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How to buy the best computer monitor

Need a new monitor? We run through the key questions you need to answer to find the right model, and how to avoid paying over the odds

How to buy the best computer monitor

If you’ve decided to make your home office a bit more functional, a new monitor could be high on the list.

You’ll find it far more comfortable than a laptop in the long-term, and if you already own a desktop computer with a monitor, a second display could improve your productivity, and make it easier to multitask.

Monitors can be an extremely cheap, if you have modest requirements. We run you through the top five considerations you need to make when buying a new screen and some tips on how to find one in times of low supply.

Five questions you need to answer before you choose a new monitor

1. What size monitor do I need?

The first thing you’ll need to work out is the appropriate screen size. This will be different for everybody depending on the space that’s available and what you’ll be using it for.

If you don’t have a dedicated workspace, you might want to opt for a very small screen that can be packed away at the end of the working day – such as a 15-inch portable. But generally speaking, most people should be aiming for models of at least 22-inches. If you do have a desk all to yourself, consider a 24-inch screen. This is the size you’ll typically find in most modern offices, and should make text comfortable to read from a normal working distance. If your budget is small – under £150 – you may only find 21- or 22-inch screens. These are fine, but if you can pay a bit more, opt for a bigger size.

Carefully measure up your workspace to ensure the monitor is not taller than the space you have, and the stand does not take up too much room. When you’ve found a few to choose from, check the specifications online or download the manual, as this should contain information about dimensions and other features.

Need a laptop, too? Here’s how to choose a laptop for home working.

2. What screen technology suits me best?

Once you know what size you want, you’ll need to decide on the type of screen. There are a few different technologies around, with techy-sounding names such as IPS and VA. We won’t go into detail about how these differ, but we will help you decide which is best for your needs.

If you’re primarily going to be using your monitor for work – looking at text and images – you’ll want a screen with either IPS (in-plane switching) or VA (vertical alignment) panels. This will be clearly stated on the monitor’s store page. These two screen technologies offer better clarity and colours than TN (twisted nematic) screens. This is particularly important if your budget is small – under £100 – as cheap TN panels are usually very poor, with pallid colours and narrow viewing angles, making them uncomfortable to use. A cheap IPS or VA is almost always better.

All that said, if you’re after a gaming monitor and are willing to pay more than £200, you can get yourself a very good TN panel. These will also typically offer high refresh rates, which makes gameplay smoother.

3. What resolution do I need?

Resolution means the number of dots – known as pixels – that produce the image on your screen. The more dots, the sharper and clearer the image. At the very least, you should buy a monitor with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080, otherwise known as 1080p) resolution. Anything less than this (usually 1,600 x 900 or ‘HD’ 1,366 x 768) not only means your picture won’t be as clear, but also suggests you will be buying a very low-quality panel. Manufacturers don’t typically make low-resolution displays that produce great colours and viewing angles, either.

Another important factor in choosing resolution is the size of the display. Even if you don’t consider resolution that important (beyond opting for Full HD, as stated), you should seriously consider an upgrade here if you’re looking at larger screens, for example 27-inches and up. You have two main options.

QHD (2,560 x 1,440): also known as 2K, or 1440p, QHD screens are a middle ground between Full HD and the 4K resolutions more commonly associated with TVs. Opting for this resolution on larger screens will mean everything feels smoother and more defined.

UHD (3840×2160): also known as 4K, or 2160p. This takes things up a notch, but it’s overkill for most people. Often popular with gamers, you’ll need some powerful hardware to make best use of it, as pushing this many pixels around can put a strain on your graphics card.

4, What are the most useful ports?

This is extremely important, since you may not be able to even connect a monitor that has the right ports, but fortunately there are now a few standards you’ll find on most models.

The most common ports on cheap monitors are HDMI, DVI and VGA. On laptops, you’ll probably only find HDMI or VGA. Ensure that your computer and monitor share at least one similar port so you can easily plug them in. Keep in mind that most HDMI monitors will not come with an HDMI cable, so you will need to buy one separately (or use a spare one you have lying around, it doesn’t matter). If your computer and monitor don’t have matching ports, you may need an adaptor. For instance, an HDMI to VGA adaptor will set you back about a fiver on eBay.

If your computer is very new and also very thin, it may only have small USB-C ports, similar to what you’ll find on a phone charger. Again, to connect to a monitor, you will need a USB-C to VGA or HDMI adaptor.

5. Is there anything else I should look out for?

If you have more money to spend, look out for a few of these handy features:

  • Adjustable stand: This can help you set up the perfect height for your monitor so you don’t have to stack it on top of a pile of recipe books to get comfy.
  • USB hub: Useful if you have lots of desk accessories and frequently get up from your desk. Route them all into your monitor’s USB hub, and then simply plug in a single USB cable to get them all connected.
  • Portrait mode: If you work in code, you might find a screen in vertical orientation is better for your needs. Some monitors allow you to tilt them 90 degrees to get the perfect angle.
  • Portable: If you are short on space, opt for a small monitor that has a built-in stand and a case. This means you can carry it around with you easily. These devices are usually self-powered, so you simply need to plug in an HDMI port and a USB into your laptop, and away you go.

Struggling to find a good monitor at the usual stores? Our guide on tech retailers to consider when shopping online rounds up some alternatives to try instead.

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