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Buyers guide to computer monitors

Welcome to Crowdstorm's 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; then buy your chosen screen direct from the leading high street or online retailer of your choice.

Buying a PC monitor isn't something most of us do very often and the technology is constantly improving, so it's hard to stay on top of all the jargon. But with a combination of our guide and reading some PC monitor reviews you'll be well placed to make the perfect purchase. 

Panel type: TN, IPS or VA 

Most of today's monitors are LCD displays - but they're certainly not made equal. There are three main types of display panel:

  • In-plane switching (IPS): These have great viewing angles, plus high colour quality and accuracy/ They're the best all-rounders - but that is reflected in the prices.
  • Twisted nematic (TN): Big on motion and response times, not so great on colour reproduction, contrast ratios and viewing angles. And therefore tend to be cheap.
  • Vertical alignment (VA): The middle ground - generally better colour and viewing angles than a TN, but a little lacking in sharpness.

Monitor size and aspect ratio

The size of monitor you choose is likely to come down to the space you have available. You'll still find plenty of smaller (15-19-inch) monitors on the market, but the trend is definitely moving towards larger screens. Monitors as large as 46 inches (measured diagonally, top to bottom corner, as with televisions) are now commonplace, largely made popular due to falling prices and PC gaming. The average monitor size is around 22".

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.

But the market isn't limited to these two choices: you'll find everything from a squarer 5:4 shape through to crazy curved 32:10 screens offering a double WS option for the effect of wrap-around gaming for a more immersive experience. 

Resolution: HD displays and beyond

HD (high-definition) monitors now come in several flavours and the technology has been moving forward (and getting cheaper) at an incredible rate. It only seems a few years ago when we were marvelling at the first 720p (HD ready) monitors and TVs - but 1080p (full HD) is now pretty much industry standard - while 1440p (quad HD) monitors are commonplace. 

In fact we have now moved on to ultra-high-def modes, with 4320p (known as 8K UHD) screens hitting the market - but don't just look at these ever-increasing numbers when making your choice. Also consider its 'nit' rating for brightness (200-300 OK, 500 extremely good) and pixel response time (see below) for anything fast moving (twitch games, action movies etc).

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. VGA connections (the 15-pin blue one) are largely a thing of the past, with manufacturers 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, 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 through cheap monitors it's worth checking the specs.

Finally, many monitors now come with USB ports. This is great for connecting anything from your smartphone to a digital camera directly to your monitor. 

What monitor should I get 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 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 computer monitors are unable to refresh quickly 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 4K (3840x2160) or beyond - so well beyond standard HD), with HDMI connectivity to your PC.

Bells and whistles

Once you've narrowed down your search, it's time to start working through the small print to home in on your perfect monitor. Here are some of the extras you may want to consider looking out for:

  • FreeSync & G-Sync: From AMD and Nvidia respectively, monitors supporting these technologies offer a smoother gaming experience if your computer's graphics card matches the respective manufacturer.
  • HDR: Better brightness, better contrast, more colours: the latest big thing in monitor tech.
  • 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! 
  • Curved screen: The advantage here is a more natural shape, mimicking the human eye, which allegedly has the double bonus of offering a more immersive experience and a wider viewing angle. But at a (financial) price.
  • 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!