Monitors tend to be the most ignored part of a PC. Hard drives get upgraded every few years, and mice and keyboards are replaced as soon as they show signs of trouble. So why overlook that monitor which is staring you in the face? If your monitor is more than three years old, it’s time for an upgrade, and lower prices coupled with advances in LCD monitors mean there are more affordable choices than ever. Not sure what to buy? Let Pronto’s Computer Monitor Buying Guide show you what to look for.
Although LCD monitors dominate sales, CRT monitors are still available. CRT monitors are a good choice for digital artists because they can display more colors and have a wider viewing angle. Budget-minded consumers can get larger screens by choosing CRT.
Flat-screen LCD monitors save desktop space and cause less eyestrain than CRT monitors. If you’re not editing graphics, an LCD is a good choice. Widescreen monitors give you more screen area for applications and multimedia.
Know the resolution that your graphics card supports so you don’t buy more monitor than you need. If you move around a lot while using your computer, choose a monitor with a wider horizontal viewing angle.
Most users, including gamers, will be happy with a 19-inch or 20-inch monitor. Larger LCD screens cost significantly more and are best left to the digital artists who need them.
A monitor is a graphical interface for your PC. Fancy sound and TV tuners should be avoided unless you really need an all-in-one solution.
The overall dimensions of a monitor screen. A standard screen is three units high by four units wide, or 4:3, while a widescreen is nine units high by 16 units wide, or 16:9.
A built-in digital tuner that allows a monitor to receive digital and HDTV programming when connected to a broadcast source, such as an antenna, cable, or satellite dish.
Cathode Ray Tube. CRT monitors are bulkier and heavier than LCD monitors, but they can display more colors than LCD screens and support multiple resolutions.
Liquid Crystal Display. LCD monitors use tiny pixels to create an image. Lighter and slimmer than CRT monitors, they are limited to 16.7 million colors. Some LCD monitors have trouble displaying fast-moving images, resulting in ghosting or image blur.
The standard resolution of an LCD monitor, measured in pixels.
The speed at which an LCD monitor can change the color of a single pixel, measured in microseconds. The lower the number, the faster the monitor can refresh.
The horizontal and vertical extremes at which you can look at an image on an LCD monitor before the picture degrades.
It’s no secret that flat-panel LCD monitors are outselling cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors by a wide margin. LCD monitors take up less desktop space, and there’s something refreshing and modern about their thin design. But CRT is still the best choice for some users.
As graphic designers, digital photographers, and multimedia editors know, a CRT monitor supports an infinite number of colors, compared with the 16.7 million colors that LCD monitors can render. This makes a CRT monitor the only choice for designers and artists doing fine work.
Another advantage is scalability. CRT monitors can support any resolution, allowing an artist to see how images will look in a variety of formats. Gamers prefer CRT monitors for their ability to display fast-moving images without blurring.
Many manufacturers have stopped making CRT monitors, and the CRTs that come with bargain desktop PCs tend to be poor-performing models. CRT monitors are subject to image burn, and the phosphors in the tubes degrade over time, decreasing color accuracy. Still, CRT monitors offer wider viewing angles than LCD monitors, and the popularity of LCD has resulted in very attractive prices for larger CRT monitors. If you’ve got the space, and a desk than can support the weight of a CRT monitor, they’re an easy, affordable solution that may get you more screen size for your investment.
Flat-panel LCD monitors weigh less than CRTs. Their bright displays make LCD monitors a better choice for bright rooms, and their static picture reduces eyestrain for heavy users.
A widescreen LCD monitor gives you more screen space to work with, allowing you to run multiple programs or display more palettes. Many new LCD monitors are HDTV capable, which lets them display HDTV if you’ve got an ATSC tuner in your desktop PC.
The best news in LCD monitors is improved performance and lower prices. Screen refresh rates have improved dramatically, eliminating the ghosting and image blur that were common on early monitors. Finding out the refresh rate of a monitor can be tricky, as many manufacturers don’t highlight this detail. Check with trusted sources to learn the refresh rate when shopping, and look for a refresh rate of 12ms or less if you’ll be playing games.
LCD monitors have a native resolution, typically 1600x1200 pixels for standard aspect ratio monitors and 1920X1200 for widescreen models, although the horizontal resolution goes higher as widescreen monitor size increases. This leads to two considerations: First, you need to know the resolution of your graphics card, as there’s no point in buying a monitor with more resolution than your card can support.
Second, LCD monitors do not cope well with resolutions other than their native resolution. You can typically cut the monitor resolution by one half or one quarter, but you will notice a drop in image clarity. The worst-case scenario is setting your computer to a resolution that the monitor cannot support, then having to hook up an old monitor to correct it. The best advice is to find the highest native resolution that your graphics card will support, set the resolution once, and then leave it alone.
The other factor to consider is viewing angles. LCD monitors look their best when you’re sitting right in front of them. Standing or moving too far to the left or right causes the monitor’s image to wash out. Vertical viewing angle is seldom a concern, but look for horizontal viewing angles of 120 degrees or more if you move around while using your monitor.
For most users, a 17-inch or 19-inch monitor with a 3:4 aspect ratio is the best choice. A 19-inch or 20-inch widescreen monitor is ideal for those who watch a lot of movies, play games, or run applications that have a lot of palettes, such as Adobe Photoshop, although it may be just as easy to get a standard monitor and use your existing monitor as a second screen for these palettes and windows. Almost every home PC supports the multiple monitors function, but you’ll need some extra cables to make everything work.
LCD monitors as large as 30 inches are available. These cost significantly more than smaller monitors and are probably too big if you’re sitting two or three feet away from the screen. Digital artists may need that extra screen size, but most users will be happy with something smaller.
Speakers are a common feature on monitors, and a good set of speakers adds significantly to a monitor’s cost. If you need an all-in-one solution, these monitors are worth the extra money, but most users can find a more economical solution by purchasing a monitor without sound and a separate set of powered speakers. Remember that no monitor can duplicate the surround sound produced by a moderate receiver and a good set of speakers.
ATSC digital tuners and HDMI ports are turning up on LCD monitors. These allow you to receive HDTV and export the signal to an HDMI-compatible device. Considering that these features can add $100 or more to the price of a monitor, you need to ask why they’re there. A monitor isn’t a television—it’s a graphical interface for a computer. The functions that these monitors perform can and should be handled by an HDTV or your PC.
Two factors influence the cost of a monitor: The quality of the picture (including native resolution and refresh rate on LCD monitors), and the additional functions the monitor performs. Spend for a better screen, not for added functions.