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How to Buy an LCD Monitor

The monitor you're using right now probably came bundled with your desktop PC, or maybe you bought it back when 1,240 by 1,024 was considered high resolution. Since you spend a huge part of everyday looking at it, however, it pays to be picky when picking a LCD monitor. Price ranges vary widely, as do the quality of the panels. So how can you make an informed choice? That's where we come in. We will walk you through the latest trends in the display market, as well as the specific features to look for when buying an LCD monitor.

The Basics
Regardless of what kind of monitor you're in the market for, there are some general factors to consider:

Price: Monitor prices depend on the type, size, and features of the display. For example, the Viewsonic VA2251m-TAA $182.69 at Amazon and the Asus VS229H-P$139.00 at Amazon are no-frills models that use a 22-inch panel and cost around $160 to $180. Budget monitors usually lack niceties, such as USB ports and a height-adjustable stand, but they do use LED backlighting, require very little power, and are very bright. Performance is adequate for most entertainment purposes or for viewing business and productivity apps, but not well-suited for tasks where color and gray-scale accuracy are key. At the other end of the spectrum are your high-end models that are geared toward graphic design professionals and photographers. Models such as the Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD UP3214Q$2,699.99 at Dell use huge 30-inch-plus screens with In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel technology and can display four times the resolution of a typical Full HD (1,920-by-1,080) monitor. Moreover, they offer features such as a highly adjustable stand, USB ports, and a wealth of advanced image settings. Expect to pay $3,000 and up for a fully loaded, high-performance UHD monitor. Bottom line: Be prepared to pay for extras, but don't overspend on features you will never use.

Size: LCD monitors generally run anywhere from 15 inches to 32 inches. The size of the panel is measured diagonally. While it's always nice to have a big viewing area, it may not be practical, given desktop space constraints. Plus, the bigger the screen, the more you can expect to pay. Monitors like the BenQ VW2235H $139.99 at Amazon are popular, as they offer enough screen real estate to view multipage documents or watch movies without taking up too much room. Still, there's nothing like watching a movie or playing a game on a large screen, so if you have room on your desktop, a 27-inch monitor, such as the AOC i2757fh $349.99 at Amazon, delivers a big-screen experience for a reasonable price. If you're looking to replace a dual-monitor setup with a single display, consider a 29-inch, ultra-wide monitor, such as the Acer B296CL, with 2,560-by-1,080 resolution, a 21:9 aspect ratio. The panel is 27.1 inches wide and 11.5 inches high.

Pixel Response Rate: This is measured in milliseconds, the time it takes for a pixel to change from black to white (black-to-white) or to transition from one shade of gray to another shade of gray (gray-to-gray). The faster the pixel response rate, the better the monitor is at displaying video without displaying artifacts, such as ghosting or blurring of moving images. Monitors with a fast 1-millisecond (gray-to-gray) pixel response, such as the BenQ XL2720Z $479.00 at Amazon are very good for gaming, but even monitors with a higher pixel response, including theAcer B276HUL (6 milliseconds, gray-to-gray), can display games without much blurring or ghosting. The fact is, most users won't notice lag, which is the time it takes for the display to react to a command, but hardcore gamers consider this a key factor when choosing a monitor and typically seek out the fastest models available.

Resolution: This is the number of pixels a monitor can display, both horizontally and vertically. For example, a monitor with a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution can display 1,920 pixels across the width of the screen, and 1,080 pixels from top to bottom. The higher the resolution, the more information can be displayed on the screen. These days, most monitors in the 22- to 27-inch range have a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 and are referred to as full HD monitors. The Viewsonic VP2770-LED$650.98 at Amazon, on the other hand, is a 27-inch monitor with a 2,560-by-1,440 native resolution, also known as WQHD (Wide Quad HD). Some high-end screens, such as the Asus PQ321 $2,402.32 at Amazon and the Dell UltraSharp UP3214Q, display at resolution of 3,840 by 2,160, which is considered Ultra HD (or 4K), making them ideal for viewing highly detailed images or viewing multiple pages in a tiled or side-by-side format.

Extra Features: If you have to share a monitor with a co-worker or family members, consider a model with an ergonomic stand that lets you position the screen for your most comfortable viewing angle. The BenQ BL2710PT offers tilt, swivel, and height adjustments, and you can rotate the panel for portrait-mode viewing. If you transfer lots of data back and forth between USB devices, look for a monitor with built-in USB ports. The NEC MultiSync EA274WMi Best Price at Amazon has USB ports on the back and on the side of the cabinet, making it easy to plug in thumb drives and other USB peripherals (side-mounted USB ports rule). Embedded webcams like the one used on the Dell S2340T $469.99 at Dell are fun for video chats and emailing photos, but don't expect stellar image quality, as they are typically low-resolution cameras.

Most monitors come with built-in speakers that are adequate for everyday use, but usually lack the volume and bass response that music aficionados and gamers crave. If audio output is important, look for speakers with a minimum rating of 2 watts per speaker. As a general rule, the higher the power rating, the more volume you can expect. If you want a monitor with a little extra audio pop, the HP Envy 27 with Beats Audio $379.99 at Amazon is a good choice. A display with a built-in card reader makes it easy to view photos and play music without having to reach under your desk to plug in a media card. Finally, glossy screens can provide very bright, crisp colors, but may also be too reflective for some users. If possible, compare a glossy screen to a matte screen before you buy to decide which works best for you.

( Updated: 2014-05-22 )
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