How to choose a monitor for general use
What to look for in a monitor heavily depends on what you are going to use it for. If you are doing graphic design, factors such as resolution and color accuracy are most important. On the other hand, if it is mainly for gaming other factors like response time and refresh rate are more important. However, if you are not doing any of those things, you would be fine with a monitor for general use. That would get you a decent monitor for less, and it should be perfectly fine for things like movies, web browsing, MS Office and programming.
The panel resolution defines how many pixels the screen consists of. Budget monitors have a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is also called 1080p or Full HD. This means that the screen consists of a matrix with 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. Generally, larger resolutions mean that movies and photos look nicer on the screen. This is the minimum resolution you should consider.
The next step up are 1440p monitors. They they have a 2560 x 1440 resolution. They are mainly popular for gaming, because they have a good balance between resolution and refresh rate, but the higher resolution could also be useful for programming and if you want to view documents side by side.
Finally, there are UHD or 4k monitors with a 3840 x 2160 resolution. These are very good for graphic design, because they can display your work in great detail. They are also useful if you want to watch high resolution movies, since 4k movies are become more and more popular. These screens are also great for programming, because they allow you to have many windows open side by side.
Generally, larger screens are better, because they allow you to view your work in greater detail, especially when combined with a high resolution. Budget monitors for usually start at 24". Larger 27" and 32" monitors are available at higher price points.
Pixel response time
Pixel response time describes how long it takes a pixel to switch color. It is measured in milliseconds (ms). A lower response time is better because it allows the monitor to display fast movements without artifacts such as ghosting. This is mainly important for gaming. For general use you don't have to look at this factor too much.
The refresh rate is measured in Hertz (Hz) and describes how many times per second the screen is refreshed. This is mainly important for gaming, where the content changes quickly on the screen. For general use this is not that important.
Contrast ratio is the range between the darkest black and the brightest white color the display can show. Higher contrast ratios generally give a better picture quality. The problem is that this number is difficult to compare between manufacturers, so you should take it with a grain of salt.
The Viewing angle describes the maximum angle at which you can view the display clearly. Lower end displays look dimmer when you look at them from an angle. Higher end screens are clearly readable from the side. This can be useful, especially when more than one person is looking at the screen.
The color gamut is the range of colors the monitor can display. The sRGB standard is often used for basic graphic design. For more color sensitive work the Adobe RGB standard is used. For general use this is less important.
The color accuracy is one of the most important aspect for graphic design, but for general use it is not a major factor. Most of today's monitors with good reviews can display decent colors for movies and web browsing.
There are different types of display technologies. Twisted Nematic (TN) screens are popular among gamers because they have high refresh rates and low pixel response times. However, they often lack in color accuracy and viewing angles. For general use you should avoid this technology if possible within budget.
Vertical Alignment (VA) panels offer higher contrast ratios and a better color reproduction. There is also an improved Multi-domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) technology.
In-Plane Switching (IPS) screens generally have the best colors and viewing angles. They are usually the preferred choice for graphic design. This is also normally the best option for general use if you can find a good one within budget.
A DisplayPort is ideal for end monitors in order to take advantage of the higher resolutions and refresh rates. A DVI-D would work as well. HDMI and standard DVI are fine for lower end monitors, but for higher resolutions you would be better of with a DisplayPort.
Higher end gaming monitors have adaptive synchronization technologies to reduce artifacts such as screen tearing during gaming. This is not that important for general use though.
You can check out these monitors for general use if you want some monitor suggestions based on the above information. Alternatively, if you will also use the monitor for some graphic design and/or gaming you may find our Interactive Monitor Buying Guide more useful, because it also takes color accuracy and response time into account.