Choosing a Monitor

How do you pick a computer monitor? The best ultrawide monitor for you will depend on your needs and budget, and these are the things you should think about:

Screen Size

Larger resolutions are best viewed on larger screens, but the viewing distance also plays a part in whether or not you’ll be able to appreciate the difference in quality. This chart shows the viewing distance (in feet) and the display size (inches), and which resolutions are ideal for both.

There’s little reward in viewing on a 26-inch superwide monitor, nor is there any benefit to viewing 4K resolution on a 20-inch screen. To find the right screen size, you’ve got to find the sweet spot between resolution and display size, and viewing distance. 

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TLDR: For using a monitor in a desk-environment, 1080p monitors need to be 24-27 inches for optimal viewing. For ultrawide resolutions, you need to be in the range of 32-36 inches for optimal viewing.

Screen Resolution / Pixel Density

Higher resolution  means more pixel density on your screen. You can fit more things in the same amount of space, and images tend to look crisper.  The pixel density of your typical 21:9 monitor is considerably higher than 1080p.

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16:9

 Pixel Density 21:9    Pixel  Density
1920×1080 2.07mpix 2560×1080 2.76mpix
2560×1440 3.69mpix 3440×1440 4.95mpix
3840×2160 8.29mpix 5120×2160 11.06mpix

 

It’s worth noting that the visual benefits of pixel density start to see significant diminishing returns past 1080p (2.07 density.) While jumping to 1440p and 2k are still visibly perceptible to the untrained eye, extremely high pixel densities like 8.29mpix  (4K) are far more difficult to appreciate. They also come with precise requirements of how far you can be from the screen.

screen resolution ultrawide monitor

The bottom line is this — if you’re on a large 32-inch widescreen, a 1080p resolution will have thinner pixel density than it would on a 24-inch display. 1440p and 2k resolution are the most pragmatic way to enter the world of ultra-HD, and they’re the best way to experience ultra wide monitors with the current generation of technology. 

Refresh Rate

The refresh rate of your display is how often the image is updated each second. 60Hz is standard, meaning just about any monitor will refresh its image 60-times per second. That also means your screen has an effective cap on how much FPS it can show you. Even if your GPU is putting out more than 60 frames per second, your monitor isn’t going to let you see them without a the refresh rate to match.

refresh rate monitor

Like with resolution, bigger tends to be better, but after ~100 Hz you start to hit a cap in terms of the performance you’re getting for your dollar. While there are 240+ Hz monitors on the market, anything after 144 provides significant diminishing returns.

While going from 60 Hz to 144 Hz might improve your reaction time by as much as 10 milliseconds, the leap from 144 Hz to 244 Hz is closer to 3 milliseconds.If you’re running 60Hz and your GPU output goes under 60, the display has to create images to fill those gaps. These fakes are the source of a number of significant visual errors like ghosting. That means you’ll need a GPU to that can keep up with what your monitor can display.

Monitor Overclocking

Some people “overclock” their IPS panels to run at a higher refresh rate. Sometimes you can squeeze marginal increases out of a panel that were not necessarily intended to be overclocked. But because you can’t just run up the voltage like you can with real overclocking, it’s generally only possible to squeeze out ~10-15Hz.

There are some exceptions — some panels have native “overclocking” abilities that can temporarily raise the refresh rate of the display when necessary, like during gaming.

LED Backlit

LED Backlighting has become extremely standard over the past three years. Most monitors now feature some form of LED backlighting, which greatly helps boost the brightness of the monitor while keeping energy costs down. You probably won’t have to look to check if your monitor is backlit, but you may if you’re purchasing a model older than 2015.

Brightness

Since almost everything these days is LED backlit, brightness is far less of a concern than it once was. However, for older generations, it can still be worth considering because some monitors are brighter than others. Brightness is measured in cd/m2, and 300 cd/m2 is generally considered to be a reasonably bright monitor. You’ll find some less-bright 200 cd/m2 panels on the market, which are adequately bright for younger generations, but might be less ideal for adults over 50.

Colors

RGB color space is the default color space of nearly every printer, application, and panel on the market. It’s composed of a specific set of color data that instructs a display on how to look. Some designers might be interested in monitors rated for Adobe RGB space, which have a wider range of possible colors and a larger difference between individual colors than sRGB. 

colors ultrawide monitor
sRGB Green Sample
sRGB ultrawide
Adobe RGB Green Sample

Clearly Adobe RGB is more striking than sRGB, but unless you’re doing design work, these extra features won’t matter to you. The Internet (and nearly everything on it) has been optimized for sRGB. That means unless you’re doing design work and have a very specific reason for viewing Adobe RGB, you won’t necessarily get a better viewing experience — but you’ll probably be paying a lot for those extra colors. 

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sRGB vs. Adobe RGB

Contrast Ratio

The contrast ratio is the ratio of the whitest white and the darkest dark that the display can create. It’s difficult to get meaningful numbers out of a manufacturer about contrast ratio. Marketers will try and imply that bigger is better, but that’s usually not the case. Many provide comically inflated numbers like 50,000,000:1 while some have humble 5,000:1 ratios. fdsfafas.jpgIn the darkest theater, you might be able to distinguish between 15,000:1 and 20,000:1, just barely. The truth is, unless you need extremely accurate colors for some type of  design work, you’ll never have to worry about contrast ratio. As long as you’ve got at least 3,000:1 on the panel, you’re in good shape. And there’s no need to be excited about greatly exaggerated contrast ratios. When they’re not the result of brand-trickery, they’re typically imperceptible, or unimportant outside design work.

Response Time

The response time of a display measures how quickly one pixel can change from gray to gray. These numbers are measured in milliseconds, and typically occur at 4 ms for IPS panels, and 1 ms for TN panels. In general, the faster the response time, the better the display.hgfhfg.jpgWhile videos can be improved with faster response times, in general, response time is something for gamers to think about. Games, especially fast-moving games with lots of motion, look far better with rapid response times.  There’s also some dispute whether or not the improvement in visual fidelity translates into improved performance, but there’s little data available.

 

Inputs

Does your computer have the inputs required to hook up with the ultrawide monitor? DVI, VGA, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort – there are numerous types of inputs, and it’s important to take a look and be sure you’ve got the right ones. While adapters exist that can change DVA to VGA and vice versa, these adapters also tend to visually degrade the signal, so it’s better to avoid having to use one.

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If you’re looking for future-proof ports, you’ll want to be sure to have at least one DisplayPort. Dual-link DVI is also an excellent standard. HDMI 1.4 slots are are heavily restrictive, but the more advanced HDMI 2.0 slots provide an adequate connection for even a top-shelf display.

VESA Mount

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A typical VESA Mount.

Do you want to mount your monitor? You’ll have a much easier time if it’s VESA mountable. Many curved monitors are VESA mountable, but enough aren’t that it’s worth checking beforehand if you think you’ll ever find yourself mounting your monitor on the wall.

Weight

Ultrawides can get heavy. With the stand on, you’ll see some approach 30lbs, while others are as light as 4lbs.  While this probably isn’t an issue for most people, if you’re working with a flimsy desk or you find yourself moving your computer from place to place on a regular basis, you’ll want to keep an eye on this.

Tilt

Just how accommodating is the screen to adjustment? While some monitors offer as little as 5 degrees of tilt, others can tilt a full 20 degrees or greater. This can make all the difference in the world because ultrawides are often designed to have a visual “sweet spot” for viewing, and being able to adjust your screen to accommodate comfortably finding that spot can matter in a lot of different setups. While you won’t necessarily have to end up adjusting your screen, it’s a good idea to think about whether or not your display needs to be able to tilt or height-adjust for optimal viewing. For the health of your eyes, it’s better to be looking at your display at a slight-down angle.

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The debate over curved vs. flat displays has many facets, but the most important point is this: curvature gives a more engrossing  experience – provided you’re sitting in the right spot to see it. There are also a number of proven benefits of using curved monitors. However, for anyone viewing outside of the “sweet spot”, a curved screen often provides a sub-par viewing experience because colors appear to be distorted. The optimal curvature depends on viewing distance and screen size, but as a rule of thumb, 1800R curvature is good for displays that are immediately infront of you, and 3000R displays are better for at least 3-feet of viewing distance. 

Dynamic Sync

Features like G-Sync and FreeSync work by syncing information coming from your GPU and the refresh rate of your panel.  That means even if your GPU starts stuttering and only puts out 45 frames per second, your monitor will accommodate that output by adjusting to a refresh rate of 45 Hz. The end result is a drastic elimination of screen-tearing, ghosting, blurring, and a generally better visual experience. 

Cost

On occasion, the monitor market is hit with a batch of A- quality panels that are rejected by major manufacturers like LG and Apple. But many brands often accept these “leftover”  panels, which are far more likely to contain dead pixels and similar defects.
Brands that package $40 no-dead-pixel guarantees are often the ones selling these panels. This is partially why it’s important to pay attention to reviews,
or prefer the more expensive reliable brands.

Ultrawide monitors and ultrawide gaming monitors often come with warranties that last 3 years, but modern displays can easily survive to be 8 or 10 years old. Older displays used to have problems with backlighting burning out, but LEDs have essentially solved that problem. That means in many cases, your display might end up being a long-term investment.  While many quality ultrawides are available in the $500 range, it’s often worth spending another $100 or $200 to help future-proof your monitor with top-shelf features, like G-Sync.

More Questions?

Check out:

  1. Glossy vs Matte
  2. Resources for Ultrawides
  3. Ultrawide Gaming Advantages: Fact or Myth?
  4. The Benefits of Curved Ultrawide: Facts and Research