HEAD TO HEAD
A big-screen PC is a blast.
PC monitor vs HDTV vs projector
In days of yore, hooking up a PC to a TV via a low-res analog interface was fun, but it was also blurry, borky, and sub-optimal. Today, everything is crisp, clean, and digital. TVs offer high-res 4K panels that match or exceed most PC monitors for pixel count, and in the case of TVs with HDR support, colour depth and contrast, too. Even projectors now support proper PC-size pixel grids. So, what makes for the best big-screen PC experience?
In this age of dirt-cheap HDTVs, you might think there can be only one winner. After all, how do you argue with something like a cheapo 40-inch 4K TV on sale for something ridiculous like $600? In terms of absolute wallop for your wallet, you don’t. However, the affordability of the latest HDTVs has happily had a knock-on effect for the PC monitor market as a whole.
For instance, there are several monitors that are essentially 4K TVs repackaged and fitted out with electronics more suitable for PCs. Such screens are far cheaper than they otherwise would be, thanks to the huge volumes in which those big HDTV panels are cranked out. More generally, HDTV production on an epic scale pushes down the price of LCD panel tech, and has shifted expectations when it comes to the resolutions of cheaper screens. In short, 4K has become the norm thanks to HDTVs, not PC monitors.
As for projectors, they don’t really get a look in when it comes to value. Big, bold, and cinematic they may well be, but when even the cheapest true 4K projector costs thousands of dollars, a beamer isn’t even in the running when it comes to bang for buck.
WINNER: HDTV PIXEL PITCH
This is where PC monitors used to have their big advantage over hooking up an old-school CRT TV via S-video or component. PC monitors typically had a huge resolution advantage, while also being physically smaller. Cue massive pixel advantage. That’s no longer quite as true. 4K HDTVs now offer 3,840 x 2,160 pixel grids, and that’s pretty much as good as it gets for computer monitors. Granted, some 5K and even 8K monitors do exist, but they’re typically very pricey affairs.
However, particularly when it comes to productivity work, a good PC screen is about more than simply pixel count. Pixel pitch counts, too, and it counts against both projectors and HDTVs. The bigger the screen, the bigger the pixel, leading to less clarity and sharpness, rougher font rendering, and so on. Moreover, if you’re not increasing the overall pixel count, you’re not getting any additional on-screen elbow room to work with. Of course, you could sit further away from your HDTV or projector screen, and thus solve the pixel pitch problem, but if the apparent size is then the same as a smaller monitor situated closer, what is actually the point in having the larger screen?
WINNER: PC monitor CONNECTIVITY
Another area where TVs and projectors used to fall short; the connectivity gap has shrunk of late thanks to digitisation. The HDMI 2.0 interface used by HDTVs and projectors, for example, is broadly comparable with DisplayPort 1.2 when it comes to bandwidth. Both support full 4K resolutions at 60Hz refresh.
But that’s not the full story. The PC-centric DisplayPort interface is far more flexible and offers not just multimedia transmission, but also compatibility with USB Type-C’s alt modes, plus features such as daisychaining. That means you can use a single cable to connect a PC to a monitor, and have everything from image and sounds to USB connectivity and even charging catered for. The HDMI ports in HDTVs and projectors aren’t nearly as powerful and versatile.
HDMI’s support for more advanced features is also patchy, and adoption of updates to the standard tends to slow as the industry favours compatibility over capability—support for adaptive refresh via HDMI remains rare, for example. 4K at 120Hz also remains the preserve of monitors with the latest DisplayPort 1.4 interface, for now. The upcoming HDMI 2.1 standard ups the bandwidth ante, but isn’t offered by any PC graphics card yet.
WINNER: PC monitor
Round 4 IMAGE QUALITY
Not long ago, image quality would have been a sure win for PC monitors. Lately, the comparison has become more complicated, thanks to the emergence of new HDR, or High Dynamic Range, standards in the HDTV market.
HDR means greater differences between the brightest and darkest areas of the screen, and thus better contrast. But HDR standards also incorporate extended colour spaces, and thus a wider range of colours. Meanwhile, the PC monitor market has been slow to adopt HDR. The consequence is that many HDTVs now have the edge on mainstream monitors when it comes to colour depth and contrast. The latest HDTVs also often offer reasonably low input lag when receiving a PC signal.
The qualifier is that those on-paper capabilities don’t always translate into better image quality in all areas. HDTVs tend to use aggressive image processing, which can sacrifice accuracy in favour of superficial pizzazz. As for projectors, it’s a tough comparison to make. Projectors, too, have embraced HDR technology, but the need for a dark viewing environment and the inherent difference between transmissive and reflective technologies put projectors in a category of their own.
WINNER: PC monitor Round 5 FEATURES
The features offered by monitors, TVs, and projectors reflect their remits. So much depends on what you want to do. Gamers will find that features such as adaptive sync support and low-inputlatency modes are exclusive to PC monitors designed for gaming. Likewise, productivity features, such as USB hubs and accurate factory colour calibration, are the preserve of PC monitors too.
PC monitors also tend to be better engineered for mounting and being situated ergonomically on a desktop, be that courtesy of an adjustable stand, VESA mount compatibility, or the range of LCD panel aspect ratios on offer. TVs hit back with multimedia features such as built-in tuners, smart TV platforms, and impressive app support. Indeed, an HDTV is the only one that can function on its own and do things like play back video files from a USB stick. In effect, HDTVs have computers built into them.
Projectors tend to have a much narrower remit, and with that comes fewer features. Some support wireless connectivity in order to improve mounting options and reduce the need for running cables, but that aside, specific features to support PC gaming or productivity are non-existent.
WINNER: PC monitor
it may be your only option.” “If you’re on a tight budget and you want a big, beautiful 4K screen, for instance, an HDTV is not only a great solution,
If you want a superwide screen, it has to be a PC monitor.
Unbeatable big-screen bang for your hard-earned buck comes with an HDTV.
Beamers make for fulsome if inflexible big-screen fun.