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Updated: December 19, 2012 7:16 AM

Computer monitors

Like TV screens, computer monitors are continuing to go wider and bigger. The squarish 17-inch monitors are now almost obsolete, replaced by widescreen models. Their larger size allows for easier side-by-side page viewing or more spreadsheet columns with less scrolling.


Getting started

Prices keep falling on LCD displays, even for bigger screens. You can now get a 17-inch LCD for not much more than $100 and a 24-inch for as little as $225. If you're buying a monitor bundled with a new computer, as many consumers do, you can often upgrade from the standard display to a larger one for a modest amount--$50 to $150 or so. Before you start shopping, read this monitor guide.

Do you need a new monitor?

If you're still using a CRT, it's probably time for an upgrade. Low prices on flat panels leave little justification for sticking with that space-hogging relic of the 20th century. If you already own a flat panel, good reasons to upgrade include switching to a bigger display for more screen real estate, or to a widescreen if you want to watch movies on your computer. Or you may want a monitor with a built-in TV tuner, speakers or USB ports.

What type?

About the only reason left for buying a CRT is if you're a graphic artist and need the myriad colors it provides, as well as deep blacks and virtually unlimited viewing angles. But you'll have a difficult time finding one, as many manufacturers have stopped producing them. For most users, an LCD is the best choice. There are many advantages to LCD displays, among them no image flicker, sharper image, no glare, low electromagnetic emissions, reduced energy consumption and, the most obvious, space efficiency.

Standard or widescreen

Even some LCDs are on the endangered list. With widescreen displays now the norm, only a few squarer (4:3 aspect ratio) screens remain available, mostly 17- and 19-inch models. Some offer good value and you may even prefer that shape--if horizontal space is limited or the extra vertical space better suits your needs.

Decide on a screen size

More screen real estate is always a good thing, and we recommend buying the largest screen you can. So the decision comes down to what fits your space and how much you want to spend. Expect to pay $150 and up for a 17-inch LCD, $130 and up for a 19- or 20-inch, $150 and up for a 22-inch, and $225 and up for a 24-inch. Unlike a CRT, whose viewing area is smaller than its diagonal size, an LCD has a nominal image size and a viewable image size that are the same.

The trade-offs

Flat-panel displays deliver a very clear image but have some quirks. Their range of color is a bit narrower than a CRT's and their limited viewing angle can be a problem. For optimal image quality, you have to view the screen straight-on. Otherwise, the picture can lose contrast and look washed-out as you move off-center, and fine lines might appear grainy.

Types

The vast majority of monitors on the market are lightweight, flat-panel LCD displays. They come in a variety of sizes including the types of monitors listed here. The smaller monitors suffice for office work but if you consume a lot of media or play games, you might prefer a larger screen.

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