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Unlike laptops and all-in-ones which come with built-in monitors, desktop PCs require an external, standalone screen. Often these will come as part of a package with the desktop, but if you choose to buy just the PC itself, or build your own PC from separates, then the purchasing of a monitor will be essential.
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Should I buy an HD monitor?
In short, if you can afford it and your PC supports one, then yes. Much as with televisions, the extra clarity provided by a high definition monitor makes watching content all the more rewarding. And those extra pixels will even make a positive impact while you’re browsing the web or working on a spreadsheet.
Should I buy a touchscreen monitor?
Touchscreen technology is par for the course now with tablet devices, but has yet to gain the same level of popularity when it comes to desktop PC technology. It’s also usual for touchscreen monitors to carry a heftier price tag than their standard counterparts.
Whether you buy a touchscreen monitor depends entirely on how you wish to use your computer. But, unless navigating your desktop with your fingers is particularly important to you, we’d suggest this is far from an essential feature - especially for those who want to avoid fingerprints smeared across their display.
What size PC monitor should I buy?
As with TVs, monitors come in a range of sizes. Due to the proximity of where you sit when using one, however, most will range from around 17-27 inches, with 30 inches the extreme.
Monitor screen size
LCD and LED panel sizes are measured diagonally between opposite corners of the screen, indicating the monitor’s viewable size.
Choose a screen size that is enough to display everything you need. Larger screens are generally preferable, especially if you want to display two pages of a document side by side, or to do photo editing. Don’t forget that the viewable area of a widescreen (16:9) monitor is generally about the same as that of a 4:3 monitor that is two inches smaller.
A 19-inch regular LCD or 21-inch widescreen LCD monitor are likely to be good all-rounders for most users. Monitors of 22-24 inches will give more space for photo and video editing, or watching DVDs, Blu-ray discs or online video-on-demand services.
Though it may seem obvious, bear in mind the size of your workspace when deciding on the type of monitor to buy. A huge monitor may look appealing, but you want to make sure your desk is deep enough for you to view it from a comfortable distance without your nose to the screen – as a guide, somewhere between 20 and 30 inches is the ideal viewing distance.
Regular format monitors have a screen aspect ratio (the ratio of the horizontal dimension of the screen to the vertical) of 4:3.
Many widescreen monitors have a 16:10 aspect ratio, which means that when watching a broadcast or film in 16:9, there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. There’s been a move recently towards all monitors having a 16:9 screen ratio, as with HD plasma and LCD TVs.
Unless you’re short of space, have no need for watching films on your PC, or don’t need to be able to view two pages of a document or two web pages side by side, then a widescreen monitor is likely to be the best monitor for you.
LCD monitors display images on screen by using a matrix of pixels. Each PC monitor has a fixed 'native resolution'. For example, most standard 4:3 monitors up to 19 inches in size have a 1,280x1,024 pixel native resolution, while 23- and 24-inch widescreen 16:9 monitors can have a native resolution of 1,920x1,200.
LCD monitors can only display resolutions up to their native resolution – for example, if your graphics card is set to a resolution of 1,600x1,220, it will not display on a 1,280x1,024 LCD monitor.
Common native resolutions include: 1,024x768, 1,280x1040, 1,366x768, 1,440x900, 1,600x900, 1,680x1,050, 1,920x1,080 and 1,920x1,200.
Monitor video connections
Monitors generally have a standard analogue VGA (15-pin mini D-sub) socket, often coloured blue, for connecting to most graphics cards.
Digital connections give better picture quality than analogue. The most common digital socket on monitors and graphics cards is a DVI socket, usually coloured white.
There are two types of DVI sockets on typical LCD monitors: DVI-D is digital-only, while DVI-I can accept either an analogue or digital input. A DVI-I socket allows you to connect an analogue VGA output from a computer to your monitor via a converter.
Check that your monitor is HDCP-compliant, meaning that its DVI input supports HDCP, a digital copy protection system used on Blu-ray disc players and other HD video sources such as PVRs.
Some monitors from Dell, HP and Lenovo have a DisplayPort socket instead of DVI. DisplayPort is a relatively new standard for display connections and is still quite rare.
HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) sockets are becoming more widespread on larger widescreen LCD monitors, as well as on graphics cards and laptops.
On laptops, HDMI sockets are more common than DVI sockets. However, HDMI and DVI sockets are compatible with an HDMI to DVI digital adaptor cable.
HDMI can carry both digital video and audio signals between devices, but, unless your monitor has built-in speakers or an audio pass-through socket, you’ll need to use a separate audio cable to carry the sound.
An HDMI socket on a monitor means you can connect any HD source to it, including Blu-ray disc players, Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes, plus many PVRs, DVD recorders and games consoles.
Some high-end monitors have connections that are more common on LCD and plasma TVs, such as S-video, component and composite video inputs.