Best budget LCD displays: Buying advice
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. Here we’ve picked six impressive displays, all of which are available for under £200, with most closer to just £100. They offer a variety of features to suit every need whether you’re working on spreadsheets, gaming or looking for an all-round multimedia experience. Also see: Best displays
Best budget LCD displays: Design and ergonomics
All the displays reviewed here are roughly the same size, with most measuring 23in along the diagonal. At a similar size are the 23.6in and a 24in models from ViewSonic and BenQ. Other sizes are, of course, available, so you can adjust your purchase to suit both your pocket and the size of your desk. Also see: All display reviews
With the size nailed down, you’ll then need to think about what you really want from your monitor. It may be that all you care about is looks. Thankfully, most modern displays are a great deal better looking than older models, with a greater design emphasis on lifestyle and fitting in with your home décor. In many cases, that 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 also handy if you want a multi-monitor setup, where the gaps between the displays will be as thin as possible. Some models, such as those reviewed here from Asus and Philips are available in either black or white finishes, which can make a dramatic difference to the look of your worktop.
Being budget displays, all of the monitors in this group feature basic tilting stands, although the degree of tilt available does vary. You’ll also have to do without expensive options such as USB hubs or card readers.
Best budget LCD displays: Image quality and panel technologies
More important to many is the performance of the display itself, and 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 very 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) panels, which typically offer a vastly superior viewing experience and are better suited to general-purpose use. An IPS or better screen is a must for any serious photo- or video-editing.
Best budget LCD displays: Inputs
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. All of them support the ageing VGA connector, which should be avoided if at all possible, and supplement it with a digital input or two (or three).
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 typically doesn’t carry sound. With the right cables and adaptors, all three digital connectors can be used interchangeably in most cases, at least for video. If you have an Android phone or tablet, look for an HDMI port with MHL support, which allows you to hook it up to your big screen while simultaneously charging the device.
Best budget LCD displays: Audio
For casual listening and system alerts, it can be useful to have built-in speakers. Don’t expect good sound quality, though. More useful is a headphone socket that will allow you to listen to sound coming in via the HDMI port.
Best budget LCD displays: Resolution
All the monitors in this group test offer the standard ‘full HD’ resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, which offers a good balance of detail and readability at this size, while delivering the maximum image detail from HD sources such as Blu-ray discs. This 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio is better suited to watching film and television, but 16:10 and 4:3 designed for PC use are harder to find today.
Best budget LCD displays: How we test
We evaluate monitor performance using a combination of objective measurements and subjective assessments.
We use a Datacolor Spyder 4 calibrator to set up and test each monitor. This device measures the brightness of the display as well as the accuracy of the colours reproduced.
By viewing a variety of test material, we can determine such factors as the sharpness of text and the natural appearance of skin tones. We also look for undesirable features such as “banding” in areas which should appear smoothly shaded and missing or stuck pixels. We also check for any smearing or ghosting of moving images.
Next, we take a look at the build quality and ergonomics of each display. Checking the adjustability of the stand, accessibility of controls and connectors and the ease of use of the onscreen menu system. If there are speakers included we’ll also give them a listen.
Best budget LCD displays: Conclusion
The monitors here have a range of prices and features to suit everyone. Although there’s a big difference in quality between the TN displays and those featuring IPS panels, all of them offer quality good enough for general use. However, unless you specifically want a fast response time for gaming, we would always recommend going for an IPS panel if you can afford it.
That said, it’s a TN panel that first caught our attention in the form of BenQ’s GL2450. This holds back on the design features, and cuts out all audio support, but delivers a solid performance for just over £100. At 24in, it also offers a slightly larger display with bright, punchy colours and comes with a three-year warranty.
If you want to go down the TN route, ViewSonic’s VX2452mh adds a little style, as well as HDMI support and full audio capabilities. It performs well, but it’s much more expensive than BenQ’s offering.
The remaining four displays all offer modern ‘frameless’ bezels that are considerably easier on the eye and cut down on the overall size of the display. They also feature IPS panels with superior overall quality and much wider viewing angles.
If you favour a glossy screen, then HP’s Envy 23 is your option here. It’s a competent display with a premium feel, but unfortunately, its performance is outclassed by monitors costing much less. We liked the build quality and the white finish of the Asus VX239H-W and its performance overall is better than the HP Envy 23, but we weren’t so keen on its fiddly touch-sensitive controls and relatively high price tag. The Philips 234E5 is also available in white, but our black review model was a strong contender due to its competitive pricing and flexible inputs. It’s kept slim by off-loading its power supply as an external brick, but still finds room for a pair of speakers.
However, best of all was the AOC i2369Vm, which seems to offer the best of everything, and all at an extremely competitive price. It delivers superb value for money without compromising picture quality, style or features and is therefore our Best Buy.