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Choosing a Computer Monitor

written by: Jordan Salvi•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/23/2011

Need a new computer monitor but don't know exactly what to look for? Look no further, this guide explains all the major considerations when looking at and comparing computer screens.

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    Choosing a computer monitor can be a complicated proposition, as there are many factors to consider. Being the most visible part of a computer, you want a monitor that you'll be comfortable using for long periods of time. First of all, you want to consider what size monitor you need, and make sure it will fit wherever you decide to put it. Once you've settled on a size, consider the monitor's resolution, response time, and contrast ratio. Finally, you want to make sure that the monitor has the proper connections to be able to hook it up to your computer.

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    Monitor Size

    Monitors come in a very wide range of sizes, from small 15 inch screens up to massive 30 inch screens. You should pick a size that fits your desk area, but also your budget. Larger monitors are naturally more expensive, but the prices on most 19-24 inch monitors are under $300 these days. The most common computer monitor sizes today are in the 19-22 inch range. This size is good for most any task, whether it's web browsing or playing games.

    You'll also want to determine whether you want a widescreen or standard monitor. Widescreen monitors usually have a 16:10 or 16:9 aspect ratio, while standard monitors have a 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratio. That means that standard monitors are more square shaped, and widescreen monitors are more rectangular. Widescreen monitors are good for work and browsing the internet, as you can have multiple windows open side-by-side.

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    Resolution and Response Time

    The resolution of a monitor determines how sharp the image will be. The higher the resolution, the more pixels there are on screen, so the images will look less jagged and pixelated. Larger monitors usually come with higher resolutions, but there are some smaller monitors with particularly high resolutions as well. The most common resolutions for different sized monitors are these:

    17-19 inch: 1440 x 900

    20-22 inch: 1680 x 1050

    23-28 inch: 1920 x 1200

    30 inch: 2560 x 1600

    The response time measures how fast a monitor can refresh its image. Lower response times are better, and look smoother when in motion. A monitor with high response times can make motion look blurry. Common response times for most monitors are between 2 and 5 milliseconds.

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    Some screens tend to stand out more than others because of their stunning delivery of color. A high contrast ratio means the dark colors will be darker, the light colors lighter, and generally, everything will look better. Larger monitors tend to use better components and have higher contrast ratios, but some smaller screens are made to have a high contrast ratio as well. You want a monitor with a high static contrast ratio, as opposed to a dynamic contrast ratio. Dynamic contrast ratios tend to exaggerate the true values, making a monitor seem better than it really is.

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    Connection Options

    The type of interface a monitor has available to connect to a computer is an important factor to consider. Most computers have either a VGA or a DVI port to connect to the monitor. VGA ports are usually blue, and smaller than DVI ports. DVI is the newer of the two connector types; they are usually white, and longer than VGA ports. The smallest monitors are usually VGA-only, while monitors 19 inches and larger usually include a DVI port. This is because DVI is a digital connection and it can display a clearer image at higher resolutions than the analog VGA port. More recently, monitors have begun including HDMI ports which also offer exceptional image quality. In addition, HDMI has the benefit of letting you hook up Blu-ray and newer DVD players to watch movies on your monitor. Make sure the monitor you are looking at is compatible with the interface from your computer.

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    Audio may be an important feature to you, when looking for a monitor. Built in speakers save you from the hassle of having to buy them separately and find places for them on your desk or computer area. They also make it easier to hook up external devices, such as a video game console or DVD player to your monitor. Typically smaller monitors come with built-in speakers, higher end monitors usually don't.

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    Now that you know what to look for in a monitor, you're ready to go out and get one. Be sure to consider each of these aspects – size, ratio, resolution, response time, contrast, interface choices, and audio – carefully when you look at the selection, and you'll be sure to find a computer monitor that you'll be happy with.