Choosing a Monitor Online – Buying Guide

In this post we’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of buying or choosing a monitor online. This guide will include a learning guide for monitor specifications/terms that you should know before making a purchase. If you’d like to see our top ten lists for monitors, then simply pick a category in our tab section above.

Buying and choosing a computer monitor online can be a daunting task. While you’re in the store it’s easy enough to sit in front of a perspective monitor and see the size of it, the steadiness of the stand, picture quality, and other qualities in a monitor that you may typically look for. Although it may seem simpler to purchase a computer monitor in the store there are many reasons you should buy a computer monitor online.

Advantages to Choosing a Monitor Online

Specifications

While in the store they generally list basic technical details on the sales tag; however, more detailed specifications are usually available online at the manufacturer’s website. For example, a monitor in the store may say that it’s high definition, but may not include the max resolution, refresh rate, response time, panel type, or other important information.

Price

Online it’s easy enough to price shop, while in the store you are stuck with whatever the retailer gives you. In general you can find all electronics cheaper online. Even when a retailer claims to have a “sale” just remember that that same sale price is most likely available with online merchants as well.

No Salespeople

Although you may have a salesperson working with you at a store, remember it’s his job to sell you on a product. Sales tactics include putting higher resolution pictures on pricier monitors which may or may not have better specifications than their less expensive counterparts. A salesperson might also pressure you in to purchasing a larger monitor than you need just to receive a higher commission. While many salespeople can be helpful, it’s important to remain objective. If you go to a store, then grab the model numbers of the monitors you liked best and then return and then search online to see if you can find a better price.

Customer Reviews are Best

While you may be able to grab some insightful information from your neighborhood salesperson information from customers who own and have used the product are best as there is no incentive for them to make a “sale”. A happy customer returning to write a review about a product they liked or disliked speaks far more loudly than anything someone will tell you. While buying a monitor online try to get a monitor that has 4 or more stars.

Shipping

One hesitation that consumers have about purchasing electronics online is shipping costs. While in the past this was a burden, with a larger purchase or bundle you can usually get shipping free at places like Amazon.com.

Selection

Store selection is limited and determined by looks, store space, commissions, and product relationships. Online most retailers have a much wider selection.

Term and Specification Guide to Computer Monitors

Adjustment – Tilt, swivel, height

If you’re monitor never seems like it’s in the right spot, then consider a monitor that is tilt, swivel, pivot, or height adjustable. Conversely if you simply want a “sturdy” stand that won’t move, then consider a monitor with no adjustment.

Connectors – DVI, HDMI, VGA/Analog

It’s important to know what type of connectors your computer has before purchasing a monitor. While there are cords that you can purchase separately that allow for example, DVI to HDMI, it’s easier to find one that is already compatible with the type of connectors that your motherboard or video card has.

Analog: Analog/VGA connectors are typically (not always) blue. You can also identify it by its 15 pins.

DVI:  Typically identified by a white plug. DVI images are generally sharper than Analog; however, with most monitors there is very little distinguishable difference.

HDMI: A audio/video interface designed for ultimate flexibility. No loss in video quality occurs between DVI and HDMI. DVI to HDMI and HDMI to DVI connectors are available for additional options.

Contrast 

Contrast ratio measures the darkest color that a monitor can produce (blackest black) vs. the lightest color (whitest white). In general the higher the contrast ratio, the better the color. Because various manufacturer’s define how they label their contrast ratio differently (static vs. dynamic etc…), we recommend you read consumer reviews in order to get a better understanding of your monitors color output. A better contrast ratio will allow for increased detail for photos and images.

Glossy vs. Matte Screen

Glossy screens are attractive and easier to clean than Matte screens but sometimes can be annoying in a well-lit room. To counteract the glare that comes with a glossy screen many manufacturers place an anti-glare coating on their monitors. You can generally see whether this is available in the specifications portion of the product page.

LCD

LCD or “Liquid Crystal Display” is a thin technology which uses the light modulating properties of liquid crystals. LCD monitors are not lit themselves and therefore use fluorescent backlighting on standard LCD listed monitors or LED backlighting on LED LCD monitors.

LED

Some confusion exists because LED monitors are actually liquid crystal display or LCD monitors. LED or “light emitting diode” is a more energy efficient and less environmentally harmful (contains no mercury) way of lighting your display. LED monitors are typically easier on the eyes. If you have eye strain which you can attribute to monitor use, then purchasing an LED LCD monitor is a priority. While in the past LED LCD monitors were much more expensive than standard LCD monitors they are now nearly identical in price.

Panel Type  – TN Vs. IPS 

TN or twisted nematic panels are the most common consumer panel type. This is because they are more energy efficient and have higher refresh rates. TN panels are not desirable for photo editing as photo editing requires precise color reproduction. Standard TN or twisted nematic monitors can only reproduce a portion of the color gamut because they use 6 bits per color (Red, Green, Blue) for a total of 18 bits. This makes them unable to display the 16.7 million colors available in 24-bit truecolor or 256 shades of red, green and blue. While dithering can be used to produce some of the desired colors a TN monitor is simply undesirable when trying to match exact colors. IPS or in-plane switching panel monitors use 8 bit per color so as to allow them to fully reproduce nearly 100% of the color gamut. Other panel monitors including MVA (multi-domain vertical alignment), PVA (pattern vertical alignment panels), AFFS (advanced fringe field switching), and ASV (advanced super view) are desirable for this reason as well. Modern IPS monitors can reproduce 10 bit per color and display up to 1.07 billion colors or 1024 shades of red, green, and blue.

Refresh Rate

The refresh rate on a monitor is the amount of times that the display draws the data in a second. While in the past a low refresh rate could cause eye strain, most consumer monitors now come with sufficient refresh rate. 3D monitors sometimes use up to a 120hz refresh rate to allow for  dual side technology which dedicates 60hz to each eye while in 3D.

Resolution

Resolution is the number of display pixels in each dimension that can be displayed. 1920×1080 resolution is generally marked as full high-definition or 1080p. Many IPS monitors go up to 2560-by-1440-pixel resolution allowing for an increased amount pixels to work with (mainly for photo editing).

Response Time

The response time is the time that it takes a pixel to go from black to white and back again. On any computer monitor this is measured in ms or milliseconds. The faster the response time the less blurring and ghosting users will experience during action packet sequences of movies or gaming. A good gaming, entertainment, or video editing monitor should have a response time under 3ms. More casual computer users should consider any monitor with a response time of 5ms or less.

Warranty

Not all warranties are created equal. In our top ten tabs above we have a section just for the warranty so that you can see exactly what the warranty is for each monitor. Other than duration, the most important aspect of warranty is a company’s pixel return policy which states how many dead, black, or bright pixels there must be before a monitor is returned.

What Size Monitor Should You Choose?

Back in 2005 Apple did a study that made the case that a larger monitor can improve productivity among workers by 50-65% on certain tasks. Productivity501.com states that this productivity phases out after about 24 inches. This is especially important when you need to use two windows side by side for data analysis or spreadsheet creation. If you’re purchasing a monitor for work use, then strongly consider one around 24 inches. If your monitor is for casual use, then a monitor smaller than 24 inches would be based solely on personal preference.

What Monitor Should You Buy/Choose?

See our tabs above for lists of the top rated computer monitors for 2013.

About

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to choosing/buying a monitor online. If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to contribute to this post, then please leave feedback below.