turned off to improve contrast by creating deeper blacks. FALD offers superior picture quality compared to edge-lit backlights but is more expensive.

  • RGB LED Backlight: This backlight uses a grid of red, green, and blue LEDs behind the panel. This allows more precise control over colour reproduction and a wider colour gamut - this makes it ideal for creatives and graphic design professionals. However, RGB backlights are less common and typically more expensive than other options.

How does QLED fit into the picture?

QLED (Quantum Dot Light-Emitting Diode) is not a backlight technology but an enhancement layer used in some LCD panels with LED backlights. Tiny quantum dots are placed between the backlight and the LCD layer, improving colour reproduction and brightness. So, a QLED display still uses an LED backlight, just with the added QLED layer for enhanced performance. 

Connections

In order for your monitor to operate you will need to ensure the monitor you purchase has the type of connector you will be using. See below for the common connector types: HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort and VGA.

monitor hdmi
monitor dvi
monitor displayport
monitor vga

HDMI

HDMI is the most common connection and is found on most computer monitors. It carries both audio and video signals to the display. It is commonly used to display high-definition content from devices such as your computer, gaming consoles and Blu-Ray players. Version counts here also, so if you're not getting 4K 60Hz from your HDMI 2.0 output it's likely you have a version 1.4 cable.

DVI

DVI connections are similar to HDMI, except for the fact that it doesn’t carry audio. They support a variety of different resolutions, with some carrying a 1920 x 1200 resolution, and others carrying more.

DisplayPort

Touted as the successor to HDMI and DVI, Display Port is a higher bandwidth connection that carries both audio and video signals. HDMI connections can carry 4K UHD at 30fps (frames per second), while DisplayPort can carry 4K UHD at 60fps, providing a smoother picture for fast-paced games or movies. DisplayPort is the number one choice for very high resolutions and frame rates.

VGA

VGA is the old analogue technology and is typically found on budget-focused monitors. While it has reasonable support for high resolutions and frame rates, the image quality won’t be as clear as what you would get with a DVI connection.

USB

Portable monitors that connect via USB have come a long way in recent years, thanks to the improvements offered by the USB Type-C connection. With super slim profiles and low weight making them ideal for travellers who want a multi-monitor setup for their laptop.

Refresh rate

The refresh rate refers to how often the screen image is refreshed per second. This is measured in Herts (Hz). A higher refresh rate means smoother visuals and less choppiness, especially noticeable in fast-paced content like games or action movies.

Here's a breakdown of common refresh rates:

  • 60Hz: This is the standard refresh rate for most monitors and everyday tasks. It's the minimum that refresh rate you'll likely come across.
  • 75Hz - 120Hz: This is considered a pretty good range for gamers and anyone who wants a smoother viewing experience. 120Hz and above is a popular choice amongst gamers.
  • 144Hz and above: Top-end refresh rates ideal for competitive gamers and those seeking the absolute smoothest visuals.

Keep in mind that unlocking the full potential of a high-refresh-rate monitor requires a graphics card that can keep up. Before you jump in and grab a blazing-fast display, check compatibility to ensure your GPU can pump out frames at the same rate. 

Response time

The response time refers to how quickly a pixel can change colour. A low response time (faster) means much less blur and ghosting of images, while a high response time (slow) means a higher likelihood of blurring and ghosting. Low response times are good for gaming, fast-paced action videos, and similar activities.

For general gaming, a response time of 5ms is perfectly fine. However, if you want the most ideal experience, 3ms is better, or even 1ms is ideal (often found on OLED panels). If you’re mainly only looking at static images however, response times won’t be of much importance to you.

Refresh rates and response time often work together. For the smoothest experience, aim for a monitor with a high refresh rate as well as a fast response time.

Ergonomics

Seeing as you’re going to be sitting in front of your computer for long periods of time, you should consider ergonomics to ensure maximum comfort and minimal strain. Ideally your monitor should sit about an arms-length away from you, and the top of the viewing area should be about eye level. A monitor that is too high or too low can lead to neck aches and pains, strained eyesight, back problems, and excessive fatigue.

If you'll be using your monitor for long periods throughout the day, consider a monitor with an ergonomic stand that offers adjustments for height, tilt, swivel and potentially even pivot. Additionally, monitor mounts are a cost-effective solution that allow monitors to be easily adjusted to suit every user with ease. Not only will can you adjust the height and angle for optimum comfort, but some mounts will also allow you to rotate the screen or change the position entirely, adding extra versatility to the way you work. 

Adaptive Sync Technology

Adaptive sync technology (G-Sync and FreeSync) has been revolutionary in video processing. It has largely eliminated the issue of screen tearing – when horizontal lines appear across your screen when playing fast-paced games. This problem occurs as a result of monitor refresh rates that don’t match up with graphics card outputs. When your graphics card pushes images to your monitor outside of its set refresh rate, your monitor shows a portion from two separate frames onscreen simultaneously, resulting in screen tearing.

Adaptive sync solves this issue by synchronizing your monitor’s refresh rate with the refresh rate of your graphics card (up to your monitor’s maximum refresh rate). As a result, your monitor simply refreshes at the rate at which your graphics card generates, resulting in smooth gameplay. These are the two types of Adaptive Sync technology you'll come across.

AMD FreeSync

This works by piggybacking on top of the VESA Adaptive—Sync standard, which is part of DisplayPort 1.2a. It simply adds new functions to the existing DisplayPort specification. Additionally, AMD doesn’t charge royalties or licensing costs, making the addition of FreeSync to a monitor essentially free. Because of this, FreeSync is more widely available on monitors at a lower price than Nvidia’s G-Sync.

Nvidia G-Sync

This technology requires display makers to use an exclusive hardware module and Nvidia keeps a tight grip on quality control, working with manufacturer’s right up until the end. Unlike AMD, Nvidia charges licensing fees for its G-Sync technology, further upping the premium on G-Sync monitors.

Which is better?

There’s a lot of debate between which technology is better and there are plenty of articles and discussions you could dive into about the topic. However, the main consideration is which one is compatible with your graphics card as unfortunately, very few work with its rival’s graphics card. G-Sync requires a GeForce GTX 500-series (or newer) graphics card; while FreeSync requires a Radeon Rx 200-series (or newer graphics card), though some models are not supported, and only some GTX 10-series are Freesync compatible, and only if that particluar FreeSync monitor is G-Sync compatible. It sounds rather confusing when you lay it all out like that, but the general rule is AMD Graphics Card = FreeSync, Nvidia Graphics Card = G-Sync.

Recommendations Based on Usage

General Use

If you’re searching for a monitor for general day-to-day use such as office work, surfing the web, and watching movies, just about any LED LCD monitor will do. While monitors with high specs are certainly qualified for general-use, we recommend sticking to mid-range models so you can still experience image-quality, without breaking the bank on unnecessary specs.

  • Display Size: We recommend a monitor that's at least 22-inches.
  • Resolution: Full HD is sufficient for most users. If you want sharper details, QHD is a good choice.
  • Refresh Rate: 60Hz is the standard and should be enough for everyday use. If you're going to be playing games, aim for something that is at least 75Hz.
  • Panel Type: This really comes down to your budget. If you want a balance of price and performance, go for VA. If price is not a concern and you want the best visuals, go for IPS or OLED.

Multimedia / Creatives

For creative professionals, having a ‘good’ monitor simply isn’t enough. Creative professionals such as photographers, graphic designers, special effects artists, and video editors need a monitor designed for content creation. This generally means larger screens with a resolution that is at least QHD/2K for crisp, detailed images. In terms of a display, an IPS panel is a great choice for its accurate colours, great contrast ratios, and wide viewing angles. 

  • Display Size: We recommend a screen that's 27-inches or above, offering more screen for multitasking or detailed work.
  • Resolution: QHD or UHD is best for sharp visuals and clarity. Consider your workflow and how much detail you need.
  • Panel Type: IPS panels are ideal for colour-critical work due to their accurate colour reproduction and wide viewing angles.
  • Colour Gamut: Look for panels that cover a wide colour range for Adobe RGB and DCI-P2.
  • Colour Accuracy: Some monitors for creative professionals come with the finest LCD panels and backlights, with manufacturers conducting rigorous calibration tests before they leave the factory. This means that they are accurate out of the box.
  • Response Time: If you're a video editor, response time is worth keeping in mind. Aim for a response time of 5ms or less to minimise ghosting and blurring in moving images.

Business Monitors

Having the right monitor for business can boost your workflow and keep you comfortable during long hours at work. While crisp image is important, features that enhance comfort and productivity throughout the day are paramount. Depending on what your work is, there are a few extra factors to consider. These are our general recommendations.

  • Size: 27 to 32-inches is a popular choice for most office users, offering a good balance of screen real estate and comfortable viewing distance.
  • Resolution: Seeing as office work primarily consists of reding documents, spreadsheets, and emails, FHD monitors will suffice for most people. However, QHD can be a good choice if you want to reduce eye strain and have greater text clarity.
  • Colour Accuracy: While you don't need the level of precision of those in the creative fields, aim for panels that cover at least 90% of the sRGB colour gamut. This ensures documents, presentations, and web content appear with consistent and realistic colours.
  • Ergonomic Design: To promote better posture and reduce strain, choose a monitor with an ergonomic stand that offers adjustments for height, tilt, swivel and potentially even pivot.
  • Connectivity: Ensure it has all the necessary ports for your devices. Standard options include HDMI, DP, and USB-C.

Gaming

Choosing a gaming monitor is bound to start off discussion and debate amongst gamers as no one is more passionate about computer hardware. Gamers need a monitor that can keep up with the speed and intensity of their games, so choosing the right one is important. Aside from the specs themselves, budget and experience-level are other factors to consider when choosing a gaming monitor so recommendations will vary based on these things. However, as a base minimum, we recommend a refresh rate of 75Hz or higher; if you’re aiming for top-end quality and your budget is a bit higher, go for 120-144Hz. When it comes to response times, we recommend a minimum of 5ms; we recommend 2ms or lower for gamers who are fans of online shooters. 

  • Resolution: FHD is a good starting point. Higher resolutions like QHD or 4K will offer sharper visuals and a more immersive experience, but they will also demand a more powerful graphics card. Choose based on your system and budget.
  • Refresh Rate: We recommend an absolute minimum of 75Hz. If possible, opt for at least 120Hz as this offers a good balance between performance and price. If your wallet and system can handle it, 144Hz and above is elite - ideal for competitive gamers and those after the smoothest visuals.
  • Response Time: We recommend an absolute minimum of 5ms, but where possible, consider 3ms or lower for the fastest response times and minimal ghosting - crucial for gaming like online shooters where every millisecond counts.
  • Panel Type: OLEDs are the elite panel as they are the fastest and the most visually pleasing. However, they are expensive. IPS panels are the next best choice to maintain a balance of speed and image quality; but if speed is your priority, then a TN panel is a great choice. They offer fast response times at an affordable price!

Check out more tips and recommendations in our Best Gaming Monitors article!

Now that you're filled in on the basic terms when it comes to computer monitors, you can finally start searching for that perfect monitor. Start checking out our entire range of computer monitors here, and be sure to keep your eyes on PB Tech Tips & News for latest on tech!


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1 comment

DavidW2277

A few years ago I was choosing a monitor, reviewed a lot of options with friends and in stores. I bought and returned it 4 times. For myself, I learned that the important thing is not so much the resolution and diagonal, but the PPI (number of pixels per 1 square inch). Whatever the diagonal and resolution - if the size of fonts and elements on the screen is not comfortable, you can not use it normally. Your eyes will get tired quickly and your eyesight can be damaged. Scaling does not always save, for example, if you increase the scale by 25% in Excel will be impossible to work - the lines will be blurred, your eyes will be tired. For myself deduced that the most comfortable ppi - then 100-107. It will also be comfortable with multiples, such as 200-215 ppi. Be sure to check, you can calculate ppi online here: https://wizardcalc.com/ppi-calculator

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