How to Choose the Best Monitor
23 June 2021
Different monitor types are better suited to different uses such as graphic design, video editing and gaming. To make an informed choice, you have to find out which have the characteristics you value most.
Different Monitor Technologies Have Different Advantages
Depending on the monitor, it may have either a Twisted Nematic (TN), Vertical Alignment (VA) or In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel.
- • TN technology has fast response times and is typically found in more affordable monitors and some gaming monitors but colours are not always true and the image quality can suffer when viewed at an angle.
- • VA monitors typically have a slower response time but offer a wide viewing angle, good colour reproduction and the best contrast (darkest black levels). Response times are improving significantly in recent times.
- • IPS monitors have the best viewing angle and good colour and recently have pixel response times not far off from TN monitors - however can suffer from sub-optimal black levels
Aspect Ratios and Resolution
Common aspect ratios are 16:9, 16:10, 21:9 and 32:9 representing the ratio of pixels in the horizontal to the vertical direction. The 16:9 and 16:10 monitors are almost the same shape with the latter having a bit more vertical space. The 21:9 and 32:9 monitors are considered ultra-wide monitors with the latter able to show two 16:9 images at once. Below are 16:9, 21:9 and 32:9 monitors for comparison (not to scale).
The monitor on the left is a 31.5 inch (diagonal) monitor while the other two measure 38 inches and 49 inches respectively.
While the resolution should have the correct ratio of pixels, it is otherwise independent of size. Typical resolutions for 16:9 monitors are 1920 x 1080 and 2560 x 1440. The 21:9 monitors often have resolutions ranging from 2560 x 1080 to 3840 x 1600 and the 32:9 monitors have resolutions up to 5120 x 1440.
Monitor refresh rates typically range from 60 Hz to 360 Hz. Hertz (Hz) is the number of times a monitor can show a new image per second.
- E.g. 1 Hz = 1 image per second; 60 Hz = 60 images per second; 360 Hz = 360 images per second.
For rapidly changing images such as fast motion, lower refresh rates result in blurred details which is not ideal for gaming. A 60 Hz refresh rate corresponds to a 16.7ms response time. At 360 Hz, the response time is down to 2.6ms Most people cannot see a substantial difference after 240 Hz, which translates to a response time of about 4ms - though of course, the higher the Hz, the greater your competitive edge will be in gaming.
Ports and connectivity
If you’re considering a high-resolution or high-refresh-rate monitor, it’s important to consider how you will connect your PC or game console to your monitor. Different versions of HDMI and DisplayPort ports can support different maximum resolutions and refresh-rates due to bandwidth limitations. Also note, you will need to ensure you use a cable that is capable of transferring the signal (e.g. a very old HDMI cable from late 2000s likely won’t run a 4K 120Hz signal).
Table of popular port types can versions
|Cable / Port Type||Max Supported Resolution (px) & Refresh Rate (Hz)|
|HDMI 1.4||3840 x 2160 @ 30Hz or 2560 x 1440 @ 75Hz or 1920 x 1080 @ 240Hz|
|HDMI 2.0||3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz or 2560 x 1440 @ 144Hz or 1920 x 1080 @ 240Hz|
|HDMI 2.1||3840 x 2160 @ 144Hz or 2560 x 1440 @ 240Hz or 1920 x 1080 @ 240+Hz|
|DisplayPort 1.2||3840 x 2160 @ 75Hz or 2560 x 1440 @ 165Hz or 1920 x 1080 @ 240Hz|
|DisplayPort 1.4||3840 x 2160 @ 120Hz or 2560 x 1440 @ 240Hz or 1920 x 1080 @ 240+Hz|
**It is always best to check the manufacturer specifications to identify maximum supported resolutions and refresh rates. Also note, Display Stream Compression (DSC) is used in some monitors to exceed bandwidth limitations of port types.**
How to Choose a Monitor for Graphic Design
Graphic designers need good colour reproduction, a wide screen and a high resolution. VA monitors give the best contrast while high-end IPS monitors with ten-bit colour can offer the best and most accurate colours. An ultra-wide monitor combined with a high-resolution lets you place several windows side-by-side - just be sure it fits on your desk and that your PC can properly support it.
How to Choose a Monitor for Gaming
Games typically have small, fast-moving objects in their images while true colours are not as important. TN panel equipped monitors deliver crisp, clean motion and are a common choice for competitive players. However high-end IPS monitors are becoming almost as quick and are common-place in most high-end gaming monitors nowadays. High-end VA equipped monitors are also becoming available with high-refresh-rates, such as Samsung Odyssey G7 and G9 with 240 Hz refresh-rate VA panels. Typically, 120 or 144 Hz monitors are recommended for smooth gameplay while 240 Hz and 360 Hz are also available should you want the smoothest gameplay possible. Ultra-wide monitors with high resolution and high refresh-rate are great for immersion and improving your field-of-view but make sure your games support them.
Note that to achieve high-resolution, high-refresh-rate gaming, you will need a powerful PC to match (both a powerful CPU & Graphics Card). Also new-generation XBOX Series X and PlayStation 5 can support 120 Hz high-refresh-rate monitors and TVs when connected via HDMI 2.1.
Adaptive-Sync (G-Sync [NVIDIA], FreeSync [AMD]) should also be a feature to consider if you are planning to game. Adaptive Sync synchronizes the monitor refresh-rate with the frames-per-second (FPS) produced by your computer. Doing this will help to reduce tearing if your FPS exceeds the monitor refresh rate. Note that some FreeSync labelled monitors may in-fact be G-Sync Compatible.
Gaming Monitors can be found with all 3 most popular panel types (TN, VA and IPS). Also, Gigabyte AORUS recently released an OLED gaming monitor (AORUS FO48U 48" 120Hz 4K OLED Gaming Monitor) for perfect blacks that's the OLED being self-illuminated (per pixel).
- • An example of a TN panel equipped gaming monitor - BenQ ZOWIE XL2546K 24.5" 240Hz FHD DyAc+ Gaming Monitor
- • An example of a VA panel equipped gaming monitor - Gigabyte G34WQC 34" 144Hz Ultra-Wide QHD Gaming Monitor
- • An example of a IPS panel equipped gaming monitor - LG UltraGear 27GN950-B 27" 144Hz 4K Nano IPS Gaming Monitor
How to Choose a Monitor for Photo Editing
Photographs and image editing are about colour and sharpness so you’ll want the true colours of an IPS or high-end VA monitor along with adequate resolution. Note though, if the resolution is ultra-high, you may need to consider how you connect the monitor to your PC due to bandwidth and performance limitations. A factory-calibrated monitor optimized for your application may let you avoid buying calibration tools and having to do it yourself.
Many monitors support VESA mounting (typically 100x100mm or 75x75mm). Many aftermarket monitor mounts require a VESA compatible mount to use. An aftermarket monitor mount can help improve ergonomics and depending on the type used, can also help to free up desk space underneath the monitor (where the standard monitor stand once was). The desk mount allows tilt, swing and height adjustment while the wall mount can tilt and swing to a limited extent.
Taking into account the panel technology used, connectivity, resolution and the refresh-rate should help you decide on a monitor that best suits your needs.