Monitors are more affordable than they have ever been, but many people buy them without ever seeing them first-hand. Because of this, it’s very important to know what to look for on a spec sheet. The number of pixels tells only a small part of the story, and more is not always better. Today I’ll try to narrow down the important factors to consider when shopping for computer monitors.
The pixel dimensions on the screen are often the thing that people look for. For example, a full HD monitor will be at least 1920×1080 (“1080p”). In 2014, there really isn’t a good reason to buy a new desktop monitor with a resolution less than this. I personally prefer 1920×1200 over 1920×1080 due to the extra vertical workspace, but these are becoming harder to find.
There is a very important balance between the size (diagonal measurement) of the monitor and its resolution. For example, a 1080p monitor at less than 22″ is most likely going to be an eyestrain due to the high pixel density. On the other side of the coin, a 27″ or larger monitor that’s only 1080p may be unnecessarily taking up desk space. My recommendation for 1080p would be somewhere around 24″. If you’re going to get a monitor that’s 2560×1440 or 2560×1600, make sure it’s at least 27″.
These days, there is a lot of buzz around 4K monitors, and many manufacturers are rushing to get something to the market. While there a handful of affordable 4K (3840×2160) monitors out there, unfortunately many of those have refresh rates of 30hz rather than the standard 60hz. Additionally, those that display 4k at 60hz may still only opearate at 30hz due to limitations of your graphics card. Running a display at 30hz will mean that any motion on your screen – even your mouse cursor – will not be as smooth as you’re used to seeing. The moral of the story: make absolutely sure that you’ve got all your bases covered when thinking about a 4K monitor. The technology is still in its infancy despite the buzz in the tech world.
Many higher end monitors use a technology called IPS, or in-plane switching, which allows for better viewing angles and superior color reproduction. Since IPS monitors are becoming much more common and affordable, I would make it a priority when searching for a monitor. There is also a competing technology called PLS (plane-line switching) which promises the same benefits but with lower power consumption, so keep an eye out for that as well.
Monitors won’t display anything without a graphics card (GPU). While you certainly have a discrete or integrated graphics card in your system at the moment, you’ll want to make sure it supports your monitor’s native resolution and refresh rate.
If you’re doing a lot of photo editing, slideshow creation, and graphic design, you probably won’t be satisfied with a run-of-the-mill $150 HD monitor. One of the safest bets for graphic and multimedia work is Dell’s Ultrasharp line, and you can find a list of recommended models for Dell and other brands here.
This guide is really just skimming the surface of technical specs for monitors. Below is a list of some more comprehensive resources so that you can make a more educated decision.
- Choosing a Display for Photography and Design (www.peachpit.com)
- CNET’s Best monitors of 2014
- Nvidia’s list of GPUs that support 4K monitors