The monitor is the window to the PC’s soul. Without the right display, everything you do on your system will seem lackluster, whether you’re gaming, viewing or editing photos and video or just reading text on your favorite websites.
Hardware vendors understand how the experience changes with different display specs and features and have flooded the market with a bounty of options. But which features and specs are most valuable for how you use your monitor? Should you get 4K, 1440p, 1080p or just plain HD resolution—and what’s the difference anyway? How much do refresh rates and response times matter? Are things like flicker-free, low blue light mode, G-Sync and FreeSync crucial? And how should your priorities change if your focus is gaming versus professional applications versus general use?
Quick monitor shopping 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) and HD) is the minimum you need. But you’ll get sharper images with QHD and even sharper with 4K.
- 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 under $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, less choppy images. Refresh rate is especially important for gamers, who’ll want a monitor with at least 75 Hz (most monitors designed for gaming offer at least 120 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.
- Consider a curved monitor. Curved monitors are supposed to make your experience more immersive with a large field of view and are 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 ultrawide 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), the more curved the display is.