How to choose a computer monitor
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the monitor screen must be the window to the computer. Many users may see a beautiful monitor as a luxury, with the actual hardware unit taking precedence. But a newer monitor model can often take up less space, generate less electricity, require less maintenance and upkeep, and generally make working on your computer less of a pain (not to mention saving you from eyestrain).
So how do you choose a computer monitor among the hundreds of options? Stick around, and we'll help you make sense of the many available features. You should be able to find a monitor that will meet basic needs for $100 or so, although you can easily spend $500 or more on a larger and more sophisticated one.
Sleek vs. boxy
Those big, boxy monitors are still available, but as the quality of flat-screen displays has gone up and price has gone down, only a dedicated minority of customers still favors them. Let's compare:
- Displays more precise colors (most users won't really be able to tell the difference, though)
- Amazing fast motion in games and videos without streaking.
Sleek and space saving (aka liquid crystal displays or LCDs)
- Lighter, less bulky
- Takes less power and generates less heat (which is good news for the environment, as well as for those of us who want a larger monitor without having it weigh 100 pounds and taking up our entire desk)
- Sleek at just few inches thick
- Advanced with high-quality, reasonably priced models now available.
Digital vs. analog
Monitors can be either digital or analog – digital units are more expensive, but offer better quality. Computers are digital beasts and must convert the display output before piping it to an analog monitor. Something is always lost in the translation, and, in this case, it is a small amount of picture quality.
So those of you with plenty of money and a wish for the very best should consider spending the extra dough on a digital monitor. For the rest of us, less expensive analog monitors will do the job.
Deciphering the features
When you start comparing displays, terminology can lead to confusion, despair, and eventually just buying whatever the salesperson tells you to. Don't be a statistic — read on:
- Display size is what most people consider first. It's the diagonal measurement from one corner of the screen to the other, and it ranges from about 17 inches to 24 inches. Larger screens can show larger images, which is useful for fine graphics, photo, or video work. They are also great for those of us with eyes that are ‘more mature’. Ahem.
- Wide-screen displays are, you guessed it, wider than standard displays, but the same height. And for those of you who tend to multitask or watch loads of movies on your computer, it makes sense, but in most cases, it a nice to have, not a need to have.
- Maximum resolution refers to how many tiny squares—called pixels—make up the display. The resolution is defined as the number of pixels from left to right across the screen by the number of pixels from top to bottom. Higher resolutions, with a larger number of pixels, produce sharper pictures. A decent monitor should be able to handle at least 1024 x 768 pixels, but if you like to have a lot of programs open and don't mind smaller graphics, you'll want a monitor with a much higher resolution (because graphics normally consist of a set number of pixels, displaying more pixels on the screen overall means that the graphic takes up a smaller proportion of the total screen space).
- Contrast ratio measures the difference in light intensity between pure white and pure black. Lower-quality displays have low contrast ratios, which can make everything on the screen look kind of muddy. Higher contrast ratios provide crisper images with more distinct colors. A contrast ratio of at least 500:1 is good; 700:1 is even better.
- Brightness (or luminance) indicates how much light the screen generates. Especially in a room with a lot of ambient light, a bright screen can help to reduce eyestrain. Here's a place where we tote out the bizarre units: brightness is measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m2), which is kind of like measuring speed in furlongs per fortnight, but I digress. Look for a value of at least 300 cd/m2.
- Response time measures how fast a pixel on the screen can change color. Faster response times keep the display crisp even when things are moving fast, which prevents a ‘smear’ or ‘ghosting’ effect. For productivity applications, response time is beside the point; for games and media, it can be critical. Under five milliseconds (ms) is very fast, while over 15 ms is pretty slow. To put it into perspective if you're a gamer, the difference in milliseconds can mean the difference between saving the universe from a race of angry human devouring aliens, and imminent destruction.
Be your own judge
When it comes to monitor shopping, go check them out in person and see what you like. It's a good idea to try out the displays with the different kinds of content you'll use, like photo editing apps to gaming to streaming video. Make sure you like the controls for adjusting things like brightness and contrast.
And keep the receipt. Occasionally, you'll get the monitor home and it may not work well in your particular environment.
And remember, with tax time around the corner, speak to your accountant to see whether you can claim your new monitor purchase as a business tax deduction.
Published on: Monday, May 30, 2011