You need a good monitor to get the most out of your desktop computer. LCD -- or liquid crystal display -- monitors have become the dominant display technology over the years, replacing cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, which have been around since the dawn of the PC. Even graphics professionals -- who generally used CRT monitors for their high resolution and color quality -- are switching to high-end LCD technology as performance improves and prices come down.
LCD monitors use an LCD panel in conjunction with a backlight to produce a picture. Backlights can be either cold-cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) technology. LED backlights are thinner and more energy efficient, and they are capable of producing deeper blacks. CCFL backlights are less expensive. Regardless of the type of backlight, LCD monitors are less bulky than CRT displays.
Different types of LCD panels are available. Nearly all cheap monitors, and all 3D-capable monitors, use twisted nematic (TN) technology. If you don't use your computer monitor extensively for editing photos or watching movies, or spend hours at a time editing documents or working on spreadsheets, TN panels are a reasonable and inexpensive choice. For gamers, TN panels are preferred because they have a faster response time. When a manufacturer doesn't disclose the type of panel used with a monitor, it's often -- though not always -- an inexpensive TN panel.
If you have a bigger budget, experts say other panel types offer some advantages for certain users. For office use -- especially if you spend lots of time working in word processing, spreadsheet or database programs -- a monitor with a vertical alignment (VA) LCD panel might make sense. That's because a VA panel has a better contrast ratio than a TN panel, easing eyestrain when used for long stretches. VA panel variations include multidomain (MVA) and patterned (PVA), which may also come in better, high-contrast advanced MVA (AMVA) and super-PVA (S-PVA) versions.
VA panels have better color reproduction than TN panels, but if you do professional photo editing, video editing or other graphics-intensive work, a monitor with an advanced type of in-plane switching (IPS) panel might be worth its premium price. Such monitors have the best color accuracy and wide viewing angles so they can be used effectively in a group setting. Super-IPS (S-IPS), Professional-IPS (P-IPS) and Horizontal-IPS (H-IPS) are the best-quality IPS panels.
Some IPS displays are marketed as having A-IPS or IPS-A panels, but experts such as Simon Baker at TFT Central say that there's no functional difference between those and standard IPS panels. Finally, Enhanced IPS (e-IPS) panels are a lower-cost IPS variant with better performance than is usually seen with cheaper technologies, but they are not quite the quality of better IPS panels.
While the panel/backlight technology is important, it's not the only consideration in finding the right LCD monitor. Panel size, ergonomic features, connectivity and usability all play a role as well. With all of that, it's not surprising that pricing can vary greatly. A monitor intended for general, everyday use can cost less than $200 (and even less than that for smaller screen sizes), while top-tier, flagship models can cost nearly $1,000 and go up from there.
To help you narrow your choices, ConsumerSearch ranks LCD monitors based on reviews from a wealth of sources, including experts and users. The analysis breaks down models by performance, features, design and value to find the best monitors overall and those that deliver the best bang for the buck.