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How to Select an HDTV for Use as a PC Monitor

written by: Scott EIlers•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 6/27/2011

The popularity of using high-definition televisions (HDTVs) as PC monitors is rapidly growing. While some HDTVs are well-suited for this task, many are not. In fact, some HDTVs can be permanently damaged by being used as PC monitors. It is crucial to select the appropriate HDTV for this function.

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    As consumers begin to move their computers out of their offices and into their living rooms, it is becoming increasingly more important to consider PC compatibility when shopping for a new television. Modern television sets are essentially PC monitors with integrated TV tuners and speakers, which make them highly compatible with most newer computers. However, not all modern television sets are adequately designed for use as a PC monitor, and several important factors should be taken into consideration.

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    The supported resolutions of a given television set is a crucial factor to consider if the television is to be used as a PC monitor. Resolution can be reported in one of two ways; as a full measurement of the pixels (i.e. 1920 X 1080), or as a shorthand version often used in marketing (i.e. 1080p). If the full resolution is reported, the first number represents the maximum number of pixels on the horizontal axis of the screen while the second number represents the maximum number of pixels on the vertical axis of the screen. In the shorthand version only the number of pixels on the vertical axis are indicated, as well as whether the set has progressive (p) or interlaced (i) pixel display. What this means to a potential buyer is simple: the more pixels that can be displayed, the sharper the picture quality of the set. Using a television set as a PC monitor is one of the few consumer uses that is able to take advantage of a full 1920 X 1080, or 1080p, capable set, therefore it is strongly recommended to consider television sets that support a full 1080p resolution.

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    Contrast Ratio

    Another important consideration to make when comparing television sets for PC monitor usage is the contrast ratio. The contrast will be reported as a simple X:1 ratio, where X represents a number that typically falls between 1,000 and 1,000,000. Essentially, contrast ratio is a measurement of the difference between the brightest color and the darkest color that a television set can display. Sets with higher contrast ratios are better suited for use as PC monitors since many PC applications, particularly gaming and graphic design, support a very high spectrum of colors. Sets with higher contrast ratios will look more vivid and more natural when used as PC monitors.

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    Refresh Rate

    Refresh rate is a numerical value which expresses the number of times per second an image is displayed. The typical refresh rate is 60Hz, but some sets have 120Hz or even 240Hz refresh rates. Higher refresh rates smooth out the display of rapidly moving objects, which can be desirable for activities such as gaming or watching movies on your PC.

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    Screen Size

    The size of the television screen can make a massive difference in overall picture quality. Because most computer applications are designed to run on PC monitors of between 15 and 24 inches it can be difficult to read text or clearly identify buttons or windows on particularly large television sets without modifying the parameters or your operating system or video card. If you are not comfortable with making such changes it is recommended that preference be given to smaller sets. A good rule of thumb is that you do not want to set to be more than half as wide as the typical viewing distance from the set. In other words, if you typically sit 6 feet away from your television it would be recommended that you look at sets which are 36 inches wide or smaller.

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    There are a number of potential inputs that can be used to connect a television set to a PC, and they vary in terms of quality and simplicity. By far the ideal way is to connect the two devices via an HDMI cable, which requires that both the television and the PC be HDMI compatible. HDMI, or High-Definition Multimedia Interface, is a single-cable connection that provides the highest possible quality of both video and audio connections. They are capable of transmitting a full 1080p image and "lossless" or uncompressed audio. Televisions that support Digital Video Interface (DVI) or Video Graphics Array (VGA) can also transmit a 1080p image, but they both require separate connections to transmit audio signals. Super-video, or S-Video, may also be used to connect a television to a PC, but these cables do not support high-definition visuals and also require a separate audio connection. When shopping for a television to use as a PC monitor it is recommended to give priority to sets with multiple HDMI inputs to maximize quality and ease of use.

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    Selecting the right format of television is essential when choosing a television for use with a PC. Currently, LCD (liquid crystal display) or LED (light emitting diode) sets are the best choice for use with a PC due to their resistance to burn-in. Plasma TVs and projection TVs are very sensitive to static or unchanging images such as icons on a desktop, which can cause permanent residual images to appear even when using the television for other purposes. Extreme caution must be exercised if using a plasma TV or a projection TV as a PC monitor, and it is generally not recommended to do so.

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    Suggested Television Sets

    The following are several television sets which are well-suited toward being used as PC monitors:

    Vizio XVT 3 Vizio XVT 3: This 37" set is an appropriate size for small to medium sized rooms. It offers a full 1080p resolution and high contrast ratio due to its LED backlit design.

    Samsung UN46D6000: An LED backlit set designed for larger rooms, the 46" Samsung also offers a full 1080p resolution and an ultra high contrast ratio, as well as a 120Hz refresh rate.

    LG 42LK520: The LG is a 42" HDTV set ideal for medium to large rooms. It also comes in a full 1080p resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. Although the contrast ratio is lower than the two set previously mentioned due to LCD rather than LED backlighting, this set is extremely affordable for its size.

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