Psst…Wanna Buy a Monitor?

This is the last post I’ll make on computers this year…I promise! But I thought if you were ever in the market to buy a monitor for a new PC or upgrade the one you have now, this might save you some time and effort.

Of course if you have a laptop or tablet or smartphone the display you see is the display you get. It’s a bit more flexible to have a desktop unit. But then you have some choices to make.

And the number one choice is…don’t cheap out. A monitor isn’t the most expensive piece of kit to buy – just look at video card prices – but this is a purchase where $30-40 more will make a huge difference in satisfaction over a few years of use. Trust me – I have been there.

A second point – don’t get caught up in all the specs – the huge contrast ratios, the nits and response times. The most important thing is what you’ll use the monitor for and where you’ll sit while watching it.

That said there are a few things to look out for:

  • Size – you can get ultra wides up to 38 inches but in my world 24 inches is plenty. That’ll fit on your average desk and give you room for speakers and a printer. A 27 inch screen would be my absolute maximum.
  • Aspect ratio – I like 16:9, as that is the same as your typical HDTV and the monitor could work as a TV in a pinch if you hook it up to a cable box or DVD player.
  • Resolution – I do not see any reason to go higher than 1920X1080 (full HD) unless you have a huge screen. You can always get another monitor and set it beside your current one if you want to have multiple applications on screen at once.

So assuming you want a 24 inch full HD screen there is one more critical choice you have to make. That is the type of LCD panel in the monitor. There are three basic types out there.

  • TN – this is the oldest and cheapest technology and if the specs don’t say anything chances are you have a TN panel. In addition to lower cost, TN has a very good response time so for gamers TN can be the way to go.
    There are tradeoffs though. TN has a very low viewing angle so if you are looking at it from the side or above/below the colors can fade and look washed out. You have to get the monitor exactly at eye level for best results. A TN panel can drive you nuts if you don’t get the eye level right.
  • IPS – now we’re talking. IPS gives the best viewing angles so you never see colors fade. Also it displays the most accurate colors so photographers and graphic artists use IPS monitors.
    Disadvantages include cost – although that has come down a lot – and the fact that IPS isn’t the speediest unit in refresh time or frame rate. Gamers might want a faster monitor. That said I use an IPS monitor all the time to run train simulator games with no problems at all.
  • VA – this monitor is pretty fast, almost as good as IPS in viewing angle, and has the deepest blacks and best contrast of the three monitor types. The disadvantage is that it isn’t quite as good as TN for speed and IPS for color fidelity. It can make a nice compromise though if you like lots of contrast. VA monitors are not as common as the other two so it might take some digging to find a good one. Cost is about the same as IPS.

My personal recommendation is to go with IPS for general use. You really can’t go wrong and the price premium over TN isn’t much more than $40 Canadian.

As far as brands go, if you choose TN get a good sale item. There’s not a lot to choose from among brands – although I have had good luck with Acer.

In IPS LG is a brand of choice because they make their own panels. ASUS is pretty good as well. Samsung makes its own version of IPS called PLS but I haven’t tried one yet.

For VA there’s really only one maker I’d consider and that is BenQ – who make excellent monitors of all types but specialize in VA panels.

That’s my story for today. If you’ve read this far without dozing off, best wishes for a Happy New Year and all the best in 2017.


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