4K Monitors for Film Editing
Should you buy a 4K computer monitor for film editing?
That’s the question I’m currently asking myself as I look to buy a new monitor for my home editing suite. In my previous post on ‘Affordable Grading Monitors‘ I swung heavily towards the HP Z27x Dreamcolor monitor, and reviewed it in more detail here, because it gave me pretty decent colour accuracy for an affordable price and a nice compact 27 inches. That said, I did question the resolution of the Z27x screen (2560 x 1440) and whether I was really buying a monitor that would last me a few years to come.
So back to that 4K question. Although there are a lot of 3840 x 2160 (UHD) monitors out there at the minute, there aren’t many 4096 x 2160 choices. In the image above you can visually see the difference between the two. Here’s what I wrote in my Affordable Grading Monitor blog post…
Having a quick look around if I was going to get a true 4K monitor, there aren’t many 4096 capable screens (most are UHD) around. The LG 31UM97-B looks pretty good in this regard, as even the Z32x (HP’s latest DreamColour – available ‘this summer’) will only display 3840 x 2160 and they haven’t announced the price just yet.
So do those extra pixels make a big difference, does it really matter?
From a business perspective I should be counselling myself that, if I don’t have a client who wants to see 4K on a 4K pixel-for-pixel screen, then is it worth buying something no one wants to pay for? Then again, it’s not a huge price difference between the HP Z27x (£700/$1195) and the LG 31UM97-B (£900/$974) in the UK, and in the US it’s an even better deal with the LG.
You're an editor buying a new monitor, do you…
— Jonny Elwyn (@jonnyelwyn) November 3, 2015
In my recent Twitter poll, answered by a mighty 15 people, the vote was strongly in favour of colour accuracy over 4K. So maybe that Dreamcolor will do me just fine, after all. And after researching the available true 4K options, it seems like aiming for a UHD monitor might be a reasonable compromise of resolution and price. As an editor, largely doing offline-ish work, screen real estate is what I’ll appreciate more than colour accuracy. Although ideally I want the best of both!
As a quick aside, one recent benefit is that with OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) we now have native 10-bit video on a Mac without the need for external I/O boxes, assuming you’re running a 10-bit panel.
UPDATED 2016 – Scroll to the bottom to see which monitor I eventually bought for my own edit suite!
Some of the current problems with 4K monitors are to do with the low refresh rate (running anything at under 50/60Hz isn’t going to be worth it) and the kind of connectivity options you have with HDMI, Display Port and Thunderbolt.
If the type of cable you’re using to connect the monitor with isn’t able to handle the necessary bandwidth (HDMI) then you have to resort to things like Multi-Stream Transport (MST) rather than Single Stream Transport. Again the image above does a helpful job of explaining it, and you can check out Apple’s breakdown of which Macs will connect in which ways. Also Divergent Media has a good explanation of connecting a 4K/5K display to a Mac, including this helpful chart.
Eizo also has a much more detailed primer on all of this and importantly, pixel density (ppi), which is a must read if you really want to know the in’s and out’s before you buy a new 4K/UHD monitor.
Update: If you want even more info and explanations of the key terms on 4K and 5K monitors, Macrumors.com has an excellent buyer’s guide here.
True 4K Editing Monitors – The Options
In this section I’m not going to go into detail on every single 4K and UHD monitor on the market, I’m simply going to pull out a few options that I think are particularly interesting. Personally, in my home set up, I’m aiming for a 27″ monitor, I might be able to squeeze in a 31″ but anything more than that is going to be hogging too much desk space. I don’t want to spend a huge amount of money, but I do want a screen that’s going to last me for a few years to come and be a joy to work with every day.
The monitor I’m most interested in is the recently updated LG 31MU97Z, which apart from being a true 4096 x 2160 display, now features two Thunderbolt 2 ports, it also packs in two internal MaxxAudio 5 Watt Speakers, the same strong colour qualities and a bevy of other useful features.
But it is more expensive than the old 31MU97B. Amazon has the 31MU97B for $727 and the updated 31MU97Z for $1229, so a difference of about $500 which is more than enough to buy a (lower quality) second screen! In the UK that price soars from £809 (B monitor) to a hefty £1630 on Amazon, which puts it out my price range.
The benefits of this screen are the 10-bit colour depth, 4096 x 2160 resolution, 99.5 Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 colour spaces and the (fairly) compact screen size.
EOSHD has a good review of the original B monitor here, which is well worth a read if you’re interested in working with this screen.
Unlike the iMac 5K display which is very reflective due to the gloss coating the LG 31MU97 is a matte display, favoured by editors and graphics artists the world over. I have no idea why Apple have gone so cold on matte displays and aren’t yet offering a 4K Cinema Display with Thunderbolt, instead leaving it to LG. This is the screen to get if you have a Mac Pro, not the ageing Apple Cinema Display.
Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K
One of the other few 4K monitors I’ve been able to find is the Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K. To my mind Eizo are a premium professional monitor brand, often coming in at the top end of the price and quality spectrum, and this monitor fulfils those expectations. The CG318-4K delivers a 4096 x 2160 resolution with 10-bit colour, 99% of the Adobe RGB and 98% of the DCI-P3 colour standard.
It also comes with an in-built self-calibration device and colour management software, as well as a 5 year warranty. All that will set you back just over £3000, and is currently listed on Amazon.co.uk for £3377.75, on B&H it’s on for $5739. Which is astronomically more than I want to spend right now. But I wanted to include this monitor for a little bit of context for the LG 31MU97. Although they’re obviously not directly comparable.
If you’re interested in this monitor you should check out the GPU compatibility chart here. Owning a 2013 Mac Pro I would be fine running this at 4K and 60Hz.
UHD Video Editing Monitors
These next monitors are only UHD (3840 x 2160) in resolution, but still a big step up from previous monitors which tend to be in the 2560 x 1440 range. But that increase also comes with a sharp price hike too.
Dell UltraSharp 32 – UP3216Q
The 31.5 inch Dell UltraSharp monitor with Premier Color is the bigger brother monitor to the 27 inch UltraSharp UP2716D, which I also mentioned in my Affordable Grading Monitors post (as the previous generation U2713H). You can compare their specifications here on the official Dell site. You can also read more details on the UP3216Q here and the UP2716D here.
The big differences are the resolution UHD 3840 x 2160 (32″) vs 2560 x 1440 (27″), an in-built media card reader, and HDMI 2.0 compatibility in the UP3216Q. The smaller monitor also more accurately covers the colour standards, as the UP3216Q only covers 99.5% (vs 100%) Adobe RGB and 87% (vs 98%) of DCI-P3. That and, once again, the price.
The 31.5 inch UHD screen will set you back just under twice the price of the 27 inch monitor at $1600 vs $899. In the UK Dell is listing them at £1255 and £850. So still a little outside outside what I’m looking to spend on this occasion. As these monitors are very new, it’s hardly surprising that the price is so ‘high’.
HP Z32x and Z27s
When I reviewed the Z27x Dreamcolor monitor, there was always the promise of the 32 inch UHD monitor on the horizon. That was supposed to be shipping ‘in the summer’ but has yet to be released, with no information on price or shipping dates. Although this seller claims to be offering one for about $1500. (If you google the model number ‘M2D46A8ABA Dreamcolor Z32x’ you’ll find a few other places getting ready to sell it.
So on spec the 32″ Dreamcolor would provide all of the great colour accuracy of the 27″ Dreamcolor but with that UHD resolution. But it’s not shipping and when it does, it seems like it will be a little out of my price range. Although a quick currency conversion puts $1500 at around £1000.
If you wanted to, you could get the HP Z27s, which is the computer monitor version of the Z27x professional display. It doesn’t have the same colour capabilities or calibration features but it is a UHD monitor for $600 or £584, which is comparable to the Asus PB279Q below. It is an IPS monitor but as far as I can tell it doesn’t have 10-bit.
I’ve never used an Asus monitor, but heard a lot of good things from those who have. The PB279Q is another 27″ UHD monitor with 10-bit colour and 100% sRGB coverage. It has Display Port 1.2 and mini display port connectors as well as 4 HDMI ports. It’s pretty cheap too at $640 on Amazon.com and £542 on Amazon.co.uk, making it the cheapest in this short list.
PC Monitors.info has a very long and detailed review of the monitor here, which highlighted a couple of important things to me.
The monitor uses a 27” ‘4K’ UHD panel, using AU Optronics AHVA (Advanced Hyper Viewing Angle) IPS-type technology. The colour processing is 8-bit + FRC dithering, bringing it up to 10-bits per subpixel.
So, as far as I understand, that means it’s not a true IPS panel, nor does it have true 10-bit colour reproduction. (You can read more about 8-bit+FRC here.) Which are a couple of strikes against it in my book. But it is a lot cheaper!
So what am I going to do?
As my budget comes before my aspirations, it’s very possible that I’ll either spring for the HP 27″ Dreamcolor display, or snap up a cheaper LG 31MU97B, now that the LG 31MU97 Z has come out, it seems to have helped lower the price a bit. I’m hoping I can test drive an LG soon, to get a feel for it before I actually put my money where my mouth is, so if that happens stay tuned for a more detailed review.
Here are some quick links to other monitor round ups that might help you find something in other price ranges ($400!), but not necessarily with the superior specifications. As these articles are of varying vintage just check the date they were published or updated, to make sure it’s still relevant.
Toms hardware – Best Computer Monitors June 2015 | Lifehacker – 5 Best 4K Displays | Wirecutter – The Best 4K monitor doesn’t exist yet | Wolfcrow – 4K Monitor Comparison (spec spreadsheets) | 9to5Mac – The Best 4K & UHD Displays for Mac (a little old)
What have I missed?
As you’ve been reading this you’ve probably been thinking “Yeah, but what about the _______ monitor!” In that case add your thoughts to the comments below.
@jonnyelwyn for a long time true 4K was 4096×3112 based on 35mm full ap.
Maybe it's all relative now 🙂
— Thomas Mathai (@rebeldigitalgod) November 13, 2015
@jonnyelwyn Great post. I use two LG 31MU97Z-Bs connected to a MacPro 2013. The real estate is amazing. LG was a good option for me.
— Armando Guerra (@_the_islander) November 12, 2015
2016 UPDATE – Which Monitor Did I Buy?
So after all that research, debate and time consuming thought, which monitor did I eventually choose?
Well I sprang for the 31″ true 4K LG 31MU97Z-B Thunderbolt enabled monitor and I have to say it’s been incredible! What helped me make my decision? In chatting with editor Vashi Nedomansky he mentioned that several of the suites he had helped set up (since working on Deadpool), featured these monitors, so it’s always a confidence boost to get a recommendation from someone who knows what they’re doing!
Also I decided that as most of what I’m doing, day-to-day, is offline editing I could take the small hit on colour accuracy, compared to say the HP Dreamcolor Z27x, in exchange for a much larger screen space and higher resolution. Getting to edit with 31″ of space is almost an embarrassment of riches and the 4K is plenty of pixels for me.
It’s a beautiful screen to look at all day long and the jump in resolution from my crappy old monitor has been astounding. In fact, the jump was so big that it has taken me a little while to get used to the size of icons and text on screen, but after a few days that went away. It also means I’ve had to adapt my non-editing working style, as writing emails on this thing is impossible in full screen mode. But being able to effectively have (what used to be a single screen’s worth) of documents, or browser tabs open, side by side is a huge benefit.
The matte coating on the screen is excellent and there is none of the infuriating glare that you can get when working with glossy iMacs. The blacks are pretty decent, and the colours are nice and rich so high quality sources look great on the screen with all those pixels to power through. Although I would say if you’re sitting up close to it and watching something in full screen (with black bars top and bottom) you can notice a bit of light bleed in the corners. But to be honest it’s nothing major.
Setting up the monitor was easy, it’s essentially plug and play. I’ve had no problems running the monitor at full 4K resolution via Thunderbolt from my 2013 (trashcan) Mac Pro and the refresh rate of 60Hz. In fact the LG support site was pretty amusing on this front…
There seems to be a misconception that Monitor Drivers are needed. LG Monitors are Plug & Play compliant, meaning that model specific drivers are not needed. Because of this, you are not likely to find drivers with this search. And if you do, they are not likely to solve whatever issue you are experiencing.
If you do want a little more assistance with setting up the screen and making sure you’ve got everything set how you like it you can find the manuals and set up guides here. I’ve read some users complaining about the LG support but my experience of their UK team was excellent. For some reason Amazon shipped me a monitor from Italy, and so it came with a European plug for the power lead, a quick phone call netted me a free replacement and a back up Thunderbolt to Display Port cable, as you have to have official LG cables to avoid running into any potential issues.
My only real bug-bear with the monitor is how slow it is to wake once the computer has been asleep. It just seems to take a few seconds longer than I would really expect and it feels unusual to be waiting for technology these days. How spoiled I have become! But it’s not a big deal. Another snag was that my Wacom tablet was remembering my old monitor’s settings and so I couldn’t reach the sign in button on the OSX login window without plugging in a mouse. But a quick Wacom driver update solved that, and brought some new features. So a win-win.
To sum up the sheer size of the monitor, the 4K resolution, the great image quality and matte screen made this purchase well worth the money. I am one very happy editor!