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Buying guide: The best computer display

James Galbraith | Aug. 6, 2014
There's a lot to consider when purchasing a new display: size, resolution, performance, and of course, price. If you're in the market to buy a new display for your computer, we're here to help you decipher the specifications and let you know what features to look for and what you can ignore.

There's a lot to consider when purchasing a new display: size, resolution, performance, and of course, price. If you're in the market to buy a new display for your computer, we're here to help you decipher the specifications and let you know what features to look for and what you can ignore.

At present, our favorite desktop display is the HP Z Display Z27i ($769), a 27-inch professional desktop monitor with a 2560 by 1440 native resolution. It features a high-quality IPS screen, LED backlighting, and an anti-glare screen that many people — including myself — find desirable.

Major features

Size: The size of the display that you should buy depends on available desk space, your budget, and your preference. Many of my work colleagues prefer to use two smaller displays as opposed to a single large monitor. I prefer one large display — 27-inches seems to be my sweet spot. A 24-inch display seems too small to use by itself, and when using two displays I don't like the dead space between the bezels. Plus, I feel like I'm constantly trying to find the darn cursor when using two monitors. On the other hand, 30-inch screens can be a little overwhelming — I feel like I'm sitting in the front row of the movie theater and want to scoot back from the screen in order to see it all.

Resolution: Don't assume that two displays that are different makes and models but are the same size will have the same resolution. You can find 27-inch displays with 2460 by 1440 or with 1920 by 1080 resolution, the same as most 23- and 24-inch displays.

I prefer high resolution screens; the low resolution screens tends to make everything appear too large and grainy for a desktop monitor, as you can see the pixel elements that make up the icons and text. Sure, I could go into the system settings, adjust the font size, and eventually get used to it, but lower resolution screens, like those 27-inch monitors with 1920 by 1080 resolution, seem better suited as a multifunction monitor primarily used to watch movies and TV shows and play games. Of course, low resolution, multifunction monitors can be desirable, especially in dorm rooms or small apartments where space is at a premium.

Wide or ultra-wide: Back when CRT displays dominated the desktop monitor landscape, most displays used a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is pretty close to square. Today, almost all displays use a wider, more cinematic 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio.

A new, wider aspect ratio, 21:9, has hit the market. We've reviewed several of these ultra-wide displays that allow you to have more document windows open side to side, but without the annoying bezels getting in the way. I really liked this wide aspect ratio and found myself using these monitors on my desktop long after the review had posted.

 

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