What's the best monitor to buy? Of course, it depends on your budget and what you're going to use it for. In this guide we'll explain how to pick a monitor and then give you our humble picks of which is best.
Looking for a gaming monitor? Check out our dedicated best gaming monitor guide.
How we test:
For our reviews we use a combination of our own intuition and experience along with more quantitative tools. These include the X-Rite i1 Display Pro for getting brightness, contrast and accuracy figures. We also use this tool to calibrate screens to see what they're capable of at their absolute best. We also use a Leo Bodnar input lag tester to see how suitable each panel is for gaming.
Video: We try out Samung's brand-new Quantum Dot gaming monitors
Asus PB287Q at Amazon.com | Was $439 | Now $349
AOC U3477PQU at Amazon.com | Was $700 | Now $499
Brightness (luminance) – This is simple enough, but it's worth knowing that brightness is measured in 'nits'. Many monitors boast a maximum brightness of 300 nits or more, but it's normally recommended to use a monitor at about half that much to avoid eye strain.
Black level – This is also measured in nits, but refers to how 'black' a monitor can appear. The lower the number, normally around 0.5 nits or less, the better. A low black level is particularly important for enjoying high definition films and TV.
Contrast ratio – This is the difference between the darkest and brightest peak of a monitor and is expressed as a ratio. A contrast ratio of 1,000:1 is considered good, but the higher the better. Anything less than 800:1 is average.
Input lag – This is something that mainly impacts gamers as it's the difference in time between you moving your mouse and the action appearing on screen. We test this on all monitors, but it's only a concern if you play fast games like first person shooters.
Resolution is one of the most important things to consider. It refers to how many pixels make up the screen. For example, a Full HD monitor – which is the same resolution as most TVs – will have 1,920 horizontal lines of pixels and 1,080 vertical lines.
The higher the resolution the sharper your monitor will appear. A higher resolution also means you can fit more on a single screen, so you can view windows side-by-side at the same time.
Just remember that the bigger the screen the less sharp it will appear, so it's better to have a higher resolution on larger screens of 27-inches and above.
There are three common monitor resolutions:
Full HD – 1,920 x 1,080 – Best for 24-inch monitors and below
Quad HD – 2,560 x 1,440 – Best for 27-inch monitors and below
4K / Ultra HD – 3,840 x 2,160 – Best for 27-inch monitors and above
Refresh rate refers to how many times per second a monitor updates what's on screen. Most have a 60Hz refresh rate, which means the monitor refreshes the screen 60 times every second.
This is fine for most use, but gamers may see occasional issues in games such as vertical tears and stutters. For gaming, it's often worth investing in a 120Hz or 144Hz monitor. They refresh more often, resulting in smoother motion.
It's also worth considering a monitor with Nvidia G-Sync or AMD Freesync. Both technologies aim to prevent graphical glitches when playing games by matching the frame rate of the game to the refresh rate of the monitor.
Our AMD FreeSync review explains how the tech works and the benefits of using it.
Almost all monitors use LCD technology, but there are different types of LCD technology with different characteristics. There are three basic types, though some manufacturers have their own varieties of each. Here's a quick summary of what you need to know.
TN – This is the most common LCD panel type. They're cheap to make, so most cheaper monitors use this technology. Good ones can produce accurate colours with reasonable contrast, but often with a poorer viewing angle where viewing off-centre distorts the colours somewhat.
VA – This panel type offers the best contrast of the three. This means blacks appear darker and more realistic, which is great when watching films and video. But VA panels aren't the best for gaming as they tend to be less responsive, which can lead to issues.
IPS – This is the most common type of panel on more expensive monitors. IPS offers excellent colour accuracy, viewing angle and fast response times for games. It can't match VA panels for contrast, but IPS is still better than TN in this regard.
There are many standards for colour that ensure what you see on your screen matches what was intended. A colour space is a specific standard for colour, while the colour gamut is the percentage of a colour space a monitor can display. For example, you'll often hear that a monitor has a 99% sRGB colour gamut, which means it can display 99% of the colours defined in that space.
There are a few different colour spaces. Here's what you need to know:
sRGB / Rec.709 – This is the most common colour space and it's what's used on the internet. Unless you're a professional photographer or film editor, it's the only colour space you need to worry about. It's the same as Rec.709, a colour space used for films and TV.
Adobe RGB – This is wider colour space used by photographers. If you're editing photos for professional use then you need a monitor than can display most of this colour space. Amateur photopraphers may find it useful, too, but remember that anyone viewing photos on a website will see it in sRGB, not Adobe RGB.
DCI P3 – This is a new standard mainly used for modern films and TV. Unless you're a professional video editor, though, it's not something you need.