Monitor Buying Guide 2018

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With so many advancements and new technologies witnessed in the display industry, this is the perfect moment to get a new monitor. Be it studying, entertainment, communication, or even work just to name a few, all are done online these days—after all—everything is going digital. Since everything is headed the digital way, everyone needs to have access to a good computer monitor, to facilitate the most fundamental part of human-computer interaction: visual representation. In this definitive monitor buying guide, we will explain all that you need to know.

Definitive monitor buying guide

When looking for that perfect computer monitor, here are the features that you should pay attention to:

Size and Resolution

Computer monitors come in various sizes, ranging from 17 to 40 inches. This is measured diagonally across the screen, just like TVs. The right size is usually based on personal preference with slight influence from resolution. So let’s have a look at resolution first.

The resolution of a display is the number of pixels that can be displayed on each dimension. So when a screen resolution is indicated as 1080×1920, it means that it can show 1080 pixels vertically, and 1920 pixels horizontally.
A monitor showing how resolutions and size is measured
A 1080px1920p computer monitor

Below are the most common resolutions:

Shorthand Actual Resolution Also known as
720p 1280 x 720 HD or HD Ready
1080p 1920 x 1080 FHD or Full HD
1440p 2560 x 1440 QHD or Quad HD
2160p 3840 x 2160 4K, UHD or Ultra HD
4320p 7680 x 4320 8K
Think of a pixel as a tiny square that can change its color. These pixels are put side by side to make the display. When a monitor is showing a picture, it’s these small squares changing their colors to construct that image. The more the pixels, the merrier.

The relationship between size and resolution

As mentioned earlier, the resolution of a screen should influence the size of the monitor you decide to buy. Most people get puzzled when they learn that different screen sizes can have the same resolution—for instance—a 13-inch laptop screen and a 27-inch desktop monitor having the same resolution of 1080×1920.

A desktop computer monitor with the sane resolution as a laptop | Monitor buying guide
A 27 inch monitor with the same resolution as a 13 inch laptop

However, for a bigger display to have the same resolution as a small one, the bigger one trades off on clarity and sharpness for its extra size. This is because the bigger one will have larger pixels, which translates to a lower pixel density.

Pixel Density
Pixel density is the measure of the total number of pixels within a fixed area. It is usually measured in PPCM (Pixel per Centimeter) or PPI (Pixel per Inch), with the latter one being common and widely used.

To get a reliable monitor, you have to find the right balance between the resolution and monitor size to maintain the best pixel density. The table below summarizes our suggestions on the most common monitor sizes and their recommended resolutions.

Monitor Size Recommended resolution
24 Inches 1080×1920
27 Inches 1440×2560
30 > Inches 3440×1440

These are the most common monitor sizes. It’s not possible to cover all the available monitor sizes and their preferred resolution in this post, but the table above should give you a rough idea. The general rule is the bigger the resolution, the better.

Ultra Wide monitors

These usually come with an aspect ratio of 21:9 (explained later), with a 4k resolution. They are best for office work or programming, basically good for situations where you want several windows open in full-screen mode at the same time. Instead of having a dual or triple screen set up, you might want to get an ultra-wide monitor.

Ultrawide LG 29EA93-P monitor
An ultrawide LG 29EA93-P Monitor | Image By Solomon203

Ultra Wide Curved monitors

The name says it all; curved monitors come with a curved panel, creating an immersive experience when using them. They are especially great when used for office work or tasks that require many apps open at once; just like the flat panel ultra wide monitors.

A curved computer monitor
An ultrawide curved monitor-min | Image By Devan Hsu

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio of a computer monitor is the ratio of the width to the height of the display screen. The common aspect ratios are 4:3, 16:10, 16:9 and 21:9. There is a fascinating history behind each of these aspect ratios, but that will not be covered in this monitor buying guide. However, you should pay attention to them because you can only use a given resolution in a supported aspect ratio. The table below shows aspect ratios and some of their common resolutions.

Aspect ratio Resolution
4:3 1280×960, 1400×1050, 1600×1200, 1856×1392, 1920×1440, and 2048×1536
16:10 1280×800, 1440×900, 1680×1050, 1920×1200 and 2560×1600
16:9 1024×576, 1152×648, 1280×720, 1366×768, 1600×900, 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and 3840×2160

The most common aspect ratio is 16:9. This is because it easily downscales to other aspect ratios, earning itself the industry standard label. Most games and video streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu use this as their primary aspect ratio. Unless you have a specific reason for choosing a particular aspect ratio, we recommend that you go for 16:9.

Panel Technologies

The image quality of a monitor is hugely dependent on the type of panel used in making the screen. There are three types of panels:

  • TN (Twisted Nematic)
  • VA (Vertical Alignment) panel
  • IPS (In Plane Switching) panel

The first two are the most common ones. Let’s break them down:

TN (Twisted Nematic)

TN panels are affordable and offer higher refresh rates resulting in better response time, hence their popularity in gaming. Most TN panels will have a response time of 2-5 microseconds. On the downside, they offer the worst color accuracy, contrast ratio, and viewing angles compared to the other panels. However, unless you are working on tasks that need accurate colors, a Twisted Nematic panel can be a good option, evident by how they dominate the computer monitor market.

VA (Vertical Alignment)

VA panels offer better color accuracy and wider viewing angles than TN panels, however, they have a poor response time and in some instances suffer from input lag. Their contrast ratio is by far the best of the three panels, offering better black levels. If you are looking for an office monitor on a budget, you should consider this one.

IPS (In Plane Switching)

IPS is widely accepted as the industry leader as it offers the best viewing angles and color accuracy. The viewing angles are usually wide, up to 178 degrees. This makes them the best for office work, where individuals might need to move a lot even while seated. The color accuracy makes it best for graphics design and video editing. IPS has a good response time, usually 6-18 microseconds. However, this is still not that good compared to TN panels, so if you are buying a gaming monitor, you should consider monitors with TN panels.

Refresh rates

This is the number of times the panel refreshes every second. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother videos, and animations look. Most monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which by far works well for all kinds of tasks. Newer monitors will offer high refresh rates, sometimes even up to 200 Hz. If you are buying a gaming monitor, and have a powerful gaming PC, then you might want to buy a monitor that has a refresh rate of above 100Hz. A higher refresh rate will make gameplay smooth, thus improving the gaming experience. Otherwise, a 60Hz monitor should be good for all the other tasks you might have.
Ports & Connectivity

There are some ports that you should know before going to purchase monitors. These are DVI, VGA, HDMI, and DisplayPort.

The common display ports on monitors
Common Display Ports

Each connection type has its pros and cons, but your choice should be based on the adapters available on your computer. Older computers usually use VGA while modern ones will have one or all of the other three.

However, given that this monitor buying guide is for 2018, we will only cover HDMI and DisplayPort, given that VGA and DVI are very old technologies that are now phasing out.

A majority of modern monitors will come with DisplayPort and (or) HDMI. Make sure your computer or graphics card supports these connections types before buying one. Particular attention is needed if you wish to buy a 4K monitor. Make sure that the monitor and your computer’s video card, support HDMI version 2.0 or higher because earlier versions are limited to 30Hz at 4k resolution. This will make your display feel slow. When using DisplayPort to view content at 4k, version 1.2 or higher should be good.

Adaptive sync technologies

Adaptive sync is a technology used to synchronize the refresh rates of a monitor with the frames per second (fps) provided by a graphics/video card. This aims to eliminate input lag and screen tearing. This feature is particularly important for gaming, as it immensely improves the smoothness of gameplay, without having the game to run faster fps.

The most common adaptive sync technologies in the market are Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s Freesync. Monitors with G-Sync tend to be pricier. It’s also essential to note that both of the above adaptive sync technologies will work with their respective cards. So if you have a computer with aNvidia graphics card, make sure to get a monitor with Nvidia’s G-Sync and vice versa for AMD cards.

ULMB (Ultra Low Motion Blur)

This feature is usually used to reduce a monitor’s motion blur. It is a great feature for gaming monitors. However, on the downside, when in use, it reduces the brightness of a monitor, so beware of that tradeoff if you decide to get one with this feature. Good news is you can always turn it off if you do not like it.

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

Dynamic range can be described as a measure of the difference between the brightest and darkest part of an image. A monitor with this feature will be able to display details that would have however been lost in a monitor with a limited contrast ratio. However, this feature is still in its infancy and has a long way to go. Most of the monitors in the market don’t have it, and most games don’t support it yet. Therefore, treat it as a nice but not a must-have feature.

That brings us to the end of this monitor buying guide; we hope you found it helpful. If you have questions or need clarification, please let us know in the comments sections, and we will get back to you.