Call it 4K. Call it UltraHD. Either way, massive pixel counts are the next big thing. This year’s festival of rampant consumerism at CES in Las Vegas is a case in point. Inevitably, a ton of 4K HDTVs filled the field of view in every direction, but the show also included several 4K and UHD laptops. Meanwhile, phones with full 1080p grids are becoming commonplace. Likewise, tablets with panels over 1080p, including Google’s 2560x1600-pixel Nexus 10, are now almost routine.
But what of the PC? Sadly, it’s been a bit of a 4K laggard to date. So far, we’ve only reviewed a single 4K PC monitor, the Asus PQ321. It’s absolutely, positively gorgeous, but also punitively priced at around $3,000. So expensive, in other words, that it’s pretty much irrelevant to most PC lovers.
That’s actually rather ironic, because of all the devices out there, the PC is nearest to ready-and-able to make the most of 4K resolutions right now. 4K HDTVs, quite frankly, are a gimmick; there’s simply no content to watch on them yet. Super-high-resolution tablets and phones are marginal, too. But not PCs. Ramp up the res and you can immediately enjoy the boost in desktop elbow room, although you may run into scaling and DPI problems with Windows (more on that a bit later). Applications in the video and photo editing spheres certainly benefit from more pixels. Then there’s gaming, which is the biggie for us, though the argument here is more finely balanced.
In theory, you can run pretty much any game at full 4K. Most will offer the option to render at the maximum resolution of your graphics subsystem. And render they will. The only snag involves achieving that at playable frame rates. As we explained in our Asus PQ321 review, 4K/UHD is essentially four times the resolution of a 1080p pixel grid, so that’s four times the workload for your GPU to cope with. Cripes. So, it’s into this broader context that we introduce our second-ever 4K PC monitor review.
The specimen in question this time is Dell’s new UltraSharp UP2414Q. It sports the same 3840x2160 resolution as the groundbreaking Asus PQ321, but there are two significant differences. The first of these is price; the new Dell can be had for slightly under $1,300—less than half the cost of the Asus. That’s still not exactly cheap for a monitor, but it’s much, much more accessible.
The second major change-up involves panel proportions. The Dell spans a mere 24 inches—so that’s $1,300 for a 24-inch monitor. Yikes. Of course, you could argue that it’s resolution and not size that determines desktop real estate, and you’d be right, but some people will still balk at the very notion of paying so much for a panel size that can be had for little more than $120 these days.
The UP2414Q’s general metrics are your typical IPS fare, with 178-degree viewing angles for both the horizontal and vertical planes. Likewise, the claimed static contrast of 1,000:1 is very much par for the course, and the UP2414Q’s 8ms quoted response is the same as other cutting-edge IPS panels.
Of course, all of that means there are some superior options available by some measures. IPS technology is all the rage, but in truth, TN tech is better for pixel response and VA panels offer far superior contrast. Overall, IPS is still the best compromise—just don’t fall into the trap of assuming it’s universally superior. It ain’t quite that simple.
Elsewhere, there’s an LED backlight and brightness rated at 350cd/m2, and a super-fine pixel density of 185PPI. As for inputs, the UP2414Q has one HDMI, one DisplayPort, and one Mini DisplayPort. Thanks to the super-high resolution, it’s only the DisplayPort that offers full native operation. The lone HDMI port is limited to HDMI 1.4, and you need HDMI 2.0 for 4K at 60Hz. Finally, there’s a fully adjustable chassis, complete with tilt, rotate, swivel, and height tweakability.
What is it actually like to look at? Utterly stunning, is the first impression. Even the epic Asus can’t match the crispness and sharpness that you get from cramming all those pixels into such a relatively small panel.
As with super-high DPI phones and tablets, you almost don’t feel like you’re looking at an active display at all. You essentially can’t see the individual pixels—they’re simply too small—which gives the UP2414Q a wonderfully seamless feel.
The colors are exquisite, too, though admittedly, no more so than many other high-end IPS screens; they all look spectacular these days. The same goes for the results in our objective image quality test. Gradient rendering, viewing angles, white and black scales—they’re all absolutely immaculate and super sexy—again, just like other pricey IPS screens.
Then, there’s actually using this 4K beauty for multimedia entertainments. Not that there’s much 4K video content to watch, but what there is, by the lords of science, is gorgeous! It more or less ruins standard 1080p HD content for you. Once you’ve seen 4K, there’s almost no going back.
The same goes for gaming, except this time round, the narrative is a little bit more complicated and depends on what kind of GPU you’re packing. We decided to take the UP2414Q for a spin courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 Ti, the fastest single graphics card you can buy right now, and it can only just cope with that colossal native resolution at full detail gaming in moderately demanding titles.
Speaking of technologies that aren’t ready for 4K and super-high DPI displays, you can add Windows to the list. Even the latest 8.1 build of Windows does a poor job of scaling, and believe us, you really will want to enable some kind of scaling. If you try running the UP2414Q at native resolution, with standard Windows DPI and standard font size settings, everything on the screen looks preposterously tiny. It just isn’t usable. Even If you fiddle around with the fonts and text scaling, you’ll still hit problems. Sure, you can achieve something legible, and we’d even concede that many core elements of the Windows 8.1 desktop interface, including Windows Explorer, scale nicely and look superb. Unfortunately, most third-party apps look, if you’ll pardon the colloquialism, utterly ass. What you get is a blurred, blown-up bitmap that makes everything look soft and fuzzy. The same goes for nearly all web pages and the Steam interface. The harsh truth is that much of the computing world isn’t ready for high-DPI displays, and that becomes all too apparent as soon as you fire up the UP2414Q.
Windows 8.1’s Modern UI is properly scalable, and looks crisp and clean for the most part, but it’s probably not the bit of Windows most people will be planning to use predominantly with a monitor that’s not touch-enabled.
All of which makes this 24-inch 4K monitor a tricky proposition. It looks absolutely fantastic, but at this stage, it’s probably of more interest to content-creation professionals than PC performance and gaming enthusiasts. Instead, it could well be a TN panel that is larger and half the price that makes ultra-HD resolutions a practical, affordable prospect for gaming and other desktop PC applications.