Upgrading Your Computer Monitor

Using the right computer monitor on your computer is all about achieving the best viewing experience. Whether you just do lots of word processing, work with spreadsheets all day, edit photographs, or cut and edit movies, sit in Facebook, or Instant Message for hours on end, you should be working with the best viewing experience you can achieve for the money spent. What point is a $1,500 computer box if the primary interface, the monitor, is sub-standard with bleeding pixels and fuzzy text?

Selecting and buying a computer monitor is not an easy chore. It is made harder by the fact that, in most cases, the salesperson in whom you are going to trust for help will have little or no understanding of the issues involved so they cannot really help. However they will pretend to help, and will try really hard to sell you something, somehow—that’s their job.

To get going on this I will make the following statement and then work from that:

If you are in the market for a new LCD computer monitor and you do not have a specific requirement for a monitor that works better as a TV screen than a computer monitor, then you need to read this.

Although they look the same there is a huge difference between LCD flat-panel displays designed for use as computer monitors compared to those designed for use as TV screens. The whole issue is made even worse by the fact that LCD flat-panel manufacturers are more than happy to sell you a TV screen to use as a computer monitor. Panel manufacturers make TV screen specification LCD flat-panel displays for about 70 percent of the cost of making computer monitor specification panels. This means they can put more profit margin on them and hence, make more money from them.

This whole area is a messy muddy quagmire; even before you sift in non-standard laptop computer monitors and some more non-standard desktop monitors that some manufacturers decided to make "just for laughs". Because it gets so complex and I am trying to make it simple I am just going to focus on the common standard desktop computer monitors. Also, as Apple Macintosh screens have a set of rules of their own, I am going to further shorten what I have to say by totally ignoring the issue of Macintosh computers. But even without me covering notebooks, other non-standard panels, and Macintosh computer monitors, hopefully you will get the key points from what follows and then be more aware when buying you next computer monitor.

Table of Common Resolutions for Desktop Computer Monitors





The following table, which took over a day to research, compile, and verify, shows the common standard resolutions for desktop computer monitors. It starts with the 1987 IBM specified VGA-T (VGA-Text) ‘standard’. I figured that there was little point including monitors prior to this point as I am pretty sure they all went out on the last road-side "chuck out your dead" collection.






 What does this chart tell you?


1st column=x, y Resolution: This is the length and height (x axis and y axis) resolution of the monitor in pixels.


Columns 2, 3, and 4: These columns indicate the aspect ratio of the monitor. The standard aspect ratios for computer monitors are 4:3 and 16:10. The older 4:3 aspect ratio format is sometimes referred to as a 'square' panel, however it is not actually square.

I seriously doubt that many 4:3 'sqaure' panels got sold this Xmas. All the shops I walked around only seemed to have the 16:10 panels on display (although many of them were not 16:10 but were 16:9 TV screens pretending to be 16:10 computer monitors—and hopefully this observation will make a lot more sense by the time you finish reading this blog).

Having said that computer monitors are 4:3 or 16:10 there is one very common exception which is the 1280x1024 panel. The aspect ratio of this panel is 5:4.


Also many of the made-to-fit notebook computer panels do not meet the 4:3 or 16:10 ‘standard’ for a computer monitor.


5thcolumn=Colour depth: This indicates the number of colours that can be simultaneously displayed by the monitor. A 4-bit depth means 8 colours, 8-bit is 256 colours, 16-bit is 65,636, and 24-bits of colour depth give you 16 million colours (16,777,216 to be precise).


6th column=Intro Year: Indicating the year that the monitor was introduced to the market.


7th column=Known As: This column shows the resolution naming given to the monitor. This was done, believe it or not, to make it easier for the buying public to work out which monitor was which and what they should look for. Most advertising for computers these days no longer even provides this because nobody knows what it means anymore.


8th column=riSS: This is an invention of mine—it indicates the “relative index of Stuff on the Screen”. The idea here is that this number gives you some idea of how much ‘stuff’ (windows and text and pictures, etc.,) can be crammed onto the screen so you can see it all and work with it. So, for example, for a monitor with an riSS of 0.5 you may only be able to get one useful window of an Excel spreadsheet on the monitor. But on a monitor with an riSS of 1.8 you can have two Excel spreadsheet open at the same time on the monitor and work with both of them, or two browser windows, or a browser, media player video, and messenger IM all at the same time.


Last 3 columns: The last three columns show my recommendation for anyone about to buy a new desktop monitor. If you are looking at a 19 or 20” monitor then go for either 1440x900 or 1680x1050 depending on budget. For a 20 or 22” monitor then the only option is really 1680x1050. If you have a little extra cash and are looking at 24 inches then 1680x1050 or, my current favourite (but I don't have one yet), the 1920x1200.


What is Wrong with Using a TV Screen for a Computer Monitor?

Nothing really; if that is what you want to do and you are aware that this is what you are doing, and that your video adaptor actually has a native resolution mode that supports 1366x768 or 1920x1080 (which are not, as you should be aware by now, computer panel resolutions).

The three standard digital TV screen resolutions are shown in the chart. In the first column they are shaded grey with brown text showing the resolutions. The resolutions are 1366x768, which is commonly known as a 720 line High-Definition TV screen, then there is 1920x1080, which is the 1080 line Full High-Definition TV screen. The final one is the 3840x2160 Quad High-Definition TV screen; but I have not actually seen one of these in the wild (in a normal shop for sale).


If you check the resolution on various computer ‘monitors’ that are for sale you will find that many of them are 1366x768 or 1920x1080 TV screens. Another thing that gives them away is that they will almost always have an optional HDMI input (or 2 or 3). These screens are masquerading as computer monitors because they are cheaper (so you might buy one), and the wholesaler and retailer margins can be bigger.


If your main use of the computer is going to be to watch full-screen movies (i.e., not movies in a down-sized media player window—which is a completely different problem) then you might be better off buying a TV screen for use as your computer monitor. But other than this particular use I would strongly suggest that you bypass this option and try to find an actual computer monitor to use as your computer monitor.  


The reality is that, with very few exceptions (sadly there are always exceptions), computer generated video output gives the optimal viewing experience on a computer monitor. For crisper text, sharper graphic images, more screen area to use, faster effective refresh, truer colours, exact pixel mapping (i.e., no pixel bleed), and for other computer effects (Clear Type, Smart Colour, etc.,) to perform as designed you should seriously consider using a computer monitor as your computer monitor.

Quick Note on Video Adaptors

Realising I am now well and truly over the 1,000 word barrier I just need to get a couple of quick lines in to talk about video adaptors. Your computer uses a video adaptor to send screen frames to your monitor. When purchasing a new monitor you need to ensure that your video card is capable of ‘driving’ it.

There is little point getting a 24” 1920x1200 wide-screen computer monitor if your video adaptor can only support up to 1680x1050. Driving a 1920x1200 native resolution panel at 1680x1050 will result in very disturbing pixel bleed and a high degree of text ghosting. So check the display options on your video adaptor (using Control Panel, Display Settings, on a Windows PC) to ensure your adaptor can support your new monitor. If it does not, and you really want a 24” 1920x1200 monitor then you will need to upgrade your video adaptor. This is generally not a significant cost.