What the best LCD monitor has

  • Good image quality. Since you'll spend a great deal of time looking at a screen, image quality is crucial. The best displays produce crisp, detailed images with rich, well-saturated colors.
  • Wide viewing angles. The best monitors maintain picture and color fidelity even when viewed from well to the side. That allows for collaboration for presentations and other business uses, or for letting friends watch as you clear the field in the latest first-person shooter game.
  • Fast response times. Monitors with slower pixel response times can be prone to ghosting, or motion-blur; for gaming monitors especially, the faster the response time the better.
  • High resolution. That allows you to see fine details in graphics (including game graphics) and photos. A monitor that can handle at least a resolution of 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels can display an HD movie or TV program without scaling down the content.
  • High contrast ratio. A monitor's contrast ratio is the difference in light intensity between the brightest white and the deepest black. However, take manufacturer specifications with a grain of salt as there's no uniform standard for how to measure a monitor's contrast ratio.
  • Ample inputs. The more-robust monitors typically include VGI, HDMI and DisplayPort inputs. Some include a USB hub, which can be handy if you have a computer that's limited in that regard.
  • Myriad ergonomic features. Adjustability options are something to consider when buying a monitor, especially if you expect to be sitting in front of it for long stretches; back-tilt, swivel, pivot and height adjustment are the most common.
  • Simple user-interface. Function trumps form in onscreen displays; the best user-interfaces are user-friendly, responsive and intuitive.
  • Comprehensive warranty. It's important to know the manufacturer's policy regarding parts-and-labor. The dead pixel policy can be especially important; the best support covers for even one dead pixel.

Know before you go

What are you going to use the LCD monitor for? Determining your needs is important in finding the right LCD monitor. Different types excel in different areas. See the introduction to this report for more information.

How large a screen size do you want? LCD monitors come in a range of screen sizes, typically between 17 and 30 inches. Large, high-resolution monitors (up to 2,560 pixels by 1,600 pixels, or so) are a necessity for detailed graphics work, but they might be overkill for other uses. Large monitors are also better suited for collaborative work (viewing by more than one person), but pay attention to issues such as viewing angles if that's something you'll be doing regularly. Most displays that measure 24 inches or larger have at least 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution, enough to let you enjoy HD movies and TV programs without having to scale down the content. Widescreen LCD monitors generally have aspect ratios of 16:9 or 16:10. Don't forget to make sure you have enough desktop space for whichever screen size you choose.

How fast a monitor do you need? A fast response time -- the amount of time it takes for a monitor's pixels to update -- helps reduce artifacts like ghosting or motion blur. Most monitors perform well enough in this regard so that most users won't notice any issues during movies and games. Serious gamers who play fast-action games, however, typically want the fastest response times available -- usually between 2ms to 5ms. Competitive gamers also need to be concerned about input lag -- the amount of time it takes for a monitor's electronics to process an input and show it on the screen.

How many inputs do you need? The best monitors typically include a wealth of connectivity options. Typical connections include DVI and VGA, with HDMI and DisplayPort becoming more common. Other connections you might find include component video, composite video and S-Video. Some monitors also sport USB ports to allow easy access to files like photos and videos, and/or a built-in USB hub to expand the connection options of the host computer. Some monitors have built-in speakers, while a few have a headphone jack.

How much adjustability do you need? Many displays include an array of ergonomic options. Tilt, pivot, swivel and screen height are the most common adjustments. Those who use a display over a long period, such as in the workplace, could especially benefit from the increased adjustability.

How important is color quality to you? Most displays offer decent-enough color quality for the average user. Graphics professionals, on the other hand, need a display that produces accurate colors over a wide range. IPS panel technology, when compared to its MVA and TN counterparts, offers superior color reproduction.

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