Over the past few years we’ve seen a wide variety of niche-market monitors hit store shelves, but prohibitively high prices and sub-par performance have really limited their appeal to a wider audience. Who wants a 4K monitor if it’s just two panels stuck together, and can’t run faster than 30Hz?
Luckily, 2016 has changed all of that. This year we have seen the monitor market really come into its own. Previously exotic solutions like curved 4K and ultra-wide monitors have matured into affordable and increasingly high-performance options for gaming, media, and even your home office.
Why you should buy this: You want a sensible but impressive curved ultra-wide monitor.
Who it’s for: Anyone looking upgrade their desktop experience
How much will it cost: $950 – $1000
Why we picked the Samsung CF791
Most ultra-wide monitors offer a spectacular viewing experience — that’s what they’re for. But Samsung has somehow managed to outdo the competition with the CF791, delivering a stellar viewing experience, a deep curve, and a display that is almost otherworldly.
Before you even turn it on, the Samsung CF791 cuts an elegant figure. A broad aluminum-colored disc supports a glossy white armature that seems to effortlessly hold the display aloft. And once you hit the power button the CF791 just springs to life.
Right out of the box, the colors and contrast are nearly pitch-perfect. Hitting a 940:1 contrast ratio without any calibration, and delivering nearly perfect color accuracy after calibration, the CF791 was full of surprises during our review. It consistently outperformed the competition and our expectations. Games look great, movies look great, and even day-to-day productivity is enhanced.
That said, it’s not a 4K monitor, so that might be a downside if you’re looking for the highest resolution you can possibly get. But the CF791 delivers impressive display quality on a 21:9 1440p display panel that somehow manages to prevent any and all light-leakage.
This monitor routinely sells for $950 online. That’s not cheap, but given the fact that this CF791 is easily the best-in-class ultra-wide monitor, it’s an investment that will easily outlast your desktop itself.
The best gaming monitor
Why you should buy this: 1440p, 165Hz refresh rate, and Nvidia’s G-Sync.
Who it’s for: Gamers, media enthusiasts.
How much will it cost: $670 – $700
Why we picked the Asus ROG Swift PG279Q
Simply put: it’s fast. Seriously, this thing is too fast for its own good. You can push the refresh rate up to 165Hz which is, currently, a little overkill. Let’s be honest, is your gaming rig powerful enough to run any recent games at 165 frames per second? Well, if isn’t today, it might be in the future, and that’s why the Asus ROG Swift PG279Q is our pick for best gaming monitor.
Its price tag is justified in part due to the fact that it’s a little more future-proof than competitors with 1440p resolution. By allowing you to push the refresh rate to a currently unnecessary degree, it has a lot of head room. It will look smooth and vibrant for years.
The monitor’s image quality is good, with sharp and crisp 1440p resolution, and solid marks in contrast. While it’s not technically the most impressive monitor we’ve tested, it is better than many of its gaming-oriented rivals. Opening Overwatch or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is when this display really shines.
Bottom line, the ROG Swift is an investment, and chances are it’ll outlive your next two, three, or even four graphics cards without missing a beat.
The best professional monitor
Why you should buy this: You need pitch-perfect color accuracy
Who it’s for: Photographers, graphic designers, anyone who needs perfect color accuracy above all else.
How much will it cost: $600 – $700
Why we picked the BenQ SW2700PT
This monitor is a great tool for editing movies, photos, or running a high-end graphic design workstation. The BenQ SW2700PT is designed from the ground up for the professional market, which has very particular needs. Color accuracy is the name of the game here, not speed or even resolution.
For professionals like graphic designers, photographers, and film editors, a monitor needs to reproduce colors as faithfully as possible, and in our tests the SW2700PT did just that.
That might be an understatement. In fact, the SW2700PT reproduced colors almost perfectly. To put it in perspective, when a monitor reproduces colors there is almost always a slight difference between the displayed color and the color data itself. That “color difference” can skew the look of an image and cause problems when editing digital content. This BenQ has almost no noticeable color difference, so images shown on it appear as they should.
It’s also bright, sharp, crystal-clear, and comes with an attachable shade to preserve color accuracy even in a bright office environment. The SW2700PT is a fantastic monitor, and the best choice if you’re in the market for a new professional-grade display solution.
The best ultrawide monitor
Why you should buy this: Because 16:9 just isn’t wide enough for you.
Who it’s for: Gamers who are looking for an extra edge or professionals who need a lot of screen real estate.
How much will it cost: $700 – $800
Why we picked the Samsung S34E790C
Be careful with this one. Once you give an ultra-wide monitor a try, you’ll never want to go back. Just one look at the Samsung S34E790C, and you can tell it’s something special. Impressive industrial design, a deep curve, and a thin bezel make this display stand out. It is understated, but immodest, like a luxury car with a sleek black paint job.
It’s eye catching without trying to be. Then you turn it on, and you realize why.
This thing is gorgeous, even though it’s not 4K. It doesn’t need to be. With an unbelievable 21:9 aspect ratio, the S34E790C provides a massive amount of screen real-estate. The 3,440 x 1,440 resolution means this monitor can effectively expand the horizons of your favorite movies, games, or even your workspace.
That’s right. Go ahead and stack up some windows on this thing, and you’ll see what we mean. It offers up an amount of screen space comparable to a dual-monitor setup, without that irritating bezel in the middle.
For games, you might have to tweak your field of view to get the most out of this monitor, but once you do it’s like a whole new world. You’ll have a very hard time going back to a traditional 16:9 monitor.
The best budget monitor
Why you should buy this: You don’t mind 1080p, and don’t want to break the bank.
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a great monitor under $300.
How much will it cost: $250-$300
Why we picked the Dell SE2716H
This one is not exactly a showstopper, but it will earn your respect with an impressive spec sheet and excellent contrast ratio. The Dell SE2716H is a reliable all-around choice for a home office or a dorm-room desktop. If you just want a monitor that is going to work, but more importantly won’t cost you an arm and a leg, look no further.
The Dell SE2716H isn’t just a good budget monitor, it’s a good monitor overall. It has a 1080p display with a very slight curve that adds a little more life to your games and movies than your average display in the same price category. In fact, last year it was one of our favorite monitors even at its original retail price of $400, so today for around $250 it’s a steal.
It’s not going to compete with the displays further up in our list here, but it’s no slouch either. The color accuracy is fantastic, and the contrast ratio is still extremely competitive, coming in at 790:1 at full brightness.
The SE2716H is an excellent choice, easily out-performing other monitors in the same price category. So if you’re looking for a good all-around monitor but you don’t want to make the jump to 4K or invest in an ultra-wide, this one is a very good pick.
How to decipher monitor specs
You might be wondering what some of the specifications you read above mean. Here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Aspect Ratio – The relation of the monitor’s width to its height. Most monitors are 16:9 — the same as an HDTV. But some are 21:9, which means they’re much wider than a typical display.
FreeSync and G-Sync – These are two, separate frame refresh technologies. the former promoted by AMD, the latter proprietary to Nvidia. Read our comparison of FreeSync and G-Sync to learn more.
Resolution – How many pixels the monitor has. More tends to provide a sharper, more realistic image.
Refresh Rate – Express in hertz, abbreviated “Hz” — This is the number of times the monitor image refreshes each second. A higher refresh rate can make the monitor look smoother in motion.
How we test
We test monitors by putting them through a comprehensive series of test that includes color accuracy, color gamut, gamma, brightness, contrast, and black levels. Our testing is complimented with real-world use, so we know how the monitor will look to you every morning.
Our testing is conducted with both out-the-box and calibrated settings. By doing this, we can tell you whether or not the monitor will look good from the moment you turn it on, and if you’ll see much benefit from tweaking its settings.