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Using your TV as a monitor: how to do it effectively

Pros

The main advantage is evident: a 43 or a 49-inch TV display is a lot less expensive than a monitor of the same size. In fact, few monitors can compare in size to a mid-end TV.

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TVs give us more visual space and the same resolution of a high-end monitor, and having 4K on LCD TVs is now mainstream.

They also feature more multimedia options as every, or almost every, one of them is a smart TV nowadays, meaning that they offer an endless amount of different apps that enable us to use it separately from the PC. They usually have a lot of inputs, digital audio output and a speakers system that is usually far ahead of the one offered by typical monitors.

Out of these reasons, pricing is still the most important one. We can have a 49-inch 4K TV and use it with our PC for less than 500$, but we will surely end up regretting making that purchase before plugging in our PC. There are a lot of elements that should make us at least take a closer look at the TV that we want or intend to use as a monitor.

Technologies such as HDR or high vertical refresh rates are more common in 4K TV displays than in PC monitors, and the monitors featuring said technologies are usually really expensive.

We also have to bear in mind that the price difference per inch can usually be spotted on large displays (43 inches and larger) and we will need a monitor of that size to fit in the place where it will usually be used, which will include work or study time.

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Cons

My opinion is that buying a TV to use it as a monitor for anything other than just gaming and watching movies is a bad idea. If we really want that increase in inches, we will have to take into account several elements, which we will see right now, but there are also many factors that prompt me to discourage this kind of ventures.

A monitor, whether good or bad, is always designed to be used with any kind of PC running the OS of our preference. Inputs, panels, stands and arms are all thought to be used in that situation in order for our PC to be better adapted.

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Modern monitors offer more connectivity options than a TV, especially a very important port such as DisplayPort. Their panel configuration is perfectly designed to function well when doing any kind of task, not just for gaming or multimedia reproduction.

Modern monitors now feature technologies that are yet to come massively to low and mid-priced TVs. Technologies such as FreeSync, which we can now find in the cheapest displays, turn gaming on a PC into a greater experience that the one provided by any TV.

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A monitor normally gives more display settings and offers more calibration capabilities while also featuring more eye care technologies such as different levels of adjustment for blue light emissions that, as you know, can cause major injuries to our retina.

If you still dream of having a desk and a gaming monitor to ‘immerse’ yourself in, then it is good to take into account the advices that we just gave you for the results to be much better than leaping into the unknown by buying the first big 4K TV with HDMI 2.0 that we see in an offer.

Keys to success

The first thing that we have to bear in mind is that there are two resolutions for TVs right now and one of them forces us to have a specific hardware. If we want to run AAA games at 4K, we will need the right hardware in our PC, And if we go for a 1080p resolution, then certainly the result of having the TV so close to our face and on a typical TV stand will mean that we will have little space available to use and pixelation will be evident on the screen.

We will need a TV with HDMI 2.0 support and a graphics card also offering this kind of connectivity. This is the only way the achieve 60 Hz with the display, which is the minimum acceptable for a good image quality and for using our applications and OS smoothly.

The great relevance of ‘Chroma Subsampling’, the subpixel structure of the panel and the bandwidth per channel are the parameters that we seldom see in any TV’s specifications when we go to a store, which is to a large extent something that truly sets an LCD TV apart from an LCD monitor.

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To avoid very technical aspects, Chroma Subsampling is the encoding made by the display to represent colors in contrast to the original source. Usually, a PC monitor uses a 4:4:4 subsampling coding, which means that there is no color conversion except for some filtering used to avoid aliasing. A 4:2:2 monitor or TV would be perfect for gaming since either one of them will have a great color reproduction, but they will let you down when using other kind of apps or when reproducing fonts and letters onscreen. 4:4:4 TVs are not really common because they need to use up to 33% more bandwidth, making their electronic parts and panels to be more expensive.

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Many of us have heard about the subpixels position on LCD panels to make them show what we really see on screen. Every panel has a pixel layout, usually an RGB (Red-Green-Blue) one that produce a somewhat colorful spectrum when combined. Normally, we can learn more about this structure by knowing what technology powers the panel that we use. For example, VA monitors receive that name because of the subpixels’ vertical alignment. Other types of panels, like the IPS panels, might have different structures that are used in different kind of devices, including TVs.

My advice to you is that we should run away from any panel using white subpixels in its pixel layout. This structure offers more brightness, typical on HDR displays, but creates definition problems on letters, fonts and curves while making colors less defined as well.

The magic of having 10-bit color data per channel that we also have to take into account. A great amount of TVs, as well as monitors, feature an 8-bit depth per channel, which means that each one of the channels making up colors (RGB) has 256 shades of that color. If we sum up the numbers, we have 16.8 million possible color combinations. Despite of what you might have heard for years, your eyes can see a whole lot more than that. 10-bit color, which seems a small difference, goes up to 1,024 shades per channel, meaning that we have 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 color combinations: 1,000 million colors, 63 times more than a 8-bit TV or monitor.

Finding 10-bit TVs before the HDR went mainstream was almost impossible. It practically is a requirement for this technology, besides offering higher brightness (hence the more extensive use of RGBW structures in current displays). Now that we know this, we will have to take it into account and look for this info before buying any TV.

All of this certainly translates into a price rise on some brands’ TVs that we will hardly find on €400-500 offers. We would have to spend at least 20% more.

Monitors working as a TV

If you still want a TV after seeing the requirements above, maybe some of the most famous brands’ latest large monitors will make you change your mind.

Nowadays, it is easy to find PC monitors designed for a specific purpose and with different dimensions, from 40 or 43 inches to even 49 inches. Some of them are produced by highly recognized brands, with prices below €600 in some cases. All of these monitors feature 4K resolution, 60 Hz, a great variety of connectors for the them to be adapted to any PC, and some of them are able to show up to four different images at a 1080p60 resolution each, as if it were a multi-screen setup.

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Among the affordable models that I can recommend you, we have the Philips BDM4350UC, which we can find for a little over 679$, or the 42-inch Acer ET430K. Both monitors sport IPS panels and even though they are not large monitors, they meet most of the essential specifications, as well as the most important ones, that we should look for in a TV for it to work like a good monitor despite not offering 10-bit color per channel.

If our budget allows it, we can go for the Dell P4317Q that the brand defines as ‘multi client’, which means that it is capable of showing up to four inputs simultaneously (the Philips monitor does it as well) with a color depth of 1,000 million colors at a price around 899$.

Samsung is also developing the next generation of its QLED gaming monitors, with sizes as large as 49 inches for those of you dreaming about gaming on a large display while enjoying the advantages of a monitor. Several options, and in a lot of cases very interesting and competitive prices in comparison to TVs of similar sizes and characteristics.

Conclusion

Having and using a 49-inch display as a monitor is a visual delight that we have to experience since it might be the only size that is far from existing in the monitor game as of now. There are currently a lot of offers for models with 43 inches, which is also a considerably large size, in terms of conventional monitors, and I think that this is the appropriate starting point for those wanting to connect their PC to a large monitor.

It is not easy to keep track of the key points that we gave you today when buying a TV since those are specifications that the manufacturer does not usually provide for this type of device. The best option is to look for some user reviews and avoid buying whatever offer you come by.

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