Thinking of buying a new monitor? The requirements for the ideal monitor to watch anime are different than for other media. Games require fast response time, while live action movies benefit from good black levels and contrast. Anime is different. Because it consists mostly of strong colors and gradients it represents a unique challenge for a monitor compared to other kinds of media.
What should you look out for in reviews?
Monitor reviews have evolved over time and can be incredibly comprehensive. The reviews over at tftcentral.co.uk for example are some of the most trusted and highly regarded around, but are often over 13.000 words long. As a comparison this article you’re reading here is less than 1/10th of that. In reviews that comprehensive, screens are evaluated from every conceivable angle, most which don’t matter in the least if your top priority is watching anime. The information relevant to it is in there, but you have to know what to look for in order to find it. This is what I intend to help you with now.
The panel defines the viewing angles and color quality of the display. What you want for anime is IPS or PLS. Both are very similar, except IPS is made by LG and PLS by Samsung. With other, and cheaper, panel types such as TN you will get banding, uneven colors and black levels. Issues that will be annoying when watching anime.
As an example, the iPod Touch uses a TN panel, while the iPhone and iPads use IPS, to give you an idea of the difference in quality you’ll see. All IPS/PLS monitors behave similarly, so if you’ve seen one, then you’ve got a good idea of what you can expect from others. IPS and PLS panel displays are constantly dropping in price, so unless you don’t have any money at all, ignore all other panel types and go for these.
If you’re buying a laptop there are now a few models like the Asus Zenbook Prime which come with IPS panels. I’d suggest picking a model with IPS panel display over any others if you have a choice. It will make a huge difference for the quality of the screen compared to typical laptop monitors.
What you want is either a glossy display, or one with light AG (anti-glare) treatment. All displays start out glossy, and then to do the AG treatment a plastic film is wrapped on top of the display to diffuse light. Depending on the type of plastic film used AG treatment can work great, or it can potentially ruin an otherwise great display. Heavy AG treatment can be hard to spot if you don’t know what to look for. It looks like a sparkly, sandpapery sheen on pure colors. The background this text is written on for example is supposed to be a pure white with no blemishes. If the AG treatment on your display is heavy you will instead see a slightly dirty looking white, or one with a purple sparkly effect on it.
Anime presents a worst case scenario for anti-glare treatment. It’s bright, colorful and has plenty of single colored surfaces and gradients. If you have a display with heavy anti-glare treatment you can start feeling eyestrain as you are constantly looking at the sparkly AG treatment, instead of the art itself. Looking at a display is supposed to be like looking out a window. Even from 2d images your eyes will create a sense of depth, since the language of art and cinema use tricks to add depth to images. If there’s a dirty sheen over the image your brain will one second see the false depth the image is creating, and the next half second you’ll see the AG treatment which reminds you that you’re watching a flat image. This constant shifting in your brain is what causes the eyestrain, which is what the AG treatment was supposed to reduce in the first place.
Manufacturers went too far with the AG for a couple of years and are now reducing it on all their updated 2012 models. Reviews will often state the kind of AG treatment used, and if they don’t you can easily find that info on forums. If you’re going to be watching a lot of anime, this is very important to get right.
This is a fairly obvious one. Almost all anime is made in 16:9 format, therefore 16:9 is the ideal format to watch it on. There are many 16:10 fans out there who are very loud about their dislike of the 16:9 aspect ratio on forums, but if you’re going to primarily watch anime, then 16:9 is it. The market for 16:9 screens is much larger, so they’re significantly cheaper compared to equivalent 16:10 models.
What should you ignore?
Don’t get a 120hz monitor. All 120hz monitors at time of writing use TN panels, which are the worst kind when it comes to color reproduction among LCD displays. 120hz monitors usually come with poor color presets which is something you want to avoid if you just want to be able to plug the monitor in and enjoy your shows.
This is an issue that has been solved. It used to be an issue on old displays, such as on the original PSP which had very bad response time. Today any display will have a fast enough response time that you won’t notice any lag. The specs manufacturers list on their monitors all lie, and should be ignored. A 8ms display from 2005 compared to a 8ms display from 2012 are completely different beasts. The same is true for the really fast 2ms displays if you compare old ones to newer ones. New displays are in a different league thanks to techniques like overdrive which has been tuned over the past two years to the point where it has solved the problem of response time.
When a signal reaches your display it has to go through image processing and color correction before it actually shows up on screen. This process adds a delay called “input lag”. If you’re only going to watch anime it’s of no relevance to you, so ignore it.
Blu-ray is 1080P, so get a 1080P display. If you’re going to be reading a lot of manga, get a display that can pivot, or a 2560*1440 monitor. Otherwise go for 1080P, as simple as that.
What about HDTVs?
They’re obviously a great alternative. The only negative with them is the input lag, and often atrocious color presets. Make sure to change to movie or cinema mode for the best picture, and then adjust the backlight or contrast to get the appropriate amount of light for your room from the display.
Picking the right display can be hard given the enormous amount of models out there. It doesn’t help that they are often replaced by a new line of monitors every 6-12 months. These pointers will give you an idea of what to look out for, but if you’re got any questions I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.