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Some Thoughts on 4K Monitors and Hooking Them Up

7th November 2014 General Articles

Eizo Flexscan EV3237 31" Monitor
Looking for a super sharp display with good colour? The EV3237 is a good reasonably priced choice.
  • Panel Size / Ratio31" / 16:9 (1.78:1)
  • Native Resolution3840 * 2160 (UHD 4K)
  • Panel TechnologyIPS
  • Direct Hardware Calibration Support?
  • In Built Sensor?
  • GamutStandard
More info

With the recent arrival of the first really very good 4K monitor into the country and on to my desk (the Eizo EV3237, available for pre-order now), we’ve been trying out 4K properly for the first time and here’s a few thoughts on the impact they have.

The primary thing to note is that the change is, from a photographic perspective, much less radical than you might think. Particularly with images, whilst they do render a little more sharply, the reality is that side by side there is very little practical or visual difference in image rendering (specifically) between, say, 27″ monitor at 2560 by 1440 and 32″ monitor at 3840 by 2160. If you didn’t know one was 4K, you probably wouldn’t even pick it in a blind test from a normal working distance. So in general working in Photoshop or similar actually remains much the same. Thus our conclusion is it remains vastly more important to get a model that is highly colour accurate than one which has very high resolution, and this should always be the primary consideration for image makers.

Where you will notice the change, though, is with text and user interface elements,and smaller things like thumbnails. These will appear radically sharper and more like print. It’s quite striking (if you have an up to date smartphone or retina Mac display you’ll know what I mean). It’s nice, without doubt, but it’s not of tremendous practical importance in most contexts. I would think desktop publishing would benefit most noticeably, but for your typical photographer it’s not really going to change your life.

If you’re an illustrator working in vectors, these of course render much more sharply (and smoothly, which seems like a contradiction but isn’t – the anti-aliasing technology used to smooth lines is much more effective with a higher pixel density, resulting in a sharp yet smooth appearance), so here it will make a bigger difference as well.

Impressively, this screen feels like a ‘proper’ Eizo in every way – very uniform, excellent anti-glare coating (to my mind one of the areas Eizo really excels and puts things like Apple’s ‘fused glass’ to shame), excellent out of the box colour, 10 bit input support, and of course good calibration controls. And at 32″ it has undeniable gravitas and Wow! factor. It would make an excellent device for working on AND selling wedding and portrait work, for example.

We’re at the early stages of 4K and early next year both Eizo CG and NEC PA wide gamut 4K models will appear. These will without doubt be extremely impressive machines, and if you’re wanting wide gamut these are worth waiting for. They’ll be distinctly more expensive than this already excellent standard gamut model, though.

Hooking up to a 4K Monitor

To achieve a really good 4K display, you need to be able to output the full 4K resolution at 60Hz to your screen.

The best way is, without doubt, to use a single Display Port 1.2 cable to connect (or a Mini Display port to DisplayPort 1.2 cable of course). While some HDMI connections offer 4K support, most of these are stuck at 30Hz (i.e. they are not HDMI 2) – so should be avoided. This includes the MacPro ‘Darth Vader’ tube thing – you should instead use one of the Thunderbolt ports to achieve 60 Hz.

All the other methods (hacks) that early 4K monitors needed (e.g. using two DVIs/HDMIs etc) – have significant issues (especially with video) – and should be avoided.

Mac – if your Mac is a reasonably late model with a Thunderbolt output, it’s just plug in and go using the included Mini Display Port cable that is plug compatible with Thunderbolt. You’ll want to be current with OSX which improves rendering on 4K panels substantially over previous versions. Apple have a guide you should review to be sure.

PC – we strongly recommend that if you’re moving to 4k, then you should upgrade your video card to an NVIDIA Quadro K620 or K2200 or above, or an ATI Firepro 5000 or above (we lean towards NVIDIA as the 10 bit drivers are more stable). This will give you 10 bit and 4K support, at full resolution/60Hz, and allow you to connect via DisplayPort. These are known as ‘workstation’ cards and perform excellently in serious applications. Some of the gaming models would work for 4K as well, but they are not 10 bit, and at this point 10 bit works well in Photoshop etc., so it worth having. You’ll also want to be using Windows 8.1 as it significantly improves high DPI rendering. If you think it’s time to upgrade your whole PC, then have a look at our PCs for imaging guide (with pre-configured systems available).