Back in the 1980s, computer users had no choice over how they viewed the information generated by their devices. Monitors tended to be small and monochrome, and green text was ubiquitous because of the phosphor contained within cathode ray tubes. These green characters and symbols were displayed on black screens, because in those days hardware manufacturers weren’t trying to emulate the experience of reading on paper in the style of today’s crisp white backgrounds. There was little appreciation of how green-on-black could cause eyestrain and headaches, and the limitations of CRT projection meant screen sizes were frustratingly small.
Today we live in a world of vast choice when it comes to displaying computer activities, so how can people choose the optimal monitor for their particular requirements?
Critics have praised the way Apple’s Retina Display has effectively eliminated visible pixels, and there’s no question that these screens are gorgeous to look at. They underpin everything from the Apple Watch to the Macbook Pro, with Apple’s largest screen currently a 27” unit available with the iMac. However, a Retina Display can only be enjoyed as part of a sealed hardware unit like an iPad or laptop. Apple may be strong players in the tablet and smartphone market, but the 90 per cent of computer purchasers who choose a PC will require a rival display device.
To begin with, look beyond multifunctional TVs or projection units. A monitor is a standalone device that can only accept input from a computer or similar appliance, and it will typically have a higher maximum resolution than the 1920×1080 ratio of modern television screens. While a TV has to accept multiple inputs, a monitor generally only accepts one. That makes it cheaper and easier to set up, with speakers usually sold separately too.
A good monitor should be large enough to display content from two or three feet away, generally considered to be the optimal viewing distance. It should be capable of displaying at least the same 1920×1080 resolution as the aforementioned TVs – enough to have two Microsoft Word documents open side-by-side at normal magnification. Since modern versions of Windows allow for split-screen working, any monitor should be able to comfortably display this content. Although Windows 8 is designed for touch-screen use, this is more pertinent to tablets or laptops than a conventional tower computer; few people want a standalone monitor with an interactive screen, particularly if they have to reach over a desk to operate it.
Optimal screen size is a subjective issue, although a 24-inch monitor should be fine for most professional applications without filling a desk or dominating an office. Avid gamers may wish to consider a larger screen for more immersive gameplay, and 32-inch devices feature the same 3840×2160 Ultra HD display as larger screens. Gamers may appreciate the merits of a curved monitor, while a 120Hz refresh rate is recommended because its smoother display will generate a more immersive visual experience.
Honourably excepting hardcore gamers and professional photographers, the majority of people will be satisfied with a conventional flat screen if it has the industry-standard 16:9 width-to-height ratio. Value for money is always important, but don’t be afraid of spending a little extra for an anti-glare coating if your computer is housed within an artificially-lit environment. Even though an increasing number of monitors can be wall-mounted, most people rely on plastic stands that offer a degree of movement. Height adjustment can be beneficial on lower desks (or for taller users), while horizontal rotation can enable people other than the keyboard operator to see the screen.
Finally, do your research before investing in a monitor. Your eyes will spend a great deal of time staring at it, so read reviews to ensure problems like ghosting or dead pixels aren’t being widely reported among users.
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