A larger screen for your PC doesn't just make it more fun for watching DVDs, it can give you more workspace too. PC Advisor assesses seven new models, and offers flat-panel buying advice.
Monitors have gone from being the poor relations of a desktop PC setup - typically, manufacturers would provide a good computer specification but throw in a cheap screen to cut costs - to being a critical element. The popularity of YouTube, BBC iPlayer, DVD playback, photo slideshows, image editing and HD video support, as well as being able to enjoy the latest 3D games, all make a good display essential.
This means you can now expect a reasonable flat-panel display when buying a complete new PC. These days it's possible to get hold of an entry-level desktop system, complete with a 17in or 19in display, for around £300 or £400. At the same time, upgraders can get some good deals on high-quality screens if they know where to look.
Switching displays isn't just about getting a larger screen area; many of us upgrade in order to get a new aspect ratio. Widescreen is the setup of choice for filming Hollywood movies. And if you're pairing a widescreen display with a computer that supports Blu-ray playback, opt for a 16:9 model. This is the closest you'll get to the original aspect ratio of the HD films. A 16:10 flat-panel offers a good approximation, however, and there are more such screens around. They're also generally less expensive.
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Even office monitors these days are often widescreen rather than the long-established 4:3 format. This can have implications for screen pivoting, so consider this if you're likely to want to be able to swivel your display through 90 degrees for page-layout purposes or because you want to be able to view complex spreadsheets more easily.
In the main, though, wider is better; you can fit two or three panes of information on the screen at once: your email inbox, a Word document you're working on and an instant-messaging conversation, stock market update or web browser.
The resolution and response time of your display are also important to consider. The lower the response time, the better. Gamers demand screen update intervals of less than 6ms, with 4ms and 2ms response times ensuring the smoothest gameplay because onscreen information is updated so frequently. Screens such as the BenQ M2200HD we review here have specific games options that boost the onscreen updates to ensure you get the best gaming experience.
You don't need such a fast screen for watching DVDs, however - 6ms will be more than adequate - and, unless your desktop PC has a suitable graphics card to be able to push pixels in line with the demands of the latest games, you can save a few pounds by opting for a marginally less cutting-edge screen.
NEXT PAGE: screen resolutions, and a better build