The Dos and Donts of Buying a Monitor

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying a Monitor

So much depends upon electronics these days, and most electronic devices depend on screens of some type. Desktop computers, gaming systems, and entertainment systems all require monitors, and laptops can use monitors as secondary screens. Whether buying new electronics and the monitors to go with them or updating the displays of existing systems, many people are buying monitors these days, but not all monitors are really a good buy. Getting an inadequate display obviously limits the function of the entire system and is a waste of money, but buying a high-end monitor with many unnecessary features is also a waste. The prospective buyer should have a basic overview of monitors, including how they vary and what the various terms used to describe them mean. Knowing what to do, and what not to do when buying a monitor is also important for making a good purchase decision.

A Glossary of Useful Terms About Monitors

A basic overview of monitors includes a glossary of useful terms and a description of how monitors vary. With this introduction, more detailed do's and don'ts make more sense to provide necessary context. Shopping for monitors can be confusing for a beginner because there are a lot of specialised terms to keep track of. Many are not consistently defined in product descriptions. Worse, some terms come up in virtually any description of a monitor because they help define almost every monitor. A glossary is a simple way to present commonly used terms.


Definition of Term

Aspect Ratio

The relationship of screen height to screen width

Candelas per Square Metre

Unit for measuring a screen's brightness

Contrast Ratio

The contrast between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks the screen can show

Colour Gamut

How many gradations of colour the screen can show


The range of greys the screen can display and its ability to display specific shades correctly

Pixel Response

The speed at which pixels can change from one colour to another; measured in milliseconds

These are the terms commonly used to describe monitors with simple definitions for each term; however, this glossary is not all-inclusive. Instead, terms for particular screen types and cable types have been left out and are defined in context. Each of these characteristics is measured in a different way with a different range. In most usages, the general idea is clear from context once the basic meaning of the term is known.

Monitor Screen Size and Type

All modern monitors are liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, a technology that involves a layer of liquid crystal that is backlit in some way, so that as the changing colours of the crystal are visible at the front of the screen. Monitors vary in how the screen is backlit, how the liquid crystal layer works, and in the size, shape, and definition of the screen. Some monitors also feature high definition capability or either of two types of three-dimensional (3D) capability.

Monitor Display Types

The three main display types, or types of liquid crystal, are called twisted nematic (TN+), in-plane switching (IPS), and patterned vertical alignment (PVA or S-PVA). Each offers slightly different performances and price points. The two common backlighting types are cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) and light emitting diode (LED). The latter is substantially more energy-efficient, as well as thinner and lighter, but may also be more expensive.

Basic vs. Higher-End Monitors

Basic monitors are usually adequate for most non-specialised uses and are affordably priced. Larger monitors, and those with adjustable stands, USB ports, or specialised features such as the capacity to accept television signals, generally cost more. Higher-end monitors also have faster pixel response, more accurate colour and greyscale reproduction, and a higher contrast ratio. Extremely high definition is also available on higher-end monitors, but is often not really worth the price, since beyond a certain point the human eye cannot perceive the increased definition anyway. Faster pixel response is more important than higher definition, especially for serious gamers.

The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Monitors

One way to think about buying a new monitor is with a list of do's and don'ts, things to definitely do and not do. Of course, the two lists are connected, since any instruction to do something can be rewritten as an instruction to not do the opposite. Nevertheless, this structure is easy to remember and easy to apply when shopping.

Do's for Buying a Monitor

When buying a monitor, it is important to pay attention to size, possible attachments to other equipment, ergonomics, and energy efficiency. Together with the list of what not to do, this covers most of the considerations for shopping. This way, the buyer can focus in on a particular set of features quickly.

Do Get the Correct Size

The correct size depends on the intended use of the monitor. For watching movies or serious gaming, a large screen adds to the experience, while for other uses anything over 22 inches is simply a waste of money and space. Some people find than screens smaller than 17 inches are harder to read, but since laptops often feature screens smaller than this, even small monitors should be adequate for most tasks. Be aware that the larger the screen size, the higher quality the monitor needs to be, since any problems with either resolution or speed are more apparent on larger screens. Anyone planning to travel with an extra monitor, perhaps for business, should of course look for a monitor as small and lightweight as possible. Anyone who really wants a huge monitor must first be prepared to properly and safely mount it.

Do Consider How to Attach Other Equipment

Some monitors have USB ports that make it easy to add peripherals such as external speakers. Other monitors can themselves be plugged into the USB port of a laptop for dual screen use while travelling. Some monitors can also function as TV screens. If these functions are important, make sure to buy a laptop that has the appropriate connections.

Do Look for Full Adjustability

Ergonomics is important, especially for monitors that are going to be in use for many hours at a time. Looking at a screen from the wrong angle for too long can cause eyestrain and neck and shoulder problems. Pain is not only bad for a worker's health, it also lowers productivity. Naturally, the correct position for the monitor depends on the user; no one size fits all. If the monitor is mounted on a stand, instead of on the wall, make sure both its height and its tilt are adjustable.

Do Look for Energy Efficiency

Monitors vary in their energy use. The monitors that use the least energy are often fairly basic and therefore may not be appropriate for all users, but the amount of electricity needed can be the tie-breaker between otherwise equally attractive models. Energy efficiency is particularly important for companies using a large number of monitors consistently, since even modest energy savings per monitor can add up to substantially lower operating costs for the company as a whole. For other users, energy efficiency may not be as important, but there is still no good reason to use unnecessary resources or to spend unnecessary money.

Don'ts for Buying a Monitor

There are several simple, easy mistakes in shopping for monitors. It is easy to buy a low-priced monitor on impulse, simply because of the good deal, or to buy an expensive monitor simply because expensive implies high quality. Buyers can also get into trouble by picking a model without researching it, or by choosing an individual monitor without trying it out. Smart buyers avoid all of these problems by keeping track of what they are buying and why they are buying it.

Don't Buy Based on Low Price Alone

Getting a great deal is important, but a budget monitor that does not do what the buyer wants is a waste of money at any price. Not all monitors are equal, and not all are designed to do the same work. Do some research before buying, and consider the details of how a particular model functions as well as the great price.

Conversely, do not buy the most expensive laptop possible just because it is expensive and therefore supposedly the best. Expensive or fully loaded monitors are not always the best. Instead, the best monitor is always the one that suits the buyer's needs. Features that the buyer does not need but will not use are a waste of money.

Don't Ignore what the Monitor Was Designed For

Some monitors are designed for casual home use, some for business applications, and some for serious gaming. A good place to start shopping is always by focusing on models designed for the buyer's needs. Ignore this step, and it is easy to buy a monitor that either does not have the right features or costs far more than the buyer should have to pay. Occasionally both can happen at once, and the buyer ends up missing features that are important, while paying for extra features that are not ever going to be used. A hypothetical example might be a professional photographer who buys a monitor that is too small for properly viewing and editing photographs but has great integrated speakers.

Don't Buy a Monitor Without Trying It Out First

While it is possible to get a good idea of how well a monitor performs by researching things like contrast and resolution, it is very difficult to really know if a monitor is a good match without ever having seen it. Unless good quality is not actually important, either test-drive to monitor before buying, or, if buying online, ask a lot of detailed questions and look for a seller with a good return policy.

Don't Take Needed Features for Granted

Do not assume that a monitor has a feature simply because most monitors have them. For example, while integrated speakers are common, they are not universal. If it is important that the monitor have speakers, then make sure the monitor has speakers before buying.

Finding Monitors on eBay

To browse through the listings, simply enter a search term such as 'monitors'. Since the word monitor also refers to several other types of device, be sure to use the menu options to limits the results appropriately. Alternatively, use the Advanced Search feature to look for a specific model or style.

Buying Monitors on eBay with Confidence

Of course, there is no way to try out a monitor before buying it on eBay. The way around the problem is to ask the seller plenty of questions and to look for a good return policy. A contact link and the details of the return policy are on the seller's profile page.


Buying a monitor through eBay is simple and convenient, especially since there are so many types available. Monitors are used for many different applications and come in many different models and types, from small, portable monitors that work great as secondary screens for laptops on business trips to huge, state-of-the-art displays for serious gaming. With so many options, buying the wrong monitor for the buyer's needs and wasting money is a serious risk.

To buy with more confidence, buyers should simply remember what features they actually need in a monitor and then research possible models well. Do not be distracted by low price or fancy bells and whistles, and do not forget to consider details such as energy efficiency and whether a particular model has a USB port. Do not over-complicate the purchase. Instead, stay focused on why buying a new monitor is important in the first place. That focus should help the buyer find the right model quickly.

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