Playing with 4K - Do I need one, can I afford one?

Dell recently released a new 4K monitor, the P3214Q, that has a beautiful 32-inch IGZO IPS panel.

You know the old saying: If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it? It’s still true. This little big beauty sells for $3,500, which is not cheap.

MONITORS AND NOTEBOOK—22.5 megapixels in your face—do more!


The other question to ask is what would you do with a 4K monitor? (Maybe it’s the same kind of answer: If you have to ask, then you don’t need one.) However, if you think you do need (or at the least want) one, then you will want to know how you can communicate with it.

That will be pretty easy with the P3214Q; the monitor has a lot of holes in it. It has HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, full-size DisplayPort (1.2a), four USB 3.0 ports downstream, plus one USB 3.0 upstream, and a media card reader.

So you can jam a Blu-ray DVD player that has an upscaler in it (e.g., Samsung BD-F7500 4K upscaling 3D WiFi Blu-ray disc player for about $220) and watch 4K movies, or you can plug in a Roku, Apple, or Google IPTV if you’re looking for video entertainment. Not sure why you would want to do that unless you were crammed for space since you can get a 58-inch 4K UHD TV for $2,700.

Dell’s not the only one making a 32- inch 4K monitor; Sharp has one, too, the IGZO PN-K321 (about $5,500) ,Asus has the IGZO PQ321Q for $2,780 (on Amazon), and Apple offered a 32-inch Sharp 4K for $5,700 in December and then withdrew it from the market.

Sharp vs. Dell

We hooked up the Dell and Sharp monitors to our new Dell M3800 ultrabook workstation with a 15.6-inch QHD 3200 × 1800 IGZO touch screen. One monitor used the HDMI port, and the other used the DisplayPort. With all three screens lit up, we were looking at an amazing 22.5 megapixels!

SHARP 4K, Dell 17-inch HD, and Dell 4K (driven by AMD HD R9290 AIB).


What we did with all those pixels we’ll discuss later, but for now, we wanted to determine whether we could see any significant difference between the two monitors. We did. The color gamuts are different. That has to do with the type of panel used, and how it is driven. Images on the Sharp were over-driven, giving them a bright look and seemingly better contrast, but it is an effect, not reality, using colored panels and gamut rainbows.

Dell includes a complete profile of the monitor’s gamut, and it is just about perfect. One of the tests for a monitor is to feed it a variable signal and measure its white balance from darkest to brightest. The evaluation is known as its delta- E grayscale tracking, and it is measured in percentage. Grayscale performance affects color accuracy with regard to the secondary colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow. Suppliers of high-quality monitors strive for a delta 3 of 5% or less deviation from the white point. The delta E of the Dell was less than 1% average in both Adobe RGB and sRGB—pretty damn remarkable. As a result, Dell can claim color accuracy of 99% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB coverage. For comparison, Tom’s Hardware tested the aforementioned Asus and it got about an average of 1.5% delta E.

The IGZO IPS LCD panel makes a terrific improvement over older LCD screens. Due to a clever pixel arrange¬ment, it can produce as bright an image with equal or better contrast, and use less power doing it.
So all the displays were neutral with regard to quality of the panel. The difference between them came down to the scalers and TCON in the monitor. Scalers are tricky devices to build, and you get what you pay for; they can make or break a monitor. Dell’s P3214Q has an outstanding scaler in it.

What do we think?

Features. The non-color aspects of a monitor (connections size, etc.)

Subjective. This is the most common: it looks great, works well in games, has a good price, etc.

Specific. A color profile requires a colorimeter and special software; it’s very complex and complete (Insight Media/Display Central, Tom’s Hardware, and Anantech run such tests). A monitor expert can read those charts and tell how good or bad a monitor is, but the data would blind a user.

So the golden eye analysis is more what the user wants—an expert’s opinion of how good the monitor is.

If the panel is the same between two monitors, then the color characteristics will be almost identical. And if the white point and color space are the same, the monitors “should” look the same.

However, there can be differences. If you look at the picture of monitors and a notebook on the preceding page, you might notice the Dell 4K monitor has a slight pink tint, even though both monitors are set to 6500K white balance and using sRBG color gamut.

This is a good illustration of the value of the Technicolor Color Certified mark. If it was on those displays, you would just push the button or hit the icon and they would both be set in a known, consistent, and correct color. (see TechWatch, August 13, 2013, p. 5)

But instead you have the Microsoft color controls, the GPU control panel, the monitor OSD and the monitor modes, the monitor color settings, the monitor RGB controls—what a mess.

Nonetheless, if you have any interest in or need for a 4K monitor, we think the Dell is definitely the best. The Asus is a good second choice if you’re tight on cash. Assuming you buy a monitor maybe every four or five years, or every other PC, then the Dell would cost $700 a year to amortize (less than $2/day— about 50% of the cost if a caffe latte).

THE SMALL SIZE of semiconductors made with IGZO technology enables smaller-sized pixels, which in turn provide stunning high resolution.


Hook ’em up 

I gave a presentation last week from the Dell M3800. Sweet machine that it is, it doesn’t have a VGA connector. I probably would never have noticed except the projector I had to use was VGA. The M3800 has a HDMI out, and DP out, all digital. I could have gotten from DP to DVI with a cable adapter, but there wouldn’t be any analog signals in it. 

Back to the past, DisplayLink makes it work

I scrounged around the piles of adapters we have here at MTTL and pulled out an old DisplayLink USB-to-DVI dongle. I hooked up a mini-to-standard USB cable to its input, and a DVI-to-VGA cable adapter to a VGA monitor—yes, we still have some here.

Uh-oh. The little blue light on the DisplayLink box didn’t light up. I sus¬pected the USB cable, and while I was contemplating my next move, a message popped up on the screen of the note¬book asking for permission to install DisplayLink software. I quickly clicked yes, and in three seconds the blue light on the DisplayLink adapter lit up, and less than a second later, the VGA monitor did too.
It just works.

So with no real hassle, other than scrounging around the lab for cables and adapters, I was able to take a 2014 all-digital notebook and retrofit it to 1987 analog technology. The show goes on and the road never ends …

Back to the future

We live in a world of coincidences. The day we were testing the 4K moni¬tors, what should appear in the mail but a new pre-production DisplayLink USB-to-Data Port adapter that can drive a 4K screen. We plugged the USB side into the M3800, and the DP side into the Dell 4K and guess what? It just worked. Where’s the challenge, where’s the excitement and drama in that? You plug in the module and it works, you don’t need multiple degrees for that—anyone could do it.

The adapter uses our DisplayLink’s new DL-5500 chip, in production today; their customers will be announcing product for sales in the next 90 days or so. pressreleaseviewer.php?id=149

Laura looks great on 4K, but she won’t play

We tried playing Tomb Raider at 4K using a PC with an AMD AIB. It was incredible looking, and the imagery scaled extremely well—that was the good news. The mouse, however, couldn’t manage it, and the lag made the game and even menu selection impossible. We tried a higher resolution gaming mouse, but it didn’t help.

We gave up on the 4K display and tried Ms. Croft on the M3800’s screen. The results were the same—so higher resolution doesn’t seem to buy you much for gaming, at least not this game.

We will continue this research with other games at 4K and check the mouse behavior.


We tried the two external 4K monitors connected to the M3800 using the built-in Intel HD4600 GPU. They ran fine, and as long as you weren’t using an application that requires a high frame update such as Word or Excel, the integrated Intel GPU did a fine job. We actually spread an Excel file across the 11,120 pixels of the three screens; it was an amazing sight, and totally usable. You really could do more by seeing this, much more.

However, the Intel GPU couldn’t handle Laura. On just the M3800’s screen the average frame rate was an unacceptable 7.5 fps. We’ll explore this some more, too, and try turning things off.

What do we think?

A UHD 4K monitor for office productivity, art layout, and probably CAD will be a blessing for people who have big spreadsheets, drawings, or a need to see detail in artwork. High frame rate programs like games are problematic at this time; the developers are going to have to get some 4K displays and learn how to take advantage of them. Given the rearview mirror planning of most game developers, they will assume no one has a 4K display, nor will gamers have them in any numbers for several years. Once again they will be wrong and be late to the party.

A few games developers will recognize that the new consoles can, and will, drive a 4K TV, and that there will be a pent-up demand for 4K games. If the game controller suffers the same lag problems as a mouse, then they will be forced to figure out how to scale the input device better.