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Group test: 7 flat-panel monitors reviewed

The best widescreen monitors you can buy

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.

Screen resolutions

The ideal native screen resolution for HD viewing is 1,920x1,080 pixels. Most flat-panels support at least 1,680x1,080 and, for viewing text on a 22in or smaller screen, you won't want to set the resolution higher than this, as characters will be too small to read. On 24in and 26in displays, this won't be such an issue; the pixels are distributed over a larger area and are therefore slightly bigger.

Good contrast and brightness will aid legibility. Contrast ratios are usually in the region of several hundred to one, with higher figures implying a superior display. Some flat-panel displays, however, boast contrast ratios in the thousands. As you'll see from our reviews, this extra brightness isn't uniformly successful.

You'd arguably do better to opt for a more standard contrast ratio of, say, 800:1 or 1,000:1 and a screen that has a high brightness rating - measured in candelas per metre squared (cdm2). Between 300 and 600cdm2 will suffice. Support for an RGB colour palette consisting of 16.7 million shades should be a given (only designers are likely to need a wider colour gamut).

A better build

The physical design of the flat-panel you choose shouldn't be ignored, either. While a larger screen may seem better value, its display may not be as impressive, its ports fewer and resolution support poorer.

It may also be too large for the space you have available. Some also use an alarming amount of electricity, so check the environmental credentials and the energy-saving standby options.

Irrespective of its size, you screen should come with all the connection types you need. VGA plugs have now largely been superseded by DVI ports that offer a digital hook-up to your PC, but it's common to find both types offered. Check what your computer has and, if possible, connect your new screen to an available DVI or HDMI port on the graphics card, rather than to the standard VGA port that's integrated into the PC's case.

HDMI ports aren't universal on PCs, but having such a connection on your monitor is handy - it means you'll be able to use it for playing HD content from your PlayStation 3 console or a standalone Blu-ray drives. Needless to say, this is a good option if you aren't yet ready to fork out for an HDTV.

Many screens also have RGB component video and USB ports. You can plug in speakers, headphones or a webcam to the latter, although many flat-panels have embedded speakers for audio playback.

NEXT PAGE: price isn't everything, and how we test

  1. Buying advice, and why size matters
  2. Screen resolutions, and a better build
  3. Price isn't everything, and how we test
  4. Flat-panel monitor reviews

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