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?

Signed,

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.

Entertainment

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.

  • 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.

  • 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: 1920x1080. 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.

Cheers

Lifehacker

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


Comments

    I bought a 27" Samsung 1080p LED backlit TV with built-in tuner and (rubbish) speakers for only $300 at Narvey Horman :-) on Boxing Day, and replaced my 22" LG monitor. Sold that for $50 on ebay, and so now for $250 I have the clearest monitor, for substantially less than the equivalent 26" LG monitor, and sitting here on the couch in the stud on Saturday morning can watch rage while using my tablet!

    Simple fact is for every 1 26+" monitor they sell, they sell 100 HDTVs, so they cost less, and I couldn't recommend it enough!!

    Just remember: small TVs have crappy speakers :-(

    That should be STUDY, not stud! Stupid auto correct! Btw, should mention computer is used for everything from email to YouTube, to Facebook and photo editing.

    Much rather a high def monitor for standing a foot and a half from than a lower def but larger sized TV. TV's are in general not designed for close up use, so because they can get away with lower def the cost is bound to be lower!

    @noddy: how high-def are you talking? 1080p is 1920x1080, regardless of size.... the only thing that changes is the pixel density (think iphone4 vs ipad) do you think, and i'm not sure, that samsung would bother making a 27" 1080p LED backlit LCD monitor, and the exact same size and specification TV, and bother making 2 different sets of internal components? this monitor is so crystal clear, it's magnificent.

    A week after I bought mine, i saw a 32" 1080p Sharp LCD TV for $299, but realised that would have been *too* big, as the pixel density would have dropped a little too much.

      Doesn't matter if the resolution, say 1920x1080 is identical. It will look a lot tighter on the smaller monitor because you are squeezing the same amount of pixels into a smaller area, which on the larger TV will then show larger pixels. I frequently use both Photoshop and Corel Draw and I'd much rather use my 24" monitor for that than a larger TV type screen.

        yes, but i think we're splitting hairs here... i'm not suggesting anyone goes out and buys a monitor that's too big.

        the point of this entire article was 'can you use an hdtv as a monitor?' the answer is YES.

        as long as the monitor is the right size and resolution, buy the hdtv instead of the equivalent monitor, because it's cheaper, and will come with a built-in TV tuner and speakers and still have the EXACT SAME pixel density.

        oh, and one last thing, remember how i initially said i sold my old 22" monitor for $50? if i'd originally bought a tv i could have either sold it for more, or continued using it as an additional tv: second hand monitors are worthless, but any lcd tv will always have a buyer.

    Not all digital TVs handle HDMI from a PC well. My cheap 32" AWA from Big W makes better use of the total area of the screen with a VGA cable than it does with a HDMI cable. When using HDMI at various resolutions the picture either does not make use of the whole display, or part of the picture is chopped off. (Taskbar off bottom of screen). My previous TV, Soniq brand, was even worse.

      different inputs will need different calibration - check your owners manual to adjust the screen dimensions.

      also, i saw that AWA one, and thought i'd rather go the smaller one, but wondered how are the speakers on the 32" tv?

    hmm after reading this im having second thoughts on if a 46" 1080p tv would be suitable as a second screen. How do these tv's go when comes to gaming and multimedia?

      The non-cheapest TV's usually have a game or graphics mode which changes the behaviour of the TV to suit. The most notable difference is that the 100-200ms delay caused by image processing is gone, but audio will change too.

      Panasonic LCD TV's also have an (optional) on-screen timer that tells you how long you've been gaming.

      This day and age TV's are well prepared for gaming, considering a huge chunk of users game more frequently than watch tv.
      Pretty much any decent tv will be fine. . . unless its some cheap arsed piece of crap from BigW or something.

    Ive been using a 32" Samsung HDTV as my monitor for a year now and its fantastic!

    Graphic Designer/Web Browser/Gamer

      I had a 32" Sony bravia for desktop PC use. The image quality a dull and was actually painful to watch. I switched to a Samsung 24" LED monitor and man, I am relieved. Easy to watch for long hours, plus everything looks 100% sharper & vibrant.

      Damn I love Samsung. Sony's midrange is just awful & is NOT recommended!

        You're comparing a TV to a tiny monitor for use as a monitor. Are you fucking kidding me? Or is this just a thinly veiled excuse for your fanboy-circlejerking?

    What about screen burn on your LCD or plasma, from gaming - where stuff is always in the same location on the screen?

      Screen burn isn't to much of an issue these days, but I still wouldn't leave the screen showing the desktop all day. Use a screen saver, or if you have media centre PC ( like I do) turn on the tv function. I've had my samsung 46 inch LCD hooked up 2 years now, And I have not had a problem yet.

    i cant believe people use TV's as monitors, I find 1920x1080 horrible for use on my PC, 1920x1200 is far better and well worth the extra money been running a samsung 24" 2493HM for a couple of years now, love it, at work have the new LED equiv model also love it

    Currently using my 60" rear pro as a "monitor" for my HTPC & PS3. Both connect via HDMI, but the PC (PS3 might also) has issues with needing to include overscan eg. having to output a high resolution image >1920x1080p to have the screen show the full 1920x1080. Some video card drivers can deal with this, others you need to either reduce the resolution or live with the all the edges being clipped.
    Does anyone have any other ideas? (and don't say buy another TV as the TV is a SONY SXRD projector!)

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