Your buying guide for the best monitors in 2018
If you haven’t treated yourself to a new monitor in a while, then now is the perfect time to do so. Great image quality is available at affordable prices, while monitors are slimmer and lighter than ever before.
Note: Some of the monitors in this list were reviewed two years ago. Don't let this put you off: they're still available to buy today, and not a great deal has happened in the last 24 months in terms of PC screen technology so they're not out-of-date. It's not like the smartphone market.
Screen size and design
The first decision is what size you want. Even 23-24in screens are cheap, or can be, so there's no point in going smaller unless you have to because of space limitations.
In many cases, the once thick surrounding bezel has been removed in favour of a tidy, nearly frameless design and modern backlight technology allows for much slimmer, neater displays. This is handy if you want a multi-monitor setup, where the gaps between the displays will be as thin as possible. Some models are also available in different colours.
The panel should be supportable at a comfortable height, which means you'll want a fully adjustable stand.
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4K and Ultra HD monitors
4K TVs have come down in price a lot, but they're still commanding a decent premium if you want a 4K monitor for your PC. 4K is the same as Ultra HD, as explained here. They pack in 3840x2160 pixels, which is four times more than a Full HD 1920x1080 screen.
Having this many pixels means you see more detail in photos (without zooming in) and you can watch 4K video on Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. If your PC is up to it, you can even run your games at this resolution, which makes for very sharp and realistic graphics.
Even if you're going for a budget screen, the performance of the display itself will be important. Perhaps the biggest deciding factor here will be your choice of panel technology - and it boils down to twisted-nematic (TN) panels versus everything else.
A TN panel costs less to make and can produce some decent performance results in terms of contrast ratio and the super-fast response times craved by serious gamers. They are, however, let down by restricted viewing angles, which means the brightness and colour of the picture can appear to shift if not viewed straight on. Any movement of your head is likely to make this apparent.
All the non-TN panels in this round-up use in-plane switching (IPS) or plane-line switching (PLS) panels, which typically offer a vastly superior viewing experience and are better suited for general-purpose use. An IPS/PLS screen is often favoured by photo- or video-editors, as they offer better colour accuracy.
Brightness rating is a manufacturers’ arms-race figure that can be safely ignored, so long as the result is above around 200 candela per square metre (cd/m2).
Much more important is contrast ratio, the difference between the very brightest and darkest images a screen can show. Around 500:1 is the starting point for believable imaging, though you should beware brands that promise the earth with millions:1 ratios.
Colour gamut, the spectral spread of reproduced colour within our perceptual limits, has been getting worse in modern displays, tumbling first with the introduction of LCD to replace glass-tube CRT sets. Then colour gamut shrunk again when traditional CCFL backlights were tossed out in favour of white LED technology.
Full coverage of the PC-standard called sRGB is a good first target for decent colour range; Adobe RGB is a more challenging spec that nevertheless gets closer to the vast range of colour the human eye can appreciate.
Colour accuracy meanwhile is about reproducing the exact hue as intended, rather than a rough approximation. Deviation from true colour fidelity is represented by a Delta E figure, lower numbers better. Close to or below 1.0 is a good achievement.
Response time is often quoted in the manufacturer’s specifications, another area for brand one-upmanship, but even for gamers there is little need to seek vanishingly low figures such as 1- or 2 millisecond (ms). The intrinsic lag of the monitor’s electronics is typically well in excess of 10ms, so the added time for liquid crystals to complete their transition as they turn on/off has become inconsequential.
The monitors reviewed here all offer at least two inputs, and this will determine what sort of equipment you can hook up to your monitor. Most of them support the ageing VGA connector, which should be avoided if at all possible, and supplement it with a digital input, such as DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.
Multiple inputs allow you to connect more than one device at a time and switch between them using the monitor’s control buttons - you may want to connect your laptop and a gaming console or a Blu-ray player without having to unplug cables each time.
The most useful connector on monitors of this type is either DisplayPort or HDMI, as they combine digital picture information with digital audio - allowing you to connect up both sound and vision with a single cable. DisplayPort is becoming more common on both Macs and Windows PCs, although you’re less likely to find such a connector on home AV equipment.
The DVI connector provides a high-quality digital video input, but doesn’t carry sound. Some monitors offer ‘dual-link DVI’, based on two DVI streams in one DVI connector. DVI remains popular with gamers who believe that this digital interface cable has less latency and so will better their reaction times.
If you have an Android phone or tablet, look for an HDMI port with MHL support.
- Reviewed on: 8 May 2017
A screen that costs a bit extra due to the Nvidia's G-Sync compatibility, though it sweetens the deal by being a very high-quality panel.
Excellent colours, a 165Hz refresh and native 1440p resolution makes this an attractive solution to those that want their Nvidia adaptive sync solution, and aren’t overly bothered by the cost.
Read our AOC AGON AG271QG review.
2. BenQ EL2780U
- Reviewed on: 15 November 2018
As an affordable 4K screen with a high refresh rate, the EL2780U is good enough, even if the HDR part of this equation doesn’t entirely add up. This monitor might be better utilised by PS4 and Xbox One S owners than by the PC fraternity, until the GPU market regains some sanity and HDR becomes better supported.
If you’ve got a GPU that can handle the resolution and want to spend less than premium prices, then the BenQ EL2780U is a solid purchase.
Read our BenQ EL2780U review.
- Reviewed on: 1 March 2016
The BenQ RL2460HT is great gaming monitor which also doubles as a fantastic monitor for editing photos or videos, since it has good gamut and accurate colour reproduction. The HDMI output makes it a great choice for those who take gaming seriously and want to record their exploits.
Read our BenQ RL2460HT review.
- Reviewed on: 30 November 2017
Asus has put some attractive options in the MZ27AQ that would work well for occasional gamers and weekend photographers alike. The Harman Kardon tweaked speakers are especially impressive, give how abysmal monitor audio can often be.
The asking price is a little on the high side. But as we’d expect from Asus, this is a high-quality device.
Read our ASUS Designo MZ27AQ review.
- Reviewed on: 9 May 2017
Easy on the eye but not the wallet, the EW2770QZ won’t be attracting many home users. Where it excels is in a working environment, like an open plan office, where depending on the time of day and weather, viewing the screen can be an ophthalmic nightmare. In that precise scenario, the EW2770QZ has no equal.
Read our BenQ EW2770QZ review.
6. AOC PDS241
- Reviewed on: 11 August 2017
Using a standard HDMI mini connector in a proprietary fashion is a rookie mistake for AOC, even if it provides a clever means to declutter the computer to screen connection. Looking beyond that foible, this is an effective screen for those that don’t want or need greater than 1080p resolution but do like technology to look like it was designed and not just specified.
Read our AOC PDS241 review.
7. Dell S2718D
- Reviewed on: 18 July 2017
If you desire wafer thin displays with very colourful output then Dell has engineered something quite stunning for you to drool over. It also supports the latest USB technology and HDR output, but at a price. That high cost pushes the Dell S2718D into the market for things that look great on executive desks, but are rarely used to their full potential. If you want something unapologetically chic to adorn yours then the S2718D is a taste of what screens will be like in the future, if we’ve not all switched to using augmented reality by then.
Read our Dell S2718D review.
8. AOC G2460VQ6
- Reviewed on: 3 March 2016
The AOC G2460VQ6 is a great budget gaming monitor, which is mainly aimed at those with AMD cards. We were also impressed by the image quality at this price, and its styling setd it apart from other budget monitors.
Read our AOC G2460VQ6 review.
- Reviewed on: 1 March 2016
The VX2457-mhd can handle games with ease, especially if you have an AMD-enabled FreeSync graphics card. We were pleasantly surprised by its good colour accuracy, but viewing angles aren't great. However, the low price goes some way to making up for this.
Read our ViewSonic VX2457-mhd review.