Best Cheap Monitors
Monitors often are little more than an afterthought for home computer users. After all, many computer manufacturers and electronics retailers give away flat-panel displays as part of a desktop package. The packages aren't a bad deal, but not everyone needs a new monitor with a new PC, and there are plenty of users who simply want to replace their old monitor with a new, cheap monitor or add a second one to their work station. Given the variety and quality available, you'll have no trouble finding a good monitor in the $125-$200 range.
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).
|Computer Monitor Reviews|
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.
Computer Monitor Reviews
Picture quality is the most important performance attribute of a computer monitor, cheap or otherwise. It is influenced by a variety of factors such as color accuracy, grayscale representation, and brightness. Experts use tests to measure these criteria, but users rely on their subjective impressions of the display. And monitor reviews indicate that most buyers of budget displays are easy to please. We saw plenty of comments posted by consumers who rave about picture quality and user-friendliness. Experts are fans, as well. Indeed, monitor reviews in general conclude that manufacturers are now producing entry-level displays that deliver high-level image quality.
We consulted a variety of user and expert monitor reviews to ascertain the performance of the models on our list. We were primarily interested in a display's overall image quality, although response times are important to users who play video games or watch fast-paced video on their monitors.
Picture Quality.Monitor reviews by experts often quibble about specific aspects of a display's performance, such as grayscale reproduction, color accuracy, or ghosting, but still assigned the models on our list above-average grades. Consumers, meanwhile, don't seem fazed by these technical issues. For the most part, monitor reviews indicate that picture quality with our top picks meets the expectations of consumers and experts alike.
Color accuracy seems to be the most important quality for both sets of reviewers. The Dell UltraSharp (starting at $190), for example, boasts especially good color accuracy, according to an expert from Flat Panels HD. An expert at Anandtech noticed that calibrating the touchscreen Acer T232HL (starting at $316) to exact color accuracy proved to be pretty tricky, although the result edged close to a precise finish. For black levels and grayscale quality, a TN display such as the Acer G246HL (starting at $140) proves superior to most IPS-based models. The BenQ GW2450 (starting at $170), with its VA screen, pleased a reviewer from PC Mag with its deep black levels.
All of the displays we reviewed are easily bright enough right out of the box. But here's a tip: A bit of human intervention may be necessary to tweak the factory default settings. Let personal preferences rule.
Response Time.The display on a monitor is made up of thousands of tiny pixels that change color very rapidly to compose the visible image. The speed at which the pixels change color is called the response time, which is measured in milliseconds. The faster the pixels change color, the better.
Manufacturers list the monitor's gray-to-gray response time, which is how long it takes for a pixel to turn from one shade of gray to another. This measurement of response is listed as GtG or gray-to-gray. A flat-screen monitor with a slow response time may suffer from "ghosting," a fluttering effect that would be apparent in fast-moving video, such as games, sports, or movies. Most widescreen monitors, whether cheap or pricey, have a sufficiently fast response time that ghosting isn't an issue. The cheap models we researched successfully ward off this unwelcome visual effect, according to monitor reviews.
IPS monitors used to have slower response times than TN displays, but the IPS monitors are catching up. Today's budget IPS displays are pretty fast, from 5 milliseconds to 8 ms, which should be enough to prevent ghosting. We found several IPS monitors with 5 ms response times, including the older Asus vs239H-P (starting at $160), the Acer T232HL touchscreen monitor, and the budget AOC i2367fh (starting at $160). The latter impressed an expert from PC Mag with its fast response time.
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