4K Video Editing Monitors

4K Monitors for Film Editing

difference between UHD and 4K

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.

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!

4k monitor single stream transport

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.

which mac will support UHD and 4K

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

4K film editing monitors

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.

LG 31MU97Z-B

4k Editing monitors

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.

Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K

Eizo 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.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk | Buy on B&H

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

Dell 32 inch UHD monitor

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’.

Buy on Amazon.com |

HP Z32x and Z27s

HPz27s UHD monitor

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.

Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Asus PB279Q

Asus PB27Q UHD Monitor

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!

Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

Final Thoughts

4K monitors for mac

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.

4K monitor comparison

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.

2016 UPDATE – Which Monitor Did I Buy?

4K video Editing monitors

Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

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!

Buy on Amazon.com | Buy on Amazon.co.uk

13 Comments

  • Dear Jonny,

    Thanks for the post which I stumble upon while surfing the web from some Cafe shop in Dubai.

    I had some hesitations prior to writing this but again -since the whole purpose of your post is to enlighten the community rather than some show off, I decided to share mine through your web page, thanking you for the opportunity.

    I wonder what is the purpose of a good 4K monitor if it wasn’t for the sustainable accurate brightness and faithful color reproduction throughout the grading session? Characteristics are numerous to list but among which one can look for True IPS, refresh rate, time to warm up, ppi, backlit bleeding, calibration and user profile saving and sharing, industry color spaces and gamuts the monitor capable of reproducing …
    No wonder there are cars for 10K$ and others for 100K$
    Certainly many readers would adopt to their low-mid range monitors and perhaps deliver astonishing results, but I would never ever buy less than EIZO CG series if I am to consider the stressful time spent on color grading, clients.
    Coloring is still an art, for some.

    Thanks for reading

    • Hi Issam

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. You’re correct that all of those elements are important in a grading monitor, but in this post I was aiming to focus purely on an editing monitor in which colour accuracy might be a secondary concern to some editors.
      But if you have the money, and can get the best of both worlds then Eizo would definitely be a solid purchase for all the reasons you suggest.
      cheers
      jonny

      • Apologies, I have been misleaded by the huge articles I have been reading.
        Nevertheless, I hope our humble contribution can benefit others while deciding.
        For the mere purpose of editing, I would choose a 27″ 2K monitor with HDMI, displayport and DVI input ports since most of time we do proxy editing and link to original raw footage for color correction and grading. This doesn’t require extreme hardware to run multicam footage (multitrack timeline).

  • Been struggling with the tradeoff between fidelities — pixel-for-pixel or accuracy — for a while now. I have one of the consumer LG LED UHD displays, which does actually cope with DCI 4096. The issue is that even after days of messing around with a version of SpectraCal calibration, it wasn’t in a position where it wouldn’t be questioned by a perceptive client. But size does matter, too. A large screen presentation is interpreted differently than the postage-stamp previews that exist in most NLE preview panes. As to that issue, I do use one of the ASUS 27″ monitors as a GUI, in fact the PB278 model, and after going to that extent, the Apple Cinema Display is absolutely a non-starter in that category.

    footnote: glossy screens were apparently adopted by Apple (among possible other reasons of presentation finish) were materials issues with environmental concerns.

    jPo

  • Hi Jonn, thanks for the article and thank you Armando Guera for responding! I purchased the LG 31MU97Z last week after reading the article. It’s a gorgeous screen with lots of workspace. I was very excited to use the thunderbolt connection since my mid-2015 MBP has both thunderbolt connections occupied by this monitor and a second monitor. I connected a LaCie TB harddrive to the monitor but that did not work, same as connecting the 2nd monitor (nor in the display connector). Went out and bought a HDD with thunderbolt and power adapter again a no go. In order to find out if the monitor arrived defective, I’ve been on the phone with LG which brings you to India, where I learned, despite the spec sheet, that the two thunderbolt connections are actually meant to connect another computer to my screen. Another popular advice was: “that screen has no thunderbolt” and “it’s not like a tv, this monitor has no operating system”. I thanked the two! ‘technicians’ for their incredible help and decided to contact the supplier in Atlanta, http://www.antonline.com, who I bought from through amazon. Their reply was:”everything you need to know is on our website (mind you the monitor does not even exist on their website) and no you can’t talk to our tech department” . when I sent an email to the ‘tech dept’ I immediately received an email back with a RMA shipping label (shipping comes out of my pocket tho). When, tonight, I connected the TB cable (that came with the powered HDD) from the monitor to the MBP and plugged in the LaCie in the other port on the monitor, it all worked! So basically you don’t gain anything at all; still both connections on the MBP are in use, as well as the 2 thunderbolts on the monitor and I still don’t have a 2nd screen. connecting the monitor thru TB resulted in a very frequent on/off situation. On top of that LG service sucks!!! Supplier: sucks !!! Screen itself beautiful, but don’t count on the sales pitch of the 2 thunderbolt connections!! If someone has the same experience or got it to work, please let me know.

    • Hi Vincent. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your value experiences! Good to know that the TB isn’t a huge win, as I’m sure the first gen screens will fall in price a bit.
      What’s the refresh rate like? Is it a comfortable experience?
      Any ideas why the TB daisy chain suddenly worked?
      Cheers Jonny

      • Hi Jonny,

        I finally got in touch with LG in the US, and he knew what he was on about :). Indeed the TB ports are not a tremendous asset according to him. He hopes LG will change that in the future. I got the daisy to work because I powered one of the TB ports with a cable from my laptop. (obviously if you have a Mac Pro all this seems a bit less relevant, as you have plenty of TB on the tower to work with). Other than that the screen is gorgeous. Changing color profiles on the fly is really easy (I do stills as well which asks for another profile). Refreshing rate is great, although I didn’t try it with 4k material yet. Its a very comfortable screen, but I notched one down for reading comfort. The highest resolution just makes reading text a challenge. Plenty of real estate!

        Enjoy the holidays!

        • Thanks for taking the time to reply. Having a nMPro with 6 TB ports makes it seem like it won’t be a huge problem for me. But still maybe I’d get the cheaper non-TB screen. Thanks too for the further details. Enjoy your Christmas too!

  • Hi Jonny,

    Great blog – I also picked up the 31″ LG. Nice monitor. Was wondering if you knew what color space the default ‘custom’ pictures mode is in? I believe this is the setting that’s calibrated out of the factory. Switching to sRGB yields a pretty blue washed out image – I’m guessing the other spaces are uncalibrated?

    Thanks again,

    Caleb

    • Hi Caleb
      I’m afraid I don’t remember what colour space the custom profile is in. The monitor does ship with a calibration report in the box from the factory and maybe this mentions what it is. I would check but mine is in the box, which is in storage.
      All the spaces should be calibrated out of the factory as far as I know, but if you move from one space to another they’re going to look different, but then your eyes will adjust. I found the custom profile way too saturated and bright on mine to use. This is really why you need to calibrate the monitor with a probe! Which I have yet to get around to.

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