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How Big Should Your Monitor Be? What About Resolution?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 13, 2014 11:19 AM

Yesterday, we blogged about eye strain: Americans are spending an average of more than nine hours per day in front of their computer screens, often leading to eye fatigue and related symptoms, like headaches. And while I was getting ready to mock people with 4k (5k if you bought the new $3,000 iMac) displays, I realized something: My computer monitors might be ready for an upgrade.

At home, I have two 22-inch 1080p monitors. A few years ago, that would have been state-of-the-art, but now? Would I benefit from an upgrade beyond "HD"?

Consideration No. 1: Size

For a dual-display setup, two 22-inch monitors isn't bad at all. In fact, anything bigger wouldn't fit on my desk. But what about your setup?

The size of your ideal monitor depends on a lot of things: space on your desk, the native resolution (see below), and your budget. If you are going for a single monitor, you can (and should) go bigger than if you have multiple displays.

Consideration No. 2: Resolution (Pixels)

But more important than screen size is the screen's native resolution. Just like your old TV looks fuzzy compared to a modern HDTV, a lower-resolution monitor will look worse compared to a 1080p or 4k Ultra HD monitor.

This is where my preconceived notions were shattered: I thought that anything beyond 1080p would be superfluous -- my eyes wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway. This is also why I laughed at 4k screens for smartphones (that one still stands -- at that size, you can't tell the difference) and for laptops.

For desktop monitors, there is an easy online calculator to determine if you will benefit from more pixels. And surprisingly, at a distance of 2 feet, that calculator says that the ideal 4k screen size for someone with 20/20 vision is 27.6 inches. One can start to see individual 1080p pixels when a monitor exceeds 13.8 inches.

Speaking of smaller screens, if you're shopping for a laptop, that is where you can cut back safely on resolution. Not only will smaller screens make it harder to see individual pixels, but Windows has problems scaling to usable dimensions on high-resolution small screens -- think tiny buttons and text.

Consideration No. 3: Ergonomics

The last thing to consider is viewing angles and ergonomics. My monitors? They are terrible in this regard, as they have fixed stands and if you view the screen from any direction other than straight-away, the colors wash out. To salvage their usability, I have books propped under them to bring them to the proper height.

Your monitors should have adjustable stands. (Some aftermarket stands are available if yours don't.) Also, if you pick an IPS monitor, the wash-out effect is minimized when viewing the monitor from an odd angle, like you would with a poorly adjusted stand or when you have people crowding around a single screen.

Other Considerations

Do you want a touchscreen? If you're using Windows 8.1, it might be tempting, though all those fingerprints are likely to get annoying if you're staring at text all day.

Also, go for a matte (not shiny) monitor if at all possible. Not only will dust and fingerprints be less noticeable, but glare from overhead lighting and windows will be less pronounced.

Did we miss anything? Have any recommendations? Let us know on Twitter or on Facebook.

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