When it comes to monitors, there is a huge choice available to you. This array of choice can sometimes be very overwhelming, which can make it difficult to decide when it comes time to upgrade your monitor or buy a new one.
To try and cut down on this confusion, here are a couple of pointers to try and guide you towards getting something that works for you. Of course, this won’t be any particular model suggestions. These are more guidelines to look out for. But given monitors can easily last a few upgrade cycles, it’s important to get one that’s right for your needs.
Are two better than one?
For a number of decades now, computers have been able to support two (or more) monitors. There are a few situations where this could become useful.
For instance, if you’re a streamer, you could dedicate one monitor to the game while the other monitor could support all the extra programs you’ll need to make the stream work. This means that you can easily keep track of things like your stream’s chat, and even monitor the stream itself, without having to switch out of the game.
Alternatively, if your workload involves having several different programs open at once, having multiple screens allows you to spread your programs out a bit and be able to see more things at the same time. If you’re reliant on many different programs for your daily tasks, having two monitors can help you improve your productivity as you spend a lot less time switching between applications.
This arrangement isn’t suitable to everyone however. For day-to-day tasks such as general web surfing or checking email, multiple monitors connected is likely to be overkill. However, if you fall into a scenario like the above, and are unaware that you could even run multiple monitors, you should consider whether this would be a wise investment.
What about screen resolutions?
To put things simply, the image in your screen is made up of lots of tiny dots called ‘pixels’, and the resolution is how many of these pixels make up the screen, both horizontally and vertically. There are many different screen resolutions available.
On some low-end laptops, you may still find some screens that have resolutions of 1280×720 or 1366×768, however on desktop monitors it is very unlikely you’ll see these resolutions. For all but the most basic of uses, these are probably not worth considering. The reason is that, with the amount of screen real estate taken up by many program’s interfaces, you don’t always get a lot left for whatever you’re actually working on. A resolution of 1920×1080 is really the minimal to be useful. This still allows for a decent amount of information to be displayed once the user interface is taken care of.
There are two additional resolutions above this that are common. These resolutions are often referred to as 2K, which gives you 2560×1440, or 4k, which is 3840×2160. These resolutions are great if you need even more screen real estate, however you’ll really need to go for large screen sizes to avoid squinting. Higher resolutions of course allow you more screen real estate, and for gaming and movies, they allow a more detailed image, providing of course they’re able to utilise these higher resolutions.
Finally, you will sometimes come across monitors that are known as ‘ultra-wide’ monitors. These are again great options if you want additional screen real estate, and can sometimes be an alternative to a dual-monitor arrangement. However, something to consider is some games and applications will occasionally glitch at odd aspect rations though this is becoming less common now that they are more common.
Size doesn’t matter. Or does it?
Screen size is an important consideration. Larger screen sizes can be easier on the eyes, particularly if you have eyesight issues, however smaller screen sizes are better if your desk space is more limited.
Although they’re not really related, your decision on resolution should also take into account screen size. If you want to buy a 4K screen, you could possibly get away with a 25-inch monitor, however a 27-inch may be a better option. The main reason is that smaller sizes may be uncomfortable read at 4K, while the same monitor at 1920×1080 can be fine. This is particularly relevant if your eyesight isn’t 100%. You can sometimes get away with this by increasing the screen magnification, however some applications behave better than others when you do this.
To put this in simple terms, if you’re looking for 23-inch monitors or below, you may be better considering 1920×1080 resolution. If you want 4K resolution, you may be better considering 27-inch or above. Between these two, you could get away with either.
What’s all this refresh rate nonsense?
There has been a lot of talk about refresh rates recently, particularly now that graphics cards have become extremely powerful. If you’re not sure what this refers to, the refresh rate is simply the maximum number of times the screen will update per second and essentially sets a maximum framerate your monitor will display.
Nearly every monitor on the market right now can do 60hz as a minimum, which means that the screen updates 60 times per second. There are now screens that can do 120hz, 144hz, or even 240hz.
For day-to-day operations, these higher refresh rates will make almost no difference. The types of information your typical application displays very rarely benefits from higher refresh rates. Even watching movies will not benefit from higher refresh rates, as these are typically not filmed at framerates high enough for this to be of benefit.
Where this makes the most difference is in certain types of gaming. Certain genres of competitive gaming, particularly first-person shooters, rely on razor-quick reactions and higher framerates can assist with you if you train yourself enough. Other fast-paced racing games such as racing games benefit through reduced motion blur. For those scenarios, a faster framerate can be useful.
Outside of these scenarios, higher framerates offer little benefit. You should really only prioritise higher refresh rates in situations that you are likely to notice it, otherwise you are wasting money on something that probably won’t be useful.
What sort of panel should I get?
There are a variety of different panel types that can be use to make your monitor. This is where things can get very confusing.
To simply things, let’s start with something that some may consider an unpopular opinion. It’s very rare to find a completely terrible panel anymore, so if you’re not particularly fussed or don’t have a very specific use case where one panel type might be better, pretty much anything will do. If this describes you, you might be better off ignoring this discussion altogether. Just pick your monitor based on screen size, resolution and maybe refresh rate.
If you’re a little fussy, or have a particular use case, there are a few general things to consider.
Some photographers, videographers and content creators will require a high degree of colour reproduction and accuracy from their monitors. For these uses, an IPS panel is likely to be a better option, as these monitors can generally reproduce a lot more of the colour gamut than VA panels.
For gaming, a TN panel is likely to be a better option. The reason is that, while colour reproduction isn’t always as good, the response time is typically a lot better. This allows TN panels to support higher framerates, with reduced motion blur.
This article can only ever be a summary of what to look for. Hopefully it provides at least a general overview of what you should be looking for when you are looking for a monitor.