Ultra HD is in full swing. More and more display manufacturers are making high resolution displays but far from all 4K and 5K displays are suited for photo editing. In some cases, you might be better off choosing a more conventional model. We’ll show you what you need to look for when choosing to buy a new UHD display.
Best 4K Monitor for Photo and Video Editing
1, EIZO – COLOREDGE CG248-4K
At 24”, the Eizo Color Edge CG248-4K is relatively small for a 4K display. With its resolution of full 4K (3840 x 2160 px), its even backlighting and high contrast ratio, it is perfectly suited as a workhorse for Photoshop users. Especially because it supports a wide color gamut that covers 99% of the Adobe-RGB standard at 10 bits of color depth. But that’s not all: Eizo configures the monitor with a 3D lookup table meaning that every display from the series has the same quality of color reproduction. The device can calibrate itself: A sensor integrated into the bezel of the display adjusts the screen brightness to match the environment conditions. According to Eizo, calibrating devices are also going to be a thing of the past because of their own calibrating software called Colornavigator. Two DisplayPort and two HDMI inputs are ensuring the popular methods of connectivity are covered. An integrated USB 3.0 allows you to use the display as a docking station for your notebook. The 5-year warranty with included replacement service are a nice extra that makes the product particularly attractive for professional users.
- Very high-quality panel
- Handy self-calibration feature
- 5-year warranty
- very expensive
- relatively high latency
2, LG – ULTRAFINE 27MD5KA-B
Apple are currently marketing the LG Ultrafine 27MD5K as a successor of sorts to their Thunderbolt Display – and for good reason: This 27” 5K panel sports a resolution of 5120 x 2880 px and connects to your Mac via Thunderbolt 3. PCs can also connect to this display as long as they have one such port – there’s no other method of connecting it to a computer. Curiously, LG currently aren’t supplying any Windows software for this display. The display scores with a great feature set and a small price tag. Instead of Adobe’s color space it supports the P3 color gamut with 10 bits of color depth. This comes in as particularly handy for video production. Its great brightness and contrast ratio also mean that it’s a great choice for those using Photoshop on the Mac. It also features stereo speakers, and a webcam with microphone. In addition to that it can be used a USB 3.1 hub meaning it’s essentially a docking station for your Mac that connects with a single cable and keeps your setup neat and clean. For calibration, a calibration device has to be purchased from a third-party manufacturer.
- big 5K-display
- Thunderbolt-3 connectivity
- Great feature set
- Made for Macs
- No additional ports besides Thunderbolt 3
- Hub only has USB Type C ports
3, DELL – ULTRASHARP UP3216Q (4K)
Dell is also delivering a giant 4K display with the UP3216Q for image editors and advertise it for its great color reproduction: In fact, the panel covers 99,5% of Adobe’s RGB color space and a full 100% of the sRGB and REC 709 standards. Conformity to the P3 color gamut clocks in at 87% – great specs all-in-all. While the 31” panel “only” sports 4K resolution (3.840 x 2.160 px), it has been calibrated in the factory and also comes with its own integrated calibrating software tailored to be used with the X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibration meter. It doesn’t offer its own calibration function however, which the Eizo panel we tested did. Its integrated 4-port USB 3.0 makes it very practical though. Video can be transmitted to the panel via DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort, or HDMI meaning that many different computers will be able to connect to it. A great bonus for photographers is the integrated SD-card reader on the left side of the display. As is typical for Dell, this display is mainly meant for Windows users which shows in the software they supply for it. It also doesn’t offer integrated speakers. These can be added after the fact with Dell’s AC511 sound bar.
- Very big panel
- Expansive connectivity options
- Outstanding color reproduction
- Factory calibrated
- No integrated calibration function
- No speakers
4, BENQ – SW2700PT
Those of you looking to get a great standard-resolution display could find a great deal with the BenQ SW2700PT: The 27” panel sports WQHD resolution at 2560 x 1440 px and covers 99% of the Adobe RGB color space. You can see that this panel is targeted at image professionals in the fact that it comes with its own calibration software that runs on both Windows and MacOS. While, much like the Dell Ultrasharp UP3216Q, it needs an external calibration device, this display can work together with a much broader selection of such devices: Apart from the X Rite i1 Display Pro and i1 Pro, simple devices like the Datacolor Spider 4 and 5 are also supported. The on-screen-controller integrated into the foot of the display is particularly handy for quickly changing settings. A handy set of anti-reflection blinds also comes shipped with the device. This display is one of the few current models that still come with a DVI port. It also supports HDMI and DisplayPort however. A two-port USB hub is also integrated into the display.
- Classic WQHD resolution
- DVI port allows it to connect to older computers
- Hardware calibration
- Anti-reflection blinds
- No speakers
- USB-Hub only has two ports
5, DELL – ULTRASHARP U2715H
While there are plenty 27” WQHD panels out there, little can offer as much value for money like Dell’s Ultrasharp U2715H: This panel also covers 99% of the Adobe RGB color space, and has great brightness and contrast specs. The slim bezel also makes this panel an ideal device for use in multi-screen setups. With two of these displays next to each other, the distance between the actual screens is only 1,2 cm. Unlike many other devices, this panel also has a pivoting function in addition to the basic height-adjustability. It doesn’t come with its own calibration solution however. This would have to be accomplished using a third party device and software. On the other hand, Dell are scoring with the panel’s practicality: The integrated USB hub comes with a whopping 5 ports, and video can be connected through two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, and a Mini DisplayPort. The Latter two are especially handy for multi-screen setups, since the displays can simply be daisy-chained from a single port on your computer where there second display simply connects to the first one. This is especially handy with slim notebooks and ultrabooks.
- Classic WQHD resolution
- Plenty of ports
- Ideal for multi-screen setups
- Very affordable
- No speakers
- No integrate calibration features
6, PHILIPS – BDM3270QP
With the Philips BDM3270QP, photographers and videographers are getting a practical WQHD display with great color reproduction that measures a staggering 32” – TV-worthy dimensions for sure. The Dutchmen outfitted their device with support for 1,074 billion colors making color dithering a thing of the past. Philips proprietary AMVA LED panel also guarantees a stable contrast ratio and fast reaction times. Sadly, the panel doesn’t cover the usual 99% of the Adobe RGB color space. sRGB will have to suffice for this one. What is unique about this panel is the fact that it can be rotated vertically and can still be pivoted in vertical orientation. This device, once again, does not come with its own calibration solutions. However, it doesn’t support third-party solutions either. On the other hand, this display is very practical: Multi-View mode allows you to show video from two devices at once. It also comes with a variety of ports: DisplayPort, HDMI, Dual-Link DVI, and even VGA. It also houses a USB hub as well as integrated speakers, and a webcam complete with its own microphone.
- Classic WQHD resolution
- Very big panel
- Multi-View mode allows Picture-in-Picture viewing
- Vast color spectrum
- Doesn’t cover Adobe RGB color space
- No integrated calibration functionality
It all started seven years ago: Apple introduced its iPhone 4 which sported a high-resolution display effectively quadrupling the number of pixels from the previous model. Apple coined the term “Retina Display” for these new panels because at normal viewing distance, the human eye wasn’t able to make out individual pixels any longer. The pixel density of the panel at typical viewing distance is greater than the number of receptors in the human eye. This technology brought with it a definite improvement in image quality on mobile devices but also meant that more hardware resources had to be allocated to “pushing” pixels onscreen. This compromised battery life somewhat. Other mobile device manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and Huawei followed suit.
What does Ultra HD, 4K, & 5K mean?
For a while now, this technology has also found its way into the personal computing sector: Apple, with their new MacBook Pros, MacBooks, and the current iMac are almost exclusively selling computers with high-pixel-density displays. At the same time, many big-name display manufacturers are releasing more and more Ultra HD (UHD), 4K, or 5K panels. Essentially, this means that both horizontal and vertical resolution are doubled – What has been a single pixel before, is now being replaced with 4 pixels covering the same surface area. In place of 1920 x 1080, 4K/UHD describes a 3840 x 2160 resolution – exactly 4x the amount of pixels a 1080p display has. 5K is basically the same principle, except the base resolution that is being quadrupled is 2560 x 1440. The result is 5120 x 2880 px – meaning 5.000 pixels diagonally. Basically a pretty simple concept.
What is telling, is that Apple is using the “Retina” term with their MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones, but not with the iMac. The simple reason: Even the old iMac (like every 27” 2560 x 1440 panel) has retina properties at a viewing distance of 81 cm as stated on www.isthisretina.com. This means that at said distance, the eye can’t distinguish individual pixels anymore. With mobile devices, viewing distance is of course much smaller: These are usually viewed at a distance of only a few centimeters whereas the average distance of 60 cm that we view computer screens from requires a much lower resolution in order to make individual pixels indiscernible. So, while high-density displays make sense for mobile devices and laptops, they are more of a luxury bonus in desktop displays – unless your vision is 150% above the average.
Ultra HD and Classic Displays
Ultra HD/4K/5K does have an advantage over “older” resolutions however: Even though pixels can’t be distinguished at normal viewing distance, small elements and text onscreen are looking a lot crisper. Even the untrained eye will spot the difference when it comes to these details. This is pure logic: If you imagine pixels as “steps”, these steps become smaller and smaller the more pixels there are. Fine details thus are becoming a lot more defined and sharper. Especially people editing images will find this useful.
Classic-resolution displays also have their advantages however. Most importantly, they work with pretty much every currently available computer. The problem with UHD/4K/5K displays is that they demand a much more powerful GPU since four times the pixels must be pushed – and that at a refresh rate of typically 60 Hz in modern LCDs. That means that the GPU has to send out a 4K image – equaling 8 megapixels – 60 times each second. A serious problem for older machines and laptops. While most current machines can handle one of these displays, dual or triple-display setups will be problematic. This is a feat that can only be handled by the most cutting edge rigs at the moment. Making the transition to 4K/5K displays is also an expensive tasks since both the displays and the hardware required to drive them are significant. If the subtle difference in image quality is worth it has to be determined by you and you alone.
4K or Standard Resolution
In the end, choosing the type of displays you want to work on is of course your own choice. The future however, will belong to the 4K and 5K displays: Now, many new displays in the high-end sector sport these resolutions. The increase in sharpness – for many a definite argument towards buying a high-res panel – becomes less and less obvious the further you move away from the display. A desktop resolution of 4K/5K, unlike in smartphones/tables, doesn’t offer too big an advantage for the user. If you haven’t had any issues with display sharpness, UHD will be more of a marketing-gimmick than real added value.
In the real world, other factors should be more important, such as Adobe RGB color space coverage, calibration solutions, and good brightness and contrast metrics. This can (in most cases) be reflected in the price tag: The more expensive the panel, the better the components will be. Additional details like USB hubs, and matte-finish panels are factors, that matter for putting a display to work – especially since buying a monitor with a classic resolution brings with it some financial benefits: UHD models are usually about twice as expensive as comparable “standard” models. Instead of a single 4K display, you could simply buy two regular displays that your computer will doubtless be able to handle. This might also increase your productivity more than simply having a higher resolution.
What you should pay attention to when buying a new display
Even though the marketing talk by many display manufacturers wants to make you believe that Ultra HD is an absolute necessity, other factors are more important when looking for a workhorse of a display. Like for example the pixel density: The more pixels there are per inch of surface area (PPI), the “smaller” the contents are being displayed. A good example for this are Dell’s U2515H and U2715H which, at 25” and 27” respectively, are very comparable. The two inches of additional diagonal lead to a significant change in pixel density however: The 25” model has 117,5 PPI, the 27” version comes in at 109 PPI. The pixels get bigger or smaller and so do the elements onscreen. Ultra HD displays have to utilize scaling of the content in order to display the onscreen content at a reasonable size. In most cases, the scaling of the quadrupled resolution is being used. Meaning, that at 4K, all elements onscreen retain their relative size they would have at 1920 x 1080 px.
The aspect ratio of the display also plays an important role. There are the classical 16:9 and 16:10 formats but new form factors like UltraWide are also on the rise. LG’s 38UC99W for example, has a 4K resolution of 3.840 x 1600 px at 38” of screen size. In marketing, the quality and color reproduction and practicality often take a backseat to the resolution: Low-cost 4K panels often can’t cover the entire Adobe RGB color space which is required for precise image editing. Other qualities like the evenness of the backlight and contrast ratio are important for calibrating a panel. Eizo’s online monitor test can be found at https://www.eizo.be/monitor-test/. Practical features like USB hubs or different connectivity options like DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3, or multiple HDMI ports are also often omitted