Monitor buying guide
How to Buy a PC Monitor
The monitor is the soul of your computer. Everything you do on your system will appear lackluster if you don’t have the right display, whether you’re gaming, viewing/editing photos and videos, or simply reading text on your favorite websites.
Hardware manufacturers understand how the experience changes with different display specifications and features, so they have flooded the market with a plethora of options.
But which features and specifications are most important for how you intend to use your monitor? For example, should you get 4K, 1440p, 1080p, or simply HD resolution—and what’s the difference?
How important are refresh rates and response times? Is it necessary to have features like flicker-free, low blue light mode, G-Sync, and FreeSync? And how should your priorities shift if you’re focusing on gaming rather than professional applications?
Before we get started, if you’re looking for recommendations, see our Best Computer Monitor buying guide page or gaming-specific Best Gaming Monitors list.
We also have high-resolution picks on our Best 4K Gaming Monitors and Best Budget 4K Monitors pages, as well as an article that breaks down HDR displays in How to Choose the Best HDR Monitor.
What screen size do I need?
When all else is equal, and you have the space and budget, bigger is almost always better. The length of the diagonal is used to label screen sizes: this made it easy to compare when almost every screen had the same aspect ratio (the ratio of the number of horizontal pixels to vertical pixels)
but wide and ultrawide screens on desktops and newer ratios on laptops make it a little more difficult.
If you recall your geometry and algebra, you can calculate the display’s width and height if you also know the aspect ratio. (Because width/height equals aspect ratio, and width2 + height2 equals diagonal2) The further away from 1:1 the aspect ratio, the wider the screen and the more of it there will be.
The further the aspect ratio deviates from 1:1, the wider the screen and more of it will be out to the sides, and thus in your peripheral vision if you’re close. It will also allow you to determine the physical dimensions of the screen, most notably its width, to ensure that it will fit in the available space. DPI Calculator can help you with the math.
What resolution — 4K, FHD, or ?
When selecting a monitor, resolution, or the number of vertical x horizontal pixels that comprise the image, is inextricably linked to screen size.
What you want to optimize is pixel density, or the number of pixels per inch that the screen can display, because this is what determines how sharp the screen looks (though there are some other factors), as well as how large interface elements like icons and text can appear.
Standard resolutions include 4K UHD (3,840×2,160 pixels), QHD (2,560×1,440 pixels), and FHD (1,920×1,080 pixels): When it comes to variations like UWQHD, you’re better off looking at the numbers rather than the alphabet soup. When you see 1080p or 1440p mentioned, it refers to the vertical resolution.
For example, on a 27-inch display, 1,920×1,080 has a pixel density of 81.59 PPI. It’s 91.79 PPI on a 24-inch display. Because a higher density is better up to a point, FHD will look better on a smaller screen.
This also depends on your vision: for me, too low a resolution shows the pixel grid, while slightly higher resolution shows nothing but jaggies on small serif type.
So “optimal” is a function of what you’re looking at and your personal preferences. At least 100ppi is my preference. DPI Calculator can do the math for you once more.
(Dot pitch, a measure of the spaces between pixels, is a related specification to pixel density. Smaller is better in this case.)
However, scaling is an important factor to consider when deciding on a resolution based on screen size. On a 27-inch screen, the operating system (both Windows and Mac OS) can scale interface elements to be larger, but never smaller.
The bottom line is that while high-density screens can frequently be scaled to make elements larger, low-density screens can never be scaled to make elements smaller. In other words, if you’re buying a bigger monitor thinking you’ll be able to fit more on the screen, you can’t.
Even in applications that allow you to zoom independently, such as Chrome, viewing at less than 100% at low pixel density quickly reduces readability.
Do I want a curved or flat one?
To me, curved monitors are the best way to make a single display wider without forcing you to sit too far back; that’s why they make more sense for a desktop monitor than for a TV.
You should be able to see the entire screen without having to move your head too much. If you’re sitting at a desk, you’ll need to curve after about 27 inches. Don’t even get me started on curved screen “immersive experiences”: unless that display wraps around me, it’s no more immersive than any other.
Aside from the fact that curved displays are more visually appealing at 27 inches and smaller, one of the few practical applications is three-monitor setups, which allow you to create a better widescreen experience.
Otherwise, small curved screens aren’t worth it, especially if you’re paying a premium for them. Curves on smaller screens bring the edges too far into my peripheral vision for comfort.
The amount of curve is expressed in “R”, the radius of its arc in millimeters. Bigger numbers represent tighter arcs for a given display size, so 1,800R (the radius of many 27-inch curved displays) is shallower than 2,000R. A curve that is too large can be distracting, while one that is too small may as well be flat. However, ignore all the talk of how “immersive” they are.
They aren’t, at least not yet, because many games are still unable to fully exploit nonstandard aspect ratios. On the other hand, unlike curved TVs, you’ll always be sitting in the sweet spot, so glare shouldn’t be an issue.
Many widescreen models have a 21:9 aspect ratio, which means they’re wider and shorter than other displays and will pillar-box full-screen video.
Larger monitors without a curve at the more common 16:9 aspect ratio would require you to be dizzy because they’d be quite tall: 24 inches (61 cm) for a 49-inch monitor versus 19 inches for a 27-inch monitor (48 cm).
Should I get two screens or one ultrawide?
This is entirely dependent on what you’re doing. For example, if you want a really fast gaming monitor for gaming and a high-resolution display for work, getting two is much cheaper than getting one that does both.
It’s also a lot cheaper to get two smaller ones if you need a color-accurate monitor for design but also want a high-brightness one for gaming. But if you just need a tonne of screen space, a single ultrawide might be simpler.
Does color accuracy matter?
Precision is important. If you’re shopping online, for example, you’ll want to make sure the cerulean blue shirt you’re expecting is roughly the same color. You don’t have to worry about it as long as the monitor has a less-saturated setting than vivid and any level of quality control.
In practice, however, a monitor is tuned to produce the most accurate colors it was capable of when it left the factory floor.
But that’s not the kind of precision manufacturers mean when they list specs like “Delta E 2” or say it’s Pantone Validated. What those mean — or should mean — is the monitor has been tuned and calibrated so that the difference between a set of color patches as displayed on the screen is the same within a small margin of error to a set of reference patches within the bounds of a specific color space.
If color accuracy is important to you, this adds a whole new layer of requirements and complexity.
How much should I expect to spend?
Other things being equal, the price of a display rises as the resolution, screen size, refresh rate, brightness, and number and type of features increase. A wider color spectrum, as well as specialized capabilities for gaming or graphics, will raise the price. However, a good general-purpose monitor can be had for less than $300.
We’re currently in a lull before products incorporating new standards, such as HDMI 2.1, are ready, so don’t worry if you’re fine with being behind the curve until you can afford something new.
If you’re going to beat yourself up in 2021 because you didn’t wait for HDMI 2.1 or an affordable 8K, then either wait or buy the cheapest model that will meet your needs to tide you over.
The length of the diagonal is used to label screen sizes: this made it easy to compare when almost every screen had the same aspect ratio (the ratio of the number of horizontal pixels to vertical pixels), but wide and ultrawide screens on desktops and newer ratios on laptops make it a little more difficult.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get a 25 or 27-inch monitor?
The ideal monitor size primarily depends on the screen’s resolution and viewing distance. Overall, most people agree that anything larger than 25 inches shouldn’t use 1920 x 1080; 27 inches should use 1440 p, and up to 43 inches should use 4K, depending on personal preference.
How far should you be from the 27-inch monitor?
Considering everything, a 27-inch gaming monitor running at 1440p or QHD would be best viewed from a distance of between 80 cm and 1 m(three feet).
Is a bigger screen better for the eyes?
According to a study released last week, your eyes and your smartphone or tablet matter when it comes to size. A larger phone or tablet font has been linked to less eye strain!
What are the two 2 main types of monitors?
Along with LED, LCD is the most common type of monitor you will find available currently. LCD monitors consist of two panes of glass with liquid in between and thousands of rows of pixels to organize said liquid.
What is the most efficient monitor used nowadays?
LED displays. These types of monitors are incredibly popular right now. The full name of an LED is a light-emitting diode that uses little power. Afterward, CRT and LCD monitors.