Setting up a 4K monitor on a Windows PC

This article will cover some of the basics of setting up a 4K or UHD monitor on a Windows PC, and also give you useful information you are thinking of buying one. There are two flavours of 4K screens. True 4K monitors have a resolution of 4096 by 2160. UHD monitors are 3840 by 2160.

The first and most vital thing that you need to do is to check out if your video card can handle a 4K or UHD monitor at the native resolution and at a refresh rate of 60hz. The refresh rate is important as some cards will do the resolution but only at lower refresh rates and this can make the computer seem sluggish because the mouse movements can become jerky and fast moving video such as games can appear slow. Find out what card you have and then google online for the manufacturer’s website and look up the technical specifications. You may find that your card supports UHD but not full 4K. If you are having trouble understanding what you’ve found then give us a call.

Connecting your Monitor

The second choice you get, once you have a card that will do 4K, is what cable to use to connect the monitor. You can use HDMI or you can use Display Port. DVI does not support 4K or UHD. Whilst both HDMI and Display Port connections can often support the same resolutions the big limitation is that the current HDMI standard can only work at 24 hertz or 30 hertz refresh rates with 4K. This makes using Display Port the better option as you should be able to use 60 hertz instead.

The refresh rate problem is caused by the sheer amount of data that displaying 4K involves. Displaying full 4K (4096 x 2160) at 60Hz requires 16 Gbps of bandwidth. HDMI 1.4a has a maximum bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps whereas Display Port 1.2 can handle up to 21.6 Gbps. HDMI 2.0 will up the bandwidth possible to 18 Gbps, but for now Display Port is the best option.

Display Port also supports Multi-Stream Transport via two cable connections. MST basically splits the monitor in half and each connection drives half the screen. This can speed up the refresh rates available but does have it’s own downsides as the computer may treat each half of the display as a separate monitor. You will probably find that getting the ideal connection for your own purposes takes a little trial and error.

Resolution Scaling

Most computer operating systems and applications define the size of text as being a certain number of pixels and assume a screen resolution of 96 ppi (pixels per inch). A standard HD resolution (1920 x 1080) monitor has a screen resolution of about 96 ppi. A 27 inch monitor of 2560 x 1440 increases the resolution to 109 ppi but a UHD 31 inch screen has a resolution of 140 ppi. If you increase the resolution of the monitor the display size of text and other elements will get smaller. Going from a typical 24 inch to a typical 27 inch screen results in smaller type that may cause some users a problem but most will find the reduction acceptable. However, jump up to 4K or UHD resolution and the text gets incredibly small and I challenge anyone to find it useable for any length of time.

Realising this Microsoft has built-in type scaling features that change the apparent resolution of the monitor so that text becomes larger and more readable. Windows 7 has good display scaling but Windows 8 improved the feature.

Display scaling in Windows 8.1 gives you plenty of options.

Display scaling in Windows 8.1 gives you plenty of options.

To set up your display scaling right click on the desktop and select screen resolution from the menu. Check that your screen is set to the full 4K or UHD resolution and then click on Make Text and Other Items Larger or Smaller. You can choose 100%, 125%, 150% or in Windows 8.1 even 200% scaling and also control specific items such as the size of type in title bars. You can even choose other scaling percentages through the custom scaling options. The scaling that you use is matter of taste and how good your eyesight is. There is a trade off between legibility and screen space.

The PC still sends all the data to the monitor in the full native resolution of the monitor but it processes it beforehand in the scaled resolution so that each pixel is displayed not by one pixel on the monitor but by several depending on the amount of scaling. The downside with scaling is that you may have bought a 4K/UHD display so that you have loads of room to display lots of windows/applications but in order to have readable text you end up with no more room than you’d have on a lower resolution screen. However, you do still get the stunningly crisp look of a high ppi screen and there is little or no loss of quality, although some scaling settings may be sharper on text than others. Also whilst most applications support display scaling well some don’t and can then look quite low resolution. For example some web browsers handle it better than others. Yon can find a good article on web browsers and 4K here.

Conclusion

Getting a PC to use a 4K or UHD monitor isn’t as straightforward as using a lower resolution screen and you should do your homework both on the graphics card and the monitor before you buy. But high DPI monitors do provide a very different viewing experience and you will be blown away by the sharpness of the image.

EIZO have two very useful articles on 4K screens on their website:

http://www.eizoglobal.com/library/basics/eizo_4k_monitors/index.html

http://www.eizoglobal.com/library/basics/pixel_density_4k/index.html

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