What to consider when buying a PC monitor

While a standard monitor can handle most tasks adequately, more specialised tasks may require specific features.
While a standard monitor can handle most tasks adequately, more specialised tasks may require specific features.PHOTO: LG

For those thinking of getting a new monitor, here are eight buying considerations.

1. The monitor's main role

The first thing you need to decide is the monitor's primary role.

Is it for day-to-day computing tasks such as editing documents? Or is it for gaming?

While a standard monitor can handle most tasks adequately, more specialised tasks such as photo or video editing may require specific features, such as a wide colour gamut.

2. Screen size and resolution

The most popular monitor screen sizes in Singapore are 24 and 27 inches, say manufacturers.

A larger screen generally lets you view more information, but do not neglect screen resolution as it affects the clarity of images.

A 27-inch monitor with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel or 1,080p resolution, for instance, is not as sharp as a 24-inch one with the same resolution. Hence, the former may not be ideal for text-heavy applications. However, gamers may prefer a lower resolution so as to maximise graphics performance.

Conversely, a 4K resolution on a 27-inch screen may result in text and objects appearing too small, though this can be rectified in the computer settings.

Given the same screen size, a higher-resolution monitor is likely to be more expensive than another with a lower resolution.


3. Aspect ratio

While most monitors have a 16:9 aspect ratio, ultra-wide models with a 21:9 or 32:9 aspect ratio are seeing traction as a single ultra-wide monitor can replace two or even three monitors and eliminates unsightly screen bezels between multiple monitors.

4. Brightness

Most monitors offer 300 to 400 nits of brightness. With high dynamic range (HDR) content increasingly available for computers, the Video Electronics Standards Association has created the DisplayHDR standard to inform consumers if a monitor is capable of showing HDR content properly.

There are several tiers in the DisplayHDR standard. For instance, the entry-level DisplayHDR 400 specification mandates a minimum peak brightness of 400 nits and a standard colour gamut.

If HDR, which is also supported in game consoles, is important to you, pick a monitor with the DisplayHDR 1000 certification, which specifies a peak brightness of 1,000 nits and a wide colour gamut.

5. Type of panel

The panel technology used by monitors affects viewing angles and image quality.

In-plane switching (IPS) monitors offer wide viewing angles (up to 178 degrees) and good image quality.

Twisted nematic (TN) screens are cheaper and have low response times that are desired by gamers as they reduce motion blur.

Vertical alignment (VA) panels usually offer the best contrast ratio and image quality, but they have a long response time and their viewing angles are not as wide as those of IPS screens.

For most usage scenarios, The Straits Times' recommendation is to go with an IPS monitor, for its balanced characteristics. IPS monitors have an image quality that is close to that of VA screens, while their response time is becoming low enough to compete with TN displays.

6. Monitor curvature

Curved monitors are said to offer a more immersive experience and strain the eyes less. They also tend to have a large screen so that they can better envelope a user's field of vision.

The amount of curvature is typically represented as a figure such as 1,800R, which means the monitor is as curved as a circle with a 1,800mm radius. A lower figure means a more pronounced curve.

7. Refresh rate

A monitor's refresh rate determines how often it updates the image on the screen. A standard monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate redraws images 60 times in a second.

A higher refresh rate makes playing games and navigating the computer interface feel smoother and more fluid.

Taking this a step further (and raising the price tag) are monitors with variable or adaptive refresh rate technologies such as AMD's FreeSync and Nvidia's G-Sync. These features, which require a compatible AMD or Nvidia graphics card, constantly adjust the monitor's refresh rate to match a game's frame rates so as to reduce screen tearing - where horizontal lines break up an image.

8. Ports and connectors

Monitors typically come with HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. They may also have a USB hub to support multiple USB devices and built-in speakers for audio playback.

There are different generations for HDMI and DisplayPort that vary in capabilities. For instance, HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 have more bandwidth that enables higher resolutions and higher refresh rates than older versions.

Nvidia's G-Sync technology also requires a DisplayPort 1.2 connector while AMD's FreeSync can work with HDMI.

Newer (and more premium) monitors often come with a USB-C port that can be used to deliver power as well as carry audio and video signals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2020, with the headline 'What to consider when buying a PC monitor'. Print Edition | Subscribe