While your monitor has a huge impact on your computing experience, the multitude of performance indicators can be confusing. Last week I reviewed some of the primary factors that you should consider when shopping for a new display, including screen size, components effecting clarity and pairing with the right graphics card.

Yet there are even more factors that cause one monitor to cost $150 while another is $900. While I can’t stress strongly enough the benefits of seeing first-hand how a monitor performs and produces images before you buy it, if you have to purchase sight-unseen it’s important to know what the technical specifications mean and how they’re likely to impact your visual experience.

by rmurphy
by rmurphy

There are two main display types you’ll likely choose between: LED (light emitting diode) and LCD (liquid crystal display). LCD crystals require light be passed through them to display images so the entire backside of the panel is lit. LED is actually an LCD panel, but with a different kind of light source. LED diodes transmit light more efficiently so they’re typically edge-lit (LED lights run around the edge of the panel).

LEDs offer better color contrast (blacker blacks and whiter whites) than LCDs. They are easier on the eyes than a fully back-lit LCD, require less power, run cooler and are usually lighter and thinner. Expect to pay $40-$50 more for LED than a comparably sized LCD.

There are three main types of monitors, each with strengths and weaknesses.

Twisted Nematic (TN) panels are the most common and least expensive. They have the highest refresh rates, an important consideration for online gaming. However, narrow viewing angles cause colors to appear washed-out if you’re looking at them from any other angle than straight-on and details can be washed out, particularly when outside the relatively small optimum viewing area. Prices start at about $150 for a basic 24” TN monitor.

Multi-domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) and Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA) are the more mid-grade options when it comes to price, starting at around $275 for a 23” screen. They have significantly better color reproduction than TN monitors, meaning they offer higher maximum brightness and lower black levels – an important consideration for graphic design and photo or video editing. Viewing angles are significantly better than TN technology. Unfortunately, their response time is slower and they tend to be thicker dimensionally than a TN display.

In-Plane-Switching (IPS) displays are considered to be the high-end of the monitor spectrum and carry the highest price points, although small screens can be quite reasonable. Tablet PCs typically incorporate IPS display technology. Color reproduction and supported viewing angles are excellent – colors remain accurate and don’t change or shift even when viewing from an odd angle, so they’re ideal for graphic designers. Besides higher price, the primary drawback is that they often suffer from slow response time and can lag when images are displayed – a deal breaker for an online gamer.

To give you an idea of price variance, the ASUS VS239H-P 23” IPS monitor is about $170 while Dell’s UltraSharp U2713HM 27” monitor is a higher-end LED IPS display that will set you back about $700.

Samsung recently developed a new panel technology, Plane-to-line Switching (PLS), that marries the wider viewing angle supported by IPS monitors with the higher brightness and color contrast offered by MVA and PVA displays. They still display slower than TN panels, but their power consumption is low and production cost is cheaper than IPS. Samsung’s 27” SyncMaster S27A850D starts at around $800.

Stay tuned next week for the newest monitor bells and whistles: 3-D and touchscreen.