How To Choose A Monitor

Introduction

Since the dawn of the personal computer, the monitor has been the primary link between machine and user. Though the keyboard and mouse are the primary physical interface, the display most directly affects how easily you can accomplish your tasks whether it’s work or play.

The earliest screens used a cathode-ray tube to display an image. And up until the advent of graphical operating systems, that image was simple text. Thanks to the extended ASCII character set, basic pictures could be created on-screen but things like pixels and color depth were still far-off in the future.

The technology in use wasn’t much different than the televisions of the day. One to three electron guns would fire particles at a phosphor-coated surface on the inside of the large end of the tube. Those phosphors would glow forming an image made up of horizontal lines. The portion of each line that was illuminated could be as long or short as required. The earliest examples were monochrome, usually green. Later as hardware dropped in price, three guns, one for each primary color were employed creating the first full-color monitors.

By the end of their useful life, CRT monitors had reached vertical resolutions of over 1000 lines and could display full graphics. They were no longer limited to just text. But as the screen size increased, so did depth and weight. Despite efforts to manage the desktop footprint of these growing products, they eventually reached critical mass. Enter the liquid-crystal display (LCD).

By today’s standards, this old 4:3 15-inch screen doesn’t look any more modern than the CRT we showed you earlier. But it does have one important attribute, it’s a lot shallower than any tube-based monitor. The need to control desktop space and do more with less is one of the big reasons LCDs quickly evolved from executive toy to workaday tool. With that slim form factor came the possibility of larger screens. Thanks to graphical multi-tasking operating systems, one can never have enough virtual desktop real estate.

Today computer monitors mainly utilize the 16:9 aspect ratio with a few examples of the taller 16:10 still scattered about the marketplace. But the main thing that sets one model apart from another is resolution.

The image on an LCD panel is made up of millions of tiny dots. Each pixel consists of three sub-pixels, one for each primary color, red, green and blue. Obviously the more pixels you can pack into each square inch, the more realistic and smooth the image will be. But one must consider two factors which can render a high-pixel-density display less suitable for a particular system. The first is graphics card performance. Quite simply, the more pixels you have on the screen, the more processing power you need from your video card to move them around in a timely fashion. Ultra HD and 5K are capable of some stunning images but if your system isn’t up to the task of driving 14.7 million pixels, the overall user experience will suffer and that extra resolution will be a hindrance.

The second factor regards the font scaling capabilities of the operating system you plan to use. Improvements have been made but Windows is still best used at a pixel density of 90-100ppi. At higher values, objects and text become extremely small and potentially impossible to read. In our recent reviews of 27-inch 5K monitors, we were forced to use dpi-scaling if we wanted any hope of reading text in our applications. Scaling varies in quality and is not always a sure-fire fix when text becomes too tiny.

Before we delve into the individual considerations behind selecting a monitor, there’s one thing we can’t stress enough. Just like buying a home (location, location, location), a computer display should be considered by a similar mantra – application, application, application. Before you begin your research, it’s key to know what you plan on using the monitor for. There is no display that is best at all things. In the following pages we’ve broken it down into gaming, professional and general categories. These represent the three genres we cover most often in our product reviews. In each section we’ll cover what we think gamers, graphics pros and everyone else should consider before deciding on a shiny new screen for their systems. But before that, let’s take a quick look at the major panel technologies and how they affect image quality.

MORE: Best Computer Monitors
MORE: Display Calibration 101

MORE: The Science Behind Tuning Your Monitor
MORE: All Monitor Content

Panel Technologies And Manufacturers

There are three major technologies used in all LCD panels manufactured today, In-Plane Switching (IPS), Twisted Nematic (TN) and Vertical Alignment. Each has several variations associated with it that offer different advantages like better viewing angles, faster panel response, lower power consumption and the like. A quick Internet search will bring up dozens of articles on the intricacies of each technology so we won’t delve too deeply into the nuts and bolts here. What we’d rather do is talk about how each type affects image quality and what you can expect if you choose a particular one.

Twisted Nematic (TN)

The first LCD panels to appear on the desktop were of the TN variety. This is a panel in its simplest form. A layer of liquid crystals is sandwiched between two substrates. The crystals are twisted to either block or admit light. Each sub-pixel is controlled by a single transistor whose voltage determines the amount of light that gets through. All of this sounds great but what are the disadvantages?

The biggest problem with TN panels is their poor off-axis image quality. Because the light coming from any LCD is polarized, maximum brightness occurs only when it’s viewed on-center. That is the user is sitting with his eyes pointed straight at the center of the screen and that screen is perfectly perpendicular to the line of sight. Furthermore, the crystals are arrayed perpendicular to the substrates which increases the distance from the backlight to the front layer. This accentuates the viewing angle issue.

TN has one big advantage over other panel types however, it’s very fast. With only one transistor per sub-pixel and a six or eight-bit color depth, modern TN panels can have gray-to-gray response time as low as one millisecond when refresh rates are high enough. This makes them ideal for gaming where speed is more important than other imaging science metrics. Speed not only in the panel’s ability to draw a frame quickly but also in the area of input lag. TN’s low processing overhead usually means faster response to user input, another factor important to gamers.

So if you consider a static image, what makes TN look different than other types? The answer in most cases is not much. Yes we can clearly see the difference between TN and IPS in an off-axis photo of a test pattern. But in actual use, whether it be games or productivity, TN doesn’t represent a huge drop in image quality. We’ve measured enough monitors to say confidently that there is no quality gap in color accuracy or contrast. A good IPS or TN panel has a native dynamic range of around 1000:1. And we’ve reviewed plenty of TN screens that can hold their own in the color department with more expensive IPS and VA displays.

In-Plane Switching (IPS)

After establishing viewing angles as TN’s one major weakness, that leads us into the solution – IPS. It represents a significant breakthrough in the area of off-axis image quality. But don’t think it came about just because users wanted to sit off to the side of their monitors. The principal design goals behind IPS were lower power consumption, the ability to create larger screens and better color reproduction.

Thanks to a TFT layer that is closer to the outer surface and a thinner grid polarizer, the image on an IPS panel doesn’t degrade nearly as much as the user moves off-center. And the perception of edge-to-edge uniformity is far greater. It also helps that the crystals are parallel with the substrates rather than perpendicular like in TN. As a result, the path is much shorter between the backlight and the front layer of the screen. Since light is less-severely polarized, it doesn’t change as much when the viewer moves off-axis. And that contributes to lower power consumption since the backlight doesn’t need as much output to achieve a given brightness level.

What this means to overall image quality is that the screen looks much more uniform, especially at sizes over 27 inches. It isn’t quite as critical to place the display precisely on your desk to see the best possible picture. And for those with multi-screen setups, placement options are much more flexible.

Vertical Alignment (VA)

Aside from viewing angle issues, LCDs also suffer from poor contrast. Self-emitting technologies like CRT, plasma and OLED have a huge advantage in this regard. With light-valve tech however, black levels are governed by how well those valves can block the backlight which is always on. VA seeks to improve on this weakness and from what we’ve seen so far, it has done so convincingly.

A good-performing TN or IPS panel will display around 1000:1 native contrast. That means the maximum white level is 1000 times greater than the lowest black level. At 200cd/m2 you’ll see a black level of .2cd/m2. How black is that exactly? Well in a dimly-lit room, it would appear to be a very dark gray but not completely black. A full-field pattern at this brightness would have a soft glow. By comparison, a Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma TV renders a black level of .007cd/m2 and a modern-day OLED display will be even lower. So what does VA bring to the table? Our database shows a calibrated black level of .0417cd/m2 for the Philips BDM4065UC 40-inch VA display. The only way you’ll see a glow there is in a totally dark room.

VA has tremendous promise for this reason alone. We feel strongly that contrast is the most important factor in image quality and fidelity. So the more you have, the better. 5000:1 is better than 1000:1, every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Unfortunately, VA is in the minority among the monitors we’ve tested. IPS is the market leader right now and many gaming monitors still use TN panels for their low cost and high speed. But no matter what the use, we think VA has the best image quality of the three major types.

Does it have a disadvantage? Yes and it’s those darn viewing angles again. Off-axis quality fits in somewhere between TN and IPS. It’s good enough to support large screen sizes but it won’t quite compete with the best IPS monitors.

So which one is the best? The answer is all three. If you want a speedy monitor with minimal motion blur, low input lag and a low price – choose TN. If you want a uniform image with good viewing angles and accurate color – choose IPS. If you want the greatest contrast and image depth, that real 3D look – choose VA.

How To Shop For A Gaming Monitor Part 1

This chapter is sure to touch off many discussion and debates among users. No one is more passionate about computer hardware than a gamer. Deciding what’s best, especially when budget enters the equation is a challenge to say the least. There are many confusing choices and even more confusing marketing for one to sift through. So here we will present our opinion as to what a gaming enthusiast should be considering when choosing a monitor. This is not meant to be an absolute and some factors depend on the players’ skill level. But during our hands-on observations of review samples, we’ve noted a few things that truly make a difference in image quality. And we’ve found some things that are hotly debated that make no visual difference.

Resolution

When it comes to gaming, most players feel that more pixels are better. And we agree with that up to a point. Yes it’s important to have sufficient pixel density to make images look smooth and realistic. But obviously the more dots you have, the more graphics horsepower you’ll need.

We’ve covered the realities of gaming in Ultra HD in past articles. The fact is that if you want the highest available resolution on your desktop, there are some limitations you’ll have to accept. The greatest of these is refresh rate. Current video interfaces don’t support speeds greater than 60Hz for UHD signals. And even if they did, you’d need a fantastically expensive video card to actually drive 8.2 million pixels past 60fps. Our GTX Titan X can barely manage it if we turn detail levels down.

The current sweet spot seems to be QHD (2160x1440) resolution. At sizes up to 32 inches you’ll see good density and a detailed image that isn’t too difficult for mid-priced video boards to deal with. Of course if you want ultimate speed, FHD (1920x1080) will deliver the highest framerates. So as with every other factor we’re about to cover, consider your hardware when deciding on a resolution for your new gaming monitor.

Panel Technologies

This one is pretty simple. The most bang for the buck comes with TN-based monitors. The panels are fast and most offer good color accuracy and contrast. And they’re relatively cheap. 24-inch FreeSync monitors in Full HD resolution are now selling for less than $250. But given all the things we said about image quality above, and users’ desires for 27-inch and larger screens; you’ll probably be happier with the picture delivered by an IPS or VA display. The drawback is their higher cost. IPS gaming monitors are concentrated at the premium end of the scale. And VA with its class-leading contrast is hard to find at any price.

Adaptive Refresh

When G-Sync first appeared two years ago, it was truly a revolution in video processing. Since games render their content at a constantly-varying framerate, it became necessary to create a monitor that could vary its refresh cycle in step with the video card’s output. G-Sync enabled this feature for Nvidia-based cards and added approximately $200 to the monitor’s pricetag. This extra coin covers licensing fees and the necessary additional hardware.

AMD FreeSync takes a different approach to accomplish the same thing. By simply adding new functions to the existing DisplayPort specification, a monitor can have adaptive refresh essentially for free. Of course in practice there is a price premium. But it’s not as great as Nvidia’s.

Both technologies sync the framerate of the video card and monitor to prevent frame tears. The artifact occurs when rates are mismatched. The computer sends a new frame before the monitor has finished drawing the previous one. By giving refresh rate control to the graphics board, this artifact is eliminated.

Of course the debate between AMD and Nvidia users rages on. We tried to answer this question ourselves by creating a blind test to which we invited readers to play a few games and tell us which technology they thought was better. You can read about that here.

When choosing between the two, the obvious consideration is what hardware you’ve already invested in. If you dropped $1000 on a shiny new GTX Titan X, then the choice is clear. If you’re undecided on which technology to go with however, here are a few details that may shed some light.

Both have a limited operating range. G-Sync monitors always operate from 30Hz up to the monitor’s maximum. FreeSync displays are not as consistent. They typically support adaptive refresh up to the maximum but it’s the lower limit that one has to consider. We’ve reviewed several screens that bottom out at 40 and even as much as 55Hz. This can be a problem if your video card is unable to keep framerates above that level. And if you’re wondering about Low Framerate Compensation, it is a viable solution but it will only operate if the max refresh is at least 2½ times the minimum. For example, if the maximum is 100Hz, the minimum has to be 40. If the range is too small, LFC doesn’t come into play.

So if your budget means a mid to low-speed video card, either choose G-Sync or a FreeSync display with a low minimum refresh rate. Most manufacturers state the range in their marketing. And we always publish the numbers in our reviews.

How To Shop For A Gaming Monitor Part 2

Refresh Rates

When the first dedicated gaming displays came out, a defining feature was their capability to run at 144Hz. This was an answer to the ever-increasing performance offered by fast video cards. Obviously if you had a card that could run a game a 100fps, you’d want a speedy monitor to match. 60Hz just won’t cut it any more. It seems that nearly every gaming display today runs at 144Hz at a minimum with a few screens having reached 165 and even 200Hz.

The big question is, are such high refresh rates important? The menu shown above is from Acer’s Predator Z35 curved ultra-wide display. Its resolution is low enough that a really fast video card might be able to hit 200fps if detail levels are adjusted properly. So if one is to buy a display for the long-term (and at around $1000, the Z35 is definitely a long-term purchase), one should consider that the video card they’re running a year or two or three from now may very well be able to hit these speeds with ease. So an overclockable display is something one can buy to stave off the need for near-term upgrades. For those spending less however, 144 and even 120Hz is plenty of speed. In most cases you’ll get sufficiently low input lag, smooth motion and plenty of performance overhead for most gaming titles.

Motion Blur Reduction & Overdrive

Blur reduction and overdrive are two features found in many gaming screens. In fact overdrive is pretty much present on every monitor regardless of type. It operates by allowing a certain amount of overshoot during brightness transitions. The design goal is for the individual pixels to anticipate the required voltage for a particular brightness level. When done correctly, the pixel reaches that level quickly then changes for the next frame before voltage gets too high. When overshoot does occur, it appears as a ghosting artifact. We can see it by using the BlurBusters UFO test which is found here. It’s simple to interpret. Watch the UFO while changing between different OD options. When you see a white trail behind the saucer, you’ve gone too far. In actual content, the artifact appears in high-contrast transitions such as those between dark and light objects.

Overdrive implementations differ greatly between monitors. We try to highlight them in our reviews to let you know when a particular display does it well, or not. And the days of screens that don’t allow overdrive when adaptive refresh is active are over. We haven’t seen a product that forces you to choose in quite a while. Even the early model FreeSync-enabled BenQ XL2730Z has been fixed via firmware.

Blur Reduction is another way to maintain motion resolution when on-screen action becomes more intense. It works by strobing the backlight between frames; in essence creating a shutter-effect like you’d find in a film projector. By shortening the time a single frame appears on the screen, motion resolution is increased. But at the same time, overall brightness is reduced. We’ve tested monitors that drop over 60 percent of their light output when blur-reduction (ULMB) is engaged.

The best way to implement this feature is with a variable pulse-width control. By making the black-frame duration shorter, light output isn’t affected as much. The major caveat however is the fact that you can’t use ULMB and adaptive-refresh at the same time. This is true regardless of price or technology; you will always have to choose one or the other. In our opinion it’s a no-brainer; we’ll use adaptive refresh every time. When you have a fast video card running at 60fps and higher with G-Sync or FreeSync, it will pretty much eliminate any need for motion blur reduction – in our opinion.

Before we move on, let’s summarize. The first consideration in any gaming monitor purchase has to be which video card you plan to run. Available processing power will tell you which resolution to choose. And because every gamer either has adaptive refresh or wants it, one should be reticent to consider a display that omits it. G-Sync and FreeSync bring so much improvement to motion processing that once you’ve experienced it, you won’t be able to live without it.

If you choose FreeSync, be sure to check the monitor’s operating range. We favor screens that can reach down to at least 30Hz. The upper end isn’t as important though we’d recommend at least 120Hz to make room for future video card upgrades. And check our reviews to see how well a monitor has implemented its overdrive feature. They’re not all created equal and sometimes ghosting can spoil what is otherwise an excellent gaming monitor.

How To Shop For A Professional Display

We spend a large portion of every monitor review talking about and measuring color accuracy. Regardless of what a display is used for, it should conform at minimum to the sRGB standard for color gamut points, color luminance, grayscale tracking and gamma. Correct color benefits every user and every application. There is never a time when poor accuracy is acceptable, in our opinion.

That being said, professional users have a few special needs that must be considered. We’re talking about photographers, print proofers, web designers, special effects artists, game designers or anyone that needs precise control of color throughout their production chain.

While plenty of displays measure well in our tests, only a few are actually certified by their makers as color accurate. You’ll pay a premium for this but if you want a monitor that’s accurate out of the box, it’s the best way to ensure quality. It’s especially important for those who don’t have the means to perform a calibration. And we agree with our readers that professional monitors should come ready for work with no adjustment required.

But we also believe that a professional monitor should have the flexibility and capability to be dialed in precisely. There are two ways to accomplish this, the OSD and via software. Most of our best-reviewed pro screens have a large OSD that has RGB sliders for grayscale, gamma presets and a color management system. We’ve seen a couple of NEC products that allow adjustment of color via coordinates using the xyY system.

Sometimes manufacturers rely on software that lets the user create custom image modes. A recent example of this is Dell’s UP2715K 5K monitor. It ships with an app that automates calibration using an X-rite i1Pro or i1DisplayPro meter. You simply set your desired parameters, hang the meter and wait about 30 minutes. When complete, the settings are saved in one of the OSD’s picture memories. This method is extremely precise and is also found on NEC PA-series screens and HP’s Z line.

Whatever method you prefer, it’s important that a professional display include options for different color gamuts, color temperatures and gamma curves. We believe at minimum there should be sRGB and Adobe RGB standards, color temps ranging from 5000 to 7500K and gamma presets from 1.8 to 2.4. Monitors used for television or movie production should also support the BT.1886 gamma standard. All settings should measure the same as their labels and the OSD should have sufficient adjustments to achieve precision.

Bit-depth

In most cases, an 8-bit panel won’t cut it for professional graphics work. Users want at least 10-bits and preferably 12. This is fairly common among the pro displays we review but it’s important for users to consider the entire signal chain when going past 8-bits. The bottom line is a deep color monitor won’t do you any good if your video card can’t output a 10 or 12-bit signal. Yes, the monitor will fill in the extra information, but only by interpolation. Just as with pixel scaling, a display can’t add information that isn’t there in the first place. It can only approximate. Most consumer-grade video cards are limited to 8-bit output at this time. Some premium examples can send 10 and 12-bit information to your display but a professional’s best bet is to use something based on Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro processors.

Uniformity Compensation

We’ve encountered a few displays that incorporate uniformity compensation in their feature list. This is meant to eliminate bright or dim areas from the screen and balance brightness in every zone. Uniformity is something we test for in every review and here’s what we’ve observed so far. After measuring over eighty displays in the past three-and-a-half years, we’ve only found a tiny few that have visible uniformity issues. We know that light bleed and IPS glow is a problem with some monitors. But every sample measures differently and our experience has shown that it isn’t a problem with the vast majority of displays regardless of price.

Some manufacturers, NEC in particular, have gone to great lengths to address the issue. To implement uniformity compensation properly, a look-up table must be created for each individual monitor that comes off the assembly line. One cannot simply apply the same corrections to every panel. The only way to eliminate a hotspot in a black field is to raise the brightness of the other zones to that level. This has the obvious effect of raising black levels and reducing contrast. At the bright end of the scale, dim spots are compensated for by lowering output in the remaining zones which also reduces contrast.

In our experience, uniformity compensation is not terribly useful because its benefits are greatly outweighed by the reduction in output and contrast that results. We’ll always show you the differences in our reviews but we don’t feel this particular feature is a deal-breaker. Nor should it be used as a point of comparison between products.

So in summary, users shopping for a professional-grade display should be looking for both sRGB and Adobe RGB color gamut options, a factory-certified calibration, a comprehensive OSD with precise adjustments and a panel with 10 or 12-bits native color depth.

How To Shop For A General-Use Monitor

It’s pretty evident from the information we’ve covered in the last three pages that both gaming and professional monitors are more than qualified to serve as general-use displays. So if you’re focused on one of those two tasks, this section may be redundant. But users who don’t wish to spend the extra money on a specialized monitor will be looking for something that works well for every kind of computing, entertainment or productivity.

If you refer back to page two of this article, we talk about the three major panel technologies and how they differ in viewing angle quality. For general use we think the wider the better but with a caveat. It’s true that IPS and its AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) variant offer the best possible off-axis image but we find ourselves drawn (perhaps even seduced) by the deep contrast of VA monitors.

We have always placed contrast as the first measure of image quality with color saturation, accuracy and resolution coming after. When a display has a large dynamic range, the picture is more realistic and more 3D-like. VA panels offer three to five times the contrast of IPS or TN screens. This difference is not insignificant. If you place VA and IPS monitors next to each other with matched brightness levels and calibration standards, the VA screen will easily win a back-to-back comparison.

So it’s clear that we favor VA as the preferred tech for general-use but what about feature sets? The number of extras being thrown into today’s monitors is almost dizzying. And with each company using different terminology it can become difficult to compare products. Here are a couple of the major options you should look for.

Flicker-Free

When LEDs began replacing the cold-cathode florescent tube as the primary backlight source, an interesting phenomenon occurred. A small number of users noticed flicker at any backlight level below maximum. This artifact is caused by something called pulse-width modulation. Put simply, when a PWM backlight is reduced in brightness it resorts to pulsing many times per second to simulate lower brightness. It can’t be dimmed by simply lowering the voltage as you would with an incandescent lamp. The pulse width is what determines actual brightness. The shorter the pulse, the lower the output.

Manufacturers combat flicker in a couple of different ways. One is to increase the number of cycles per second. Some PWM backlights cycle at speeds as high as 20mHz. This method reduces the effects of flicker for the majority of users. An even better approach however is the constant-current backlight. This is an LED array that can be throttled like an incandescent light, by simply varying the voltage.

Many monitors sold today are flicker-free, and use constant-current LED backlights. Those products will not flicker at any brightness level and even those most sensitive to the artifact will not perceive it. Even if one does not actually see flicker, it can cause fatigue in cases of long exposure. When one spends eight or more hours in front of a computer at a stretch, flicker-free can go a long way to making work easier. More and more screens are using constant-current backlights today and we recommend placing that feature high in your priority list.

Low-Blue Light

This is another feature that has appeared relatively recently and is now coming as standard on many displays. The term is a literal one. It usually takes the form of a slider or series of presets that progressively reduce the brightness of blue in the image. You could produce the same effect by turning down the blue slider in a white balance adjustment. The result is a warmer picture and that can also reduce fatigue when you’re staring at black text on a white screen all day.

We don’t have a strong opinion on this subject. The feature can make a computer image less tiring to look at but so can an accurate calibration. When a screen’s white point is properly set to 6500K at all brightness levels, it’s just as easy on the eyes as something even warmer. Since reducing blue brightness affects all other colors, you may experience a somewhat un-natural look to graphics and photos. We find it especially distracting in games and video. In those cases, it’s best to set your monitor to match the color in which the content was mastered.

So we wouldn’t necessarily gravitate toward a product offering low-blue light but it seems that so many monitors offer it now that it’s becoming unavoidable.

Image Modes

Most computer monitors include multiple picture modes that correspond to common tasks like reading, photo, movie, game and the like. We’ve measured many of these during reviews and it seems that unless a preset is called something like Standard or sRGB, it doesn’t completely conform to Rec.709. That is the standard used in the majority of content seen today. It’s what film and video transfers use, what games are created with and it’s what’s expected by major operating systems.

We have noticed a positive trend in our reviews towards better out-of-box accuracy. In many cases, a monitor comes from the factory set to its most accurate image mode and requires little or no adjustment to achieve an sRGB color gamut, 6500K white point and 2.2 gamma. While some users may prefer the look of other image modes, that is an individual consideration. What shoppers should be looking for is a monitor that offers at least one accurate mode. Other presets are un-necessary and won’t really help set one display apart from another.

Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot of information here today and we hope that it will help guide you in your quest for the ideal display. There are a tremendous number of products available utilizing different technologies and touting different features. But if you begin your research by taking a hard look at usage, you will be able to narrow the choices down to a more manageable number.

It is important to remember that the perfect screen does not, and likely will never, exist. We’ve reviewed a few displays that check a lot of boxes with regards to accuracy, contrast and overall usability. But ultimately, there are no monitors that will be flawless in every regard.

That is why it’s so important to decide on application before you gather information. If you are a gamer, or you’re putting together a pro-level graphics system, your job is pretty much done. Every major manufacturer markets displays for these two purposes. And thanks to the demands of users and comprehensive coverage in the media, if a company says their monitor is appropriate for gaming, you can more or less take that to the bank. Gone are the days when a monitor could simply be styled a certain way and called “gaming.” It has to be backed up with features like adaptive refresh and fast panel response. The market won’t be easily fooled.

The same is true in professional circles. Given the high prices that define the genre, things like wide gamuts and factory calibration are mandatory if a manufacturer is to be taken seriously. If you look at our reviews over the last three years you’ll see a trend towards better quality in every computer display category. We’ve even seen a couple of gaming displays that include a factory calibration.

So as you conduct your research, we recommend checking out our regularly-updated Best Monitors guide. This provides a great jumping-off place for finding reviews of the best screens we can get our hands on. We realize there are thousands more products that we don’t cover. But we’ll always try to bring you reports on the latest technologies and innovations.

Before winding this up there are a couple of final considerations we’d like to highlight. If you find several monitors that meet your needs, take a look at the brands’ reputation for build quality and service. We have pretty good luck with our press samples and rarely have issues requiring repair or replacement. But when monitors are being stamped out in quantity, issues can occur. Most products carry a three-year warranty so checking out a company’s service reputation is a good idea.

All display manufacturers have a dead or stuck pixel policy that differs by brand. You’ll find it in the fine print on their websites. We don’t think any bad pixels are acceptable but then we don’t sell monitors. Make sure you’re aware of a company’s policy before you buy.

As you narrow your list of choices for that next display just remember to consider your application and consider your hardware. Remember that there’s no such thing as the perfect screen, but many monitors today are ready to deliver bright and accurate images right out of the box. By all means consult our Best Monitors guide and check out our reviews. We hope they’ll help you in your decision and as always, thanks for reading.

MORE: Best Computer Monitors
MORE: Display Calibration 101

MORE: The Science Behind Tuning Your Monitor
MORE: All Monitor Content

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  • bit_user
    Can't wait for OLED. Dell has one coming in a few months, but it's a professional monitor, with a professional price to match.

    Look forward to incredible contrast ratio, response times, frame rates, color gamut, and brightness. All in one monitor. That's what OLED will enable.
  • chenw
    I usually completely ignore the Low-Blue light feature, because that particular feature is completely moot if it has RGB colour control, and actual fatigue and eye damage coming from excessive blue light can be reduced by simply reducing the brightness of the screen and refraining from using the monitor in completely unlit rooms.

    Besides, low blue light mode also gives the monitor a yellow tint, while I personally despise colour tints, yellow is worst of them, makes the screen look broken and dirty in general.
  • turkey3_scratch
    Great article! I learned a good amount.
  • therealduckofdeath
    Needs a correction, I think. 2160x1440 is not a particularly common desktop resolution or aspect ratio. That's the Microsoft Surface tablet resolution. QHD is 2560x1440.
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    I usually completely ignore the Low-Blue light feature, because that particular feature is completely moot if it has RGB colour control
    Actually, it's useful for late night usage, as blue light interferes with circadian rhythms. Those who have trouble falling asleep should try limiting their exposure to blue light, prior to bedtime.

    And "blue light" doesn't have to be light that looks bluish. It's just the blue spectral component of any light. A white light counts, for example, as it necessarily contains some blue.
  • gondor
    "By the end of their useful life, CRT monitors had reached vertical resolutions of over 1000 lines and could display full graphics. They were no longer limited to just text."

    Huh? CRT displays never were limited to merely displaying text, the image they display is graphics by the virtue of how the function (scanning the screen line by line, changing intensity for each horizontal segment of the line, aka "pixel").

    It actually takes additional electronics to make a display display text. Displays with this additional electronics were called "[dumb] terminals".

    What is it with all the goofy statements on this website recently? The Intel CPU article yesterday and now this?
  • cats_Paw
    Ill drop in my 2 cents:
    The biggest change for me in gaming was to go from Monitors to TVs (due to lower price at high size).

    Yes, these are not the fastest response time, they also dont have 120Hz unless you overclock the signal (and even then it wont always work), and Input lag is horrific if you choose the wrong one.

    But jumping from 20-24 inches to 32-40 was a massive change for me.
    Unfortunately, I wanted a plasma TV for the picture quality and the smallest I could get before they vanished was 50 inches and thats too big for a monitor if you are sitting close.

    I play windowed mode many times just because many games are too nauseating with such a huge screen at 50 cms away.

    But when thats not a problem, is really something to behold. (And movies are great to watch as well).

    The only reason I can see anyone going for a monitor is if the play competitively (and I mean top tier, I play multiplayers and I dont have any problems with getting head shots myself).

    I will probably keep it till OLED is cheap.
  • chenw
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    I usually completely ignore the Low-Blue light feature, because that particular feature is completely moot if it has RGB colour control
    Actually, it's useful for late night usage, as blue light interferes with circadian rhythms. Those who have trouble falling asleep should try limiting their exposure to blue light, prior to bedtime.

    And "blue light" doesn't have to be light that looks bluish. It's just the blue spectral component of any light. A white light counts, for example, as it necessarily contains some blue.


    All implementations of "low blue-light" I have seen invariably causes whites of the image to look warmer, or rather, yellowish, which is the kind of tint I personally hate the most, so it's mostly aesthetic reasons. I haven't seen any "low blue-light" implementation that does not upset white balance, which is why I am never a fan of that feature.
  • basroil
    "Manufacturers combat flicker in a couple of different ways. One is to increase the number of cycles per second. Some PWM backlights cycle at speeds as high as 20mHz. "

    Is that supposed to be 20kHz or 20MHz ? It's definitely not supposed to be 20mHz because that would be 20 milli Hertz, or about 1/50th of a cycle per second!
  • Fanataly
    good article
  • Fanataly
    good article
  • IlMatto
    Could you name a model of 12-bit color display?
  • Larry Litmanen
    Size is also VERY important. I went from a solid 22 inch Dell to a budget 32 Inch TV. The user experience improved so much because gaming became much more immersive.

    Size should be a top 3 factor when buying a monitor, way ahead of VSync-Gsync.
  • Realist9
    The only bit I might have added was in the 'resolution' section. One should look at the resolution a monitor they are considering, and check 5 or 6 games they play to see if they support that resolution *natively*. Using file edits or third party software to get the resolution you want in a game may work, but with issues like fish-eye and broken menu functionality.
  • TheOtherOne
    Size DOES matter. Try going from 24" or even 27" 144Hz to 32" 75Hz and the much bigger size difference in screen will easily overtake those tiny screens with higher refresh rate.
  • Douglas_2
    60Hz displays just won't cut it? I would love to play modern titles above 60Hz at all times, but that just does not happen (yet). ROTR gives super high end cards a walloping.

    I was looking forward to this article, but it's just like reading out of a textbook at school and it seems to be missing any detailed recommendations.
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    Unfortunately, I wanted a plasma TV for the picture quality and the smallest I could get before they vanished was 50 inches and thats too big for a monitor if you are sitting close.
    I bought a high-end plasma, in 2013. Up close, the image quality is crap (due to dithering noise). I have to get about 10 feet away, before it looks good. Even then, it still doesn't look as good as my Sony GDM-FW900 clone CRT monitor (up close).

    But Nvidia dropped analog from the GTX 10xx series, so all of us analog hold-outs will finally have to upgrade.

    Plasma was only good quality for its size range. In absolute terms, let's say I'm not sad to see it go. Can't wait for OLED.
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    All implementations of "low blue-light" I have seen invariably causes whites of the image to look warmer, or rather, yellowish, which is the kind of tint I personally hate the most, so it's mostly aesthetic reasons. I haven't seen any "low blue-light" implementation that does not upset white balance, which is why I am never a fan of that feature.
    Yes, it will upset the white balance - there's no way around that! But some people might be willing to put up with yellowish images, late at night, so they can get to sleep later.
  • kittle
    Something else to add when shopping for a new monitor -- buy for the long term. If your get a monitor with the intent that it will last you through SEVERAL PC upgrade cycles. Yes it will cost more up front. but it will save you in the long run.
    The next several PC upgrades you will have more to spend on components because you wont need a new monitor because you got a good one to start with.
  • shrapnel_indie
    <sigh> A FREE way (depending on if you place a high price on your time to set it up) to help ease eye strain is to "invert" colors in an app. Ya know, make the background a dark color, and the text a light color. Yes, I know that not all apps will support this, but windows can help some with those that follow Windows Color settings if they don't offer their own way to change color schemes.

    Curious. What happened to a maximum response(gray to gray) timing recommendation? Is the ol' 5ms max for gaming been tossed to the curb? I know you covered this refresh timing, but you only really mentioned it for TN screens being able to get the fastest times possible.

    This was not too shabby as a very quick overview, but it left questions unanswered. You could have, in passing mentioned some generalities in comparison, such as what the general range for gtg response time with each technology. After all, you did just that with the contrast ratio. At least the known fastest speeds for each tech.