Beginner’s Guide to Monitors

Monitor Hunter’s Fact Sheet
If you’re reading this you’re probably on the hunt for a new monitor, the purpose of this is to try and put together a fact sheet of all the things you’ll need to know to better pick out the monitor that’s best suited for your usage & budget.
 
Adam Simmons over at https://pcmonitors.info/ taught me a mantra that you should always keep in mind when hunting for a new monitor: “No! monitor (yet) is perfect, It’s always a compromise.”
Meaning… know what you’ll use your monitor for & if there are things you are sensitive to, then find a monitor that best fits that slot.    
And if you need a monitor for two, or more, very distinct/different tasks, be prepared to buy a monitor for each task, or settle for one that’s good at one & average at the rest.
 

Panel Types:

TN

(Twisted Nematic) panels were the ones you looked at if what you were after was the fastest possible pixel response time, they go all the way up to 240Hz. They are also the oldest panel tech of the main three, and the cheapest to manufacture, which often meant a lower total monitor price.    
They usually have a contrast ratio in the 900-1000:1 area but because most TN panels are 6bit + Hi-FRC (Dithering) and by the nature of being TN panels, they’ll have the “worst” colour reproduction of the three panel types; that said, modern TN panels that are properly calibrated can still look good.
Towards the end of 2019 IPS & VA panels really began tearing down the last bastions TN panels had, those being better response times and lower cost…
The newer generations of IPS panels are almost as fast as TNs & their prices are now so close that the loss in image quality from a TN panel no longer makes them worth it.
 
Main reasons to still pick a TN based monitor:
If you have a regular income from eSports where speed/reaction is paramount (CS:GO, Fortnite, Apex Legends etc.) or you have an unusually high sensitivity to motion clarity.
Pros
Slightly faster response times than IPS | Fast enough for 240Hz gaming
 
Cons
Worst image quality of the three | Vertical gamma shift | Bad viewing angles | Risk of backlight bleed |
 
Here is a video that nicely shows the differences between TN & IPS, in contrast and colour reproduction: https://youtu.be/bYKUFNSya_Y?t=475
 

IPS

(In-Plane Switching) panels are the Jack of all Trades panels, they often have a decent contrast ratio, around 1000:1, they have good colours & have fast enough pixel response times for most usages, ~5ms GtG (Grey to grey). So buying an IPS based monitor already puts you in a good spot if you use your PC for many different(daily) tasks.    
IPS panels, when calibrated, have accurate colour reproduction.    
IPS is the most expensive of the three to manufacture, a fact you’ll especially see if you’re looking for a higher end IPS based monitor, expect to see price tags in the 500-700$ range or beyond.
   
Main reasons to pick an IPS based monitor:
If you want a monitor that’s all round good at doing most things.
If you do colour critical workloads for income but like to game in your off time.
Pros
Colour accurate (photography) | Fast enough for 240Hz gaming | Good viewing angles
 
Cons
Risk of backlight bleed | Risk of panel glow | Lower contrast than VA | Can cost more than the other two |
 

VA

(Vertical Alignment) panels are the contrast kings of LCD panels, ranging from 2000:1 to 4000:1, so they can have nice deep blacks & vivid colours. They do however have slow pixel response times in dark level transitions, upwards of 20-30ms is not uncommon, but they keep up just fine in other transitions; the newer panels, with the help of well implemented(tuned) overdrive, are getting quite good, ~7ms GtG (Grey to Grey).    
Some VA based monitors can suffer from black crush, where black and dark shades will “crush” together and you’ll lose detail, this usually happens in shadows.
 
Main reasons to pick a VA based monitor:
You’re an immersion gamer that likes to stop and look at the environments in “sightseeing” games. 
Pros
Best contrast of the three(deep blacks) | Fast enough for 100-120Hz gaming | Slightly cheaper than IPS |
Cons
Slow dark level transitions | Worse viewing angles than IPS | Risk of backlight clouding | Risk of flickering
 

Monitor Specs:

When you think you know which panel type is best for your use case, you need to look at the main aspects of any monitor and choose the combination that best suits your preferences and needs.

Screen Size.

24″, 27″ & 32″ are usually the three main monitor sizes, depending on your needs.    
Picking the right size with the right resolution, to give you a high pixel density, will give you a cleaner & sharper looking image.    
Example: 24”/1080p has a pixel density of 91, while 27”/1440p has 108. So a 27″ screen running at 1440p will have the sharper looking image of the two.    
Now… that said, 24”/1080p is still the default Size to Resolution combo and is still very much a comfortable image to look at, unless you are sensitive to pixel densities under a given value… see my first paragraph.
In the past few years UltraWide monitors have moved into the market in force, these range in size from 29” to 49” and for desktop workloads they can greatly increase screen real-estate & in games they give greater immersion and wider FoV (Field of View).

Resolution.

1080p(2K), 1440p(QHD) & 2160p(4K) are the three most common resolutions. Which one you go for should be based on your other hardware, which one can you drive to a high enough amount of fps to have smooth gameplay? There are also UltraWide & Super UltraWide monitors, to which the same applies.
Good size to resolution combinations are: 24″/1080p(2K) – 27″/1440p(QHD) – 32″/2160p(4K); but that does not mean that a given resolution cannot be fine at other screen sizes.
One of the biggest advantages to going up in resolution is a higher pixel density which gives a sharper image and more screen real-estate, e.g. 1440p offers ~78% more screen real-estate compared to 1080p, for desktop/office related workloads that can make a big difference to workflow; UltraWides can then offer ~30% additional horizontal real-estate compared to 16:9 screens.
Basic resolution real-estate comparison, on a 27” panel.
 
At a given viewing distance a screen will appear to be “retina”, i.e. A distance where the human eye is unable to distinguish between individual pixels.
You can check that here: https://www.designcompaniesranked.com/resources/is-this-retina/
 
Some examples of pixel densities with the most used Size to Resolution combos.

Screen Size Resolution Pixel Density Retina at
24” 1080p(2K) 92 94cm/37”
27” 1080p(2K) 82 107cm/42”
27” 1440p(QHD) 109 81cm/32”
32” 1440p(QHD) 92 94cm/37”
27” 2160p(4K) 163 53cm/21”
32” 2160p(4K) 138 64cm/25”

 

Response Time.

Response time is how fast a pixel can transition from one colour to another, basically you want a monitor with response times that are faster than the frame push rate (FPR) of its refresh rate; the FPR is how often a new image is pushed to the viewable part of the screen, this is governed by its refresh rate in Hz, for a monitor running at 144Hz this is 6.94ms (1000/144 = 6.94ms), this means that the monitor will push a new frame every 6.94ms, so as long as that monitor’s response time is ~6ms, or less, it should have a corruption free image.
A lot of reviews measure their response times in Grey to Grey (GtG), which is a way to measure the average response time of a monitor.
Note: Ideally you want response times as low as possible without overshoot &/or inverse anomalies.
 
Some examples of the most used refresh rates.

Refresh Rate Frame Push Rate Ideal slowest GtG
60Hz 16.67ms <14ms GtG
100Hz 10ms <9ms GtG
120Hz 8.33ms <7ms GtG
144Hz 6.94ms <6ms GtG
240Hz 4.17ms <4ms GtG

 
NB
Let’s put this one to rest one more time, because I’m beginning to hate monitor marketing buzzwords…..
No current monitor, or due for release in the foreseeable future, can do 1ms of actual Grey to Grey (GtG) pixel response time without significant compromises… however monitors that support Backlight Strobing try to mimic/simulate 1ms response times through that.
 
Even the current best 360Hz IPS monitors hover around 3.5ms of actual GtG pixel response time, if you try to push it lower by applying a stronger overdrive impulse you’ll see a cascade of overshoot & inverse anomalies; most TN based monitors are in the 3-5ms zone before the same happens.
For VA & IPS based monitors, they usually hover in the 4-8ms zone before the OverDrive impulse causes overshoot &/or inverse anomalies.
 

Adaptive Sync. (FreeSync & G-Sync)

FreeSync adds no real cost to a monitor, for better or worse… as it is a standard built into the scaler units, but that also means that you’ll see a varying degree of good implementations; it can also work over both HDMI & DisplayPort on FreeSync certified monitors; with AMD graphics cards.
Note: If you own a 10-series or newer nVidia GPU & use DisplayPort, you can use G-Sync on FreeSync monitors.
G-Sync(nVidia GPUs) was a closed standard, which only works over DisplayPort, and uses a G.Sync module directly from nVidia, so all G-Sync monitors’ Adaptive Sync runs to the same specs… which is good, but using the G-Sync module does add ~100$, or more, to the cost of a monitor.
 
NVidia announced a firmware update for their G-Sync modules that will allow them to work with VESA Adaptive Sync, this means that AMD cards will be able to make use of FreeSync on monitors using a G-Sync module.
Note: NVidia says the firmware cannot be retrofitted to already deployed modules, so it will only apply to models released after the firmware goes live, at the time of writing there is no option to update older models.
As I can’t find an official list about this, I have started a list of models, I will add as I see them confirmed.

Manufacturer Model Name G-Sync Level Confirmed
Asus PG259QN G-Sync By reviews
Asus PG279QM G-Sync By reviews
Dell AW2721D G-Sync Ultimate By reviews
Dell AW3420DW G-Sync By reviews
Dell AW3821DW G-Sync Ultimate By reviews
LG 38GL950G G-Sync By reviews

 

Extra Features.

Then you have things like: HDR, USB-c, MiniDP etc. that some users will specifically look for in a monitor… if it’s not something you know you’ll need, scrap it… unless it adds no cost to the unit you’re already looking at.
HDR especially is one thing that’s still a gimmick in monitors, very few monitors can do HDR well and the ones that can are >1.000$, so often don’t bother looking for a HDR monitor… if good HDR is important to you, buy an OLED TV.
 
Good monitor hunting.
 

Links:

Handy Links.

Pixel Density Calculator
Display Size Comparison Tool
Bias Lighting/ Ambient Backlight (YouTube)
Backlight Bleed Remedies (YouTube) Always be gentle with the panel.
UltraWide Supported Games
Resolution Bandwidth Calculator
Multi Monitor Calculator
List of FreeSync Monitors
List of G-Sync Monitors
*Lists should be up to date.
Monitor Search Database

Good review sites.

RTings Monitor Reviews
TfT Central Reviews
PC Monitors Reviews
PC Monitors (YouTube)
Hardware Unboxed (YouTube)
MoreleTV (YouTube) -Polish

Certified Interface Cables.

Europe

DisplayPort HDMI
Club 3D – 2m DP <> DP Club 3D – 2m HDMI 2.1
Club 3D – 3m DP <> DP Club 3D – 3m HDMI 2.1
Club 3D – 2m mDP <> DP
Club 3D – 1.8m Type-C <> DP
Cable Matters – 1.8m DP <> DP
Cable Matters – 3m DP <> DP
DeLock – 1.5m Type-C <> DP

 
United States

DisplayPort HDMI
Club 3D – 2m DP <> DP Club 3D – 2m HDMI 2.1
Club 3D – 3m DP <> DP Club 3D – 3m HDMI 2.1
Club 3D – 2m mDP <> DP
Club 3D – 1.8m Type-C <> DP
Cable Matters – 1.8m DP <> DP
Cable Matters – 3m DP <> DP
Nixeus – 3m DP <> DP

 

Testing Methods Update.

Notice: Hardware unboxed has updated their testing methods, which means that their results can no longer be directly compared to other reviews, which don’t use the same testing methods; for understanding how their testing has changed please watch this video: YouTube Link 
This does not mean that their results are in any way invalid, in fact they are probably more accurate, but because they are currently one of the few sites using this method, of the reviews posted here, their results cannot be directly compared to results from reviews using the “old” method.
 

Interfaces & HDCP 2.2 Compliance.

For people who will be using their monitor to stream media, e.g. Netflix or similar HDCP content there are a few things you should know as you go and look for a monitor.
If you’re connecting your monitor via HDMI any monitor that supports HDMI 2.0 should do you just fine, but if you’re streaming over your PC and using DisplayPort there are a few things you have to be aware of.
That is that DisplayPort 1.2 only supports HDCP 1.3, so if you need HDCP 2.2 compliance you will need to find a monitor that uses DisplayPort 1.4, which does support HDCP 2.2; and make sure that your graphics card is also DisplayPort 1.4 as the HDCP protocol needs it at both the source and display end of the the link.
 

 Monitor Recommendation List.

Note: I try to only recommend monitors that have been reviewed, so I know how they perform. Unless stated otherwise all monitors support Adaptive Sync.
All the monitors on this list are in my book a worthy purchase in their spec class.
 

Entry-level Monitors.

Philips 275E1S [IPS] Best 1440p model 08/08- ’20
(It seems this model can be difficult to find outside of Europe)
(Reviewer feedback indicate that it might not work with G-Sync)
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
 

1080p(FHD) 120Hz+ monitors.

Acer Nitro XF243Y [IPS] Best 24” model 06/03- ’21
Rtings Review
AOC 24G2U [IPS]
Rtings Review
PC Monitors Review
TfT Central Review ‘Short’
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Asus VG249Q1A [IPS]
(Console Ready: 1080p 120Hz)
Rtings Review
BenQ EX2510 [IPS]
(Console Ready: 1080p 120Hz)
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
AOC 27G2U [IPS] 
TfT Central Review ‘Short’
BenQ EX2710 [IPS] Best 27” model 22/03- ’21
(Console Ready: 1080p 120Hz)
PC Monitors Review
 

1080p(FHD) 240Hz Monitors.

Acer XB253Q GX [IPS]
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Asus TUF VG259QM [IPS] 
RTings Review
Dell AW2521HF [IPS] Best 25” model 25/11- ’20
RTings Review
PC Monitors Review
MSI MAG251RX [IPS] 
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
Acer Nitro XV273 X [IPS] Best 27” model 07/08- ’20
RTings Review
TfT Central Review
Asus TUF VG279QM [IPS] 
RTings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
LG 27GN750-B [IPS]
RTings Review
Viewsonic Elite XG270 [IPS] 
RTings Review
 

1080p(FHD) 360Hz Monitors.

Asus PG259QN [IPS] (G-Sync) 
Rtings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)

1440p(QHD) 120hz+ Monitors.

BenQ EX2780Q [IPS]
(Console Ready: PS5 4K > 1440p)
RTings Review
PC Monitors Review
Dell S2721DGF(A) [Nano-IPS] Best Nano-IPS model 24/11- ‘20
RTings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review
Morele TV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Gigabyte G27Q [IPS] 
Rtings Review
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Gigabyte M27Q [SS-IPS] Best model <400$ 17/03- ’21
(10W PD, BGR subpixel layout)
Rtings Review
PC Monitors Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
LG 27GL83A-B [Nano-IPS] 
(Console Ready: PS5 4K > 1440p)
RTings Review
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
LG 27GP83B-B [Nano-IPS]
Rtings Review
LG 27GP850-B [Nano-IPS]
(Console Ready: PS5 4K > 1440p)
(The newest model in the GL850, GN850 line)
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
MSI MAG274QRF-QD [IPS] Best in Class model 06/03- ’21
(15W PD)
(Console Ready: 1080p 120Hz // PS5 4K > 1440p)
(Might need a hardware calibration to rein in its colour gamut)
Rtings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Nixeus EDG27 v2 [IPS] 
(Nixeus models can be tricky to find outside the US)
TfT Central Review
Acer XB323U GP [IPS]
PC Monitors Review
Asus PG329Q [IPS] Best 32” IPS model 30/06- ’21
(Console Ready)
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
Dell S3220DGF [VA] Best 32” VA model 09/05- ’20
Rtings Review
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Gigabyte M32Q [IPS]
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
LG 32GP850-B [Nano-IPS]
Rtings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
 

1440p(QHD) 240Hz monitors.

Asus PG279QM [IPS] Best in Class model 01/05- ’21
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
Dell AW2721D [IPS]
Rtings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
 

2160p(UHD/4K) monitors.

Dell S2721QS [IPS] Best 27” 60Hz model 22/01- ’21
RTings Review
LG 27GN950-B [Nano-IPS] Best in Class model 04/11- ’20
(Has been discontinued & refreshed by the 27GP950-B, with HDMI 2.1, expect overall performance to be very similar.)
Rtings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
LG 27UK650-W [IPS]
(The 27UL650 is the refreshed model, buy instead if possible)
RTings Review
BenQ EW3270U [VA] Best 32” 60Hz model 22/01- ’21
RTings Review
LG 32EP950 [OLED] Best Halo-tier model 12/06- ’21
(90W PD)
TfT Cenral Review
LG 32UD99-W [IPS]
(~60W PD)
RTings Review
 

Entry-level UltraWide monitors.

None currently available. 
 

1080p(UW-FHD) UltraWide Monitors.

None currently available.
 

1440p(UW-QHD) UltraWide Monitors.

Note: Models using AUO’s & TCL’s new 34” VA panel have just started to release, unless you need the monitor now, I suggest you wait until we see reviews of those models, as the panels appear to have good potential; if you do need the monitor now I still stand by this list.
The above applies to the 34” VA based models, they are crossed out.
 
Dell AW3420DW [IPS] (G-Sync)
(The refreshed model of Dell’s AW3418DW)
RTings Review
Gigabyte G34WQC [VA] Best 21:9 aspect ratio VA model 27/11- ’20
Rtings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Nixeus EDG34 [VA] 
(Nixeus models can be tricky to find outside the US)
RTings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
Bizude’s hands on experience 
LG 34GN850-B [Nano-IPS] Best 21:9 aspect ratio IPS model 12/06- ’20
(The 34GP83A-B seems to be a US only model, cheaper for near identical performance)
RTings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
XiaoMi Curved 34” [VA]
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
MoreleTV Review (YouTube) -Polish
Samsung Odyssey G9 [VA] Best 32:9 aspect ratio model 10/12- ’20
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
 

1600p( ) UltraWide Monitors.

Dell AW3821DW [IPS] (G-Sync)
Rtings Review
TfT Central Review
LG 38GL950G [IPS] (G-Sync) 
RTings Review
TfT Central Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
LG 38GN950 [IPS]
Rtings Review
LG 38WN95C [IPS]
(TB3 94W PD)
RTings Review
 

Office & Entertainment Monitors.

Dell S2721QS [IPS] Best 27” 2160p 60Hz model 22/01- ’21
RTings Review
Asus ProArt PA278CV [IPS]
(65W PD & DP daisy chaining)
Rtings Review
Asus ProArt PA278QV [IPS] Best 27” 1440p model 23/08- ’20
RTings Review
PC Monitors Review
Dell U2518D [IPS] Best 25” 1440p model 09/05- ’20
(The U2520D is the refreshed model)
RTings Review
PC Monitors Review
Dell U2719D [IPS] 
RTings Review
TfT Central Review
PC Monitors Review
LG 27UK650-W [IPS]
(The 27UL650 is the refreshed model, buy instead if possible)
RTings Review
BenQ EW3270U [VA]
RTings Review
LG 32EP950 [OLED] Best Halo class model 12/06- ’21
(90W PD)
TfT Cenral Review
LG 32UD99-W [IPS]
(~60W PD)
RTings Review
 

Portable Monitors.

Asus XG17 [IPS]
Rtings Review
Hardware Unboxed Review (YouTube)
 

Post Purchase Checklist.

Congratulations you have selected yourself a monitor, hopefully it will give you many hours of enjoyment.
I hope you remembered to check if your model comes with a DisplayPort cable? If you didn’t, go check, I’ll wait….. If you did and it does not, don’t forget to order one along with it, and remember that all DisplayPort cables are the same as long as you’re buying a VESA certified one.
 
Now when your monitor arrives there are certain things you will want to check.
For starters you will want to check if your panel has any stuck or dead pixels, this is most easily done by running a pixel checker which is a “program” that cycles through colours and allows you to check if there are any discoloured dots that stand out on any of the solid coloured screens.
Like this one from LCDTech: http://lcdtech.info/en/tests/dead.pixel.htm
If your unit has no dead or stuck pixels that’s great. We’ll move on to the next thing…
 
You’ll want to connect and power ‘On’ your monitor, let it warm up for ~30 min. then you will want to steal the calibrated settings from a review above, for the monitor you have selected, these settings should be good enough for most, but remember that no two monitors are 100% alike so you might have to do minor adjustments for your eyes & your room.
If you have access to a colourimeter you can instead do a full hardware calibration, and you should watch this video for how such a calibration is performed and suggestions for which calibration tool to purchase or rent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2nVNxx1IHo
This is also the only way to really calibrate a monitor for colour accurate use (photo editing), it cannot be done by eye.

Backlight bleed & Panel glow.

Now you’ll want to check for backlight bleed and excessive panel glow, if you don’t do it in the same sitting as the above you’ll again want to let your monitor warm up for ~30 min. before you go at it, then you’ll want to go to a site like this and simply press ‘Enter’ to open a full screen black image.
You can read more about backlight bleed and panel glow in This Article.
Just make sure that your monitor is “calibrated” to around 120nits of brightness (should be if you used review settings) and that your room is at the light conditions that you would be using the monitor under during the evening.Overexposed photo of IPS Glow (for demonstration purposes). -Lims Cave
 
You’re looking for defects akin to what you’re seeing in the demonstration image above, and I highly suggest reading Lim’s article on this subject.
Then it’s up to you to decide if your monitor is good or not… if it’s not I would return it and grab a new unit to see if it’s better, as the mentality of “maybe I can learn to live with it?” is almost never worth it on hardware that’s still under free return policy.
If it is good then congratulations you have yourself a lovely new monitor… now stop fidgeting about every little detail and spec and simply enjoy it.
Note: Panel bleed/glow can lessen over the first few weeks of ownership of a new monitor, as it acclimates to a stable environment.
 
And remember that you are always welcome back on the discord to share your experience with the other people also hunting for a new monitor, maybe your story can be what helps them buy an equally good monitor.
 

Basic Monitor Maintenance.

Screen Cleaning.

For cleaning your monitor you’ll want to buy an anti-static microfiber cloth, they can usually be bought in office supply shops and sometimes in record shops, as they are also used to clean vinyl records (if you’re in doubt if the cloth you’re looking at can be used for a LCD panel, ask the shop).
For dry dust you can often just use the dry cloth and wipe it off, but if there are smudges you’ll want to use something like distilled water, to avoid leaving residue, just make the cloth lightly damp; there should never be any liquid running down the screen when you clean it.
 

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