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Cheap Monitors Buying Guide

Some of the most familiar names in monitors include Acer, Asus, Dell, AOC, and Benq. Our favorite cheap monitors are the Dell UltraSharp U2312HM (starting at $190) and the AOC i2367fh (starting at $160).

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Second-best cheap monitor picks include the BenQ GW2450 (starting at $170) and the Acer G246HL (starting at $140). The Asus MX239H (starting at $200), by contrast, disappoints, but if you're a fan of Asus displays, the vs239H-P (starting at $160) is a better choice owing to its fast response time and bright, vivid images. Touchscreen displays are still too pricey for Cheapism, but if you're willing to spring for one, the responsive Acer T232HL (starting at $316) is worth considering.

What We Looked For in the Specs

Panel Technology.

There are different types of display panels for cheap monitors. The two most common are IPS (in-plane switching) and TN (twisted nematic). IPS technology has been around for a while but used to be too pricey for budget monitors. A much cheaper version of IPS technology is now available for widescreen monitors in the under-$200 range, including two of the best cheap monitors: the Dell UltraSharp U2312 and the AOC i2367fh. TN-based displays, such as the Acer G246HL, still command a share of the market.

IPS is superior to TN in most respects because it provides greater color uniformity and image accuracy as well as wider viewing angles. TN displays are known for their rapid response times, as well as good contrast ratios, as they are better able to produce very dark black levels and accurate grayscales.

One of the monitors on our list of top picks, the BenQ GW2450, uses a VA (vertical alignment) panel. An expert at Top Ten Reviews notes that this type of panel has better color quality and wider viewing angles than typical TN monitors and faster response times and deeper black levels than typical IPS monitors.

Native Resolution.

This term refers to the resolution at which images look best on a particular monitor; always set your computer and monitor to the native resolution. Monitors with higher native resolutions display sharper images than those with lower resolutions. All of our budget picks feature a native resolution of 1920x1080, which is the same resolution as a 1080p high-definition television. This is no accident, as these specs let you watch high-definition movies on the monitor if your computer has a DVD or Blu-ray drive.

Screen Size.

Display size is one of the first features that attract shoppers' attention. The current generation of flat-screen monitors range in size from about 17 inches to a giant 65 inches, although smaller screens designed for on-the-go use also are available.

Large monitors are tempting, but consider a few things before buying one. First, the larger the monitor, the more expensive it will be. Second, if you have a small work area or sit fairly close to the screen, a large monitor may be overwhelming. Monitors up to 24 inches offer a large amount of screen real estate and fall within the Cheapism niche; all of the cheap monitors we researched are either 23 or 24 inches.

What We Ignored in the Specs

Dynamic Contrast Ratio.

A monitor's contrast ratio is the relationship between the deepest dark levels a monitor can display and the brightest white levels. Contrast ratios can be measured a couple of ways. The most accurate measure is a static or "native" contrast ratio, which is typically about 1000:1 in most monitors. The BenQ GW2450 has an especially high native contrast ratio of 3000:1.

However, the most common contrast ratio measurement you'll see in the specifications is a dynamic contrast ratio. Manufacturers can manipulate this number to ridiculous proportions, to the point that it really has no meaning. For example, the Acer T232HL touchscreen display lists its contrast ratio as 100,000,000:1, and the AOC i2368fh claims its contrast ratio is 50,000,000:1. Go by a monitor's static contrast ratio -- if you can find it in the specs -- and ignore the dynamic contrast ratio.

Brightness.

This feature is measured in cd/m2 (candelas per square meter, a.k.a. "nits"). There's not much difference between the best computer monitors and ordinary displays as far as brightness levels go. All the models we researched feature a brightness level between 250 and 300 nits. We didn't find any complaints from experts or consumers about the brightness of any of the cheap monitors on our list.

HDMI Port.

Computer monitors don't require a lot of ports. You need only one to connect to your PC, although cheap monitors offer two or three types of connectors. There are three common types of inputs: DVI-D, D-sub (or VGA), and HDMI. HDMI inputs offer the best image quality, but DVI connections rank pretty close. That being the case, we don't consider HDMI to be an essential feature for a budget display, although it's nice to have. The Dell UltraSharp, BenQ GW2450, and Acer G246HL don't have an HDMI port, but they all perform with distinction.

Speakers.

Some entry-level monitors, including the AOC i2367fh, Asus MX239H (starting at $200), and Acer T232HL, include speakers built into the bezel. The speakers are usually very small and not very powerful. Even on the best entry-level computer monitors, audio quality tends to be lackluster, so don't go out of your way to find one with built-in speakers.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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