PC monitors: How to buy the best LCD computer monitor LCD monitor screen basics
Upgrade from a CRT to an LCD monitor
If you’ve got a bulky old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor then buying an LCD (TFT) monitor could be a useful upgrade to an older PC or Mac.
Not only can an LCD monitor give improved picture quality with more detail and less chance of distortion, but it’ll also save on desk space, and could save you money by using less electricity. LCD monitors are also slimmer and lighter.
And choosing a widescreen monitor means that your PC will become more of a home entertainment system, ideal for watching DVDs or Blu-ray discs.
Monitor technology is improving at a fairly steady rate, so though a monitor is one of the easiest PC or Mac peripherals to upgrade, if you choose one of the best monitors today, it should provide years of viewing pleasure before you need to upgrade to a new model.
Monitor screen size
LCD panel size is measured diagonally between opposite corners of the screen and indicates the monitor’s viewable size.
Choose a screen size that is able 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 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.
Also, the quoted size of a CRT monitor is actually usually one or two inches (25-50mm) bigger than the viewable screen, so if you’re upgrading your monitor from a CRT to an LCD then you might not need to increase your chosen screen size significantly.
A 19-inch regular LCD or 21-inch widescreen LCD monitor are likely to be good all-rounders for most users. Monitors of 22-inch to 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 – as a guide, somewhere between 20 and 30 inches is ideal.
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 want 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.
Pixel pitch is a measurement of the distance between pixels on the LCD screen, measured in millimetres (mm). A smaller pixel pitch means sharper images. A typical pixel pitch is 0.25mm.
Monitor colours and styling
Monitors are generally black, with occasional silver details. Apple monitors differ in that their LED cinema displays have aluminium casings and stands with a glossy black screen surround (bezel).
Some monitor manufacturers, such as Samsung, try to distinguish their monitors from the competition by adding colourful touches, such as subtle red stripes.
Monitor screens can be reflective and glossy, or matt. LCD monitors can suffer from glare and reflections, but many people prefer their aesthetics. Conversely, matt screens can give reduced contrast and brightness and be harder to see in bright light conditions.
If you want to have a sleek monitor or use a dual-screen monitor setup, choose monitors with thin bezels – around 1cm is about the thinnest bezel available on mainstream monitors.