The Dos and Don'ts of Buying Monitors

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Monitors

A Monitor is the primary visual display unit of a desktop computer. They are one of the most essential hardware components for computing, and they are available in a wide range of makes and models. It is important to choose a monitor with the best technical specifications and features suitable to the user's personal requirements and needs. There are several important technical features which determine the quality, performance, and appropriateness of a monitor.

Screen Size

The size of a monitor can be found by measuring the display diagonally from corner to corner. Some older CRT monitors included the case panel surrounding the screen in these measurements, but newer LCD and LED monitors only measure the viewable screen size.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio measures the relationship between the width and the height of a monitor. This ratio determines how tall a monitor is in relation to its width. The most common aspect ratios available for monitors are 4:3, 16:10 and 16:9. A monitor with 4:3 aspect ratio has a square shape while monitors with 16:10 and 16:9 have a rectangular, widescreen shape.

Technical Specifications

The technical specifications of a monitor determine its image quality. Technical specifications can vary greatly between different monitor models, so it is important to understand what the terminology means and how it can affect performance and quality.


Resolution is the number of pixels displayed on screen at one time and it is measured width by height. A resolution of 1920 x 1080, for example, will have 1920 pixels horizontally on each row and 1080 rows on the screen. A high resolution monitor is capable of displaying better quality images which are sharp and clear.

Response Time

Response time is the speed it takes for a monitor to change a pixel from black to white. Response times are measured in milliseconds and they are an indicator of how quickly a monitor can display moving images. A monitor with a slow response rate will struggle to display fast moving images which can result in a streaking effect sometimes referred to as 'ghosting'.

Viewing Angle

Monitors work by changing pixels different shades of colour to create an image. Monitors are designed to be looked at straight on, but some can be looked at from a different viewing angle and still produce a clear image. Monitors with a low viewing angle will appear to have saturated and blurry colours if it is not viewed straight on.

Black level

The black level is an indicator of how capable a monitor is of displaying dark colours. Monitors with low black levels have better contrast ratios and can display darker images without them appearing washed out and grey.

Refresh rate

Refresh rate is the speed it takes a monitor to change the data on its screen. Refresh rate is measured in hertz (Hz) and the higher this number is represents how fast the monitor can display new images. Low refresh rates can result in flickering and fuzzy images.

Colour Gamut

The range of colours that a monitor is able to display is referred to as its colour gamut. A high percentage colour gamut is able to display a wider range of colours.

Monitor Inputs

The input port acts an interface between a monitor and a computer. Although monitors are primarily used as a display unit for desktop computers, other devices such as tablets, game consoles and laptops can also be connected. For a device to use a monitor as a display unit, it must have an output port which can connect to the monitor's input port via a wire or cable. There are several different types of monitor input port and some devices are only compatible with certain connectors.


VGA uses an analog video signal to communicate with input devices. VGA ports were once the standard for connecting monitors to computers, and they are sometimes referred to as D-Sub because VGA uses D-Sub socket architecture. A VGA port is D shaped and has three rows of connector pins. Older desktop computers and laptops primarily use VGA output, but many newer on-board and integrated graphics cards offer compatibility with the technology because it is still widely used.


DVI uses a digital video signal which is capable of providing an improved display quality at higher resolutions. There are several different types of DVI connectors, unlike VGA which has one standard socket connection. DVI comes in DVI-D, DVI-I and DVI-A configurations and they each have a different pin layout.


HDMI has become the new standard interface for connecting display units to input devices. HDMI uses a digital video signal, but it is also capable of carrying audio. Most new monitors have HDMI input ports and, unlike DVI and VGA, HDMI is widely compatible with other devices which are capable of displaying high-definition images, such as games consoles, Blu-ray players and some tablets.

Other Notable Technical Features

For decades, monitor manufacturers have focused on improving the technical specifications of their models so that image quality is improved. However, there are two notable developments in screen technology which have been integrated into some high-end monitors. Monitors with 3D Vision are capable of displaying 3D movies and video games and they have a high refresh rate so the display is fluid and smooth. These monitors use technology similar to that found in 3D televisions and they require the use of 3D glasses. The other technology is multi-touch displays. Although touchscreen has been a technical standard on smartphones for years, only recent developments in computer software have begun to support touch controlled gestures and interfaces.

Choosing a Monitor

Monitors vary greatly in terms of price, features, and quality. However, choosing a monitor doesn't have to mean buying the most expensive model on the market with the highest technical specifications and produces the best quality images. The right monitor is the one which is most appropriate for the user's requirements and is compatible with the hardware it will be connected to.

What Technical Specifications are Important?

The importance of some technical specifications depend on what the monitor is displaying. For example, an optimal refresh rate and response time is only noticeable when images are quickly being displayed like in a fast-moving video or computer game. For basic computing needs, monitors that support higher resolutions and have a large viewing angle will provide the most noticeable results in image quality.

Different User Specifications

Desktop computers have many different uses. They can be used for multimedia purposes (for example, playing video games and watching movies), digital media creation (for example, creating or editing photographs and images) or for simple web browsing and word processing. When purchasing a monitor, it's important to consider specifically what it will be displaying.

A monitor which will be used primarily for video games needs a high refresh rate so that it can best display the fast moving images. Conversely, a monitor primarily used for graphic design requires a high colour gamut to properly display the details of images and an optimal viewing angle so the display is crisp and clear. Users need to decide which technical specifications are the most desirable and appropriate for the intended use of the monitor.

The Importance of Size and Aspect Ratio

Larger monitors can support higher resolutions and they can display much more on the screen at once. However, although LCD monitors are slim and flat, a large screen can take up considerable desk space. Users should consider whether they need a large amount of display space for their computing needs. Choosing a monitor with the correct aspect ratio is also important. 16:9 aspect ratio has become the standard for most monitors as video games and high definition movies and television shows use 16:9, and the ratio is able to optimally display higher resolutions. Playing modern video games or movies on a 4:3 or 16:10 monitor can result in a reduced field of view or a letterboxed display.

However, a 4:3 or 16:10 aspect ratio is suitable for non-multimedia purposes, such as Internet browsing and using office suite software. The increased vertical display of a 16:10 can also be more useful than the widescreen effect of 16:9 as it provides more manageable onscreen space which is important when using digital image creation software or managing several different software programs at once.

What Devices Will be Connected to the Monitor?

It is important to consider whether the input device can support the technical specifications of the monitor. A monitor acts as an output interface for a computer's graphics card. A high resolution monitor will produce a higher quality image and will therefore need a powerful graphics card. Similarly, a monitor which is only capable of producing low resolutions would not maximise the potential of a high-end graphics cards. It is also important to consider the input ports of a monitor if other devices are going to be connected. Many cameras, video game consoles and tablets have HDMI outputs, but they can only be connected to a monitor with a HDMI input port.


A wide range of monitor makes and models are available and they are all suitable for the different needs and requirements of users. Desktop computers can be used for many different purposes, so it is important to think carefully about what technical features the monitor needs to have. With proper research and careful choosing, a monitor can last for years of daily use and will provide high image quality and performance.

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