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  • How to Buy a Monitor
Technology Articles > Computers > Monitors > How to Buy a Monitor

When it comes to buying a computer monitor, your first may instinct may be to go as big as possible for your dollar. Resist that urge. Today’s computer monitors come with a number of features, options and specs that will affect your viewing experience beyond sheer size. Read on to learn the essential before you go shopping for a monitor.

LCD vs. LED Monitors

Once upon a time, computer shoppers had to choose between flatscren LCDs and the bulky CRTs. Today, you might still be able to find one of those clunky CRTs—but given that LCDs are just about the same price as CRTs, take up much less space and consume less energy, there’s no reason to buy a CRT. But you may have to make a choice between LED and LCD monitors. A true LED computer monitor, like an LED television, will give you a much better picture—but the price tag will be astronomical. You’re more likely to come across an LCD monitor with an LED backlight. LED backlit LCD monitors are pricier, but they provide greater color accuracy, which is important for graphic designers and photographers. LED backlit monitors also consume less energy.

Bottom-line: If price is an issue, an LCD monitor will suffice. But for those who need sharp resolution and accurate colors, you may want to spring for an LED backlit monitor.

Aspect Ratio 4:3 vs. 16:9

In layman’s terms, a 4:3 aspect ratio is your “standard” TV screen ratio, where as 16:9 is more like a widescreen display. Which is best? That depends on how much desktop space you have, which applications you run and what’s in your DVD collection. For those who intend to enjoy movies in their full glory on their PCs, a 16:9 makes sense.

Screen Size

Computer displays are measured diagonally across the screen in inches. Aside from the fact that larger monitors are typically more expensive, you may want to consider getting a smaller monitor depending on how much desk space you have. If you’re an avid multi-tasker who often has multiple windows open, a larger screen with a higher native screen resolution will help.

Viewing Angle

LCDs have one drawback when compared to CRTs: viewing angle. Viewed from the side or slightly above or below, it may be difficult to see an LCD. Manufacturers have their own ratings for viewing angles (i.e. 180 degrees or 270 degrees) but there’s no industry standard. Your best bet is to go into the store and try out a monitor for yourself. A monitor with a wide viewing angle is important if you plan on sharing your monitor during a presentation or with a colleague standing over your shoulder.


Higher contrast gives you the sharper and more readable the text and more defined differences in colors. Higher is better, with 400:1 serving as a good baseline. Anything above 600:1 might not make a noticeable difference.
Response Time

Response time is important for gaming and watching action flicks. The lower (i.e. faster) the response time, the better. 3 ms is a good standard for gaming and movies.

Outputs and Ports

There are a number of digital and analog outputs and ports for your monitor, but the two you should focus on are DVI and HDMI. DVI is quickly becoming the standard for computer monitors, and if your current computer doesn’t have a DVI out, your next one likely will. Many monitors feature both VGA and DVI outputs, but most computers will only have one or the other. You may also want to find a monitor with an HDMI input, so you can hook up your DVD player or your computer, if you have an HDMI out, for high definition viewing.

Other Features

Beyond the core specs, there are other features you may want to look into. The ability to adjust the position and angle of your monitor by pivoting, swiveling or changing the height will come in handy, especially if the viewing angle is touchy. A widescreen pivoting monitor can also be turned on its side for a skyscraper view with more vertical screen real estate (sort of like a tall screen instead of a wide screen). You should also look for a monitor with solid energy saving features, brightness and contrast controls and other on-board features.

One last piece of advice: don’t trust specs alone. With monitors, seeing is believing. Buy in-store so you can see how it performs. If you must buy online, read user reviews to make sure it’s a best buy.