Best Cheap Monitors
Published on By Michael Sweet
AOC i2367fh Review
From $160 Best
The AOC i2367 is a PC Mag Editors' Choice winner. It presents excellent color accuracy out of the box, better grayscale accuracy than many IPS displays, and includes two HDMI ports. A real bargain for an IPS display, especially one that performs this well.
Most AOC monitors are priced in the budget range and the i2367fh is one of the company's best, according to reviews. A PC Mag expert was sufficiently enthused to declare it an Editors' Choice, awarding it four out of five stars. The AOC i2367fh review highlights several appealing attributes. For example, the monitor's color accuracy is very good right out of the box. Moreover, the AOC i2367fh has two HDMI ports and the response time is a mere 5 milliseconds, which is notable given that this is an IPS display. As expected, it has wide viewing angles and grayscale reproduction is quite good. As for drawbacks, the AOC i2367fh is a tilt-only display -- there's no height adjustment -- and reviews conclude that the speakers don't sound so hot.
An assessment by Gadget Review also points out that the AOC i2367fh lacks a DVI connection, so if you want to connect to your PC using DVI, you'll need an HDMI-to-DVI adapter. This expert likes the rapid-fire response time and says the AOC i2367fh shows good detail and no ghosting, although he spotted a tiny bit of barely noticeable backlight bleeding from one edge of the screen.
The AOC i2367fh (starting at $160, Amazon) is a 23-inch IPS display with a 1920x1080 resolution and brightness of 250 cd/m2. Its response time of 5 milliseconds gray-to-gray is impressively fast for an IPS monitor. For connections, the i2367fh offers two HDMI ports and a VGA port. The monitor also includes two 2w speakers.
The only real negative with this model is speakers that produce disappointing sound, but that's to be expected in a budget monitor. The two HDMI ports are a welcome touch. Color quality on the AOC i2367fh is very good, and its response time is outstanding.
Dell UltraSharp U2312HM Review
From $190 Best
The UltraSharp U2312 has great color accuracy and performance combined with extra features such as an IPS-based screen and four USB ports. Its only drawback is the lack of an HDMI port. Nitpicking, perhaps, but at this price it should have one.
Dell UltraSharp U2312HM reviews are clear: This monitor combines excellent performance with a rich array of features. An expert from Top Ten Reviews declares the UltraSharp U2312HM to be the best monitor in the budget price range. One reason is the IPS panel, which has wider viewing angles and better color than cheaper TN-panel monitors. The display's height is adjustable, a feature missing in most entry-level models, and it also includes four USB ports, another extra touch in the entry-level segment. One drawback noted in the Dell UltraSharp U2312HM review is the absence of an HDMI connection, the preferred connection for new monitors these days.
Accurate colors impress an expert from Flat Panels HD even though they trend cool. This Dell UltraSharp U2312HM review further notes that the display is bright with barely any backlight bleeding. Response time also gets a nod for outpacing most IPS monitors. Cheapism's list of top picks, however, includes a couple of IPS displays that are even faster.
The UltraSharp U2312HM (starting at $190, Amazon) is a widescreen 23-inch IPS-based display with a 1920x1080 resolution. It has a contrast ratio of 1000:1 and its brightness is 300 cd/m2. The monitor's response time of 8 milliseconds gray-to-gray is pretty decent for a moderately-priced IPS monitor and suffices for gaming. The UltraSharp U2312HM features DVI, DisplayPort, and good old VGA connections, in addition to four USB 2.0 ports for connecting peripherals.
Nearly flawless performance, including vivid colors, a bright display, and very wide viewing angles, commend this monitor to frugal buyers. The UltraSharp U2312HM's response time is good for an IPS display though not quite as fast as TN panels; gamers shouldn't experience any ghosting with fast-paced action. The missing HDMI port might be a deal-killer for some, but given the starting price of $190 and the level of quality, we're willing to accept that sacrifice.
Acer G246HL Review
From $140 Good
The Acer G246HL is a TN-based monitor that manages to produce bright, accurate colors and deep black levels. It's a speedy display at a cheap price that users love, but note that it wants for an HDMI port and other extras.
The Acer G246HL is a diamond in the rough. Expert reviewers seem to have overlooked this display, but not shoppers. Almost 200 buyers at Newegg have assigned it an average of five stars out of five in Acer G246HL reviews. Acclaim is nearly as loud in reviews posted at Amazon. Clearly, users like what they get with the Acer G246HL. According to the comments posted at Newegg, the G246HL provides excellent overall image quality, with bright, vivid, accurate colors; good contrast ratio; and fast response time. The matte screen reduces glare, and the relatively low price of this display is hard to resist. Some Acer G246HL reviews grouse that the stand is a little wobbly and can't be adjusted for height and the feature set is sparse. Still, this monitor wins thumbs-up for performance.
The Acer G246HL (starting at $140, Amazon) is a simple TN-based 24-inch monitor with a 1920x1080 resolution, speedy response time of 5 milliseconds, and a rated brightness of 250 cd/m2. For connections, the G246HL offers only DVI and VGA ports; the monitor doesn't include any USB ports, speakers, or an HDMI connection. Because this is a TN-based monitor, its viewing angle, by definition, is narrower than that of an IPS-based display; that said, we saw no complaints in user reviews.
One of the better TN-based displays around, the no-frills Acer G246HL delivers on color quality and accuracy as well as on speed. Its starting price of $140 is relatively low, though a good IPS monitor or one with an HDMI port won't cost much more.
BenQ GW2450 Review
From $170 Good
The GW2450 from BenQ is a bit unusual with its VA-based screen rather than IPS or TN. This makes for a fast monitor with good black levels and color quality, but relatively narrow viewing angles.
BenQ GW2450 reviews consider the VA-style panel, which basically splits the difference in quality between a typical IPS monitor and a TN display, an attractive third way. PC Mag says the BenQ GW2450 presents bright, vivid colors much like an IPS monitor, whereas the color on TN displays tends to be duller. And while the blacks are appropriately dark, making for a nice, high contrast ratio, grays at the bottom end of the grayscale appear black instead of dark gray -- performance that doesn't quite measure up to a typical TN display. The BenQ GW2450 reviews here and at Top Ten Reviews laud the lickety-split response time of 4 milliseconds, which is about the speed of a TN display and a hair better than budget IPS monitors. Disadvantages, according to the experts, include narrow viewing angles, the lack of an HDMI port, and no height adjustability (the BenQ GW2450 is tilt-only). Still, the reviewer at PC Mag is a big enough fan to describe it as a good value and assign it an above-average rating; the Top Ten verdict was a strong 8.98 out of 10.
The BenQ GW2450 (starting at $170, Amazon) is pretty basic in terms of features. This is a 24-inch VA (vertical alignment) display with a resolution of 1920x1080. It has a higher-than-average 3000:1 native contrast ratio and a 4-millisecond gray-to-gray response time. The GW2450 provides two ports -- one for DVI and one for VGA. The GW2450HM version of this monitor includes an HDMI port, but sells for $550-plus.
If you're having trouble deciding between an IPS and a TN monitor, the VA is a good alternative. It boasts the speed and dark black levels of a TN monitor, with color quality that exceeds the usual TN display and edges up to IPS quality. The BenQ GW2450 is light on features and the viewing angles are somewhat limited, but on balance this is a fine value.
Asus MX239H Review
From $200 Think Twice
The MX239H is a decent monitor in general, but we read reports about breakdowns within a year. This display also has trouble with darker grays, which appear black. Recertified models are available for about $165.
The MX239H display from Asus has some good features and performs well enough, according to reviews, but not without caveats. An expert review in PC Mag says the Acer MX239H produces rich colors (although greens seem a little oversaturated), skin tones appear natural, and text looks crisp and sharp. This is an IPS display, so there are no problems delivering wide viewing angles, and the 5-millisecond response time is quite fast for this display technology. And yet, the Acer MX239H review harps on the MX239H's grayscale performance. Light grays look fine, it says, but dark grays appear to be solid black. Another shortcoming, and somewhat odd at that, is physical menu buttons that are overly sensitive. The expert who tested the display reports that it's easy enough to accidentally skip past the desired menu option.
Acer MX239H reviews posted at user-generated sites such as Newegg likewise consider the buttons to be touchy. Some also complain that their monitors broke down within a year, even as many assert the color is fantastic, the backlight is bright, and there's no noticeable ghosting or lag.
This is a 23-inch IPS monitor with a 1920x1080 resolution. It boasts a 5-millisecond gray-to-gray response time, brightness of 25 cd/m2, and two 3w speakers. The display's connections include two HDMI ports and a VGA port; connecting the monitor to a DVI connection requires an HDMI-to-DVI cable.
The MX239H (starting at $200, Amazon) is a decent display, but doesn't handle darker grays as well as others in the budget class, so its contrast ratio is below par. The super-sensitive menu buttons will bother some buyers, although most users don't deal with those buttons very often. Reports about displays breaking down within a year are more disconcerting. With a price tag just at the Cheapism cap of $200 and stronger competition, these weak points matter.
Monitors often are little more than an afterthought for home computer users. After all, many computer manufacturers and electronics retailers give away flat-panel displays as part of a desktop package. The packages aren't a bad deal, but not everyone needs a new monitor with a new PC, and there are plenty of users who simply want to replace their old monitor with a new, cheap monitor or add a second one to their work station. Given the variety and quality available, you'll have no trouble finding a good monitor in the $125-$200 range.
Cheap Monitors Buying Guide
Some of the most familiar names in monitors include Acer, Asus, Dell, AOC, and Benq. Our favorite cheap monitors are the Dell UltraSharp U2312HM (starting at $190) and the AOC i2367fh (starting at $160). Second-best cheap monitor picks include the BenQ GW2450 (starting at $170) and the Acer G246HL (starting at $140). The Asus MX239H (starting at $200), by contrast, disappoints, but if you're a fan of Asus displays, the vs239H-P (starting at $160) is a better choice owing to its fast response time and bright, vivid images. Touchscreen displays are still too pricey for Cheapism, but if you're willing to spring for one, the responsive Acer T232HL (starting at $316) is worth considering.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Dell UltraSharp U2312HM Review
Screen Size 23 inches
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Response Time 8ms
Ports DVI, VGA, DisplayPort, USB x 4
Display Type IPS
|190||23 inches||1920 x 1080||8ms||DVI, VGA, DisplayPort, USB x 4||IPS|
AOC i2367fh Review
Screen Size 23 inches
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Response Time 5ms
Ports HDMI x 2, VGA
Display Type IPS
|160||23 inches||1920 x 1080||5ms||HDMI x 2, VGA||IPS|
BenQ GW2450 Review
Screen Size 24 inches
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Response Time 4ms
Ports DVI, VGA
Display Type VA
|170||24 inches||1920 x 1080||4ms||DVI, VGA||VA|
Acer G246HL Review
Screen Size 24 inches
Resolution 1920 x 1080
Response Time 5ms
Ports DVI, VGA
Display Type TN
|140||24 inches||1920 x 1080||5ms||DVI, VGA||TN|
What We Looked For in the Specs
Panel Technology.There are different types of display panels for cheap monitors. The two most common are IPS (in-plane switching) and TN (twisted nematic). IPS technology has been around for a while but used to be too pricey for budget monitors. A much cheaper version of IPS technology is now available for widescreen monitors in the under-$200 range, including two of the best cheap monitors: the Dell UltraSharp U2312 and the AOC i2367fh. TN-based displays, such as the Acer G246HL, still command a share of the market.
IPS is superior to TN in most respects because it provides greater color uniformity and image accuracy as well as wider viewing angles. TN displays are known for their rapid response times, as well as good contrast ratios, as they are better able to produce very dark black levels and accurate grayscales.
One of the monitors on our list of top picks, the BenQ GW2450, uses a VA (vertical alignment) panel. An expert at Top Ten Reviews notes that this type of panel has better color quality and wider viewing angles than typical TN monitors and faster response times and deeper black levels than typical IPS monitors.
Native Resolution.This term refers to the resolution at which images look best on a particular monitor; always set your computer and monitor to the native resolution. Monitors with higher native resolutions display sharper images than those with lower resolutions. All of our budget picks feature a native resolution of 1920x1080, which is the same resolution as a 1080p high-definition television. This is no accident, as these specs let you watch high-definition movies on the monitor if your computer has a DVD or Blu-ray drive.
Screen Size.Display size is one of the first features that attract shoppers' attention. The current generation of flat-screen monitors range in size from about 17 inches to a giant 65 inches, although smaller screens designed for on-the-go use also are available.
Large monitors are tempting, but consider a few things before buying one. First, the larger the monitor, the more expensive it will be. Second, if you have a small work area or sit fairly close to the screen, a large monitor may be overwhelming. Monitors up to 24 inches offer a large amount of screen real estate and fall within the Cheapism niche; all of the cheap monitors we researched are either 23 or 24 inches.
What We Ignored in the Specs
Dynamic Contrast Ratio.A monitor's contrast ratio is the relationship between the deepest dark levels a monitor can display and the brightest white levels. Contrast ratios can be measured a couple of ways. The most accurate measure is a static or "native" contrast ratio, which is typically about 1000:1 in most monitors. The BenQ GW2450 has an especially high native contrast ratio of 3000:1.
However, the most common contrast ratio measurement you'll see in the specifications is a dynamic contrast ratio. Manufacturers can manipulate this number to ridiculous proportions, to the point that it really has no meaning. For example, the Acer T232HL touchscreen display lists its contrast ratio as 100,000,000:1, and the AOC i2368fh claims its contrast ratio is 50,000,000:1. Go by a monitor's static contrast ratio -- if you can find it in the specs -- and ignore the dynamic contrast ratio.
Brightness.This feature is measured in cd/m2 (candelas per square meter, a.k.a. "nits"). There's not much difference between the best computer monitors and ordinary displays as far as brightness levels go. All the models we researched feature a brightness level between 250 and 300 nits. We didn't find any complaints from experts or consumers about the brightness of any of the cheap monitors on our list.
HDMI Port.Computer monitors don't require a lot of ports. You need only one to connect to your PC, although cheap monitors offer two or three types of connectors. There are three common types of inputs: DVI-D, D-sub (or VGA), and HDMI. HDMI inputs offer the best image quality, but DVI connections rank pretty close. That being the case, we don't consider HDMI to be an essential feature for a budget display, although it's nice to have. The Dell UltraSharp, BenQ GW2450, and Acer G246HL don't have an HDMI port, but they all perform with distinction.
Speakers.Some entry-level monitors, including the AOC i2367fh, Asus MX239H (starting at $200), and Acer T232HL, include speakers built into the bezel. The speakers are usually very small and not very powerful. Even on the best entry-level computer monitors, audio quality tends to be lackluster, so don't go out of your way to find one with built-in speakers.
Computer Monitor Reviews
Picture quality is the most important performance attribute of a computer monitor, cheap or otherwise. It is influenced by a variety of factors such as color accuracy, grayscale representation, and brightness. Experts use tests to measure these criteria, but users rely on their subjective impressions of the display. And monitor reviews indicate that most buyers of budget displays are easy to please. We saw plenty of comments posted by consumers who rave about picture quality and user-friendliness. Experts are fans, as well. Indeed, monitor reviews in general conclude that manufacturers are now producing entry-level displays that deliver high-level image quality.
We consulted a variety of user and expert monitor reviews to ascertain the performance of the models on our list. We were primarily interested in a display's overall image quality, although response times are important to users who play video games or watch fast-paced video on their monitors.
Picture Quality.Monitor reviews by experts often quibble about specific aspects of a display's performance, such as grayscale reproduction, color accuracy, or ghosting, but still assigned the models on our list above-average grades. Consumers, meanwhile, don't seem fazed by these technical issues. For the most part, monitor reviews indicate that picture quality with our top picks meets the expectations of consumers and experts alike.
Color accuracy seems to be the most important quality for both sets of reviewers. The Dell UltraSharp (starting at $190), for example, boasts especially good color accuracy, according to an expert from Flat Panels HD. An expert at Anandtech noticed that calibrating the touchscreen Acer T232HL (starting at $316) to exact color accuracy proved to be pretty tricky, although the result edged close to a precise finish. For black levels and grayscale quality, a TN display such as the Acer G246HL (starting at $140) proves superior to most IPS-based models. The BenQ GW2450 (starting at $170), with its VA screen, pleased a reviewer from PC Mag with its deep black levels.
All of the displays we reviewed are easily bright enough right out of the box. But here's a tip: A bit of human intervention may be necessary to tweak the factory default settings. Let personal preferences rule.
Response Time.The display on a monitor is made up of thousands of tiny pixels that change color very rapidly to compose the visible image. The speed at which the pixels change color is called the response time, which is measured in milliseconds. The faster the pixels change color, the better.
Manufacturers list the monitor's gray-to-gray response time, which is how long it takes for a pixel to turn from one shade of gray to another. This measurement of response is listed as GtG or gray-to-gray. A flat-screen monitor with a slow response time may suffer from "ghosting," a fluttering effect that would be apparent in fast-moving video, such as games, sports, or movies. Most widescreen monitors, whether cheap or pricey, have a sufficiently fast response time that ghosting isn't an issue. The cheap models we researched successfully ward off this unwelcome visual effect, according to monitor reviews.
IPS monitors used to have slower response times than TN displays, but the IPS monitors are catching up. Today's budget IPS displays are pretty fast, from 5 milliseconds to 8 ms, which should be enough to prevent ghosting. We found several IPS monitors with 5 ms response times, including the older Asus vs239H-P (starting at $160), the Acer T232HL touchscreen monitor, and the budget AOC i2367fh (starting at $160). The latter impressed an expert from PC Mag with its fast response time.
Additional Products We Considered
Acer T232HL Review
The Acer T232HL is pricier than the budget models we researched because it's a touchscreen display, but reviews indicate its feature set and performance seem to be on par with the entry-level competition. Expert reviews of the Acer T232HL are generally upbeat, but refrain from all-out enthusiasm. A reviewer at Anandtech likes the very wide viewing angles, and says the display is quite responsive to touch input and response time is quick for an IPS display. On the other hand, continues the Acer T32HL review, color accuracy is a bit off and the display isn't as bright as competing screens. An expert at PC Mag gives this model a rating of 4 out of 5 in a review that describes touchscreen responsiveness as "flawless." It goes on to say that text looks crisp and color is robust, with accurate skin tones, but dismisses the built-in speakers for their tinny sound. Both Acer T232HL reviews complain about the screen's reflectiveness.
This is a 23-inch IPS touchscreen monitor with a resolution of 1920x1080 and a pair of 2w speakers. The monitor sports an HDMI and a VGA port, three USB 2.0 ports, but no DVI or DisplayPort.
Anyone who has upgraded to Windows 8 may want to update their display to take advantage of the operating system's touchscreen features. Responsiveness on the Acer T232HL (starting at $316, Amazon) is excellent and color accuracy pretty good, though not perfect. The price is high for budget shoppers, but touchscreen displays haven't dropped below our $200 ceiling yet.
Asus vs239H-P Review
The Asus vs239H-P monitor has been around for a couple of years, and reviews often comment on the modest price and excellent value. Indeed, its popularity with users seems to keep it on the company's roster. An expert from Top Ten Reviews writes of being impressed with the vivid images and brightness, as well as the speedy response time of 5 milliseconds. A CNET review of the Asus vs239H-P notes that it may lag on extra features, such as USB ports and built-in speakers, but it certainly measures up on performance. The expert didn't see any lag when testing this display, although there was a spot of light bleeding from the right edge of the screen. At The Hardware Zone, the Asus vs239H-P review grumbles about the tilt-only design (e.g., no height adjustment) but says color accuracy is excellent out of the box -- no tweaking required. The display garners further commendations for good contrast and response time.
The Asus vs239H-P (starting at $160, Amazon) is a no-frills display with a 23-inch screen using an IPS panel. It runs at a resolution of 1920x1080 and presents a gray-to-gray response time of 5 milliseconds. There are three connection options: an HDMI port (a welcome feature often lacking in the budget zone), a DVI port, and a VGA port.
It's hard to argue with value, and value defines this monitor -- the short list of features notwithstanding. Most people don't like monitor speakers anyway, and while USB ports built into a display are convenient, most of us can get along without them just fine. In return, you get a fast display with good color and no need to spend a lot of time fine-tuning it, although you may want to tone down the brightness. Apart from that, the Asus vs239H-P is good to go as soon as you plug it in.