Buyers guide to computer monitors
Welcome to the Crowdstorm beginner's guide to finding the best computer monitor. Whether you're looking for a gaming monitor or just a cheap screen with no bells and whistles, we help you compare monitors from all the leading manufacturers, such as Asus and Dell, and then buy your chosen screen direct from the leading high street or online retailer of your choice.
Buying a monitor isn't something most of us do often and the technology is constantly improving, so it's hard to stay on top of the technology. But with a combination of our guide and reading some PC monitor reviews you'll be well placed to make a purchase.
Connecting your monitor
The absoluter first thing you need to nail down is how you'll be connecting your monitor to your PC or laptop. If you have an older device you may only have the option of a VGA connection (the 15-pin blue one), but manufacturers are increasingly upgrading to DVI (which can take advantage of the sharper images created by modern video cards - it's a digital rather than analog signal).
In addition, both HDMI and DisplayPort connectors are increasing in popularity with monitor makers. HDMI gives you the double benefit of high-def images while also transmitting audio through the same cable (useful if the monitor has speakers). DisplayPort does a similar job, at a cheaper price for manufacturers, so is unsurprisingly becoming more prevalent too!
Usually the best way to decide is to simply find out which outputs your computer has. If it only has one input, your choice is simple! Otherwise, you can base your purchase on other considerations. Also bear in mind your monitor may not come with the cable you need. They're not that expensive, but if you're looking for a cheap monitor it's worth checking the specs.
LCD or CRT?
Flat screen LCD monitors have all but taken over from the older, deeper CRT models. And, in almost every way, that's a good thing: LCD monitors use less power, have higher resolution, are thinner and have more ports for you to plug in extra bits and bobs. Some complain about a lack of depth in the black of an LCD image, but few will really notice this outside of those working specifically with colour. In every other case, the benefits of LCD far outweigh any complaints - especially now the cost has come down so much (and is still falling).
Monitor size and shape
The size of monitor you choose is likely to come down to the space you have available. You'll still find plenty of smaller (17-19-inch) monitors on the market, but the trend is definitely moving towards larger screens. Monitors as large as 27 inches (measured diagonally, top to bottom corner, as with televisions) are now commonplace, largely made popular due to falling prices.
In terms of shape, you'll need to decide whether you want the traditional 4:3 (standard) size or a 16:9 widescreen monitor. This really is personal preference territory, but widescreen is obviously great for watching movies and offers additional width for displaying multiple windows while working. This has seen the format slowly replacing traditional 4:3 screens, as it has with televisions. But if you prefer the extra horizontal space a 4:3 monitor affords, you'll still find plenty of models to choose from.
Monitor resolution: The need for HD
HD (high-definition) monitors generally come in two flavours - HD Ready and Full HD, often referred to numerically as 720p or 1080p respectively. Full HD offers a higher resolution, meaning that you get a crisper, sharper image. However, unless you have a screen larger than 32 inches you're unlikely to be able to tell any difference at a normal viewing distance.
The best monitor for gaming
There are several things to consider if you're looking specifically for a gaming monitor. One is pixel response time - which is effectively a gauge of how quickly the pixels on screen change colour. The time is measured in milliseconds (ms) and generally speaking, the lower the number, the better.
If you use a screen with a high response time, you may spot 'ghosting' in the image. Ghosting causes the image to go slightly blurry and is caused when the computer monitor is unable to refresh quick enough to keep up with the action. It's most noticeable when there is a lot of movement happening on screen although you're unlikely to notice any difference when just doing everyday tasks, such as word-processing or web browsing.
Gamers tend to favour widescreen (or even ultra-wide 21:9) monitors at least 24 inches in diameter, with 27+ being optimal. The native resolution should be as high as possible (preferably ultra HD or 4K (3840x2160) - so well beyond standard HD), with HDMI connectivity to your PC.
Monitor bells and whistles
Once you've narrowed down your search, it's time to start working through the small print to hone in on your perfect monitor. Here are some of the extras you may want to consider looking out for:
- Speakers: Great if it's a HDMI connected monitor, if you don't want little PC speakers cluttering up your workspace, or if you haven't connected your computer to other speakers. Just remember you're unlikely to get much base response from built-in monitor speakers.
- 3D: Gimmick or not? You decide!
- Touchscreen: Again, many see this as a gimmick - but they're an increasingly popular choice in the monitor market.
- USB ports: Having additional USB inputs on your monitor can be useful for easy access to connecting peripherals, rather than scrabbling around under your desk.
- iPod dock: Handy for easy streaming of photos, music and movies from a portable device.
- TV tuner: If you want your monitor to double-up as a TV, look for this feature.
I've found the best computer monitor: What next?
Once you've found your ideal PC monitor, it's time for Crowdstorm to hand you over to the online or high street retailer of your choice. We don't sell anything here - we just let you compare all the best deals and products. Once you click through on a deal, you'll immediately be taken to the retailer's official website - and on the right page to make your purchase. Happy shopping!