Why it is not yet a good idea to buy a 4K display or Ultra HD TV

Why it is not yet a good idea to buy a 4K display or Ultra HD TV

Shopping season has just started for year end 2014. This year marks the beginning of a multi-year transition to a world of 4K displays and Ultra HD TVs, and with no doubt many electronic vendors are pushing hard to sell you their latest 4K displays and Ultra HD TVs. If you’re tempted, you might want to ponder harder before parting your hard-earned money. 

Even though 4K displays and Ultra HD TVs have been available on the market for months, the technology and ecosystems around them are at best suited for very early adopters. The display you bought today might be obsolete as soon as next year end.

Lets clear out some confusion regarding the marketing of 4K computer displays and Ultra HD TVs. 4K refers to 4096 x 2160 resolution. The standard for Ultra HD TV is of 3840 x 2160 resolution. However it is common for HDTV vendors to market their Ultra HD TV as 4K screens. To confuse matters, some computer vendor might market their 3840 x 2160 resolution monitor as 4K.

4K Display

Before you make your 4K display purchase, check its compatibility with your Mac by checking an Apple support article. Only newer Macs can be use with 4K displays and Ultra HD TVs:

  • MacBook Pro (Retina, Late 2013 and later)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)
  • iMac (27-inch, Late 2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (Late 2014)

The list of supported monitors are:

  • Sharp PN-K321
  • ASUS PQ321Q
  • Dell UP2414Q
  • Dell UP3214Q
  • Panasonic TC-L65WT600
  • LG 31MU97 

 LG 31MU97 is the only monitor that supports a higher refresh rate of 50Hz when running under OS X Yosemite. All the other monitors support a mere 30Hz. Ideally you would want a monitor that support a minimum refresh rate of 60Hz.

Current HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2 display technology is not capable of driving a bandwidth of 4k resolution at 60Hz. HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3 are the next-gen display standards for the task. Unfortunately none of current Macs’ graphics processor support HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.3. The new display technologies are expected to appear in Mac only in 2015.

If you really must buy the new 4K display this year, make sure it supports HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort 1.3 and can display 4K at a minimum 60Hz.

Ultra HD TV

The same 4K @ 60Hz issue applies to Ultra HD TVs, as majority of current crops are sporting HDMI 1.4 interface that has a limit of 4k at 24 frames per second.

Even for those Ultra HD TV that support HDMI 2.0, none of them implements HDCP 2.2 (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) protocol which is required to view protected 4K content. HDCP is the standard implementation of protected HD content. Studio and content provider are expected to use it to protect their media when they release 4K content.

With so little 4K content at the moment, one might wonder what’s the benefit of owning an Ultra HD TVs? Even the old-fashioned Blu-ray disc will support 4K content only in late 2015. 

If you must, to shop for Ultra HD TVs, you need to look for HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 support and 4K @ 60Hz capability.

One thought on “Why it is not yet a good idea to buy a 4K display or Ultra HD TV”

  1. You say “Current HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2 display technology is not capable of driving a bandwidth of 4k resolution at 60Hz” but you don’t mention MST (Multi-stream transport) which allows current Macs with Mini Displayport 1.2 to support a 3840 x 2160 display at 60 Hz.

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