Your buying guide for the best monitors in 2017
If you haven’t treated yourself to a new monitor in a while, then now is the perfect time to do so. Great image quality is available at affordable prices, while monitors are slimmer and lighter than ever before.
They offer a variety of features to suit every need whether you’re working on spreadsheets, gaming or looking for an all-round multimedia experience. However, if you’re not just a casual gamer but looking for a screen with the fastest response time, check out our best gaming monitors roundup.
Note: Some of the monitors in this list were reviewed over two years ago. Don’t let this put you off: they’re still available to buy today, and not a great deal has happened in the last 24 months in terms of PC screen technology so they’re not out-of-date. Some are cheaper than when they launched, so are even better value now.
Screen size and design
The first decision is what size you want. Even 23-24in screens are cheap, or can be, these days, so there’s no point in going smaller unless you have to because of space limitations. We’ve reviewed 23in and larger screens here.
With the size nailed down, you’ll then need to think about what you really want from your monitor. It may be that all you care about is looks. Thankfully, most modern displays are a great deal better looking than older models, with a greater design emphasis on lifestyle and fitting in with your home décor.
In many cases, that thick surrounding bezel has been removed in favour of a tidy, nearly frameless design and modern backlight technology allows for much slimmer, neater displays. This is also handy if you want a multi-monitor setup, where the gaps between the displays will be as thin as possible.
Some models, such as those reviewed here from Asus and Philips, are available in different colours, which can make a dramatic difference to the look of your worktop.
The panel should be supportable at a comfortable height, which means a fully adjustable stand that can centre it precisely at your own eye level; bending the neck downward at all to view is a recipe for skeletal strain and stress after long-term use.
Price is usually the next consideration. While you can go lower that £99 we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, and that’s the price of the cheapest monitor here – BenQ’s GL2450. You can spend a whole lot more and – usually – you get what you pay for. If you want a bigger screen with a higher resolution, great colour accuracy and extras such as a fully adjustable stand and a USB hub, plus lots of inputs, expect to pay top dollar.
There are bargains to be had, so it’s well worth reading our full reviews of the monitors in which you’re interested before making the final decision.
4K and Ultra HD monitors
4K TVs have come down in price a lot, but they’re still commanding a decent premium if you want a 4K monitor for your PC. 4K is the same as Ultra HD, as explained here. They pack in 3840×2160 pixels, which is four times more than a Full HD 1920×1080 screen.
Having this many pixels means you see more detail in photos (without zooming in) and you can watch 4K video on Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. If your PC is up to it, you can even run your games at this resolution, which makes for very sharp and realistic graphics.
In Windows, you’ll need to set the interface resolution to 150- or 200 percent to view these UHD displays with sensible size fonts and folders. The result is a very sharp desktop with jag-free fonts. But be warned that some Windows programs will not respect these settings and you may still need to arm yourself with a magnifying glass to read the screen.
Alternatively, you can keep the screen’s native 2160p setting and 100 percent scaling from the PC, which works better with the largest 32- and 40in screens. Be prepared to squint a little to see, but enjoy the acres of desktop real estate now available.
Remember, you need a good graphics processor to push all those pixels in a timely fashion on to the screen. To find out which graphics cards are capable enough see our guide to the best graphics cards.
Even if you’re going for a budget screen, the performance of the display itself will be important. Perhaps the biggest deciding factor here will be your choice of panel technology – and it boils down to twisted-nematic (TN) panels versus everything else.
A TN panel costs less to make and can produce some decent performance results in terms of contrast ratio and the super-fast response times craved by serious gamers. They are, however, let down by restricted viewing angles, which means the brightness and colour of the picture can appear to shift if not viewed straight on. Any movement of your head is likely to make this apparent.
All the non-TN panels in this round-up use in-plane switching (IPS) or plane-line switching (PLS) panels, which typically offer a vastly superior viewing experience and are better suited for general-purpose use. An IPS/PLS screen is often favoured by photo- or video-editors, as they offer better colour accuracy.
Our eyes can judge image quality readily enough, but it helps to put figures on available performance. Brightness rating is a manufacturers’ arms-race figure that can be safely ignored, so long as the result is above around 200 candela per square metre (cd/m2).
Much more important is contrast ratio, the difference between the very brightest and darkest images a screen can show. Around 500:1 is the starting point for believable imaging, though you should beware brands that promise the earth with millions:1 ratios, as they will be fudging their figures.
Colour gamut, the spectral spread of reproduced colour within our perceptual limits, has been getting worse in modern displays, tumbling first with the introduction of LCD to replace glass-tube CRT sets. Then colour gamut shrunk again when traditional CCFL backlights were tossed out in favour of white LED technology.
Full coverage of the PC-standard called sRGB is a good first target for decent colour range; Adobe RGB is a more challenging spec that nevertheless gets closer to the vast range of colour the human eye can appreciate.
Colour accuracy meanwhile is about reproducing the exact hue as intended, rather than a rough approximation. Deviation from true colour fidelity is represented by a Delta E figure, lower numbers better. Close to or below 1.0 is a good achievement.
Response time is often quoted in the manufacturer’s specifications, another area for brand one-upmanship, but even for gamers there is little need to seek vanishingly low figures such as 1- or 2 millisecond (ms). The intrinsic lag of the monitor’s electronics is typically well in excess of 10ms, so the added time for liquid crystals to complete their transition as they turn on/off has become inconsequential. Response time figures are quoted solely for gamers’ benefit, best filed under marketing misdirection.
The monitors reviewed here all offer at least two inputs, and this will determine what sort of equipment you can hook up to your monitor. Most of them support the ageing VGA connector, which should be avoided if at all possible, and supplement it with a digital input, such as DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.
Multiple inputs allow you to connect more than one device at a time and switch between them using the monitor’s control buttons – you may want to connect your laptop and a gaming console or a Blu-ray player without having to unplug cables each time.
The most useful connector on monitors of this type is either DisplayPort or HDMI, as they combine digital picture information with digital audio – allowing you to connect up both sound and vision with a single cable. DisplayPort is becoming more common on both Macs and Windows PCs, although you’re less likely to find such a connector on home AV equipment.
Today, to connect a monitor to a PC and appreciate 8.3Mp of colour (3840×2160 = 8,294,400) that is being refreshed 60 times per second (60Hz), the only viable option at the moment is a link via DisplayPort 1.2.
You could try HDMI if you have a source device specified to v2.0, but this is in effect missing in action on many PCs unless they are very recent. You can use HDMI 1.4, the previous specification, but will be limited to 30Hz refresh rate on UHD resolution displays, which makes motion look very strobed on the PC desktop.
The DVI connector provides a high-quality digital video input, but doesn’t carry sound. Some monitors offer ‘dual-link DVI’, based on two DVI streams in one DVI connector. DVI remains popular with gamers who believe that this digital interface cable has less latency and so will better their reaction times.
However, we’re now seeing DVI with added HDCP, a digital restrictions management system enforced by Hollywood to deter copying though the monitor cable, and this is likely to introduce additional processing time and hence introduce the lag for which HDMI got bad press. In addition, dual-link DVI is limited to 2560×1600 pixels at 60Hz, so is of little practical use on an UHD display.
With the right cables and adaptors, all three digital connectors can be used interchangeably in most cases, at least for video. If you have an Android phone or tablet, look for an HDMI port with MHL support, which allows you to hook it up to your big screen while simultaneously charging the device.
For casual listening and system alerts, it can be useful to have built-in speakers. Don’t expect good sound quality, though. More useful is a headphone socket that will allow you to listen to sound coming in via the HDMI or DisplayPort inputs.
If it weren’t for the eye-watering price, we’d recommend that every gamer got one of these incredible screens. Punchy colours and G-Sync smoothness is a very tempting combination, especially when delivered in such a gorgeously engineered package.
Read our AOC AGON AG271QG review.
Easy on the eye but not the wallet, the EW2770QZ won’t be attracting many home users. Where it excels is in a working environment, like an open plan office, where depending on the time of day and weather, viewing the screen can be an ophthalmic nightmare.
In that precise scenario, the EW2770QZ has no equal.
Read our BenQ EW2770QZ review.
The BenQ is an outstanding monitor which ticks almost every box as a modern high-performance UHD display. By combining the basics of uncluttered and well-constructed design and an OSD interface that doesn’t make you want to punch the screen, the display becomes far easier to live with, all sealed by the best overall image quality at the price. Our only reservation is the absence of HDMI 2.0 ports for the forthcoming raft of PCs and devices with the updated standard.
Read our BenQ BL3201PT review.
The BenQ RL2460HT is great gaming monitor which also doubles as a fantastic monitor for editing photos or videos, since it has good gamut and accurate colour reproduction. The HDMI output makes it a great choice for those who take gaming seriously and want to record their exploits.
Read our BenQ RL2460HT review.
The AOC G2460VQ6 is a great budget gaming monitor, which is mainly aimed at those with AMD cards. We were also impressed by the image quality at this price, and its styling setd it apart from other budget monitors.
Read our AOC G2460VQ6 review.
The VX2457-mhd can handle games with ease, especially if you have an AMD-enabled FreeSync graphics card. We were pleasantly surprised by its good colour accuracy, but viewing angles aren’t great. However, the low price goes some way to making up for this.
Read our ViewSonic VX2457-mhd review.
If you’re after a monitor with good colours and contrast, but aren’t bothered about fast response times for gaming, the GW2406Z is a great budget choice.
Read our BenQ GW2406Z review.
The AOC i2369Vm is an excellent entry-level 23in monitor. It’s well built, offers a sleek frameless design and delivers superb picture quality straight out of the box which can’t be matched by any other display in this group test. It also offers the widest range of inputs and comes with a decent warranty
Read our AOC i2369Vm review.
The Philips 246E7QDSW is aimed at anyone wanting an image with accurate colours, and it does a decent job. It’s also well designed and is aesthetically pleasing to look at. And while it isn’t designed with gamers in mind, other monitors offer similar colour accuracy with faster response times – if not the wide viewing angles of the 246E7QDSW.
Read our Philips 246E7QDSW review.