Screen resolutions tend to increase every few years, and while the current full high-definition standard of 1920×1080 pixels remains by far the most common, ultra-high-definition monitors and televisions are becoming more popular. Higher resolutions present a number of advantages but while manufacturers have already been trying to sell the new 4K standard for a couple of years, it still requires some thought.
The Benefits of Higher Screen Resolutions
With high-end smartphones now sporting full high-definition displays there’s no doubt that the trend of increasing screen resolutions is here to stay. For most computer users, a standard 108op display is perfectly adequate, though there are some clear benefits of upgrading to a 4K screen featuring a resolution of 3840×2160:
You’ll have four times more on-screen real estate than with a standard high-definition monitor.
Many modern video games will look far more detailed. Unless you’re using an extremely large screen, you won’t even need antialiasing turned on either.
More screen space lends to greater productivity, particularly for graphic designers and artists.
Movies, provided they are encoded in 4K, are far higher quality than their full HD predecessors.
But There Are Drawbacks Too…
Screen resolution should never be confused with the physical size of the monitor-they are very different things. Although higher resolutions lend to more detail (a 4K monitor provides four times the detail of a 1080p monitor), all of those extra pixels become superfluous at some point. Just as technology is starting to get too small for its own good, to the extent that it becomes rather unusable (think of so-called smartwatches), a higher resolution isn’t always a good thing:
To really appreciate the benefits, you’ll need a screen size of at least 28 inches, and preferably upwards of 30.
Even on screens of the aforementioned size, text and other content will be much smaller than on a standard display, in which case you may need to use DPI scaling to make it more readable.
Gamers will need four times the processing power than standard high-definition rendering requires. Ultimately, this means getting the most powerful (and expensive) graphics card available.
Many programs and a lot of older games simply weren’t made for 4K screens in which case you may need to run them at a lower, non-native resolution.
As of early 2016, 4K movies are still not widely available, with 108op recordings remaining the industry standard.
Needless to say, upgrading to 4K still costs a lot, although prices will continue to drop over the next couple of years. For gamers in particular, the high-end hardware required to render modern games at this resolution will easily double the cost of your upgrade.
Alternatives to 4K
Although 4K is set to become the next standard for computer monitor and television resolutions, there are other options available. Most users will find a standard 1080p screen to be perfectly adequate for the foreseeable future. However, those wanting something that offers significantly more on-screen space or higher detail levels in gaming, yet cannot afford the pricy hardware demanded by 4K, may want to consider other resolutions.
One such alternative is an ultra-wide monitor featuring a 21:9 aspect ratio rather than the 16:9 of today’s standard monitor resolutions. An ultra-wide monitor is ideal for gamers and movie fans since they provide greater immersion and a much wider field of view. Ultra-wide monitors usually have screen sizes of 29 inches and resolutions of 2560×1080 or, less commonly, 3440×1440.
Another option, almost exclusively favoured among gaming enthusiasts is a multiple-monitor setup. Today’s high-end graphics cards allow you to connect up to three or six monitors depending on whether the card is an nVidia or AMD one respectively. Of course, you have to put up with the borders between the monitors, but three monitors with 1080p resolutions is a far more flexible alternative to 4K, and it requires less processing power.
The Future Is 4K
Currently, most would say that the cons outweigh the pros when it comes to upgrading to a 4K display, and this is doubly true of 4K televisions, due to the lack of content available in the resolution. Unless budget is of little or no concern, you might want to wait until prices drop and the resolution becomes more widely supported. After all, there’s not much point in spending a fortune on hardware unless you can fully appreciate it.
Nonetheless, 4K is undoubtedly the future of monitor resolutions, even if it might take a few more years to become industry standard. 2016 will start seeing the release of 4K Blu-ray movies, and they’re becoming increasingly available online for those with fast enough Internet connections. Cable television services will also start offering 4K set-top boxes and broadcasts over the coming year, as will Netflix, Amazon and many other major online streaming services.
Where 4K really shines is in modern video games, most of which do support the resolution. Playing modern games such as the Witcher 3 or Grand Theft Auto 4 at this enormous resolution is a truly immersive experience, particularly if you have a very large screen and the powerful hardware required. By contrast, consoles as always, lags far behind high-end PC gaming, so don’t expect to see any 4K console gaming until the next generation of systems is released at the earliest.
Ultimately, 4K remains in its infancy and, like many new technologies, it will take a while before it really takes on and becomes affordable enough for the average consumer. Precisely the same happed with the current 1080 p standard when it was first introduced. As such, you should really only get a 4K monitor if you quite literally have money to bum on not just the monitor itself, but also the powerful hardware required to run programs and games at those resolutions. The vast majority of consumers will be better off waiting until 4K monitors are cheaper, more compatible, more sophisticated and there’s plenty of content available for them.