Computer monitors and televisions have in recent years become more alike than different: The same panel types (OLED, IPS, VA, and TN) and connections (HDMI, DisplayPort) power both. While monitors alone have historically been optimized for text and input lag, most smart TVs on the market currently come with a PC mode that erases much of the gap.
In this guide, let us compare televisions and monitors across a range of characteristics worth noting for productivity use such as office work, content creation, and programming. It is also applicable for daily multimedia applications. A rather different beast, gaming is not covered here: Still, this guide applies to gaming monitors that are fantastic for productivity use, but purchasing them with productivity in mind must be premised by gaming use.
TVs these days rarely dip below 40-inch diagonal, while computer monitors seldom come close, let alone above, this mark. This different can be the decisive factor: While a larger viewing area is almost always welcome, above a point in size a display needs to be placed further away for a good viewing experience without necessitating constant head-turning. If desk space is an issue, VESA mount or proprietary wall mount may be necessary for a TV to be worth considering.
Some computer monitors now feature ultra-wide 21:9 (or even wider) aspect ratio and/or curved panel. They provide a more immersive visual experience. Often designed for gaming, they optimize viewing from a certain "sweet spot". However, the distortion that the curve introduces could disqualify these monitors from content creation applications. They may also not be the best choice for multimedia use, especially when enjoying the content with a friend. No major TV manufacturer markets curved or ultra-wide TV at the moment.
In essence, TV can be an interesting choice if space allows, with wall-mount at distant a possibility. Computer monitors offer certain nouveau form factors that may be valuable for certain applications, though these novelties are not designed to boost productivity.
Panel Type & Viewing Angle
All higher-end TVs from major manufacturers these days use either IPS or OLED panels, while TN and VA panels can still be found in computer monitors.
While two decades ago TN (Twisted Nematic) panels used to be common, thanks to their faster response time, improvements in IPS panels have eliminated this gap. Today, only the lowest-end computer monitors still use TN panels. They are sufficient for office use but fall short in every other application. They offer the worst viewing angles, with obvious off-center color shift that can be obvious on larger display sizes even when viewed from the center.
IPS (In-Plane Switching) is the panel type most common in smart TVs. It offers significantly better viewing angle and color reproduction. While IPS used to have slower response time, the latest IPS panels are just as fast without any compromise in image quality. LG's Nano IPS is a leader on this front, with rich color gamut, high color accuracy, fast response time, wide viewing angle, and often high refresh rate. They can also be found in most mid- to high-end computer monitors.
VA (Vertical-Alignment) panel is Samsung's compromise between TN and IPS. It was slower than TN but faster than IPS, before the latest Nano IPS panel overtook it. VA panels still offer higher contrast and are capable of the highest refresh rates: Virtually all high-end gaming monitors use VA panels. For productivity applications, however, they are not as good as IPS panels.
OLED is the fourth panel type that is commonly found on the market. To anyone who has not been paying attention, OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) differs from traditional LCDs (Liquid Crystal Display) in that each subpixel directly emits colored light to produce an image. Without the need of backlighting, OLED displays can be made lighter and thinner. It is also superior in almost every aspect: high contrast, wide dynamic range, rich and accurate color reproduction, wide viewing angle, and fast response time are all on offer.
However, OLED panels are available only in high-end TVs and ultra-high-end monitors. OLED may also not make the brightest displays, making it less ideal for use in very well-lit rooms such as those found in modern office buildings. Last but not least, OLED still suffers from burn-ins. When using the same program for long periods of time, icons and windows that always occupy the same space could leave a permanent mark on the display, even when viewing other contents. However, the latest OLED TVs, such as those by LG, avoid burn-ins using technologies such as "Screen Shift" function that silently shifts the image from time to time.
In essence, IPS and OLED are the best for productivity use. OLED is especially good for photo and video editing, while IPS is better for brighter rooms. TN can be considered only if cost is the primary concern, while VA is good only if gaming is a priority.
Backlight & HDR
LCD panels require backlighting in image reproduction. Historically, CCFLs (Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamps) were used, but in the last decade all new LCD panels used some form of LED backlight. In recent years, however, direct LED and full-array LED have extended the capabilities of the traditional edge-lit arrangement.
What is Edge LED (edge-lit)? This type of panels simply use LED light strips combined with a diffusion panel to spread the light evenly behind the screen. The most common configuration uses two strips along the top and bottom edges of the display.
Direct LED (direct-lit) displays use LED clusters behind the LCD panel. This achieves more even lighting across the display.
Full-Array LED (a.k.a. Mini-LED), like direct LED, uses many LEDs behind the LCD panel; however, each LED in the array is controlled individually. This setup further improves even lighting.
Further muddying the water is the introduction of local dimming in LCD displays. Many erroneously believe that local dimming is a separate type of backlighting arrangement: in fact, both edge-lit and direct-lit displays can have local dimming, in varying degrees of effectiveness.
Naturally, full-array LEDs are best suited for local dimming. Direct LEDs are second. Some recent edge-lit LED televisions have also introduced local dimming with edge-lit LED backlight.
Last but not least, Quantum dot technology in backlighting further improves color accuracy. They can primarily be found in Samsung's QLED smart TVs, the higher-end of which use full-array LEDs (but Samsung's VA panels are used in place LG's IPS).
With each step-up in backlight sophistication come improved dynamic range. Therefore, for productivity applications where image quality is paramount, IPS panels with full-array LED backlight is the preferred choice, even though OLED is a compelling alternative. The same consideration of ambient lighting should be taken into account when debating between OLED and full-array LED.
Fortunately, these setups can commonly be found in higher-end smart TVs as well as professional computer monitors.
In essence, among LCDs full-array LED is the best choice for tasks that value image quality above all else, with color accuracy and dynamic range (HDR) as its strongest arguments. Many higher-end TVs and monitors offer it with IPS panels.
For some productivity applications, image quality is mission-critical. Image quality is a function of panel, backlighting (if applicable), and image processing, provided that the same input is used. Dynamic range, color accuracy, peak brightness, and resolution are some of the most obvious yardsticks.
Smart TVs of recent years have parity with professional PC monitors in terms of dynamic range and color accuracy. They are often able to deliver higher peak brightness.
TVs commonly have 4K UHD (3840x2160) resolution; so do mid- to high-end monitors. However, in recent years, leading manufacturers have made 8K UHD TVs widely available, while Dell UltraSharp UP3218K from 2018 remains the only 8K UHD monitor available.
Additionally, higher-end smart TVs these days all employ various digital image processing protocols for enhanced video-viewing experience. They may be good to have for the breaks, though for the best viewing experience in productivity tasks it is usually recommended to turn on PC mode.
In essence, if the ultimate image quality is to be pursued, TVs comparable to high-end PC monitors, and OLED and 8K TVs are more common, too.
Television is not without its downside: input lag has for a long time been its Achilles' heel. As digital processing continues to pick up speed, this gap has shrunk. Higher-end models have decreased the input lag below the 15ms mark, making them the more suitable options for use in place of computer monitors.
Only the user can decide whether the input lag of the TV model s/he is looking at is sufficient. Outside gaming (FPS especially), however, this is usually no longer a major concern. The latest smart TVs in 2021 will further improve in this aspect.
In essence, monitors continue to have lower input lags, though higher-end TVs now offer comparable lags.
Another key aspect in choosing between TV and PC monitor for productivity is the feature set.
The latest monitors tend to double as USB hubs. While a small number of smart TVs also offer this feature, DisplayPort via USB-C and Thunderbolt connectivity remain exclusive to computer monitors. As a result, when using with laptops, monitors with USB hubs can make connection much easier.
Another connectivity-related topic is AV I/Os. While some higher-end monitor offer a DisplayPort output, most smart TVs have several AV outputs that makes it easy to connect to an external sound system. If you already have an external DAC, however, this feature may not be important.
Modern TVs and monitors also tend to offer some form of support for variable framerate. For productivity tasks, however, this is not important, either.
In essence, TVs and monitors offer different extra features, though only you can decide whether they are useful.
Smart TVs tend to be higher-priced the computer monitors. However, towards the higher-end this trend reverses, with professional-grade PC monitors asking for the same, if not more, despite offering half or less than half the viewing area.
For productivity use, if your working space allows ergonomic integration of a large-diagonal TV, particularly one with OLED panel or Nano IPS panel with full-array LED backlight, they tend to offer the best price per square-inch.
If your working space or your budget is more limited, a monitor with IPS / VA-panel, preferably in 4K, may be sufficient.
Check out the related products list below for some of the relevant monitors and TVs. You can also compare their features and the latest prices in detail.