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4K or UHD Now
May 9, 2014 - Dave Hecei
I must admit that I want 4K. I am not talking about televisions, but 4K computer monitors. I don’t own a new Mac Pro, you know the one that looks like it could be Darth Vader’s helmet. But I do like the idea of a 4K computer monitor. Call it Retina if you have to, but 4K is coming sooner than you think.
It started back in the Dual-G4 days when I got a Quicksilver tower and started lusting after the big Apple Cinema Displays. After the Intel invasion, Apple went even bigger with their monitors. They eventually made it up to 30-inches with the beautiful 2560 by 1600 pixel display. The only current monitor sold by Apple, if you don’t count iMacs, is the 27-inch Thunderbolt Display. It shows almost the same amount of pixels as the 30 did at 2560 by 1440.
With the new Mac Pro starting to trickle into the market, and I do mean trickle, the demand for 4K monitors is starting to rise. This is not just a Mac only dilemma. For some, many new PCs have graphics cards capable of 4K output.
Those who are buying Mac Pros are the ones who need all the extra CPU and GPU power it brings. For those who are editing the latest 4K video, there is a need to preview their work in its native resolution, which can only be done on a 4K screen. For this task they can use either a 4K monitor or possibly a 4K television. The large production companies out there are probably not going to opt for a cheap 4K television for this task, but for the independent production house that has limited funds can probably get by - with careful calibration and good color grading software.
If you are using a Mac Pro, or any other 4K capable PC, for things like Lightroom or Photoshop, then you may want to switch out your lower resolution monitor for a 4K model. Depending on how you like to work, having a single large monitor may or may not be ideal.
A few years ago, a Mac workstation was likely to have two or even three monitors. I regularly have one larger monitor that is my main workspace with a second monitor off to the right where I put extra menu pallets or windows. When Apple started creating 'full screen mode' apps, the multiple monitor idea sort of, well, went out the window. If you have a newer Mac and the latest OS X 10.9, multiple monitors has been a bit tricky, but is getting better. So the problem is whether to opt for a single super-high resolution monitor, or or stick with multiple smaller monitors.
Multiple Monitors on the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro has six Thunderbolt 2 ports and a HDMI port. Because of how these ports are interlinked makes it a bit complicated when connecting multiple monitors. ‘You can’t connect this when you have that on the x port’ kind of stuff. According to Apple, you can have a single 4k monitor plus four Thunderbolt displays. That’s an amazing amount of pixel if you sit down and add this all up. The Thunderbolt 2 ports can be converted to other types of ports with dongles, but when you use a dongle on one port you loose one other in the process. So if you were to use two DVI monitors, you are actually using four of the Thunderbolt 2 ports. Like I said, it’s complicated. All in all, it is an amazing ability for a desktop Mac straight out of the box. It’s a good thing since there is no way to upgrade the video card in there. Whatever model you bought, your stuck with that video system for life.
TVs or Monitors. In the television market there are several 4K monitors out there, some rather inexpensive. The problem in the television market is that most of the manufacturers are standardizing on the UltraHD display. This is not a true 4K monitor. It is the equivalent of four-HDTVs. So when you are shopping for TVs, beware of this. Also note that if you are looking for a new TV and think you want one of these, don’t bother quite yet since there is no easily delivered UltraHD content to be had. That end of things is years away.
On the monitor end, things are looking pretty good. Dell and Samsung are really starting to turn out some nice 4K computer monitors. While some of the first monitors to hit the market were very pricy, thousands of dollars, these newer ones from Dell and Samsung are being priced less than Apple’s Thunderbolt display. Scary, I know.
There are slight differences between true 4K video and UltraHD video. True 4K has a native resolution of 4096 × 2160. If you took any computer courses or know your binary number system then you know that 4k is 2 to the 12th power, or 4096. For others, 4K means 4,000. In this case we are talking more computer than cash, so 4K refers to 4096 pixels horizontal on the screen.
In the case of UltraHD, the resolution is 3840 by 2160 pixels – almost 4000, but not quite. This resolution comes from doubling the resolution of standard HD, which is 1920 by 1080. UltraHD is double the height and double the width of HD resulting in four times the pixels. As a computer monitor, UltraHD resolution would be great. For those who are editing 4K video, this is not the monitor you want. Of course there is the argument that there will be those out there editing content for display on UHD. It does get confusing rather quickly.
If you are editing motion pictures or video for broadcast using Final Cut Pro X, then having at least one true 4K monitor is a must. If you are using your Mac Pro as a workstation for photo, video, animation, etc. and don’t need 4K proofing, then any of the UHD monitors may fit the bill. Either way, you will want to check online for reviews on specific monitors and how well they work with the Mac Pro and your software before you make your final decision.
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