Best monitor: 10 top displays reviewed and rated

3rd Jul 2013 | 15:50

Best monitor: 10 top displays reviewed and rated

We round up the best PC monitors and help you pick one that's right for you

Introduction

Affordable PC monitors are miles better today than just a few years ago. As painful as it is to admit, we've mostly got Apple to thank for at least part of that. Yes, really.

In June 2010, Apple rolled out the iPhone 4 and made a huge noise about the new handset's IPS screen. Was it the first smartphone with an IPS screen? Google it if you care, because that detail doesn't matter.

The two things that do matter are that, first, IPS is a premium LCD panel technology that offers improved image quality over more commonly used TN tech. Second, Apple has massive traction with the mouth-breathing masses and dominates mindshare when it comes to consumer technology.

Suddenly, an IPS screen was something the average punter wasn't just aware of, but understood to be a good thing. After all, if the iPhone 4 had IPS, you want all your screens to be IPS. This effect can't be underestimated.

Just a few years ago, we spoke to a key monitor manufacturer, which told us that it would like to put better panels in its screens, but that customers weren't willing to pay for them. But now they are, and it's partly thanks to Apple.

Of course, that doesn't mean PC monitors have reached a state of perfection. We'd like to see more PVA panels (another type of premium LCD tech) on offer, and more choice in terms of resolution, too. It's not always easy to pick the good from the bad. Specs can be misleading and gimmicks, unfortunately, still abound. But we'll come to all that momentarily. In the meantime, suffice to say you can get more for your money than ever before. Shop on, people.

Here we go again, with another round-up of our favourite screens, and some things haven't changed since our last outing. That includes the general value proposition of a good PC monitor. It's the best long-term investment you can make. That's because a good monitor today will still be a good one for you two years down the road. You're not going to find yourself left gasping for a few extra frames by the latest shader-soaked gaming spectacular as you might do with a graphics card that's already got a few seasons of gaming under its belt.

For starters, screen technology develops at a slightly more leisurely pace. More than that, it's not performance critical in the same way as a graphics card, CPU or solid-state drive are to a system. But critical it most certainly is in terms of how much enjoyment you will get out of your PC. It's quite simply and literally your window into the computing experience so why skimp on it?

A lot of the time, it doesn't matter whether you're rocking a clappedout Celeron CPU or some crazy six-core monstrosity. That web page will look just the same. Not so for a monitor. If you're looking at it, it's making a difference.

Panel tech

Viewsonic monitor

With that little pep talk done and dusted, let's consider the current state of play in the PC monitor market. The biggest trend right now is the aforementioned renaissance in panel technology.

IPS (or In-Plane Switching) is nothing new, of course, but for a while it looked like it would disappear for good from PC screens. Apple's big push with IPS in the iPhone and iPad changed all that. Now IPS is de rigueur for phones and tablets.

Affordable IPS PC monitors then followed around a year ago, and prices have been slowly edging down every since. We're now at the point where it's possible to snag a 22-inch IPS panel for under £100. It's insane.

Some manufacturers offer alternative VA (Vertical Alignment) panel technology for similar prices. You can find out more about the various pros and cons of IPS, VA and TN (Twisted Nematic) tech on page 16, but it's worth bearing in mind that merely being IPS or VA is not a guarantee of great image quality. For starters, all these cheap IPS screens are 6-bit per channel in terms of colour fidelity, so they're not as accurate as premium IPS screens of old.

Making resolutions

Samsung monitor

Panel type aside, what else should you be worrying about? When it comes to resolution, unfortunately, there's not always a lot of choice. Nearly all panels in the 22- to 24-inch space are 1080p. That means 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. That's hardly a pitiful number of pixels, but when you consider that the latest high-end smartphones can match it and some tablets now outstrip it with 2,560 x 1,600 grids, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that PC monitors are lagging behind a little.

With any luck, it'll be IPS all over again, with high-resolution smartphones and tablets encouraging similar technology adoption in PC monitors. That said, there is a clear downside to higher resolutions in gaming PCs: the more pixels you're pumping, the greater the load on your graphics card. Moreover, arguably, there's not a huge benefit in terms of image quality in games in going beyond 1080p with a 22-, 23- or 24-inch monitor.

If you do want to have more pixels though, there are options. Dell, for instance, still does the 24-inch Ultrasharp U2412M with an old-school 1,920 x 1,200 grid. The extra 120 vertical pixels give you that little bit of additional elbow room for web browsing. The U2412M is listed for about £300 on the Dell website, but can be had from Amazon, among other etailers, for just over £200.

The next step up is a 27-inch panel with a 2,560 x 1,440 grid. Prices start around the £350 mark from online retailers and currently models are all premium panel technology of some kind, you don't need to worry about the choice between IPS and TN.

Look east

Asus monitor

Then there's the old-school 30-inch option and a 2,560 x 1,600 grid. Prices typically start at £700. It's at this stage that the subject of Korean-sourced 27-inch IPS monitors pops up. As we go to press, there are suppliers on eBay who'll do you a 2,560 x 1,440 27-inch panel for as little as £220 including the cost of postage.

The drill here is obviously caveat emptor. You're getting a screen with a very cheap chassis and stand, and the panels are those rejected by the major manufacturers. But lots of people have had great success buying these kinds of panels, and they are very tempting indeed.

A compromise is to go for a 27-inch IPS or VA panel with a conventional 1080p pixel grid. It's a pretty nice overall solution for work and games, and one you can have with the peace of mind of a UK supplier and a brand name you've heard of. It's also worth noting that the latest TN panels are better than ever in terms of colours and contrast and even viewing angles. There's no longer any shame in TN.

Another trend that overlaps with cheap Korean panels is 120Hz refresh. Panels with high refresh rate support (standard LCD screens refresh at 60Hz) began popping up when Nvidia rolled out its 3D Vision technology. We've never been big fans of the 3D tech itself, but the higher refresh required for an active shutter 3D solution like 3D Vision comes with its own benefits.

In games it makes for much more responsive action. Even just juggling windows and scrolling web pages on the desktop is nicer. The only snag is that you currently can't have your 120Hz cake and eat your IPS panel - it's one or the other, with the possible exception, again, of those Korean 27-inch panels, some of which claim to have been modded to support high refresh.

This is something we've never tested and we'd recommend proceeding with caution. As for other technologies, like dynamic contrast and fancy colour modes, we've yet to see much benefi t. There's simply no substitute for a proper panel.

Reviews

1. AOC E2462VWH

Price: £131
Manufacturer: AOC
Web:www.aocdisplay.com
Size: 24-inch
Panel type: TN
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Pixel response: 5ms

AOC E2462VWH

Props to AOC for making an effort. It wasn't that long ago that pretty much every AOC panel out there looked like it was hewn from pressed plastic sweepings taken from the Airfix factory floor. They certainly looked cheap. The cheerful bit? Not so much.

But now there's this new 24-inch effort. Okay, on close inspection you're not going to confuse it with a premium panel. The plastics are pretty coarse and the snap-in panel that curls around the rear of the stand will make your teeth itch if slightly mismatched panel gaps and a broader sense of tactility are things that bother you.

But the look is certainly pleasantly contemporary. It's pretty snazzy for a monitor costing £131, that's for sure. The main downside of the styling-led design is that it restricts you to height and tilt adjustment. Then again, at this end of the market, tilt-only is usually your lot. If anything, AOC is a little ahead of the game by that metric.

Read the full AOC E2462VWH review

2. AOC i2757Fm

Price: £229
Manufacturer: AOC
Web:www.aocdisplay.com
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Pixel response: 5ms

AOC i2757Fm

Funny how things work out. Sometimes a simple feature that really ought to be nothing more than a gimmick turns out to work really well, while another that required some heavy lifting in terms of technical development winds up worthless.

Polarised 3D technology, as seen in the Philips Brilliance Gioco 278G4DHSD, is pretty much a textbook example of the latter. No doubt the engineers at Philips slaved for many months - maybe even years - to develop it, but they needn't have bothered their pretty little heads. It's a useless distraction.

Then there's the pseudo zero-bezel design of this AOC monitor. It's a styling flourish that's become increasingly common, but doesn't actually give you a monitor without a bezel. Although the surface of the screen extends very nearly right the edge of the enclosure, the pixel grids stops about a centimetre short.

Read the full AOC i2757Fm review

3. BenQ XL2411T

Price: £235
Manufacturer: BenQ
Web: www.benq.co.uk
Size: 24-inch
Panel type: TN
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Pixel response: 2ms

BenQ XL2411T

Dead and finished. That's 3D technology, right? We've certainly never been big fans of any form of technology that necessitates the wearing of silly glasses. Factor in the discomfort that many experience when viewing 3D content and the whole idea kind of blows, frankly. We can't see that changing any time soon.

Even if you could somehow ditch the glasses, viewing issues in terms of discomfort would remain. That's because 3D tech is effectively tricking your brain into thinking there's depth where there isn't, so your eyes are fighting to focus on objects at different depths when really it's a single image produced at a fixed distance.

With all that in mind, should we disregard the BenQ XL2411T out of hand? After all, it's a TN panel costing over £200, and that's not easy to justify if you don't buy into its 3D capabilities.

Read the full BenQ XL2411T review

4. Iiyama ProLite XB2776QS

Price: £458
Manufacturer: Iiyama
Web: www.iiyama.com
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 2,560 x 1,440
Pixel response: 5ms

Prolite XB2776QS

When you're putting together this kind of group test, you have to fight against the influence of expectations. Luckily for Iiyama's latest 27-incher we weren't expecting anything terribly special, so its awesome image quality adds an extra dimension.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just what are we dealing with, here? On paper, it's all very familiar. 27 inches. IPS technology. 16:9 ratio. 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. And an LED backlight. Nothing out of the ordinary. At least, not for a premium 27-inch panel.

Except this 27-inch high-res segment has been given a makeover with a new generation of panels. That's not to say that the old gen was bad - they were among the best looking monitors vaguely sensible money could buy - but this Iiyama is one of a new batch of 27-inch panels that directly addresses two of the worst shortcomings of previous models.

Read the full Iiyama ProLite XB2776QS review

5. NEC EA244WMi

Price: £282
Manufacturer: NEC
Web: www.necdisplay.com
Size: 24-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,200
Pixel response: 5ms

NEC EA244WMi

Why can't we have more 16:10 action? That's a familiar refrain over here at PC Format towers. Obviously we don't get out much, but there's a serious point to be made. 16:9 has taken over the PC monitor market not because it's better, but because it's cheaper.

The result is that 1,920 x 1,080 or Full HD has become the default resolution for anything up to 24 inches. That's fine for smaller displays where it represents a step up from, say, 1,680 by 1,050 on a 16:10 22-incher. But for larger 23 and 24-inch panels, 1,920 x 1,200 used to be the norm.

The extra 120 vertical pixels don't sound like very much, but they give you vital additional breathing space for things like web pages and Word documents. You spend less time scrolling about the place and there are no discernible drawbacks to worry about.

Read the full NEC EA244WMi review

6. Philips Brilliance 298X4QJAB

Price: £387
Manufacturer: Philips
Web: www.philips.co.uk
Size: 29-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 2,560 x 1,080
Pixel response: 14ms

Philips Brilliance 298X4QJAB

Stop that, it's silly. That's our first reaction to Philips' new 29-incher, the Brilliance 298X4QJAB, and we're not talking about the ridiculous product name. A thick alphanumeric naming soup is unfortunately par for the course for PC monitors.

No, what'll have you almost giggling on first acquaintance is the Philip's ridiculous 21:9 aspect ratio. That's normal for, say, a feature film, but it's outrageously wide for a PC display. In terms of pixel grid, we're talking 2,560 by 1,080. In other words, you get the horizontal pixels of a high-res 27-inch or 30-inch panel combined with the vertical resolution of a standard 1080p screen. Weird.

Anyway, this is the first 21:9 monitor we've reviewed, but most major manufacturers have announced similar screens, so there must be something in it, right? No question, this monitor is great for movies. There's something exceptionally satisfying about having a screen this wide filled corner-to-corner with feature film goodness.

Read the full Philips Brilliance 298X4QJAB review

7. Philips Brilliance 278G4DHSD

Price: £253
Manufacturer: Philips
Web: www.philips.co.uk
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Pixel response: 14ms

Philips Brilliance 278G4DHSD

What did you say? A 27-inch IPS panel with 3D support? What devilry is this? Sadly, all is not quite what it seems. At least it's not if the presence of 3D support had you thinking Philips had cracked the 120Hz refresh problem with IPS panels.

Instead, what we have here is not the high-refresh active shutter flavour of 3D screen tech, but the passive and polarised sort. Instead of switching the entire screen 120 times a second and sending alternate images to each eye, the Philips splits the image line by line. So each eye receives half the lines. That's achieved by fitting polarising filters to the screen and then having the user wear a corresponding pair of polarised glasses.

The problem is that you can tell that's how it works. In other words, in 3D mode it feels as though you're looking through some kind of fine grating. Think very thin Venetian blinds and you'll get the general idea.

Read the full Philips Brilliance 278G4DHSD review

8. Samsung 9 Series S27B970D

Price: £677
Manufacturer: Samsung
Web: www.samsung.com
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: PLS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 2,560 x 1,440
Pixel response: 5ms

Samsung 9 Series S27B970D

This is it, boys and girls. The premium 27-inch panel from perhaps the biggest noise in tech, Samsung. Unlike most monitor makers, which can't afford the billion-dollar factories required to manufacture LCD substrates, Samsung is big enough and ugly enough to punch out its own panels. That means this puppy is pure Samsung and technologically cutting edge.

For starters, that means PLS panel tech. For the uninitiated, this boils down to Samsung's take on the increasingly popular IPS option. In the past, we've characterised it as offering the usual upsides of IPS, including excellent viewing angles and exceptional colour accuracy along with better blacks and contrast and little to no evidence of the dreaded 'IPS glow'.

Read the full Samsung 9 Series S27B970D review

9. Viewsonic VP2770-LED

Price: £429
Manufacturer: Viewsonic
Web: www.viewsonic.com
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 2,560 x 1,440
Pixel response: 12ms

Viewsonic VP2770-LED

The Iiyama ProLite XB2776QS popped our pupils by introducing us to the brilliance of the latest 27-inch high resolution panel tech, so pity the Viewsonic VP2770-LED, which finds itself saddled with the burden of expectation. Can it possibly be as good as the Iiyama?

Hold that thought for a moment - let's tick off some of the specifications first. We're talking 27 inches of premium IPS panel with a native resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. For clarity, that's around double the number of pixels you get with a standard full-HD 1080p panel, including the likes of Viewsonic's own VX2770Smh-LED, itself a 27-inch screen.

As with every other screen here, there's an LED backlight powering the whole shebang. What's more, it doesn't exactly distinguish itself with fancy features. Dayglo LEDs, 3D tech, motion sensors - you don't get any of that frippery.

Read the full Viewsonic VP2770-LED review

10. Viewsonic VX2770Smh-LED

Price: £229
Manufacturer: Viewsonic
Web: www.viewsonic.com
Size: 27-inch
Panel type: IPS
Backlight: LED
Native resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Pixel response: 7ms

Viewsonic VX2770Smh-LED

The AOC i2757Fm and this Viewsonic VX2770Smh-LED are two peas in a pod. Both are budget-orientated 27-inch models with 1,920 by 1,080 full-HD resolutions and sporting IPS panels.

Indeed, they both have the same slim-going-on-non-existent bezel design. If you were feeling particularly cynical, you might guess that they were based on some kind of shared monitor kit knocked up by some faceless mass-manufacturer, to which various monitor brands add a few distinguishing flourishes.

Whether or not there's an element of truth in that, the suspicious whiff of familiarity fades as you get to know this pair of screens. On the downside, the shiny Viewsonic looks a bit dowdy next to the spangly brushed-metal sleekness of the AOC. Somehow the pseudo-nobezel design doesn't work quite as well whhen paired with black plastic.

Read the full Viewsonic VX2770Smh-LED review

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