Have you ever asked a friend, “Which monitor do I buy?” What was your friend’s response like?
To be honest with you, asking ”what monitor should you buy” is a very broad question with no definite answer, but that shouldn’t leave you disappointed.
Buying a monitor is a task with so many angles. There are a lot of things to consider when buying a monitor.
With the right information, you are sure to make the best choices. For professional purposes like graphics and logo designing, you will need to be particular about colour accuracy and reproduction.
At the end of this monitor buying guide, you will know which monitor is best for you.
Purpose Of The Monitor
Before getting a monitor. You need to know what you are going to use it for. Here are four main areas monitors are normally used for.
Each monitor has different specifications that cater to each area. For example, a monitor made for gaming might not be great for professional use. Although sometimes they can overlap.
Understanding The Monitor Specifications
To make the right choice. Here’s everything you need to know about monitor specifications and how they impact the quality and purpose of the monitor.
Resolution and Aspect Ratio
The higher the resolution the sharper the monitor display. Resolution is the number of pixels in a monitor. A pixel is the smallest portion of an image. There are different resolutions. But, the common ones are Full HD (1920 x 1080), QHD (2560 x 1440), Retina display and 4K (3840 x 2160).
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Aspect Ratio is the ratio of the width to the height of your monitor screen. Widescreen monitors have higher aspect ratios and make multi-tasking easier. Think of using two excel spreadsheets side by side on your monitor screen. A full HD (1920 x 1080) has an aspect ratio of 16:9.
For Gaming, the most common resolution rates are 1080p, 1440p and 4k.
For Coding and General Uses, a 1080p or full HD monitor will get the job done.
For Professional purposes like video editing, photoshopping, image editing, etc. You should definitely go for a QHD or 4k monitor. Since they often have the best color accuracy, reproduction, and saturation.
Refresh rate, measured in hertz, is the number of times your screen image is updated every second. The refresh rate of your monitor is very important if you will be getting a gaming monitor. Most monitors have a refresh rate of 60Hz.
For gaming, you would want higher refresh rates (120Hz or higher). Because they prevent visual distortions – screen tearing, stuttering, and ghosting – that make your gaming experience not so great. For casual gaming, you can get away with 75Hz – 120Hz refresh rates.
Everyone knows how important brightness is when getting a monitor. The brighter the monitor the easier it is for you to use in well-lit environments.
Brightness is measured in nits or cd/m2. The lowest brightness level a monitor should have is 250 nits. Anything lower and it becomes difficult to use during the day.
The minimum you should aim for is 300 nits. This applies to code, general use and gaming. For professional uses, you need a brighter monitor. Preferably, above 350 nits.
Response Time And Input Lag
Response time refers to how long it takes a pixel to change from black to white or from one shade of grey to another. It is measured in milliseconds and it’s an important factor when getting a monitor for gaming.
Aside from refresh rate and input lag. The longer or higher the response time the increased chance of ghosting.
You should go for a monitor with short response time. Longer response times causes you to see remains of trails from a moving object which is known as ghosting.
Ghosting occurs when 2 or more images appear on the screen as one. Low refresh rates will cause ghosting which will, in turn, shatter your gaming experience and reduce your accuracy and success rates.
You wouldn’t want that to happen, so you must prioritize refresh rates among the factors you will be considering if you want to buy a monitor for gaming.
Input lag is experienced when a monitor takes longer in displaying an instruction from let’s say your mouse. This could really affect your gaming experience by slowing down your responsiveness to opponents.
You should ensure your monitor has a low input lag before you purchase it.
Colour Accuracy, Gamut, Saturation and Reproduction
To explain colour accuracy, you need to understand what colour space is about.
A Colour Space refers to the available colours in specific subsets of colour models. The default colour space peculiar to modern monitors is the sRGB colour space.
Colour space can be thought of as owning a crayon box. The more crayons you have in your crayon box, the more detailed drawings you can produce with it.
Colour space is very useful to web designers.
More expensive monitors permit other colour spaces such as the Adobe RGB Colour Space. The Adobe SGB colour space is a bit more distributed than the sRGB colour space, making it more useful to designers who work with heavily saturated colours.
You should also note the varying native contrasts among monitors. Native contrast explains how well your monitor can differentiate between different shades of black.
You should not go for monitors with low contrast levels. Varying backlight levels also affect color accuracy. There is also the NTSC color gamut.
Colour gamut is all about how many colours a monitor can produce. Colour gamut clarifies differences in colours.
Monitors are unable to reproduce all the colors the human eye can see, so they display a fraction of those colors which is known as a color gamut. RGB are three primary colors – Red, Green, and Blue.
The mentioned Colour Gamut (sRGB, Adobe RGB, NTSC) are depicted using triangles. The triangle is enclosed by the colour coordinates of the colour gamut.
An LCD monitor with a wider triangular colour gamut area means the LCD monitor will be able to display a wide range of colours. You should choose your colour gamut based on what tasks you will be using your system for.
You should go for an adobe RGB color gamut if you will be working with images in hardcopy prints. If you will be using your monitor for professional purposes, a color gamut with 72% of sRGB is not a good option.
You should go for a monitor having as high as 99% of sRGB color space.
Colour saturation is what determines if images look bleached or not. The higher the colour saturation, the richer, and the better the image looks. However, high levels of colour saturation can make images look not so great to your eyes.
Colour reproduction refers to how well your monitor can reproduce colours on its screen from let’s say a photograph you took with your camera.
There will be a difference in colours between images from your printer and the image displayed on your LCD monitor because your LCD Monitor uses light to recreate the images you see while printers use dyes and inks to create images.
While your printer uses as many as four to five colours to reproduce an image, your monitor might just use little quantities of Red, Green and Blue to reproduce the colours of your image. The colour gamut of your monitor is also a factor affecting colour reproduction.
Colour reproduction is affected by brightness, contrast ratio, viewing angle, and colour constancy. You should go for a monitor with a large viewing angle to ensure good colour reproduction. Other factors will be discussed later in this guide.
Contrast is the difference between the whitest white and the darkest dark of your monitor’s display.
Having the correct brightness on different areas of the screen is critical for making dark areas look sufficiently dark without losing details.
A contrast ratio of 1000:1 means the brightest pixel will be a thousand times brighter to the dimmest pixel. Contrast ratios are better in OLED monitors because each pixel in an OLED Monitor illuminates itself independently. This is why some OLED monitors have contrast ratios as high as 10,000,000:1.
Available light in your environment affects how conscious you are to the contrast of your monitor. The more external light is available on your monitor’s screen, the less visible the contrast.
You should go for a monitor with a contrast ratio from 1000:1 to 3000:1. The former is for IPS and improved TN panels while the latter is for VA panels.
There are several types of monitor display technologies. But the two main and common ones are LED and LCD monitors.
LED short for light-emitting diode use diodes to show pictures. LED monitors are favorable because they are affordable, thinner, run cooler, have better contrast ratio, and generally last longer.
Fortunately, almost all monitors are LED. So you get to benefit from its advantages.
LCD short for liquid crystal display uses fluorescent backlights to show images. Before we go on, all LED monitors are LCD monitors. But, not all LCDs are LED monitors.
You can think of LED monitors as a subset of LCD monitors. The difference is the backlights. As mentioned earlier LCDs use fluorescent backlights whilst LEDs use light-emitting diodes.
After display technologies, we come to panel types. Which are very important when it comes to choosing a monitor.
Twisted Nematic (TN)
Monitors with TN panels have the fastest response times and lowest input lags out of monitors. They are highly recommended for gaming for this reason.
However, it comes at a cost. Colour reproduction, contrast ratios and viewing angles of a TN panel are not very good. If you’re limited in terms of cost and you need a gaming monitor, a TN monitor is still okay because of its low response time.
Although there are high-quality TN panels that have great colour accuracy, saturation, and reproduction. But, they can’t be compared to high-end IPS panels. Get a TN panel if you play fast-paced games a lot.
Vertical Alignment (VA)
Vertical Alignment Panel Type lies between the TN and IPS panels. It offers better colour reproduction and wider viewing angles than TN panels, but its response time is slower than those of the other panels.
If you will be playing fast-paced competitive games, a VA monitor is not what you should go for. However, it offers a better contrast ratio than the TN panel. You should also note that VA panels suffer from colour shifting.
Colour shifting occurs when an image viewed from one angle looks different when viewed from a different angle. This causes unequal brightness levels across displays. Colour shifting causes a lot of shadow detail and detailed dark scenes when viewed directly from the centre of the screen.
If you will be using your monitor for only general purposes, a VA panel is a good fit.
In-Place Switching (IPS)
IPS monitors offer excellent image quality, colour accuracy and viewing angles as wide as 178 degrees. You will find it suitable for your graphics works and other professional tasks needing colour reproduction.
However, IPS panels are expensive and have higher response times than TN panels. Response times could be as high as 4ms to 6ms, making it slower than a TN panel.
You should go for a TN panel if you will be using your monitor for gaming due to the TN panel’s faster response time. But, just like how there are high-end TN panels that have great colour accuracy.
There are also IPS monitors with low response times and high refresh rates. That can be used for competitive gaming. They are more expensive than their TN counterparts. But, you also benefit from the higher colour accuracy, reproduction, and saturation.
Organic Light-emitting Diode (OLED)
OLED Monitors are the most expensive of all panel types. It does not use an active backlight. It allows each pixel to light up independently and function as its own light source.
You will get superior contrast from an OLED monitor because each pixel is illuminated separately. Superior contrast means it can display truer black.
Since OLED monitors do not use active backlights, you will not experience backlight bleeding. Backlight bleeding occurs when a part of the screen is brighter than other parts, causing inconsistent blacks.
OLED monitors give better viewing angles than other panel types. You will find an OLED monitor’s ability to reproduce colours very high, because they have the highest colour accuracy and gamut. And so are excellent at reproducing like-like images.
They are not mostly used for gaming. But when they are used the experience is immersive.
Monitor Gaming Technologies
To get the concept of Monitor gaming technologies, you need to understand what screen tearing is.
Screen tearing results when your GPU sends a frame to your monitor for display whiles another frame is being currently displayed. This, in turn, causes two different frames to appear on the upper and lower parts of the screen with a line dividing them.
Screen tearing is apparent when you move from left to right. You can only observe screen tearing at low FPS and refresh rates. To solve this, vertical sync (V- sync – a setting in games) makes your graphics card to wait on your monitor for a refresh before sending a new frame.
The downside of using the V-Sync is that you will experience increased input latency. That is your keyboard and mouse inputs are not registered immediately.
In response to screen tearing, NVIDIA G-SYNC was developed. It requires an NVIDIA graphics card and module in your monitor before it works. You will also need a display port connection.
G-SYNC helps in reconciling your GPU’s frame rate with your monitor’s refresh rate.
AMD FREEESYNC also works like NVIDIA G-Sync.
FREESYNC requires an AMD Graphics card or later before you can use it. NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FREESYNC make monitors adapt their refresh rates to your GPU’s frame rate which is known as adaptive sync.
Adaptive sync allows your GPU to control your display’s refresh rate. Adaptive sync works between 30-144Hz. Because FREESYNC is cheaper than g-sync, FREESYNC is more widely used.
You should understand that FREESYNC AMD Graphics card will not work with a G-Sync Monitor, and an NVIDIA Graphics card will not work on a FREESYNC monitor.
However, some monitors support both NVIDIA G-SYNC and AMD FREESYNC. NVIDIA permitted G-SYNC support for some selected AMD monitors in early 2019.
You should note that you do not need an adaptive technology if your GPU frame-per-second (fps) and your monitor’s refresh rate are compatible.
If you have limited working space, then an inbuilt speaker is a good option for you.
Some monitors have dual or single inbuilt speakers. You should go for whichever suits your purpose.
If you will be using your monitor for graphics designing and less gaming, you should not really bother about speakers. Inbuilt speakers do not translate to having the best audio experience, so you may need to get better speakers or a good headphone if you will be using your monitor for music-related purposes.
Colour Bit-Depth explains the number of bits in a single pixel. A bit refers to the stored colour information.
Bit depth relates the number of colours that can be displayed on your monitor at a time. The most available colour bit depths are the 8-bit, 16-bit, and the 24-bit colour depths. The human eye can see discern 10 million colours.
If you will be using your monitor for video editing, animations, and playing video games, the 24-bit colour depth is just fine. A 32-bit colour depth may seem too excessive as your eyes will not be able to discern more than 10 million of the 16 million+ colours.
In 24-bit colour depth, there are eight bits of each of the three colours present. You should prioritize your choice of colour bit if you will be using your monitor for professional graphic works.
You should be more concerned about the speed of colour displays if you will be using your monitor for gaming and watching movies.
I/O or Input/Output are ports your monitor has. Some monitors have USB ports not including the display ports. The high-end monitors have USB-C or Thunderbolt ports.
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Curved or Flat Monitor For Professional, Coding, Gaming, etc.
Apart from the fact that you will find curved monitors more physically attractive, you will also not be missing out on colour saturation and colour contrasts of your curved monitor when you’re not directly in front of it unlike in flat monitors.
With curved monitors, visibility can be achieved from different angles and varying distances, a necessary element to spice up your gaming experience.
Curved monitors have wider viewing angles which help in improving colour reproduction on your monitor. You will find images, movies and games more realistic when you use a curved monitor.
Curved monitors also minimize reflections. With curved monitors, your chances of experiencing eye strain are quite low. Your gaming experience will be detailed as curved monitors employ the concept of the eye’s design to provide you will a great viewing experience.
Research has shown that with a curved monitor, you will find information on your screen 24% faster than when you’re using a flat monitor. If you want to take things up a notch, you can choose to go for triple-curved monitor setup.
However, you won’t enjoy using your curved monitor if you wish to suspend it on a wall.
Other Important Things You Should Consider About A Monitor
Even though you’ll find HDR monitors to be pricey, you will still get back the value of your money.
HDR monitors excellently recreate realness on your screen without missing out on details. A DisplayHDR 500 is a suitable choice if you will be getting your monitor for general purposes.
You should go for a DisplayHDR 600 or better if you need a gaming HDR monitor.
For video editing, photoshopping, creating animations, a DisplayHDR 1000 will suffice.
With a DisplayHDR500, you’ll be getting at least Edge-lit dimming. HDR monitors have great contrast ratios. While gaming on HDR monitors, deep black levels allow you to see more details in dark situations, thanks to their great contrast ratios.
For video professionals, colour fidelity is a top priority. Wider colour gamut improves your experience with HDR monitors.
Monitors claiming an ‘HDR400’ instead of ‘DisplayHDR400’ has not been tested by VESA, and you shouldn’t buy them.
There are three backlight dimming technologies associated with HDR Monitors: FALD, Edge-Dim lighting, and Global Dimming.
With Full Array Local Dimming (FALD), you can dim some zones over some other zones on the panel, varying brightness levels across the panel to provide a dynamic range of greatly bright patches in some parts of the screen and darker blacks in the rest part of your image. This makes your gaming experience very detailed. FALD HDR monitors are high-end HDR monitors.
With Edge-Lit Dimming, there is less zoning so you won’t be able to control dimming as much as you can do with FLAD. The areas you can dim with Edge-Lit Dimming are limited to the bottom, the bottom and top, and the left and right sides of your monitor’s screen. Hence, less contrast ratio resulting in less image quality. It is, however, cheaper than FLAD.
Global dimming has just one dimming zone. Its contrast ratio is poor and never goes beyond 1000:1, similarly rating it with some good SDR monitors.
HDR Monitors with global dimming are only suitable if you will be using them for purposes where the difference between the darkest and lightest tones (also known as Dynamic range) of your image isn’t of great concern to you.
VESA Options or Stand
If you want to hang your monitor on a wall, there are some things you need to keep in mind and in place before you can.
Before you mount your monitor, you need to know the width and height between the holes behind your monitor and measure them in millimetres. The measurements are regarded as VESA PATTERN.
VESA patterns are written as 200 ×100 mm, meaning the horizontal distance between the holes is 200mm and the vertical distance between them is 100m.
If you wish to mount your monitor, you should also ensure your monitor is VESA compatible before you buy it. If your monitor is not compatible with VESA standards, you should not attempt to mount it on a VESA stand.
Using the VESA pattern behind your monitor, you will be able to get a suitable stand to fix your monitor to a wall.
There are several options available for you if you wish to calibrate your monitor. The most available option is the built-in tools provided by Mac and Windows to their consumers.
These tools will you help in adjusting gamma, a setting which affects brightness, colour ratio, contrasts and colour levels of your monitor. If you find the tools unsatisfactory, you may download a colour profile for your display.
Colour profiles include sRGB and Adobe RGB. In addition to those options, you could also try getting a colour calibrator.
To use a colour calibrator, you will need to place it on your screen. It helps to tell how much your colour balance, luminance, and other related factors need adjustment. You may rent or buy one.
The bezel is the frame housing your monitor’s screen and the other component responsible for the functioning of your monitor.
Bezels are actually limitations to your monitor if you wish to have a very smooth multi-monitor setup display.
To resolve this issue, you should go for monitors with thin bezels. Some monitors also come with bezel-free kits. With these kits, you don’t need to take off the bezel of your monitors. You only need to fix the bezel between the bezels of the monitors you want to set up together.
This bezel-free kit stretches the edges of the screens of both monitors causing the bezels to disappear.
Pivoting a monitor is all about tilting it from landscape to portrait mode. Before you do this, you need to check if your monitor of choice supports pivoting before you purchase it.
Monitor pivoting makes it easy for you to view lengthy documents and websites with vertical orientations.
If your monitor has an in-built G Sensor, images will be automatically tilted whenever you pivot your monitor.
One of the downsides to pivoting your monitor is that it may affect the viewing angle of your monitor. Pivoting offers flexibility to photographers who work on landscape and portrait modes.
However, you may not enjoy your gaming and movie experiences with a tilted monitor.
Frame Control (FRC)
Frame Rate Control is about increasing your picture quality on low-quality panels like TN+film LCD.
Since TN panels do not support the 24-bit true-colour, they combine adjacent pixels to imitate the shades they were unable to produce.
There is really so much to consider before you buy your (first) monitor. These factors shouldn’t leave you overwhelmed but equipped with information!
If you weigh your options very carefully, you are sure to find a monitor that suits your choice very satisfactorily. Good luck getting that (first) monitor!
That’s it for on how to find the best monitor.