Have you ever wondered why are there so many devices from so many companies that do exactly the same thing? For example, there are thousands of MP3 players out for sale and 90% (actually even more) of them don't really have any truly extraordinary or highly innovative features. Sure you can find companies like Apple, Cowon or iRiver who market distinctive products that most of the time come at a premium price, but in general, most companies simply copy ideas from each other.
The same (albeit at a lesser extent) goes for the PC monitors' market. This guide is meant to help you choose from the wide array of computer LCD monitors available out there and teach you a thing or two about what to look for when hunting for a new display.
Let's start from scratch. There two few basic scenarios:
1. You've just bought a new computer and don't have a monitor, or your old monitor just died from unknown causes. What can you do? First of all, take a look at the back of your computer and follow the monitor cable. Identify the type of connector your old monitor used to connect to the PC. Try to remember it somehow. Second, throw away the old display since I doubt you will try to fix it yourself. Now that you got rid of the extra baggage, it's time to take a look in the piggy bank and establish how much money you're willing to spend on a new display.
2. You suddenly decide you want a bigger and better monitor for games and movies. Again, repeat the steps above, but don't throw away your old monitor. Either give it away to someone in need for a better PC display or simply sell it in order to get a starting base for purchasing your new PC monitor.
Anyway, the most important thing at this point is to find out what kind of monitor cable you should use. Most of you out there (depending on when you bought your last display) will be presented with two options: VGA or DVI. VGA is usually blue and DVI is almost always white (and wider than VGA). A VGA connector has 3 lines with 5 pins on each line. A DVI connector has 3 lines with 8 pins each and a set of four additional pins for analog signals. Some of you might have a more recent LCD monitor which comes with an HDMI connector. In this case, you're probably experiencing case number 1 and I'm sorry for you.
If you are wondering what's the difference between the two connectors we can cut it short (but we won't) and say that usually DVI is the best. Why? Because most DVI cables provide for digital connection and this in return comes with 0 quality loss. Plus, you will not have to adjust monitor geometry and margins as required when using an analog cable.
The HDMI solution is the best you will ever get, since if you happen to buy a display with integrated speakers, a HDMI cable provides both digital audio and video with a single connection. But this scenario is somewhat more complicated, since you first have to find out whether your video card has a DVI output. After you've established that, you need to know whether the graphics card came with a DVI to HDMI adapter, since graphics cards with native HDMI outputs are fairly rare. And even if your card does have HDMI capabilities, this is still not a critical aspect for PC monitors. The main reason why you would want to look for a HDMI monitor should not be PC related. For example you may sometime want to hook up your gaming console. This could be a lot easier when using an HDMI interface.
If you have a DVI connector on your graphics card don't bother with HDMI, just look for a new monitor with DVI input.
Actually don't look just yet. Have you decided how much money you're willing to spend on the new purchase? Yes? Too bad, the next step might just make you change your mind. No? Why not? Didn't I tell you to do so a couple of minutes a go?
The next step in choosing a display device for your PC is knowing what size you want. Heads up, because these days monitors come in all sizes. We have tiny 17-inch LCDs (which are an endangered species), small 19 inchers, medium 20-inch ones, the standard 22-inch class, the big 24-inch gaming favorites and in the end, the 30-inch monsters. Now these are all diagonal measurements. As in this is the size between two diagonal opposing corners of a monitor. Just walk around an electronics store to make an idea of how large each of these categories is. You should note that a 30-inch diagonal is pretty large for a PC monitor. A regular size LCD TV is 32-inch or 37-inch, so if you're thinking at this scale you should probably go for a TV, rather than a monitor. Sure there are some differences when it comes to resolution, but that's beyond the point.
One other aspect you will want to decide on when buying a new monitor is the screen AR (aspect ratio). AR refers to the ratio between the length and width of the screen. Let's break this down as it can get a little confusing. In the big picture we have widescreen displays and standard 4:3 displays. Widescreen equals 16:9 aspect ratio when we're talking about LCD TVs. Now, things are a little different when it comes to widescreen PC monitors. They use a 16:10 AR and so are not 1:1 compatible with TV LCDs. The 4:3 standard is your every day almost square shaped TV screen, nothing special about that.
You should also note that 4:3 displays don't really go over the 20-inch barrier that often. Also, you'll never see 17-inch widescreen displays. Widescreen comes in at 19-inch and above. Most 24-inch and 30-inch display are widescreen (personally, I've never seen a 4:3 30-inch monitor).
All of the above scenarios are somewhat shaky since if you have an HDMI monitor, you probably have a last generation computer and that should provide for HDMI output. But not necessarily! Also, if your old monitor was CRT (big and heavy with a huge cathode tube in the back), then chances are you have an old and crappy PC that might not even provide DVI output. On the other hand maybe you've just bought yourselves a new graphics card, which comes with all the marbles and then you should have every output choice there is (maybe even DisplayPort). Oh yeah....DisplayPort. This is the latest connector when it comes to multimedia interfaces. It's not that popular and there are only a few graphic cards and even less monitors that come with this type of connector. Their numbers will probably grow in the next year or so, but for now we'll just ignore the DisplayPort.
Next, we have to take into account the resolution factor. What is “resolution”? We need to get a bit technical to explain this. Although monitor images appear extremely detailed and real, an image displayed on any type of screen is actually a combination of very small dots (named pixels) which take different colors in order to form an image. If you've ever zoomed in on any digital photo, you might have noticed that the more you zoom in, the more detail you loose. At max zoom you can actually see single color blocks (like rectangular shapes) all over the screen. This is exactly what would happen if you where to take a microscope to your display and “zoom in” on it.
Anyway, back to resolution. The resolution is the number of pixels the monitor uses to generate an imagine. Resolutions are given in width_no_of_pixels x height_no_of_pixels (640x480, 800x600...). By multiplying the two values you will get the actual number of pixels on the screen. Now resolution is relative to screen size. Why is that? Simple. As I said, picture details are given by the number of pixels on the screen. The number of pixels on the screen is in fact the resolution. Now if you where to have the same number of pixels on a 15-inch screen and a 30-inch screen, you would have to use the same number of pixels on a surface twice as large. This means pixels would have to be more wide spread and this would lead to larger gaps between them, which in the end would generate “less detailed” images.
As Einstein said, everything is relative, and when it comes to display resolutions I agree with him. Standard PC LCDs come with a few standard resolutions, each dedicated for a certain monitor size. 17-inch and 19-inch monitors come with 1280x1024 pixels (except widescreen 19 inchers which use 1440x900). The 20-inch class uses 1600x1200 for 4:3 displays and 1680x1050 for 16:10 displays (the latter goes for 22 inches to). Over at the 24-inch class we have 1920x1200 pixels, which qualifies them for FULL HD displays. And the “winner” is the 30 inch big brother, with a screen resolution of 2560x1600 pixels. This is usually where most consumer grade graphic cards top out, so even if there were any higher resolution monitors (actually there are), you couldn't actually use them.
Another aspect when buying an LCD monitor for your PC is the response time. This is an important specification and the lower its value is, the crisper images will become. The response time of an LCD panel refers to the time measured for a pixel which goes from black to white and back to full black again. This is pretty important, since a high response time monitor will introduce ghosting effects on fast moving scenes. Avid gamers should never consider buying a high response time LCD. If response time is high, then images could “overlap” each other. If you think of the response time as the interval required by a display to change from the current displayed image to the next frame provided by the graphics card, then you can understand how a slow response time could lead to a new image being transmitted to the monitor without it being able to recover from its previous image state. It's a matter of the graphics card feeding data faster than the display can change its state.
You should also note that since 2008, most response times have settled to relatively low values. A typical response time equal or lower to 8ms will do just fine. And, unless you buy an overpriced Apple monitor, you'll be hard challenged to find a monitor with a response time above 8ms. Of course, 6 or 5ms would be even better, but the important thing is not to stress yourself about it.
Next on the spec list we have contrast ratio and brightness. What are these? Well, contrast ratio is defined as the ratio between the brightest white pixel and the darkest black pixel. Values come at 800:1, 1000:1, 600:1 etc. You will see companies which advertise contrast ratios with higher values like 10000:1. Be aware that these are actually dynamic contrast measurements and can't be compared directly with “static” contrast ratios. Brightness refers to the screen's maximum light emitting intensity. It's measured in candela per square meter (cd/m2) and the higher the number, the better your screen will look in any light conditions. This values can be found somewhere in the 300-400 range and, again, is not something you should be worried about. Although you would want a higher brightness screen if you use your monitor in direct sunlight conditions.
Last, but not least, you should really take into consideration the overall design of the monitor. For example, I have seen some HP displays which look absolutely horrible. I wouldn't put something like that on my office desk for all the pixels in the world. I usually choose my monitors to match my PC case color theme since I keep my computer on the desk instead of somewhere on the floor.
One more thing I forgot to mention. Since you will probably go hunting for a DVI capable display, you should know that there's something in the IT business going by the name of HDCP. This is a protection scheme used for high definition media like Blu-ray movies. The point is that if you want to play a BD disc movie on your PC, besides a Blu-ray optical drive, you also need an HDCP compliant graphics card and monitor (and this only works with the display's DVI connection). So if you intend on playing HD movies on your PC you might want to find out if the monitor you settled on is HDCP compliant.
This is about everything you should know when it comes to LCDs. I hope this simple guide has provided you with the basic concepts when it comes to PC LCD monitors and I also hope you will enjoy your future monitor(s). We are just a few, but there are many of you, Softpedia users, out there. That's why we thought it would be a good idea to create an email address for you to help us a little in finding gadgets we missed. Interesting links are bound to be posted with recognition going mainly to those who submit. The address is .