Ask LH: Is It Okay To Use An HDTV As A Monitor?

Dear Lifehacker,

I’ve been debating between buying a new computer monitor or an HDTV to use with my PC. As large monitors (say about 27 inches) are close to the prices of a decent sized HDTV (say 32 inches or smaller), which would you go with?


Confused About Monitors

Dear Confused,

The thought of running your computer through a big 32-inch monitor is pretty exciting, but it’s not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. Consider two key points to help you make your choice: what you use your computer for and the video outputs available on your computer. Let’s start by taking a look at your primary usage.

What’s Your Primary Usage?

The big deciding factor as to whether a HDTV is OK to use on a PC is what you typically use a PC for. A lot of variables factor into your daily use, but chances are you fall into one of two basic categories: a daily PC user or an entertainment user. Daily might include everything from sending a few emails to working in Photoshop all day, whereas entertainment would mean the bulk of your time is spent watching movies or playing games. The answer to the question of whether an HDTV works well as a computer monitor depends on what you use your computer for.

Day-to-Day Computing

If the bulk of your computer usage is browsing articles on the internet, reading email, writing or anything similar, the biggest problem you’ll have with the bigger HDTV screen is the lower resolution. Text will look fuzzy and hard to read — especially up close — when compared to most high-resolution monitors. Remember, when it comes to monitors, resolution matters most. A 32-inch HDTV can sport the same resolution as a 27-inch monitor (assuming they’re both 1080p), but blown up an additional five inches. This makes everything a little fuzzy and not conducive for reading.

If you go below 32-inches on the HDTV, you are stuck with the lower 720p resolution if you want to keep the TV cheap. After testing it out for myself on an admittedly low-quality Vizio 27-inch TV, I would not want to use the TV on a daily basis because text is blurry and difficult to read.

The other problem is ergonomics and the sheer size of a HDTV. You want your eye level lined up about 5cm-7cm below the top of the monitor. This can be difficult with a large screen unless you’re very tall or sit especially high.

So, if you primarily use your computer for basic day-to-day computing, you’ll be more comfortable and get a better experience out of the 27-inch monitor since it usually has a higher resolution and is easier to set up ergonomically. If you use your computer for entertainment, it’s a whole different story.



When the bulk of your computer usage is tied up in gaming or watching movies, a big HDTV-as-monitor is a great experience, but it comes with a few caveats. First off, the same ergonomic problem applies, so you need to have a desk set up in a way that you can sit back a bit from the TV. Second, you’re still better off with the higher resolution 1080p TV if you’re using it as a part-time computer monitor, so the cost might bump up a bit.

That said, as an all-in-one entertainment solution it can look and work great. It will take some rearranging on your part to make it to comfortable to sit at and use, but if you can work with it, it will do you well.

You might also want to consider using the HDTV as a second monitor in a dual-monitor setup and keeping your current monitor for regular browser use or email writing. This will give you the best of both worlds, even if it does take up a lot of desk real estate. Image: archi4oz.

Make Sure Your Computer Can Connect To A HDTV

If you decide a HDTV is right for the job you need to make sure your PC has the capability to run video out to a HDTV. PC’s typically have at least one of three options to push video to a TV or a monitor:

  • HDMI Port: If your PC has a new high-end graphics card then chances are you have an HDMI port on the back. This is the easiest to use because all you need to do is connect a standard HDMI cable to run the computer to the TV. The one HDMI cable runs both your audio and video to the TV.
  • [imgclear] DVI Port: If your computer has a DVI port, you can connect it into your TV directly with a DVI to HDMI cable like this one. Some HDTVs have a special port labelled either DVI/HDMI or PC/HDMI that help the TV identify the resolution better. Connect the cable into the recommended one on the back of the TV. If it doesn’t give you a choice, any open HDMI slot should work. However, DVI ports do not send audio like HDMI so you have to connect your PC to the TV with RCA cables as well.
  • [imgclear] VGA Port: The VGA port allows you to connect through a VGA cable, but it’s not a digital signal so the quality won’t be as good as the DVI or HDMI inputs. It will still work, it just won’t have the same clarity. Like DVI, VGA is only for video so you also have to run your audio out to the TV.

The next step is to make sure your video card can output at the resolution of the television or monitor you’re looking to buy. Cheaper 27-inch LCD monitors typically display at the same resolution as a 1080p HDTV: 1920×1080. You can check your video card’s maximum resolution by checking your manual, or click Control Panel > Display > Settings > Advanced > List All Modes in Windows. For Macs you have to consult the manual.

Ultimately, it’s all about your use. Spend your time playing PC games and watching movies? Get an HDTV. Prefer to work or read on your computer? Stick with the smaller computer monitor.



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PS: Do you run your PC through a HDTV? What are your thoughts?

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