Q. What Should I Look For In The Quoted Specification?
A. The first thing to realise when buying a new screen is that you can’t always rely on quoted specifications. These are often exaggerated for marketing purposes, and are commonly based on different measurement techniques and varying benchmarks between each manufacturer. As a guide and general rule of thumb:
- Resolution is an important consideration for various reasons. You need to consider the size of the screen, whether you will need to use operating system scaling or not (e.g. for Ultra HD or 4K resolutions) and whether your graphics card can support the resolution for your uses effectively (e.g. high demand on the system for gaming at 4K resolution). Read about resolution in more detail in our specs section.
- The lower the response time the better. Be aware of ISO response time figures and grey to grey (G2G) transition figures as you will need to understand the difference. Screens with a G2G quoted response time use ‘Response Time Compensation’ (RTC) technologies, sometimes referred to as overdrive. These technologies are used to boost pixel response times and in practice can make quite a lot of difference. This is particularly important with non-TN Film panels (i.e. IPS, PVA, MVA etc)
- The higher the contrast ratio, the better. This will also help indicate the black depth of the screen and how well the screen can handle differences between light and dark content. Be wary of dynamic contrast ratio figures being quoted nowadays and you will need to understand what the difference is between those and the ‘static contrast ratio’. Nowadays you will see static contrast ratio figures ranging up to ~5000:1 in some cases. DCR can range up in the millions:1 but are massively exaggerated. Make sure you understand which contrast ratio figure is being quoted in a spec and ideally read a review where it is really tested.
- The wider the viewing angles the better. Be wary of how they calculate their figures. Sometimes they will try sneaking things like listed them when CR > 5 instead of when CR > 10 to inflate their numbers. Again real life performance might not match quoted specs. You will normally see TN Film panels listed with a 170/160 viewing angle (a classic indication that the screen is using TN Film technology by the way). IPS-type and VA-type panels will normally feature a 178/178 viewing angle spec, but in reality the performance does vary.
- The higher the refresh rate, the better the screen would be for gaming generally. Refresh rate has a direct impact on motion clarity and frame rate support for the screen. Most high refresh rate panels are 120 or 144Hz natively which is a significant improvement over 60Hz standard refresh rate panels. Keep an eye out for “overclocked” refresh rates as well with some manufacturers boosting the natively supported refresh rate higher. Results of that overclock will vary so try and check out reviews before you assume it will offer further improvements.
- If you’re a gamer then look out for Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) technologies which will significantly improve fluidity in gaming and avoid stuttering, tearing or lag associated with older Vsync technologies. At the moment your choice depends on your graphics card vendor, either AMD FreeSync or NVIDIA G-sync.
- Perhaps the most important ‘spec’ to consider if the panel technology being used in the monitor. This is not always provided but if in doubt you can use our panel search tool to identify a particular model’s panel technology.
We would really recommend reading further into the details about monitor specs before you make your purchase so you can understand what they infer about the monitors performance characteristics.
Q. What Is the Best Panel Technology To Get?
A. very important thing to consider is what panel technology the screen uses you are interested in buying. While specs may look similar on paper, performance may vary quite considerably between the models due to the underlying panel technology used. The most common technologies used in the desktop monitor market are TN Film, IPS-type (and similar variants like PLS and AHVA) and VA -type. These are all produced by a range of panel manufacturers and offer a variety of strengths and weaknesses. There is a reasonable amount of talk about panel technologies with many people quick to jump on a bandwagon and claim one is superior to another. To be honest, they all still have their place in the modern market, and due to their different characteristics, can play a key part in finding the right monitor for your use.
There are various generations of each technology as well, and different manufacturers have slightly different names for their versions. Look out for:
- TN Film (Twisted Nematic + Film) = pretty uniform in naming, developed by many manufacturers including all the larger suppliers.
- IPS (In Plane Switching) = S-IPS, H-IPS, e-IPS, AS-IPS, AH-IPS, p-IPS, generally all developed by LG.Display
- MVA (Multi-domain Vertical Alignment) = S-MVA, P-MVA, AMVA, generally developed by AU Optronics and some from Chi Mei Innolux (formerly CMO)
- PVA (Patterned Vertical Alignment) = S-PVA, cPVA, SVA, a Samsung technology exclusively manufactured by them but rarely used nowadays. Their equivalent to MVA
- PLS (Plane to Line Switching) = S-PLS, a Samsung technology exclusive to them and very similar to LG.Display’s IPS in performance and can therefore be called an “IPS-type” technology
- AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) = developed by AU Optronics as another alternative to LG.Display’s IPS, very similar again and so can be called “IPS-type”
For more information about panel technologies, see this detailed article which is periodically updated.
Q. What Specs Should I Be Cautious Of?
A. There are quite a few specs which are either massively exaggerated or need caution. Here are some which you need to be aware of:
- Dynamic contrast ratios – perhaps the most overly exaggerated specs in the modern market. You will see figures in the millions now, but these are largely meaningless. Dynamic contrast ratios involves controlling the backlight of the screen automatically, depending on the content shown on the screen. In bright images, the backlight is increased, and in darker images, it is decreased. There is no real need to have a DCR of over 10,000:1 as you just wouldn’t notice the difference in practice. The figures being quoted now are based on measurements of monitor states which would just never occur in real use. In fact modern DCR’s of LED backlit screens assume the “black” state is in fact when the backlighting is turned off, in which case DCR would effectively be tending towards infinity:1. Just ignore DCR figures are they are not a reliable spec. In practice you would never achieve the numbers quoted. Far more important really is how effective the mechanism is and whether it is smooth and at what speed changes are made. Also keep in mind many people don’t even like the technology at all!
- Response time – Generally the lower the response time the better, but you need to understand the impact panel technology has on practical responsiveness. Also understand the difference between panels with and without Response Time Compensation (RTC) / Overdrive technologies as that can have a significant impact. Don’t rely purely on a quoted response time figure on paper.
- Colour gamut – don’t assume that a higher colour gamut is better! The gamut represents the colour space that the backlighting unit of the monitor allows the screen to display. You need to understand that most normal content is based on a certain colour space (sRGB) and that there can be issues if you view this using a wide gamut screen. See here for more information.
- Backlighting – LED backlighting is becoming increasingly common in modern screens with manufacturers making a lot of claims which aren’t necessarily true. You need to understand what different backlighting will actually offer you. In reality, LED backlighting in mainstream screens is based on White-LED (W-LED) backlight units and only really offers benefits in terms of power consumption, screen thickness, and in environmental considerations. See this article for more information.
Q. Should I Be Worried About Ghosting?
A. Generally nowadays with all the ultra-low response time models available, ghosting caused by slow pixel response times is just not an issue for the majority of users. Performance has improved significantly over the years and blurring and ghosting has been largely eliminated on the faster displays. The use of RTC technologies (overdrive) significantly helps improve response times and speed up pixel transitions. This is particularly important on IPS/VA type displays which can be very slow where RTC is not used. Look out for response time specs quoted with a “G2G” (grey to grey) response time as that should indicate the use of overdrive technologies.
Nowadays screens supporting high refresh rates (120Hz+) input frequencies are becoming more and come common, and these can help reduce motion blur and ghosting and improve gaming performance considerably. They are also able to support higher frame rates than traditional 60Hz displays and some are also capable of supporting 3D stereoscopic content through active shutter glasses. Do be careful of assuming that a screen advertised as supporting 3D is in fact able to support 120Hz though, as some 3D models do not support this and instead use passive methods to produce the 3D effect (see here for more info on 3D technologies). Refresh rate of the panel does have a direct impact on motion clarity and for optimal gaming performance you will want to consider those high refresh rate displays above 60Hz.
Ghosting and motion blur perception may also depend on how susceptible you are as a user, as one person may see no ghosting, another may see lots on the same panel. The best bet is to try and see a TFT in action in a shop and see for yourself, if that’s not possible you will have to settle for the opinions of other users and take the plunge! Also be careful to get an idea of real life performance in practice, and don’t just rely on quoted specs. While they are often a good rough guide to the gaming performance, they are not always reliable.
One area which cannot be eliminated fully through response time improvements is perceived motion blur. This is related to how the human eye tracks movement on hold-type displays like LCD’s. In recent years several methods have been used to help provide improved motion blur for users. Models featuring LightBoost backlights for 3D gaming were found to be “hackable” to bring about motion blur benefits through the use of their strobed backlight system. Other displays have now introduced native strobed backlights to offer similar benefits. Look out for models with Motion Blur Reduction backlights like the BenQ XL2420Z / XL2720Z (Blur Reduction mode), Eizo Foris FG2421 (Turbo 240) and Asus ROG Swift PG278Q (ULMB) for instance. ULMB as a feature is common on NVIDIA G-sync enabled displays where high refresh rate is used.
Have a read here about response times if you are unsure about what specs mean or want more information. Generally modern TN Film panels will offer the fastest response times, and often also support 120Hz input frequencies for 3D support / extended frame rates. Look out for models with a quoted “G2G” response time indicating they also use overdrive which can really help in practice. Modern IPS-type panels can also be very fast where overdrive is applied well, so again look for “G2G” figures. High refresh rate IPS panels are also becoming more common which helps improve motion clarity further. Other technologies like PVA and MVA are unfortunately quite slow in practice by modern standards, even where overdrive or high refresh rates are used. Check reviews to be sure of an individual screens performance wherever possible.
Q. Which Video Interface Connection Should I Use?
A. As a rule of thumb, it would normally be best to use the digital video connection end to end to connect your device to your monitor. For a PC, this would commonly be DisplayPort, HDMI or DVI which offer a pure digital end to end connection between the graphics card and the monitor. DisplayPort is needed to run the high resolution/high refresh rate panels so you will need to ensure your graphics card has a DP output. Some screens or cards use Mini DP instead of the full size version, but that is simply a different size connection and can be easily inter-changed with “normal” DisplayPort. Cables which are DP at one end, and Mini DP at the other are common and simple to use.
HDMI and DisplayPort are also common digital connections now being offer, but unlike DVI are also capable of carrying audio as well as video. The picture quality should not be any different between DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort in theory as long as no additional video “enhancements” are applied when using one over the other. Bandwidth requirements will vary so this might influence which type you need to use depending on the screen resolution and refresh rate.
Converting between DVI and HDMI is easy and cables are readily available to offer that if needed (keeping in mind you will lose the sound transmission when it reaches the DVI). Converting between DVI/HDMI and DisplayPort is far more tricky and not simple to achieve. It is very hit and miss and working active adapters are expensive. We would advise avoiding the attempt to convert DP to HDMI/DVI if you can.
Q. Should I Worry About 6-bit vs. 8-bit vs. 10-bit Panels?
A. There is a lot of talk about colour depth on TFT screens, now more than ever with the emergence of 6-bit IPS and VA panels. At one time TN Film was the main 6-bit technology but today that is no longer the case. It’s important to put this into perspective though, and not jump on the bandwagon of 8-bit being much, much better than 6-bit. Or even 10-bit being much better than 8-bit.
An 8-bit display would offer a colour palette of 16.7 million colours. They offer a ‘true’ colour palette, and are generally the choice of manufacturers for colour critical displays over 6-bit panels. On the other hand modern 6-bit screens use a range of Frame Rate Control (FRC) technologies to extend the colour palette from 262,144 colours to around 16.7m. In fact on many modern panels these FRC are very good and in practice you’d be hard pressed to spot any real difference between a 6-bit + FRC display and a true 8-bit display. Colour range is good, screens show no obvious gradation of colours, and they show no FRC artefacts or glitches in normal everyday use. Most average users would never notice the difference and so it is more important to think about the panel technology and your individual uses than get bogged down worrying about 6-bit vs. 8-bit arguments.
Manufacturers use 6-bit panels (+FRC) to help keep costs lower. As a result, a modern range of IPS and VA panels is also now produced which use 6-bit colour depth (+FRC) instead of true 8-bit colour depths. At the other end of the scale there are also some panels which can offer support of 10-bit colour depth. Again these come in two flavours, being either a true 10-bit panel (quite rare and expensive) offering 1.07 billion colours or an 8-bit panel with an additional FRC stage added (1.07 billion colours produced through FRC). The 8-bit +FRC panels are of course more common and will often be used to offer “10-bit” support in desktop displays. With 10-bit colour though there is also an additional consideration which is whether you would ever even be able to use this in your work. You can also only make use of this 10-bit support if you have a full end-to-end 10-bit workflow, including a supporting software, graphics card and operating system which is still very rare and expensive for most users. So for many people the use of a 10-bit capable panel is rather meaningless.
Note: Colour depth in this regard should not be confused with colour gamut
Q. What Does a Monitors Colour Gamut Mean?
A. Colour gamut or colour space refers to the range of colours which the screen is capable of showing, in relation to a reference colour space. The human eye can see a certain range of colours which is represented by a CIE Diagram. This shows the full range in reds, greens and blues which the eye can see. Within that massive range there are various reference colour spaces, the most common of these being the sRGB space. There are also other reference colour spaces such as the NTSC and Adobe RGB which are often used in specifications nowadays and may be used in certain workflows. These are larger colour spaces than sRGB, so manufacturers needed a way to quantify the changes they had made.
The colour space / gamut capability of a monitor is not determined by the panel technology, but rather by the backlight technology being used. Traditional screens used standard CCFL backlighting which (for simplicity of comparison here) offered a colour space covering the sRGB space almost exactly, which equates to about 72% of the now popular NTSC reference space. With backlighting technology changes and improvements, some screens then started to use WCG-CCFL (Wide Colour Gamut CCFL) backlighting which can offer an extended gamut covering commonly 92% – 102% of the NTSC reference space. Other backlighting technologies like W-LED (White LED) are also becoming very common, and at the moment cover the sRGB space (~68 – 72% NTSC). Some other LED backlights using RGB LED can cover >100% of the NTSC space as well but are prohibitively expensive and rarely used.
While a larger colour space might sound like a good idea, it’s not always for everyone. You need to keep in mind what content you will be viewing on the screen, and what colour space that content is based on. Since sRGB is very common and the standard for many things like Windows and the internet, viewing sRGB content on an extended gamut screen can cause oversaturation of colours and an unrealistic ‘stretching’ of the colours. Reds and greens in particular can appear quite ‘neon’ and some users do not like this. The smaller colour space of the content is, as a very crude description, ‘stretched’ over the larger colour space of the monitor. On the other hand, some applications are colour space aware (e.g. Adobe Photoshop) and so if you are working with extended gamut content, you will prefer an extended gamut screen. I’d certainly recommend reading more into this as it is only a brief summary here. Where a screen has an extended gamut, they sometimes provide an sRGB emulation mode which work to varying degrees. Handy if you might need to use it, but make sure the screen offers a decent performance when in this mode and that it works. At the end of the day, the choice of monitor might very well depend on the colour space you want to work with. For most average users a standard CCFL or W-LED backlit display with a standard sRGB gamut would probably be preferred.
Q. What’s The Best Way To Clean a TFT Screen?
A. The simplest and cheapest way to clean a TFT screen is with a slightly damp cloth; wipe off the left behind water with a towel or similar then smooth/dry completely with a yellow polishing cloth. Be careful not to use products such as toilet paper and kitchen roll as they contain lint and can leave scratches on your beloved screen! Cleaning solution from opticians and lint free clothes for lens cleaning are also very good.
Q. What’s The Situation With Dead Pixels?
A. Unfortunately dead pixels can be an issue on TFT screens as they are often developed during the manufacturing stage. For retail costs to be kept low the companies cannot afford to make all screens defect-free and check for dead pixels all the time. Pixels can be described in the following ways:
- Fully dead – stuck on black of white
- Dead Sub Pixel – Stuck on Red / Green / Blue permanently
- Lazy – stuck on a colour, but sometimes can change. If the pixels are only lazy, there may be hope of reviving them. If they are fully dead, they will stay that way.
Dead pixels very rarely develop during use, unless you have a habit of poking the screen. If you are careful with the screen, hopefully you shouldn’t develop any further pixel problems.
To test for dead pixels, there is “Dead Pixel Buddy” program available. You can manually cycle through different full screen colours (black/white/red/green/blue) to check for dead or lazy pixels or rapidly cycle through all of the colours automatically to try and coax lazy sub-pixels back to life. Leave it running for half an hour, if you’re lucky it can work!
If you want to ensure that you receive a pixel perfect screen (and who wouldn’t at the kind of prices you are paying for the TFT!?!) then you can often pay for pixel checks from some online retailers. Beware though! Never buy a TFT from retailers who offer the pixel check without having the check done as you can be sure the screens they find to be non-perfect will be winging their way to the customers who don’t have the check! The only other option to ensure you get a pixel perfect screen is to check out the panel in a shop in person, then you can see for yourself…..
If you find you have a dead pixel there is not a lot you can do unfortunately. If you have a certain number of dead pixels (usually at least 3 or a certain number centrally on the panel) then the manufacturer will replace the TFT for you, but the number of dead pixels needed before this happens varies between each manufacturer, so check with them before you order if you’re concerned.
Some lazy pixels can be bought back to life occasionally. Playing some fast paced games for a while, and massaging / flicking the pixel area with a lint free cloth can sometimes help revive the lazy pixel, but not in all cases.
If you still have a dead pixel problem, can’t bring it back to life and can’t RMA it under warranty then you can sometimes return it to the stockist if you purchased it online. If you bought online you can take advantage of the “Distance Selling Act” which entitles you to return any item within 7 days as you were not present at the time of purchase. If you are not happy with your TFT you can return it at your cost of postage and often claim a refund or exchange. However, be aware that a lot of places will try and charge you restocking fees and they will almost certainly specify the goods must be packaged and in the same condition as when you received it, so be careful to package it back up nicely. Legally, if the stocker accepts the TFT back as a return governed by the Distance Selling Act, then they are NOT allowed to charge you a restocking fee as covered in the Government Regulations. This selling act is not widely advertised by retailers, but does exist if you really need to use it. You should only have to pay for postage to send it back to them.