The Wide World of Monitors

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The Big Picture

Let's take a look at some other monitor options and shopping considerations.

LCD TV vs. monitor: With their prices commonly on a par with, or even below, those of 30-inch monitors, it's natural to wonder if using a high-definition LCD TV--such as those on our 32-inch wide-screen LCD HDTVs chart--is a worthwhile option. But beyond the sets' lack of physical adjustments, using one as a desktop monitor has drawbacks. The native resolution of most 32-inch HDTVs, for example, is typically 1366 by 768. "In the TV world, that's great for viewing almost any type of HD content from 720p to 1080i (interlaced) or even 1080p," says Chris Connery, vice president of market research for analysis firm DisplaySearch, "but for up-close viewing, this resolution is too low for computer use."

A sharper image: Because you use your computer in an up-close way, you're more likely to notice the individual pixels on the screen if you employ an LCD TV, as they have lower counts of pixels per inch (ppi). The pixels-per-inch measurement works the same as dots per inch does for printers. The lower the number, the larger and more noticeable a screen's pixels will be, which detracts from the image you're viewing. A 32-inch LCD TV with a resolution of 1366 by 768 has a count of just 49 ppi.

Connery puts that in context: "30-inch LCDs, on the other hand, have much higher resolution (2560 by 1600) and an excellent ppi of just above 100." That increase translates to sharper text and more detailed graphics--explaining why bigger isn't always better when your goal is image sharpness. 23-inch and 24-inch models, which have a native resolution of 1920 by 1200, have very good counts of 98 ppi and 94 ppi, respectively. Newer 25.5-inch (89 ppi), 27-inch (84 ppi), and 27.5-inch (82 ppi) units have lower pixel-per-inch numbers, as they also have a native resolution of 1920 by 1200, despite being larger.

Connery continues the breakdown: "22-inch wide-screen monitors tend to have a resolution of 1680 by 1050 (for a ppi of around 90), while their smaller, 20-inch wide-screen cousins share the same resolution, allowing for a better ppi of 99. The ppi for 19-inch wide-screens, which typically have a resolution of 1440 by 900, is 89."

High-definition video: For optimum 1080p high-def playback--be it Blu-ray, HD DVD, or even Windows Media and DivX content--you'll want a monitor with 1920 by 1080 resolution or higher. Wide-screen monitors 23 inches or greater will do the job natively, but Connery says that "these days, almost every size of wide screen, including 19-inch models, will scale HD content using a chip inside the monitor itself so that all types of high-def content from 720p to 1080p can be viewed on the screen regardless of the monitor's native resolution." As always, we recommend that you double-check a monitor's specifications. In order to play copy-protected content, such as Blu-ray and HD DVD media, for example, your monitor will also need a DVI or HDMI port with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) compatibility, a feature that all of the models on our charts include.

And for anyone still considering a combined LCD TV and monitor, new higher-resolution full-HD (1080p) models are beginning to hit the market, but you'll be spending a few hundred dollars more than you would on a standard LCD TV.

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