Choosing a Monitor – Part I

HARDWARE
Choosing a Monitor – Part I

Monitors are peripherals that rarely change. I’ve seen lots of gamers running powerful PCs and cheap old monitors.  I wonder if they’re aware of all the big improvements that have been made to monitors of late, or that switching to something even mid-tier would make a world of a difference. Of course, when you got to grab your wallet, you’ll need to know what to look for.

Aspect ratio

16:9 is today’s standard.

Example resolutions: 1280 x 720 (HD Ready), 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 2560 x 1440 (Quad HD), 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD 4K), 5120 x 2880 (5K), 7680 x 4320 (8K).

16:10 is not very popular these days, though it’s useful in office work, thanks to the monitors’ height, if nothing else.

Example resolutions: 1920 x 1200 (WUXGA), 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA).

21:9 is an ultrawide aspect ratio that is great for entertainment because it can give you an advantage. In Fortnite, for example, you see more than players stuck playing on a 16:9 model. Of course, this ratio can also be a disadvantage. In Overwatch, you see less at the top and bottom of a large-ratio screen. Generally, the older the title, the worse 21:9 performs. Sometimes you need to use fan-made tools to make the game cooperate (Fallout 4 is a good example). I can recommend the one linked here.

Outside of gaming, 21:9 offers much wider timelines for video and sound editing. Further, some YouTube content that is supposed to be 21:9 is uploaded wrong. This can be especially infuriating because the channels of big movie studios notoriously upload clips with letterboxes (black bars) all around the image. To remedy this issue, use extensions like UltraWide Video for Chrome.

Example resolutions: 2560 x 1080 (UltraWide Full HD), 3440 x 1440 (UltraWide Quad HD), 5120 x 2160 (UltraWide Ultra HD).

32:9 is even wider than ultrawide 21:9, hence its name – super ultrawide. It basically consists of two 16:9 monitors side-by-side. For example, 49-inch 32:9 models offer exactly the same screen estate as two 27-inch 16:9 monitors. They are great for work and easily replace a two-monitor setup. However, movie buffs will be disappointed as films aren’t released to match their size in such an aspect ratio. For gamers, the jury remains out. Some titles, especially racing and flight simulators look great. But many games won’t work properly and even if they do, the result may not be what you’d expect.

Example resolutions: 3840 x 1080 (Dual Full HD), 5120 x 1440 (Dual Quad HD).

4:3 and 5:4 Those aspect ratios are becoming obsolete in consumer PC monitors.

4:3 example resolutions: 1024 x 768 (XGA), 1600 x 1200 (UXGA), 2048 x 1536 (QXGA).

5:4 example resolutions: 1280 x 1024 (SXGA), 2560 × 2048 (QSXGA).

Curvature

This is a rather personal preference.

In my opinion, 27-inch and smaller screens with curvature just look cooler, but there is no appreciable benefit beyond aesthetics. For 32-inch and larger displays, however, especially 35 inchers with a 21:9 aspect ratio and behemoths like 32:9 49”, curvature really helps, especially in gaming.

If graphics editing or working with CAD programs is your thing, I’d stick with a flat screen. A curved screen makes it much harder to determine if lines displayed on the monitor are straight or not.

Panel size and resolution

These two features must be described together. They both contribute to the all-important PPI (pixels per inch) parameter. The higher the resolution and the lower the panel size, the higher the PPI. Of course, there is a limit to when a certain level of PPI starts to make no difference, but the perception may vary from user to user. The general rule is, if you stay around 100 PPI (or higher) the picture will be fine. Up around 200 PPI the image gets ultra crisp, but very few monitors get there.

24-inch

Today’s gold standard is a 24-inch monitor with 1920 x 1080 resolution, which translates to 92 PPI. There are also 2560 x 1440 monitors of this size with 122 PPI and they offer a finer image.

While rare, you can even find 24” 3840 x 2160 panels with 183 PPI. I’m happy to have one as my second monitor, with 150% scaling set in Windows. But I understand that for most people it would be overkill.

27-inch

27 inches are usually paired with a 2560 x 1440 resolution (109 PPI).

The 1920 x 1080 (82 PPI) option is common, but for many users the image quality such a screen offers is borderline or even unacceptable.

3840 x 1440 offers 163 PPI, which is very pleasing for the eye.

Apple calls 5120 x 2880 with 218 PPI its Retina screen. I use one as my monitor and for photo editing it is absolutely brilliant. Gaming on something like this, however, requires a very powerful rig running preferably older, not very demanding games or titles with “slow” gameplay.

29-inch 21:9

Such monitors very nicely complement 24-inch 16:9 models in dual monitor setups. Usually they have 2560 x 1080 resolution (95 PPI), which is essentially just a “stretched” 1920 x 1080 unit. They are well suited for all kinds of work (try MS Excel on one!) and entertainment. In my opinion, they are more than fine without the curvature.

32-inch

This size usually pairs up with 2560 x 1440 (92 PPI) or 3840 x 2160 (138 PPI).

I wouldn’t recommend to anyone such a big panel with an unenviable 1920 x 1080 resolution, but you can find such models on the market.

There is currently one model of this size with 7680 x 4320 resolution, which translates to a breathtaking 275 PPI.

35-inch 21:9

Such monitors are great company for 27-inch 16:9 models – they are nearly identical in height. They are also very nice for entertainment purposes, especially when curved.

2560 x 1080 with 79 PPI may grant good framerates, but it doesn’t look very good. I highly recommend the 3440 x 1440 (107 PPI) or the quickly upcoming 5120 x 2160 models with 159 PPI for a plate full of eye-candy.

49-inch 32:9

Again, these monitors could prove to be great, but not for everyone.

3440 x 1080 resolution may look high, but on 49 inches it yields a decidedly unimpressive 81 PPI. 5120 x 1440 with 109 PPI would be a much better choice.

Thoughts and tips on resolution

I would like to debunk a myth about anti-aliasing being totally unnecessary with high-PPI monitors (even with ~200 PPI). In extreme scenarios, like thin power cables in a bright landscape, it is still needed if you want to entirely do away with jagged edges. One of the best examples is your ship rigging in World of Warships.

4K

3840 x 2160 is called 4K because it fits 1920 x 1080 resolution four times.

Here is how it works:

3840 x 2160 works out to a total of 8294400 pixels

1920 x 1080 yields a total of 2073600 pixels

8294400 : 2073600 = 4

You’ll also see 4K-DCI (4096×2160) resolution, though only in expensive monitors for professional movie editors.

5K vs 4K

It may appear at first glance that the difference between 4K and 5K is minor. But when you realize that 5K equals four times Quad HD or sixteen times HD Ready (1280 x 720), you may start to appreciate it more.

The same goes for 8K – it consists of four 4K images or sixteen Full HD. That is a enormous number of pixels.

UI scaling

Some people are not comfortable with high resolutions because everything on the monitor gets small. Usually in Windows 10, setting the scaling option to the desired value solves the problem, but you have to keep in mind that not all programs scale well, or at all (older Adobe Photoshop versions are a good example).

22-inch HD Ready?

Smaller screen sizes than 24 inch and lower resolutions than 1080p are quickly becoming obsolete. And for good reason. First of all, good quality models with such parameters have very reasonable prices nowadays. And second, when I recently tried to use a PC with an old 1280 x 1024 monitor, it just didn’t cut muster, especially for browsing the internet with sites that load in mobile versions…

Quad HD = 2K?

Calling Quad HD 2K resolution, as no few have done, is just not right. Quad HD is just Quad HD.

PPI table

Below you’ll find a table with exact PPI values (in the text I used approximation). As you’ll see, small differences in PPI (like 30) are, in reality, large, though they may look insignificant at first glance.

Panel type

TN

+ the best response time

+ the cheapest to implement a high refresh rate

– poor viewing angles

– generally poor color reproduction

Ultimately, visuals are not the strongest feature of TN panels, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the best option for competitive gaming.

VA type (MVA, PVA, WVA)

+ the best contrast

+ the deepest blacks

+ good colour reproduction

+ good viewing angles

– sometimes ghosting (fast-moving objects leave a slight shadow)

Best choice for users who watch a lot of movies.

IPS type (PLS, AHVA, AH-IPS)

+ the best color reproduction

+ the best viewing angles

– sometimes IPS glow (blacks can be silverish)

– usually the highest price

Overall the best image quality, so it’s excellent for editing photos.

While this may be somewhat confusing, but AHVA is an IPS type panel.

OLED

This technology outshines all challengers in most respects, but it has two major flaws: It is prohibitively expensive and it has an image burn-in problem, wherein Images that don’t change often (like the Start Menu button in Windows) can become “embedded” in the display. Manufacturers are addressing these problems. Dell attempted to make an OLED PC monitor (the UP3017Q), but retracted it from the market quickly. ASUS announced its PQ22UC some time ago, but it won’t debut until 2020.

It may not be a matter of “when” so much as “if” OLED monitors will break into the mainstream before the next big thing comes along.

In the next installment we will cover refresh rates, synchronization technologies, quantum dot and more. Stay tuned!

Grzegorz Iwan
Grzegorz Iwan
Amateur extreme overclocker from Poland, one of two Poles who broke the 8 GHz CPU clock barrier. Hardware enthusiast and collector, envoy of PCMasterRace philosophy; You can find ivanov's fanpage here.

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