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Types of Monitors: Computer Monitor Buying Guide

No matter what you plan on using your PC for, you will need a monitor. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common types of monitors as well as the most important specifications and factors to remember when shopping for a new display.
November 11, 2020

In this Article:

Common Uses for Monitors

Depending on what you plan to use your PC for, you could need a very specific type of display. 

Types of Monitors

Here’s an overview of the most common types of monitors out there so you can make the right choice.

Monitor Panel Types

The panel is the actual screen of the monitor and how it functions. 

Essential Computer Monitor Specifications

This computer monitor buying guide would not be complete without a review of the most important specifications to consider when shopping.

No matter what you plan on using your PC for, you will need a monitor. This guide is the best place to start. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common types of monitors as well as the most important specifications and factors to remember when shopping for a new display.

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Common Uses for Monitors

Depending on what you plan to use your PC for, you could need a very specific type of display. Gamers looking to get the best performance out of their PC will always want high-refresh rates for the smoothest gaming experience possible. Designers and professionals will often utilize beautiful IPS displays with true-to-life colors that jump off the screen. Let’s take a closer look at the most common uses for monitors and the best types of monitors to buy by activity:

Office & Home

Most monitors and laptop screens are designed for everyday use and standard professional or academic tasks. These entry-level monitors typically have limited connection types and lower overall resolutions. This is because most entry-level computers lack the power to utilize higher resolutions that can require specific connections types. Almost every modern monitor is going to be more than capable of handling standard home and office tasks.

Gaming

Depending on the power of your gaming PC, the monitor you choose can vary wildly. Mid-range gaming builds can get by fine with entry-level monitors—because while they have the power to play modern games, they lack the specialized hardware needed to game at HDR resolutions or high frame rates. However, high-end gaming computers are perfect for 1440P or even 4K displays, because powerful dedicated GPUs are designed to support such features as 144Hz refresh rates or 1440P resolutions.

Monitors and graphics cards should always be compared when purchasing either component. Buying a 4K monitor without the hardware to fully utilize that display essentially makes it a 1080P screen. The same goes for your GPU. You could buy the best monitor on the planet, but if your graphics card can only run at 1080P, you will never get anywhere near the performance you paid for with a high-end display.

Professional Design

Photographers and graphic designers require monitors that are as color-accurate as possible. When creating media that will be published digitally or in print, ensuring your content will look how you intend is crucial. Visual media-based professionals most often use what is called IPS displays. These monitors have slower refresh rates and resolutions than high-end gaming monitors. However, they can cost just as much or even more. Read below for more information on IPS displays.

Types of Monitors

All computer monitors will display video signals from your PC as long as both devices have the appropriate connections. But which monitor is right for your needs? Here’s an overview of the most common types of monitors out there so you can make the right choice:

LCD Monitors

Along with LED, LCD is the most common type of monitor you will find available currently. LCD monitors consist of two panes of glass with liquid in between and thousands of rows of pixels to organize said liquid. This older technology tends to make the monitors bulkier, and the hazardous liquid within the device creates problems for users when trying to dispose of the device. LCDs also rarely go past 1080P resolution. That said, they are a cheap alternative to LED and other monitors.

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LED Monitors

While LED monitors are technically still LCD, how the device creates images is different. To put it plainly, LED displays are brighter and have an overall longer lifespan than older LCD monitors. The same technology that boasts more brilliant colors also makes the possible form factor of the monitor much smaller. One known problem with LED monitors, however, is that they are susceptible to image burn if left on the same image for too long. This can result in a transparent copy of a specific image staying present on the screen at all times. To avoid this, set a screen saver or an auto screen turnoff after a certain time period.

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CRT Monitors

Rarely seen today, CRT monitors were the kings of the 90s and early 2000s. These bulky and often loud displays used the same technology as TVs of the era. As a result, they are not ideal for use with computers today. Some offices may still use CRT displays, but gaming or doing any kind of content creation on a CRT would not be recommended.

Ultra-Wide and Curved Monitors

Curved screens are becoming more popular because they can offer more screen space for less desk real estate and can help to reduce eye strain and fatigue. Using a curved or ultra-wide monitor will not change how the display's resolution or refresh rate appears. The added screen size or curvature is simply a matter of preference.

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Monitor Panel Types

While LCD and LED are different types of displays, each with varying pros and cons, there are also different panel types to consider. The panel is the actual screen of the monitor and how it functions. Below are some common monitor panel types to consider when shopping for a display:

IPS Monitors

Made for content creators and visual artists, IPS panels excel at showing the most color accurate and true-to-life images possible. These panels use a single plane of glass to show images and feature crisp, realistic colors, no matter the viewing angle. Unfortunately, IPS displays often have lower refresh rates or resolutions than their TN counterparts. IPS monitors can also be more expensive than alternatives.

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TN Monitors

Most gaming monitors will use TN panels. Twisted-nematic or TN for short is a panel type that prioritizes refresh rates over viewing angles and color accuracy, making them a perfect choice for gamers. In terms of cost for performance, TN panels are hard to beat. At the highest-end, TN panels are the only displays currently capable of 240Hz refresh rates, making them a must-have for competitive gamers.

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OLED Monitors

The newest and most cutting-edge technology available in monitors today, OLED or organic light-emitting diode monitors do not require a backlight to produce colors or moving images. This results in some incredibly stunning images and vastly cheaper production costs than with LCDs. OLED monitors are still brand-new tech, so they may be hard to find or marked up in price.

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VA Monitors

Vertical Alignment or VA panels have been around since the 90s. These displays are often quite affordable and ideal for users interested in light workload tasks such as essential office work or home use. VA panels have excellent color contrast and decent refresh rates but simply cannot compare with newer technology.

Essential Computer Monitor Specifications

This computer monitor buying guide would not be complete without a review of the most important specifications to consider when shopping. Here’s what you need to know:

Resolution

Most often, when comparing different monitors, the first thing consumers will look for is the resolution. While it is an important factor, there is much more that goes into choosing a monitor. For example, two very similar 1080P monitors could have vastly different refresh rates and prices. Knowing what you plan to do with your PC can help you budget and ensure you get the best monitor for you.

Do not be fooled by "Cheap 4K" displays or monitors that only show one specification prominently and seem too good to be true. Make sure to always compare multiple monitor specifications with your needs before making any purchase.

Refresh Rates

Often behind a resolution sticker, you will see a note about a monitor's refresh rate. This specification is important, but most standard PC users will not need higher than 60Hz refresh rates. For word processing, web browsing, or playing most videogames, a refresh rate of 60Hz is more than enough. The only time that higher refresh rates become necessary is in competitive gaming and new modern video game titles that push current tech to the limit. Keep in mind that as refresh rates increase, so does the price of the monitor.

Aspect Ratio

The proportional relationship between a monitor's width and height is called its aspect ratio. While picking a monitor, it is easily noticeable when looking at different displays. Unlike the resolution and refresh rate, there is no wrong aspect ratio for your system. Finding an aspect ratio you like looking at is the most important part of this specification. Computers displays can range from 5:4 to 4:3 and are most commonly 16:10, with each being wider than the last from left to right.

Display Connections

Different types of monitors use different connection cables. It’s important to ensure that your PC has the appropriate ports, so you can connect your monitor to your machine:

VGA

The most common port on a computer monitor is VGA. The blue trapezoid has been the standard in monitors for decades and is still a valid choice for display connections to this day. Workplace machines do not need high-end displays that require specific connections, so VGA monitors can be a reliable and affordable option.

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DVI

Almost as common as VGA ports, DVI is capable of higher resolutions than VGA. However, neither of the two can transfer audio. Machines that need to transmit audio and video signals over one cable need to use specialized connections.

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HDMI

By far, the most common port on TVs and gaming consoles, HDMI can transmit high-definition video and audio on a single connection. The most high-end HDMI cables can even reach resolutions of up to 4K at 60Hz refresh rates.

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DisplayPort

The highest quality video cable currently available is DisplayPort. Similar in appearance to an HDMI cable, but not symmetrical, DisplayPort can also transfer audio and high-definition video over a single line. DisplayPort edges out HDMI in terms of performance, because it can produce much faster refresh rates, especially at higher resolutions such as 1440P or 4K. DisplayPort is the only way to utilize 144Hz or higher displays with your PC.

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Summary

Purchasing the right type of monitor is key to getting the most out of your PC. Depending on the games or programs you want to run, your best choice of monitor could be very specific. Suppose you plan on using your PC for basic tasks such as surfing the web or word processing. In that case, monitor choice is not as crucial but still important to consider so you do not end up overspending for your needs. Just like computers, monitors are sophisticated pieces of technology. Learning all you can about them before making a purchase will help ensure that you get the best display at the right price for your needs.

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