Feature Article

Building a PC: Everything You Need to Know About Monitors

Seeing is believing.

You can have a water-cooled, overclocked PC with a hi-spec CPU and GPU, but you might be wasting some of your investment if you don't choose the right monitor. While any old display is theoretically capable of fulfilling the bare minimum requirement of a monitor--displaying a picture--you owe it to yourself to choose the right display for your day-to-day needs. Say that you're into competitive first-person shooters and cherish every frame that you can get out of your rig; you should probably invest in a monitor with a refresh rate greater than 60Hz so that you can actually benefit from the extra frames. On the other hand, you could also put your money toward a monitor that's designed for high-level color accuracy if you aren't concerned about pushing your games to run faster than 60 frames per second.

Before we begin to weigh those options, there's one question you have to ask yourself: How big do you want your monitor to be?

Size and Resolution

Despite the old adage, bigger isn't always better when you're talking about monitors. Depending on the size of your workstation, a 27-inch monitor might be too large. On the other hand, there's no point in going too small either. Unless you're talking about laptops, a 20-inch display is about as small as you'd ever want to consider, but so long as you aren't limited to a diminutive desk, you should probably look for something larger. However, if you have to shop for a 20- or 21-inch monitor, the good news is that the pixel density relative to the size of the monitor will produce a pleasingly sharp image at a resolution of 1920x1080.

Monitors between 23 and 24 inches are neither too small nor too big, offering just enough screen real estate for most people who sit an arm's length from their screen--the commonly recommended distance for proper ergonomics during extended use--while still delivering a sharp image at 1080p.

Once you go beyond 24 inches, it's worth looking into displays with a native resolution of 2560x1440 . Essentially, the higher the resolution is, the smaller the pixels become, and the clearer the display looks as a result. At 27 inches, choosing a 1440p monitor over a 1080p monitor can make a big difference in terms of overall clarity.

What to look for: Make sure any monitor you're buying is greater than 20-inches with a resolution of at least 1920x1080 or 2560x1440 if it's 27-inches and above.

There's a big difference between a 4K display and a 1080p display, but it won't stand out as much on relatively small desktop monitors.

What About 4K?

When people talk about 4K monitors or TVs, they are really referring to ultra-high-definition displays that support a resolution of 3840x2160. As the name implies, UHD displays are sharp and capable of displaying images with exceptional levels of detail, but when these resolutions are applied to monitors between 20 and 27 inches in size, you begin to experience diminishing returns. The hardware required for your computer to render games at high settings at such a high resolution is going to be prohibitively expensive for most people, and given that 1440p and 1080p monitors are plenty sharp for computer displays at that size, there's no appreciable difference relative to your investment.

It's only when you get into the range of 40-inch TVs that 4K becomes a worthwhile endeavor, because the difference between 1080p and 2160p is easily distinguishable and great enough to get excited about. 4K may be the future of gaming since it stands to eliminate the need for power-hungry anti-aliasing techniques, but it's hard to recommend investing in a 4K monitor at the moment due to the associated cost of the monitor and the hardware needed to render games at such high resolutions.

Refresh Rate and Response Time

In the world of gaming, refresh rate and response time are two important factors to consider when shopping for a monitor. Refresh rate can be thought of in a similar way to the familiar frames-per-second measurement, in that it denotes the number of times a new image, or frame, can be displayed onscreen in a given second. Essentially, a monitor that is rated at 60Hz is capable of displaying 60 frames per second.

One of the great things about PC gaming is that you can, if you're willing to spend the money, create a really powerful machine that can push games to their limits. In a lot of cases, this means ticking off every box in the graphics settings menu to enhance the quality of the image onscreen. For other people, particularly competitive players, this means pushing for the highest frame rate possible, and any game running over 60 frames per second needs a monitor with an equal or higher refresh rate. Otherwise, those frames are effectively lost on the player. Thankfully, there are monitors out there that support a refresh rate of 144Hz, and quite often, they support 3D media, if that's something you're interested in. Despite their rising popularity, prepare to spend more than usual for a 144Hz monitor.

Even though you might not care about 3D, monitors that support it come with high refresh rates, which is great for gaming above 60 FPS.

The response time of a monitor indicates how long it takes for a pixel to change luminance, or in other words, from black to white, although it is typically measured while shifting from gray, to white, to gray. A monitor with a slow response time, say 16ms, may produce a blurring effect when there are fast-moving images onscreen. These days, it's easy to find monitors with response times between 2ms and 5ms. These are ideal for gaming given the amount of motion onscreen at any given time, but these monitors also tend to sacrifice in other areas in order to achieve such low response times. It all comes down to the type of panel used in the monitor.

What to look for: Assuming that you're purchasing a monitor for gaming, look for a monitor with a refresh rate of 144Hz and a pixel response time of 5ms or less.

Panel Technology

It's imperative to consider the type of panel that's driving your display because it can have a significant impact on color accuracy, pixel response time, brightness, and viewing angle, and you're usually trading one of these factors for another. The four types of panels commonly found today include TN, VA, IPS, and PLS panels.

TN, or twisted nematic panels, have inherently fast response times, and they also tend to be relatively cheap. Those are two good qualities to have, but they come at a cost; TN panels have poor viewing angles, relatively inaccurate color reproduction, and adequate but unimpressive brightness levels. They can be great for gaming, but only if you care about cost and response time over the quality of the image.

VA, or vertical alignment panels, aren't as responsive as TN panels, but they sport far better color accuracy, better brightness and darkness levels, and a wider viewing angle. They also cost more than TN panels on average.

These days, IPS panels are sought by users with strict needs for color accuracy. For non-gaming applications, IPS-based monitors are some of the best around, with great viewing angles, but they are also typically the most expensive. Like VA panels, IPS displays can't compete with TN-based displays when it comes to response time.

Samsung introduced PLS panels through its line of tablets, but PLS-based desktop monitors can now be found on the market. PLS monitors are actually brighter than IPS-based displays, with similar viewing angles, but are typically less expensive on average.

What to look for: If you're gaming career lives and dies by frame rates and response times, you probably want to look for a monitor with a TN panel, but if image quality is more important, consider a PLS monitor instead.

Stands

A monitor in portrait mode can be surprisingly useful when word processing and web browsing.

Most monitor stands allow you to tilt your display or raise the height of the screen relative to the base of the stand, but there are also monitors that can rotate from a landscape to portrait orientation, or put another way, from a wide screen to a tall screen. There are also some that allow you to swivel the screen without moving the stand. It's important to know what you're looking for, and if you can, invest in a monitor with a stand that features as many of these options as possible. You'll usually pay a little more for these added features, but they can come in handy.

What to look for: You may not need every adjustment option under the sun, but so long as your other requirements are met, you might as well look for a model that supports tilt, swivel, pivot, and rotation adjustments.

Inputs

Not all video connections offer the same features, and not all graphics cards support every type of connection.

HDMI

HDMI has become the de facto standard for HD displays, and it supports the same video signal as DVI cables. The difference is that the HDMI connector is much smaller while also carrying an audio signal with up to six channels (5.1 surround sound). It's used by everything from PCs, to video games consoles, to multimedia devices such as Blu-ray players and streaming boxes designed for services like Netflix and Hulu.

DVI

DVI connections support digital HD video signals similar to HDMI, albeit without an accompanying audio signal. DVI ports are slowly being phased out in favor of HDMI and Display Port connections.

Display Port

Monitors and graphics cards that support the Display Port interface are finally becoming commonplace in the world of consumer electronics. While similar to HDMI in some ways, in that it's essentially capable of delivering the same video and audio signal, Display Port comes with advantages of its own. Monitors no longer need to rely on the added internal hardware required for HDMI inputs, thus allowing for thinner displays. More importantly, the Display Port standard can support up to four monitors at once with a breakout cable, while HDMI can carry only a single signal.

What to look for: Make sure any monitor you buy has at least HDMI and Display Port inputs. A DVI port can come in handy, but considering DVI to HDMI adapters are cheap, it's not necessary.

Try Before You Buy

With all of these considerations under your belt, you're likely going to have an easy time narrowing down what size and type of monitor you want to purchase, but if possible, it's important to try a monitor in person before making a purchase, especially if you plan on investing a lot of money. Granted, that isn't easy when shopping online, but there's nothing stopping you from testing monitors in a physical retail store first, and then making your purchase over the Internet. No matter what, when you're using a computer, you're looking at your monitor, so it's important that you choose one that works for you. Despite the standards that exist, IPS monitors from Dell and Asus aren't going to look identical, for example. Arming yourself with the knowledge to understand what you're getting into with a monitor is invaluable, but it's your firsthand experience that will ultimately determine if you like what you see.

What to look for: A monitor that meets your other criteria, but also one that produces an image that looks good to you.

I Still Don't Know What to Get. Can't You Pick for Me?

While we firmly believe that you should try a monitor before purchasing it, that's not always an option. If you can't make it out to your local electronics store, or prefer to shop online, here are a few monitors that are worth considering. These aren't hard recommendations, but they're good starting points depending on the size of the screen you're looking for.

SAMSUNG S22C650D 21.5" 60Hz 5ms

If you're looking for a smaller monitor, Samsung's S22C650D is a solid choice. It's got the right inputs, resolution, and response time, but most notably, it's a PLS monitor that's less than $200.

ASUS VG248QE 24" 144Hz 1ms

This monitor from Asus has a lot of things going for it. Though it doesn't support any resolution higher than 1080p, that should be good enough given the size. Given that it's designed around a TN panel, it doesn't sport the best color-accuracy (photographers beware), but it does have amazingly fast response times, and at 144Hz, you can enjoy games that run at frame rates higher than 60 FPS. It also supports all four common monitor adjustments.

ASUS PB278Q 27" 60Hz 5ms

Asus 27-inch PLS monitor is a beast. It's big, has a native resolution of 2560x1440, and the PLS panel inside means that you can expect great color accuracy, black levels, brightness, and a wide viewing angle. Even though PLS monitors aren't known for their response times, at 5ms, a monitor like the PB278Q won't disappoint. The once catch: it's limited to 60Hz.

What to look for: For the best features, reliability, and support, look for monitors manufactured by Asus, Samsung, and Dell.

What size and type of monitor are you using with your computer? Do you think one display is enough, or should people run as many as they can at the same time? Let us know in the comments below.

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Discussion

367 comments
xboxgamer2003
xboxgamer2003

wow that 4k looks so pixelated. xbox and ps4 waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyy better. silly pc gamers 


leandrro
leandrro

Everything You Need to Know About Monitors: use your TV stupid!

crapdog
crapdog

pff my PC works without a monitor

jonaadams
jonaadams

I've own 4 120hz monitors, then switched to the Asus PB278Q and do not regret it one bit. I love this monitor. It is by far, the best way to get that next gen look. Colors, and resolution are top notch.

PupilsDilated
PupilsDilated

I can't walk through one aisle in Best Buy without getting asked if I need assistance by three different employees.

dannydopamine8
dannydopamine8

i like smaller monitors better because 1080p on a smaller monitor means a higher pixel density. Pixel density is really the determining factor of how crisp the image will be.


i wouldnt buy a 4k monitor just yet. 1080p is good enough

saturatedbutter
saturatedbutter

Any Facebook fanboys here to tell us all about the Oculus VR revolution that will make monitors obsolete?

FuzzyPancakes
FuzzyPancakes

I believe I only have a 30hz screen... but I can easily tell the difference between 45 fps and 65 fps... it looks more choppy with lower fps... pixels don't work the same way that frames work, they aren't like flashes of a quick slide show, but it appears to be more of a smear effect... but its just a delay of the color as it fades out of the pixel... it does not flash out, so there is a difference, so its not like you wont see the benefit of having better fps, but a faster hz screen can help make things slightly clearer when there is a lot of action on the screen.

rarson
rarson

I bought a 27" QHD Korean IPS monitor for $285. I didn't think the resolution would make much of a difference, but I love it, and the monitor overclocks to 120 Hz. I see a noticeable difference between 60 and 75 Hz, so the increased refresh rate is great and the IPS picture puts my other flat panels to shame.

seanwil545
seanwil545

ASUS MX279H...27" ISP 1080...quite happy with it.

Bryjoered07
Bryjoered07

Unless my monitor breaks, i'll wait for a PLS monitor with G-sync at 1080p, or 1440p.

kaziklu_bey
kaziklu_bey

Using 37" Samsung D5520 series, I'm sitting 1.5 meters from it, and never had any problems with bf4 or any other games. PVA panel inside

grenadehh
grenadehh

I think these articles have jumped the shark now. Monitors don't matter. Yes, the best thing you could have is the best thing - and also absurdly expensive. I'm still rocking an Asus V242VH LCD from like 2010 and it has excellent picture.Get an ASUS ROG LED or a Samsung LEd, the end. Those are the only reasonable options.

Darkhol0w
Darkhol0w

I have the Asus VG248QE on my wish list, but my priority atm is buying a new GPU.

Relvar
Relvar

Who the heck still buys "Monitors" - just buy a cheap 32" LED TV for $80, and you have twice the screensize for half the price.

Rushaoz
Rushaoz

Anyone got any reccomendations on a 24" 1080p IPS or VA panel with a 60 Hz refresh rate? I've been using my 40" Sony Bravia to PC game on for a few years now from my couch but it's time I get myself a desk and monitor and PC game the right way.

I don't want a TN panel. I've gotten used to the picture quality from my Sony after I calibrated it and really don't want to move to something with worse picture quality so TN panels are immediately out. Unless of course there's a TN panel out there with zero backlight bleed, deep blacks and accurate colors..

tomahawk08
tomahawk08

I just dropped almost 3 grand on a rig and this is the monitor I ended up with: 


Philips 242G5DJEB 144hz, 1ms Extreme Performance 24-Inch Professional Gaming Monitor


So far it has been amazing. It looks great and has a great overall performance.

Anigmar
Anigmar

I have a Samsung SyncMaster T220HD. 2 HDMI, DVI, works as TV too... I'm quite happy with it, despite the 60 hz limitation (never had any interest in playing at 100+ fps). My only 'problem' is that it only goes up to 1680x1050 and I want a full hd monitor. What would be your recommendation? I'd happily stick with 60 hz or so cause the higher rates monitors I've seen have poor colours.

Tremblay343
Tremblay343

If your graphics card supports it you can safely overclock your monitor.  I have one of those cheap 1440p korean PLS panels, but aside from a shitty stand and only 1 dvi-d connection, it couldn't be more perfect.


No dead pixels, amazing colour and response time, and I overclocked it to 120hz without even breaking a sweat.

HapiJoel
HapiJoel

This will probably be a hugely unpopular question, but...

What if I wanted to plug my new machine into my TV like a Steam box? Would that be a huge effort building the thing all for nothing?

TroyTrojanGamer
TroyTrojanGamer

I really don't see why there are so many PC apologist trying to make it sound like you can make a half decent machine with under $700.  PC gaming is not cheap, it requires a lot of maintenance, you have to worry about heat more, and you have to worry about OS problems.  Consoles are built solely for gaming so yes they are better in that aspect.


Now if you have the money PC gaming gets you superior performance and other benefits.  But there is nothing wrong with the cost of PC gaming.  Embrace it and just admit it that it's not cheap.  I spent well over $2000 on the computer I use for gaming.

snaketus
snaketus

@dannydopamine8 From 60-70 cm away 1080p on 27" monitor is okay. Looking my 47" TV from two 1,5 meters away is starting to look pretty bad in Windows/or what ever use. Other than that TVs typically doesn't have as much as many pixels per inch than computer monitors that are designed to be watched in shorter distance and for professional use like photo editing etc. I will always recommend real monitor over TVs for computer use. Downside is that poor textures and low res cut scenes are even uglier than displayed on TV, because of higher pixel density.


On some TVs HDMI port can provide poorer picture than DVI. I use temporarily my girlfriends' TV/monitor that has both connectors and HDMI is clearly designed for video playback only, its image quality is simply put very bad compared to DVI that is clearly there for computer use. It's marketed as TV/Monitor not as TV or as Monitor. My PS3 and PS4 looks "normal" via HDMI, but in Windows it looks complete crap.

lindallison
lindallison

@saturatedbutter 

Oculus resolution will catch up, but a monitor will never be able to do what the Rift does.

Anyone that would describe it as a revolution is going a bit far....but its gonna be a great niche product for simulations.  In that context, the preferred method for HOTAS simming will not involve a monitor...

al_is_here
al_is_here

@grenadehh i guess you ignored the article where it explains refresh rate and resolution

rarson
rarson

@grenadehh 

I bought a 27" QHD Korean IPS monitor for $285. It's better than the monitors you mentioned.

assclip
assclip

@Relvar Alot of people, for us who like to play competitive fps more so. You have no idea how much input lag you get with a tv. Trust me, even so with some monitors. Not everything is a gimmick and "Game mode" or not for the tv can't hold shit to a TRUE 120/144hz computer monitor. Play with what you like but if you play say in ESEA for cs go for instance your would get your asshole handed back to you while being laughed at if you said this is what you use for a monitor. I thought the exact same thing as you when i got back into pc gaming and built my system in 09. I thought why would i want this little bitch of a monitor. Now in 2014 i would never trade a tv for my benq 24inch 120hz monitor. It makes a 60hz monitor hard to stomach now and i can never go back. Plus now with gsync coming with this monitors soon i will be picking one of those up and things are gonna be even smoother then a babies ass.

rarson
rarson

@Relvar 

My 27" QHD monitor has twice the desktop space of your 32" TV.

seanwil545
seanwil545

@Relvar 

The pixels are larger to account for the larger screen at 1080, so you end up with a less sharp image. The closer you sit, the worse it looks.

grenadehh
grenadehh

@Relvar Televisions do not have the same response times as monitors and don't work as well for PC gaming. I sit and watch my roommate hook his crap up to HDMI on a weekly basis to a very nice Samsung LED and it just doesn't work well.

spacecadet25
spacecadet25

@Relvar  Where do you get a 32" tv for $80, unless you buy it during some random super-sale?  Or used?

brandonmshanks
brandonmshanks

@Relvar That cheap LED TV, while fine for some games, will not have the response time or frame rate capabilities needed/desired for many other PC games. 

Zatto-1
Zatto-1

@Anigmar Im using Dell 2412m so i recommend this one. It uses a e-IPS panel but its still cheap and has great colour reproduction. Plus it has all the usual monitor features like swivel, pivot, rotation. Or look for its successor U2413.

amafi
amafi

@HapiJoel Pretty much everyone I know with a gaming PC has it hooked up to their TV either directly through hdmi or using hdmi over ethernet. Partly my fault, probably. Any recent multiplat game that is also out on console will work great on the TV using a controller.

Right now I'm using a dual shock 4 with the ds4win drivers and it works great. Got a user on my PC that logs directly into steam big picture mode, and while the DS4 touchpad isn't fantastic it's good enough to mouse through any annoying settings dialogs that aren't navigable with the controller. Much less of that kind of thing recently, thankfully. Even uplay can finally recognize controller inputs.

Rushaoz
Rushaoz

@HapiJoel Nah not at all. I game on my 40" Bravia on my couch. Just make sure your TV is good. When I bought my Bravia I made sure to do my research and buy a display that was great for gaming. This things input lag and motion blur is unnoticeable. Visit sites like avsforums. The users on their test their TVs and make owners threads for their models. Any bit of info you need you will find there. BTW I own an ex400. 

brandonmshanks
brandonmshanks

@HapiJoel Depends on what kind of games you mostly play. There are plenty of games that would be fine on a tv, but others you would want the better response times and frame rates of a good monitor. I guess I should also mention that since most pc games arent ment to be played on a tv, the UI size can be an issue. But if you mostly game on steam, thats what big picture mode is for.

Rushaoz
Rushaoz

@TroyTrojanGamer Dude you can build an AMD powered rig that beats both XBone and PS4 by a large margin for $500 if you shop around in the right places. I just built one for a buddy and it plays BF4 on ultra settings no MSAA 1080p with an average of 58 FPS. 

Also what maintenance? The only "maintenance" I run on my rig is updating Nvidia drivers, which Geforce experience does for you to begin with. OS problems? Like what? Seems like you're using anti PC arguments from 10+ years ago. 

jellyman68
jellyman68

@TroyTrojanGamer You only have to worry about heat if you overclock. Every CPU and GPU I've ever bought has been supplied with its own fan that keeps it cool. I added a single outtake fan to the case just for good measure, but only as I had one laying around. 


What specifically do you mean when you mention "OS problems"? It should be a case of installing Windows and leaving it at that. It might crash sometimes, but not as much as a PS4.

Saketume
Saketume

@TroyTrojanGamer My PS3 died of heat. My PCs never have. Maintenance you say? Like what?

You can build a half decent gaming machine for $700 although I prefer to get top of the shelf stuff to make it last a couple of more years.

PC games are far cheaper than console games where I live so if you're planning on buying more than 10 games through the lifecycle of your system that will more than make up for the extra hardware cost.

I need a PC anyway. I've owned many consoles but I've always had some sort of PC and I wouldn't want to own *just* a console even if I don't have to game on the PC.

I buy boxed games and never online games but I still own ~100 games on steam, desura, gog and some other online services (not origin though). that I got for free.

PC gaming is pretty nice right now and I couldn't afford a new console atm. $585 US for a PS4 or XBOne here in Sweden and games cost $88 US each atm on consoles and around $43 on PC for the same game.

deadline-zero0
deadline-zero0

@TroyTrojanGamer The problem is that console gaming isn't cheaper either.

400 euros the machine, 50 a year to play multiplayer and get free games/deals, 50 or more euros for extra controllers, and with no backwards compatibility and high prices of next gen games, even used, would rack you over 200 euros to play less than 8 games.

And speaking of monitors, you better have an HDMI tv. 

Relvar
Relvar

@grenadehh  Bull- I've played nearly every [major] high-end PC game in the last few years and haven't had an issue with a single one of them.

Relvar
Relvar

@spacecadet25 @Relvar Wal-Mart Target, NewEgg - lots of places to find one at that price- you gotta look at the ones in the isles on sale in the stores, and they aren't always that cheap (at the most they will be $150) but they are there.

Saketume
Saketume

@Zatto-1 @Rushaoz 

Yeah as much as I hate Dell they actually do make good monitors.

I recommend their 16:10 model instead though (even though 1200p isn't what you asked for).

And don't buy from their webpage. At least the Swedish dell page is charging way more for the same monitor than other retailers.

Anigmar
Anigmar

@Zatto-1 @Anigmar The 2412m looks good, except for the fact that I need HDMI cause I watch tv on it too, plus no speakers mean no tv sound. Also all that 'calibrate' stuff people talk about, I don't really get if it's hardware related or what. The 2413 has hdmi but is waaaay too expensive, plus once again no speakers. Why is this so hard?

HapiJoel
HapiJoel

@amafi @HapiJoel thanks amafi and Rushaoz, very helpful! Now I just need to sort the money side of it and get this build going :)

robbiejones
robbiejones

@deadline-zero0 gaming in general isn't cheap. Just goes for preference! PC and consoles have both their Pros and Cons. I wish for the day that fans of both can come together, and have intelligent conversations about gaming, without resulting to cheap insults...

SilenceSD
SilenceSD

@Relvar @grenadehh Then you should really look into a monitor with high refresh rate, because you are talking about something that you haven't experienced. Just because it looks 'fine' to you doesn't mean it's optimal. Remember how good ps1/n64/dreamcast/ps2 games looked when those consoles were launched? Exposure, it's life changing....

Zatto-1
Zatto-1

@Saketume @Zatto-1 @Rushaoz Site was only for reference and technical stuff. I used a 1080p monitor and it doesnt have enough vertical space unless you go higher (1440p).

cratecruncher
cratecruncher

@robbiejones @deadline-zero0  I need a pc for work, school and other hobbies.  So my gaming habit costs about $100 a year during Steam Sales and $300 for a nicer GPU every 3 years.

Saketume
Saketume

@Zatto-1 

Yeah I suppose it depends on preference and what you use it for. I really like the 16:10 ratio.

If I had the money I'd have gone for a 1600p 16:10. I'd probably need a better graphics card to game on that though.

Zatto-1
Zatto-1

@Saketume I used them both for gaming and working. The dell is much better in every category sans response time but then again i watch video so i like good viewing angles. 

Their 27 1440p monitors arent expensive but still have nice vertical space and need less horsepower to drive. Maybe look into such monitor? If i needed a new monitor i know i would.  

amafi
amafi

@Zatto-1 @Saketume I really hope for a Dell 24" or 23" 2560x1440 model.

Dell monitors are absolutely fantastic. They look great, they have great panels, good OSD, fantastic stands to make sure ergonomics are good, they're matte so you don't get glare, and they last for damn near EVER. Good support too, at least the enterprise support. Haven't really had to deal with them as a consumer.