What Is a High-Definition PC Monitor?

Learn the Ins and Outs of HD Entertainment on Your Computer Screen

Image of an Acer G247HYL bmidx 23.8-Inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) Widescreen Monitor
Photo from Amazon

By now, everyone's heard of high-definition television (HDTV). It's a selling point of the flat-panel plasma and LCD screens that we suddenly started seeing in people's living rooms, and it makes sports, movies and even The Weather Channel look amazing. Most people have at least a vague idea of what high definition, or "HD," delivers for television: a beautiful, crystal-clear picture and vibrant colors.

But what does it mean to have an HD monitor attached to your computer? Is there any point to it? Does it make computing that much better?

In brief, it depends on what you do with your computer. To be even briefer, yes, it is better.

Definition of High Definition

"High definition" is a fluid term, taking the shape of a lot of different containers. The only commonly accepted meaning is that it's something with excellent picture quality and clarity.

In terms of a PC monitor, high definition is a synonym for high resolution. High resolution, in turn, means more pixels per inch on your screen — and the more pixels per inch, the better the display. A high-definition PC monitor, then, delivers a remarkably clearer picture than possible with lower-definition, lower-resolution screens. 

The Ever-Evolving Video Standards

As high-definition PC monitors have proliferated on the market, standards have evolved to allow a more concrete definition of HD than in the past.

The following are the standard definitions for HD video, which can be displayed on monitors of slightly varying native resolutions — some being standard for computer screens, other for TV screens — but they are, to a large degree, interchangeable because they all work to display these resolutions of video:

  • 1280x720 (aka, 720p)
  • 1920x1080 (aka, 1080i)
  • 1920x1080 progressive (aka, 1080p)

Progressive vs. Interlaced Scanning

The "i" and "p" denote interlaced and progressive scanning, respectively. Interlaced scanning is the older technology of the two. A PC monitor that uses interlaced scanning refreshes half of the horizontal pixel rows in one cycle and takes another cycle to refresh the other half, while alternating rows. The upshot is that two scans are necessary to display each line, resulting in a slower, blurrier display with flickering. Progressive scanning, on the other hand, scans one complete row at a time, in sequence from top to bottom. The resulting display is smoother and more detailed — especially for text, a common element on screens used with PCs.

HD: The Next Level in PC Monitors

For your PC, high definition makes a significant difference when it comes to playing video games, watching movies and watching HD online video, as well. HD means that you'll be watching in "widescreen" — as it was originally intended to be seen, uncropped, in the theater. Since HDTV caught on, video game studios and online entertainment companies have been focusing more and more on HD programming for a high-resolution screen.

The bottom line: If you don't have a high-definition PC monitor, you're missing out on a big part of the picture.