How To Choose a Computer Monitor

Which monitor is best for you? A Buying Guide for 2012

Dump that low-resolution, energy-inefficient CRT screen and upgrade to an LCD monitor. Here are the key features to consider when shopping for an LCD monitor for your computer system.

Today’s LCD monitors are slim, stylish, and energy efficient. And they’re affordable, too. Older, bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors are obsolete, and—although they may seem like a bargain—they not only cost more to operate, but may also lack the resolution and connectivity to hook up to current and future computer systems. And perhaps you've already browsed the Adorama Computer Monitor Department, but you're confused by all the options.

Let's break it down for you.

Before you choose an LCD monitor, consider what you’ll be doing with it. For simple surfing, e-mail, and everyday tasks, a low-end monitor will do just fine. If you’re looking for something that doubles as a home entertainment screen for gaming or watching high-definition (HD) movies, you may want to look for a more robust feature set. Finally, if you’re into photography, graphic design, or video production, look to a professional-grade monitor for extensive control and the highest possible image quality.

Screen Size

The first thing to consider is size. Monitors are measured diagonally, starting at about 19 inches for basic desktop models and going up to 46 inches for wall-mounted presentation screens. Desktop monitors max out at 30 inches, but make sure you have enough room for one of the bigger models. Ideally, you should be sitting three feet (roughly arm’s length) from your monitor. If your desk is too shallow to permit this distance, stick to a smaller model.

Aspect Ratio

Monitors come in two shapes, or aspect ratios. The 4:3 and 5:4 ratios that comply with the older standard are roughly the same shape as traditional televisions and are slightly wider than they are tall. Newer widescreen monitors feature 16:9 or 16:10 ratios, like HD televisions, and are much wider than they are tall. Widescreen monitors are better for watching movies, viewing more documents simultaneously or several open windows at a time. However, 4:3 ratio monitors require less vertical scrolling when you’re working with a single document or window.


A monitor creates images using thousands of tiny dots called pixels. Its resolution is the number of pixels it can display, and is measured as width × height. The higher the resolution, the more can fit on the screen, but individual elements (such as text, icons, and images) will be smaller. Most monitors have multiple resolutions you can choose according to your specific needs. However, the number of physical pixels or native resolution stays the same, and image quality may suffer when you set higher or lower ratios. When choosing a 4:3 ratio monitor, select a native resolution of at least 1280 × 1084. If you’re looking for a widescreen monitor to display true HD video, choose a native resolution of 1920 × 1080.

Response Time

Response time refers to how quickly a monitor can display moving images, and is crucial when choosing a monitor for HD video and gaming. The lower a monitor’s response time, the faster it can redraw the contents of the screen. This leads to smoother video with less motion blur, smoother transitions, and fewer visible artifacts such as jaggies. Choose a monitor with a response time of 8 milliseconds (ms) or less. Today’s monitors feature response times as low as 1 or 2 ms.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black. It determines the richness of colors displayed. Choose a contrast ratio of 400:1 or better; otherwise, on-screen colors may look dull, and your monitor may suffer from poor image detail in dark areas. Adequate contrast is especially important if you’re working with graphics or video.

Viewing Angle

The viewing angle is expressed in degrees, and determines how well you can see a screen when you move from side to side or above and below it. Choose a viewing angle of 160° or more, especially if you’ll be using your monitor to make presentations or for home entertainment purposes.

Inputs and Outputs

Choose a monitor with DVI (digital) and VGA (analog) inputs even if your current computer only has VGA outputs. This way, you won’t have to buy another monitor if you purchase a new system or graphics card. If you’re planning to use your monitor with other electronic peripherals such as gaming consoles, HD cable boxes, personal video recorders (PVRs), Blu-ray players, and still or video cameras, make sure it also has a High-definition Multimedia Input (HDMI) port.

If you’re using a current Mac or certain high-end graphics cards, you may need a monitor with a DisplayPort input. Although it is possible to connect the DisplayPort output on your computer to a VGA or DVI input on a monitor with the proper adapter, you cannot connect VGA or DVI outputs to DisplayPort inputs. Nice-to-have options include built-in speakers and audio inputs, webcams, USB ports, and memory card slots.

The Monitor That’s Best for You

With the above advice in mind, here are three representative computer monitors. Be sure to visit the Adorama Computer Monitor Department at Adorama for the best deals on monitors.

Acer V Series V193W

Acer V Series V193W
Adorama price: $103.99

For the college student and budget buyers a good display also needs to not eat a hole in their pocket, and usually needs to be compact so that it does not take up a good deal of space. Look to a monitor such as the Acer V Series V193W  ($103.99), a wide screen LCD monitor.

The widescreen in its titles refers to the 160-degree viewing angle that will make it easy for more than one person to view what is on the screen, important if used for games. It supports resolutions up to 1440 x 900, and with 17 million colors and 5 MS response time it is flexible enough to serve as a display for gaming, as a replacement television, or as a tool for video editing.

ViewSonic VG2239M-TAA

ViewSonic VG2239M-TAA 
Adorama price: $269.99

Business users often have two screens, and yet a display such as the ViewSonic VG2239M-TAA ($269.99) could eliminate that need by allowing the equivalent of two full pages on a single screen, saving desk space without sacrificing productivity.

The 22-inch display has a 1920 x 1080 resolution, and with its LED technology it provides solid energy savings as well, using as little as 50% of what some alternatives offer.  It is compatible with both PCs and Macintosh computers so it provides flexibility in the office.

NEC MultiSync P232W

NEC MultiSync P232W
Adorama price: $819.00

Professionals in video and image editing need large displays to help with their work. However, simply a larger display is only part of the equation, and a full set of features tailored to the tasks such as those included in the 23-inch NEC MultiSync P232W are important as well.  The 1920 x 1080 high-resolution LCD display includes a high contrast rate and supports full High Definition 1080p images. Its AmbiBright ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display's brightness based on lighting conditions. A key feature that will entice graphics professionals is its MultiProfiler software that enables complete control over the five picture modes, including the loading of any ICC profile directly into the monitor for optimal color space matching.  It can serve as a USB hub and includes DisplayPort and DVI-D, HDMI and VGA inputs.

Visit the Adorama Computer Monitors department for great deals!

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