When buying a display these days there are often many terms, brands, and decisions to make. This guide is to hopefully clear up some of the confusion with these terms and specifications and help you choose a monitor that is right for you.
HDTV or Monitor?
This is a bit of a difficult question. A lot of the time you can find a LCD HDTV that is going to have much better specs/options than a monitor for a similar price.
What separates a LCD Monitor from a LCD HDTV? The only real difference is that the TV has a TV Tuner in it and more input/output options (and guaranteed to have speakers). The other difference can be panel type, but I'll get more into that later.
Additionally a LCD HDTV is generally going to be larger than a LCD Monitor. There are some smaller ones but in my opinion if you're going to bother, choose one that is large enough to have 1080p resolution instead of 720p. This brings up the question of desk space. If you can’t fit a 30"+ Monitor on your desk a HDTV probably isn't your best option. Avoid getting a super cheap brand HDTV over a good brand monitor/TV. Also don't bother with plasma or rear projection based HDTVs or old style TVs for a primary monitor. You won’t be happy with the quality.
There are a few different types of panels you will find. Most desktop monitors use TN panels. The better quality monitors will use IPS or PVA type panels. TN panels have issues with color reproduction accuracy and have poor viewing angles. HDTVs usually have higher end panels as people like to view a TV from multiple angles. Therefore a lot of the time you can get a TV with a good panel for cheaper/easier than a monitor with one. For example my 32" LG 1080P HDTV has an IPS panel and was only $400. For more detailed information on panel types and their advantages/disadvantages check out this wikipedia link.
First off on an LCD it isnt the same as on a CRT. The refresh rate of an LCD display is really only going to come into play with VSync or 3D.
You basically have two options here. 60hz (standard) or 120hz. 120hz is still new and hard to find in LCD monitors. It allows for 3D gaming with Nvidia's 3D Vision, and it also allows for VSync to be set at a higher fps (although I wouldn't really set that in stone as advantageous). If you want some more information on what VSync/triple buffering does for you and how it works I recommend checking out this great article on anandtech.
One thing to remember is, HDTVs that advertise 120hz or 240hz are not the same thing. You will only be able to set your PC to 60hz on these HDTVs. This is because it is an artificially generated refresh rate. It basically guesses at what is in between and splices it in. It works great for TV Programmes but does nothing for your PC.
I find personally find backlighting to make the biggest difference, but others may disagree. There are 2 options here: CCFL or LED backlighting.
LED backlighting is new and starting to become widely adopted. The advantages to LED backlighting are thinner monitors, far less power usage, and most importantly much, much higher contrast ratios. They really just explode with bright color.
There are a few different types of LED Backlighting, although it will be usually hard to find them advertised. There are edge lit and fully backlit monitors; fully backlit being better image quality but edge lit being thinner. There is also white LED and RGB LED. RGB has better color reproduction (white led tends to be more blue). So the best kind is a fully backlight RGB LED monitor/TV.
Some day we might have OLED monitors commonly available, and in theory that will be fantastic. However it is unknown when that will be (if ever). For more information of backlighting see this wikipedia link.
Response times are basically irrelevant anymore. When LCDs first came out they had high response times, and when compared to CRTs (perfect response time), it would produce noticeable ghosting effects. This is no longer the case. Almost every monitor you will find will be 2ms or 5ms response time, usually advertised in GTG(Gray to Gray) response times. Either is fine. There is actually a lot more to response times, and they are almost always advertised in misleading terms. I'd basically just ignore it unless it's for some reason above 5ms. If you want to know more about the response time myths check out this link.
DVI/HDMI is the ideal way of connecting a monitor to a PC. Analog VGA or S-Video is not recommended for best image quality. Both HDMI and DVI carry the same quality digital signal to your monitor/TV. HDMI has the capability to carry audio with it. If your monitor/tv has speakers and your graphics card has an HDMI output with sound support this could be beneficial. Otherwise it won’t matter.
If you buy an HDTV it will probably have all kinds of inputs and outputs. My Samsung HDTV actually has a 3.5mm input and output. So I can plug my speakers into the HDTV and run a 3.5mm cable from the TV's 3.5mm audio output to my PC and gain the ability to run audio on the speakers from both TV programmes and my PC.
You also might want to consider the tilt/adjust options. Most LCDs have poor options here so if it’s important to be able to adjust the height for you, then shop carefully. Most only have side to side and tilt, with no height adjustment. TN panels generally have horrible viewing angle from looking above or below the monitor. So height adjustment with a TN panel can be very useful.
Name Brand, Does it matter?
Yes and no. Samsung, LG, and Asus are good ones to consider. However it isn't always that easy. I was going to buy a LG monitor until I noticed the Samsung with similar specs looked tons better in person. Sometimes you have to see it in person to really know what you're getting. Brand name doesn't always mean it's the best. However it generally narrows down choices a bit. Some of the cheap brands are usually a guaranteed failure in terms of image quality. Not always though. Acer has some very bad monitors and at the same time I have seen some very nice Acer monitors too. Also Dell has very cheap monitors and also VERY high end nice monitors.
Personally I am a fan of the 1080P/1920x1080/16:9 displays. However, some people really like a less wide aspect ratio (its length: height ratio in case you didn’t guess).
Right now you are 99.99% of the time deciding between 16:10 and 16:9. Usually this is between 1920x1080 vs. 1680x1050 or 1920x1200. It's really preference here. I like wider screens because they work with movie watching better and if you buy a large enough screen, the height is not going to bother you.
One thing to keep in mind is that you are always going to want to use an LCD monitor at its highest (native) resolution. This is where it will always look best. At lower resolutions it will stretch pixels out, and it will look blurry. You can always make stuff look bigger on higher res monitors by adjusting the OS GUI settings so don't let it deter you if you are farsighted.
Additionally something to consider is if you have a poor graphics card, the higher the resolution the higher the graphics power required. This isn't of any concern while doing things of a 2D nature (for the most part), but when it comes to gaming it could be. Higher resolutions in demanding games might have your card churning for fps.
Well, hopefully you have been able to read through this article and make a decision on which specifications and choices are right for you. If you're thinking about getting the best of all those worlds you better have very deep pockets. Monitors that combine the best of all those specs are not only rare they are very expensive (think $1,000-$5,000).