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What We Looked For in 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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