The COMPLETE monitor guide (with basics explained)
Are you a gamer? Watches Netflix? Have an office job?
Chances are you stare at your monitor almost everyday, and unless you’re a reviewer or Linus Sebastian, choosing the best monitor for your needs is crucial to your productivity and just makes it a more pleasant experience.
So here’s a straight to the point guide for choosing the perfect monitor for you.
Bonus Tip: 95% of the guide is applicable for laptop screens as well 😀
Size and aspect ratio (Ultrawide?)
First, let’s get the most basic yet crucial part out of the way, the dimensions. Monitor sizes are measured by the length of its diagonal in inches, like this.
Laptop screens usually range from 12-15.6 inches, while desktop monitors can go from 18 all the way to 34 inches.
For laptops, productivity work can be done at 12 inches, but 13 and 14 is usually the perfect size, while 15 or 15.6 allows for a more immersive movie and gaming experience.
For desktops, it really comes down to your preference and how big is your table. Because unless you’re mounting it on a wall, the monitor needs to sit on your desk, and it can take up quite some space, so this is now a tradeoff between screen real estate and available table space. Another key factor is the viewing distance, if you sit too far, things becomes small and it’s less immersive; but if you’re too close, you may start seeing the pixels and images won’t be as sharp. The final factor is the resolution, which we’ll get to in a minute.
So then ultra-wide, what’s all the fuss about? Ultrawide are essentially monitors with a 21:9 ratio and usually curved, while regular monitors have a 16:9 or 16:10 ratio. Thus ultrawide’s extra width and curve provides a more immersive gaming experience and allows for improved productivity, similar to a dual monitor set up but without the ugly bezel in the middle. The only major drawback is its price, ultrawides are still relatively new thus its heavier price tag.
Now let’s take a look (look hehe) at resolutions before deciding on the size.
Resolution (How sharp is the picture?)
Resolution is what we set every year to disappoint ourselves, but in this case it is the number of pixels that can be displayed (width x height). The common resolutions are:
- 1080p (1920×1080) (FHD)
- 1440p (2560×1440) (WQHD)
- 4K (3840×2160) (4K UHD)
- Ultrawide (2560×1080 or 3440×1440)
1080p is adequate for productivity such as office apps and web designing. 1440p is a good upgrade for things like video editing and movies, and everything will just look sharper in general. While 4K is still a luxury for now, and there really isn’t enough practical improvements to justify the premium price, unless you’re a photo editor, then by all means, go ahead. That being said it is a beauty to look at, and can be shown off with 4K videos. For Ultrawide, it can hugely benefit programmers and video editors, as the extra width allows for multiple windows opened simultaneously.
How about gaming then?
It depends. You can better decide after knowing about frame rates in just a minute.
So then the size. If you’re getting a 1080p, the maximum size you should get is 26 inch, or else things will start to get blurry. If you’re opting for a 1440p instead, it should be around 25 inch to 30 inch, while 4K should at least be 27 inch. This will ensure there’s no distorted images and bad scaling.
Frame rates (144hz?)
Frame rates is the frequency at which frames are displayed. Usually measured in how many frames per second (fps)(hertz). The common frame rates are 60hz, 75hz, 100hz and 144hz. What this means is how smooth it feels, usually most noticeable in game.
Generally, strategy game and rpg are fine with 60hz, while first person shooters can benefit from higher refresh rate like 100hz or 144hz.
So then finally back to the resolution
It depends on the games you play and your graphic cards. The higher the resolution, the more demanding it is, the lower the frame rates. For example with the same game, your GPU can achieve only 30 fps at 4K, but it can do 1440p at 60 fps, and 1080p at 100 fps.
Different game can also have different performance on the same video settings. AAA games such as GTA V, The Division and The Witcher 3 are demanding on the GPU, thus it will be hard to get 60 fps on 4K with say a GTX1050; but E-sports game such as CS:GO and Dota2 can achieve higher frame rates with the same resolution. So this all comes down to the GPU, and the targeted refresh rate (based on the games you play). 1080p and 60hz are a good entry in general, while 1080p and 144hz are ideal for e-sports, 1440p and 60hz for AAA games.
Panel Type (Colours and Viewing Angles)
The three main panel types are IPS(In-plane Switching), TN(twisted nematic) and VA(vertical alignment).
TN is the cheapest and usually have a higher refresh rate, but the colours gets distorted when viewed from an off center angle, thus should be avoided for laptops.
IPS usually have almost perfect viewing angles while having good brilliant colours, but it can have a lower refresh rate and response rate.
VA has the best of both worlds, with good viewing angles and robust colours with fast response times, although it sometimes may have ghosting.
Generally, avoid TN if you’re on a laptop, while VA is ideal for desktops if it fits your budget. Otherwise, TN and IPS can be considered based on what you are willing to sacrifice.
Variable refresh rate (G-Sync? Freesync?)
A bonus technology that changes the refresh rate of the monitor to match that outputted by your computer. So, for example, if your game dips to 40fps, your 60hz monitor will now refresh at 40hz. When the game goes back up to 50fps, your monitor will then instantly match it with 50hz.
This feature is brand exclusive, so G-Sync can only be used by Nvidia graphic cards; while Freesync can only be used by AMD graphic cards. Thus, only aim for a Freesync monitor if you’re using an AMD card, and likewise for G-sync.
Do note that they can only reduce screen tearing when playing demanding games, but it will not increase your game performance (fps). Some swear by it, but personally it’s just a nice to have.
Usually not a problem, but just make sure to pick a monitor with the right input options. VGA is still around and will be for at least a few years but it shouldn’t be your first choice unless it’s the only one. Displayport is the way to go if you’re going for anything higher than 120hz. While HDMI and DVI-D are also common choice for lower refresh rate. Do note that G-Sync will only work with Displayport, while Freesync can support Displayport and some versions of HDMI.
Needed for mounting on surfaces and generally helpful for dual or triple monitor setup.
A nice to have which allows for easy height and angle adjustments.
A convenient way to access flash drives or charge a phone.
Built-In Speakers and Webcam
Don’t expect a very good experience but can be a nice to have if there’s no speakers or as a backup.
Hopefully you’ve now learned a thing or two and can now go buy a monitor with confidence.