Work-from-home trend boosts sales of computer monitors

The surge in computer monitor sales here is a rare bright spot for the consumer electronics industry.
The surge in computer monitor sales here is a rare bright spot for the consumer electronics industry.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: UNSPLASH

Sales of computer monitors in Singapore are bucking the coronavirus-fuelled downturn as consumers switch to working at home.

The surge in computer monitor sales here is a rare bright spot for the consumer electronics industry, which has seen sales of big ticket items such as smartphones and televisions decline as consumers tighten their belts.

Market research firm Euromonitor International predicts retail sales (excluding business-to-business, or B2B, sales) of computer monitors in Singapore to rise by 4,500 units this year to almost 50,000 units - a 10 per cent increase over last year. This would also be the highest sales figure recorded by Euromonitor for monitors in Singapore since 2015.

A handful of manufacturers surveyed by The Straits Times said their monitor sales here have risen in the past three months compared to the same period last year. Their growth range from 30 to 500 per cent.

Overall, the local market will dip by 3 per cent this year to around 408,000 units, says market research firm IDC, which tracks both retail and B2B monitor shipments.

IDC adds that this decline is lower than an earlier March forecast, which had estimated a drop of 7 per cent.

Market research firm Omdia has also re-adjusted its forecast for PC monitors in light of the pandemic.

Senior principal analyst Hidetoshi Himuro says that around 28.5 million units were shipped globally in Q1 2020, a 34 per cent increase from an earlier forecast of 21.3 million units.

He attributes this unexpected increase to the work-from-home trend, which is likely to persist for a few years until a "new normal" is reached.

Omdia says global monitor shipments will remain flat this year at around 0.4 per cent growth to reach around 127 million monitors shipped.

Sales manager Edwin Tan, 46, who bought a gaming monitor during the circuit breaker period, says: "Since work from home was implemented, I started to use my gaming PC for work too. I was already thinking of getting a high refresh rate monitor for FPS (first-person shooter) games and as a bonus, having two monitors definitely helps with my productivity when it comes to doing work on my gaming PC."

Mr Tan picked a 165Hz high refresh rate monitor that enables a smoother gameplay experience compared to standard monitors with a 60Hz refresh rate.

 
 
 

GAMING MONITORS RISING

Gaming monitors, while still a niche segment, are growing faster than non-gaming models, says Mr Himuro. He estimates that global shipments of gaming monitors in 2020 will increase by 41 per cent year-on-year to reach around 10 million units.

The gaming monitor segment has also generated buzz with manufacturers racing to boost the refresh rate of displays.

The latest models boast a refresh rate of up to 360Hz. And it could go even higher - Mr Himuro says that the human eye can perceive refresh rates of up to 1,000Hz in some cases.

Other trending monitors features to watch are ultra-wide models with a 21:9 aspect ratio (and above) and USB-C connectivity, says Mr Bryan Ma, vice-president of devices research at market research firm IDC.

Ultra-wide monitors offer more horizontal screen real estate. This, says Mr Ma, makes users more productive as they can "lay out multiple windows across one's screen without having to switch between them or scroll across long spreadsheets".

Having a USB-C port on a monitor reduces cable clutter for those who own newer thin-and-light notebooks with USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports. Instead of requiring multiple cables for power and video, a single USB-C cable can send video from the laptop to the monitor while delivering power from the monitor to the notebook.

Analysts also point to portable monitors as an upcoming trend. These battery-powered, thin and light monitors connect to notebooks and even smartphones through USB-C. With modern workers increasingly mobile, they may find portable monitors that can be carried between their homes and their offices a useful computer peripheral.

EIGHT TIPS WHEN BUYING A NEW MONITOR

For those thinking of getting a new monitor, here are eight buying considerations.

1. The monitor's main role

The first thing you need to decide is the monitor's primary role. Is it for day-to-day computing tasks such as editing documents? Or is it for gaming? While a standard monitor can handle most tasks adequately, more specialised tasks such as photo or video editing may require specific features, such as a wide colour gamut.

2. Screen size and resolution

The most popular monitor screen sizes in Singapore are 24 and 27 inches, say manufacturers. A larger screen generally lets you view more information, though don't neglect screen resolution as it affects the clarity of the images.

A 27-inch monitor with a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel or 1080p resolution, for instance, is not as sharp as a 24-inch one with the same resolution. Hence, the former may not be ideal for text-heavy applications. However, gamers may prefer a lower resolution so as to maximise graphics performance.

Conversely, a 4K resolution on a 27-inch screen may result in text and objects appearing too small, though this can be rectified in the computer settings.

Given the same screen size, a higher-resolution monitor is likely to be more expensive than another with a lower resolution.

3. Aspect ratio

While most monitors have a 16:9 aspect ratio, ultra-wide models with a 21:9 or 32:9 aspect ratio are seeing traction as a single ultra-wide monitor can replace two or even three monitors and eliminates unsightly screen bezels between multiple monitors.

4. Brightness

Most monitors offer 300 to 400 nits of brightness. With high dynamic range (HDR) content increasingly available for computers, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has created the DisplayHDR standard to inform consumers if a monitor is capable of showing HDR content properly.

There are several tiers in the DisplayHDR standard. For instance, the entry-level DisplayHDR 400 specification mandates a minimum peak brightness of 400 nits and a standard colour gamut.

If HDR, which is also supported in game consoles, is important to you, pick a monitor with the DisplayHDR 1000 certification, which specifies a peak brightness of 1,000 nits and a wide colour gamut.

5. Type of panel

The panel technology used by monitors affects viewing angles and image quality.

In-plane switching (IPS) monitors offer wide viewing angles (up to 178 degrees) and good image quality.

Twisted nematic (TN) screens are cheaper and have low response times that are desired by gamers as it reduces motion blur.

Vertical alignment (VA) panels usually offer the best contrast ratio and image quality but they have a long response time and their viewing angles are not as wide as IPS screens.

For most usage scenarios, our recommendation is to go with an IPS monitor, for its balanced characteristics. IPS monitors have image quality that is close to that of VA screens, while their response time is becoming low enough to compete with TN displays.

6. Monitor curvature

Curved monitors are said to offer a more immersive experience and are less of an eye strain. They also tend to have a large screen so that they can better envelope a user's field of vision.

The amount of curvature is typically represented as a figure such as 1,800R, which means the monitor is as curved as a circle with a 1,800mm radius. A lower figure means a more pronounced curve.

7. Refresh rate

A monitor's refresh rate determines how often it updates the image on the screen. A standard monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate redraws images 60 times in a second.

A higher refresh rate makes games and navigating the computer interface feel smoother and more fluid.

Taking this a step further (and raising the price tag) are monitors with variable or adaptive refresh rate technologies such as AMD's FreeSync and Nvidia's G-Sync. These features, which require a compatible AMD or Nvidia graphics card, constantly adjust the monitor's refresh rate to match a game's frame rates so as to reduce screen tearing - where horizontal lines break up an image.

8. Ports and connectors

Monitors typically come with HDMI and DisplayPort connectors. They may also have a USB hub to support multiple USB devices and built-in speakers for audio playback.

There are different generations for HDMI and DisplayPort that vary in capabilities. For instance, HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 have more bandwidth that enables higher resolutions and higher refresh rates than older versions. Nvidia's G-Sync technology also requires a DisplayPort 1.2 connector while AMD's FreeSync can work with HDMI.

Newer (and more premium) monitors often come with a USB-C port that can be used to deliver power as well as carry audio and video signals.