How to Buy a PC Monitor: A Perfect Guide

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Quick Monitor Buying Tips

Determine your monitor’s main purpose: gaming, professional or general use. Generally, gamers should prioritize fast refresh rates and low response times, professionals should prioritize color accuracy and general use users have less specific needs but will often opt for a monitor with a high-contrast VA panel.

The higher the resolution, the better the picture. A monitor’s resolution tells you how many pixels a monitor has in width x height format. 1920 x 1080 — also known as 1080p / Full HD (FHD) / HD — is the minimum you need. But you’ll get sharper images with QHD and even sharper with 4K.

But size matters too. Pixel density has a big impact on monitor quality, and our sweet spot is 109 pixels per inch (ppi). A larger monitor will have low pixel density if it’s a lower resolution. For viewing from typical desktop distances, 32 inches is plenty ‘big.’

It’s not hard to find a 32-inch gaming or general use monitor at 4K resolution for less than $1,000. Refresh rates: bigger is better. This tells you the number of times your monitor updates with new information per second and is measured in hertz (Hz). Bigger numbers equal better, smoother and less choppy images. If you’re a gamer, refresh rate is especially important, and you’ll want a monitor with at least 75 Hz (most monitors designed for gaming offer at least 144 Hz), combined with the lowest response time you can find. If you’re not gaming, a 60 Hz refresh rate should do.

Response times: Shorter is better, but it’s not a big priority unless you’re gaming. Response time tells you how long a monitor takes to change individual pixels from black to white or, if its GTG response time, from one shade of gray to another. Longer response times can mean motion blur when gaming or watching fast-paced videos. For gaming monitors, the highest response time you’ll likely see is 5ms, while the fastest gaming monitors can have a 0.5ms response time.

Panel tech: for image quality, TN < IPS < VA. TN monitors are the fastest but cheapest, due to poorer image quality when viewing from a side angle. IPS monitors have slightly faster response times and show color better than VA panels, but VA monitors have the best contrast out of all three panel types. For more on the difference between panel types, see the dedicated section below.

Should I get a curved monitor? This depends on preference. Curved monitors are supposed to make your experience more immersive with a large field of view and said to be less eye-straining. However, they can be prone to glare when viewing from certain angles (light sources are coming from various angles instead of one). Effective curved monitors are usually ultra-wide and at least 30 inches, which both point to higher costs.

If you do buy a curved monitor, understand curvature specs. An 1800R curvature has a curved radius of 1800mm and a suggested best max viewing distance of 1.8 meters — and so on. The lower the curvature (as low as 1000R, as of this year), the more curved the display is.

Gaming monitors: Which features matter?
There are many confusing choices and even more confusing marketing terms for gamers to sift through when looking for a new monitor. Here, we’ll break down the features that actually benefit gamers. Note that some factors depend on a player’s skill level.

For our top gaming monitor recommendations, check out our Best Gaming Monitors page. And for 4K stunners, see our Best 4K Gaming Monitors page.

Competitive gamers should prioritize speed, which calls for high refresh rates (144Hz or more), as well as the lowest response time and input lag (see our reviews) possible. This will likely limit you to 25 or 27 inches, possibly with lower pixel density and without extended color or HDR.

But maybe you’re a casual gamer who doesn’t think they’d notice the difference between 60 fps or 144 fps. You can settle for 75Hz or even 60Hz coupled with FreeSync of G-Sync (more on that below) and prioritize things like strong image quality and pixel density and go 30 inches or larger. If your budget allows, this could also allow for more saturated color or even HDR.

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