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The pros and cons of adding a 4K display to your Mac

Rob Griffiths | Sept. 30, 2014
Monitors that stretch the width of your desk are so last year. Rob Griffiths decided he wanted to try something new: a 4K high-density screen.

I've long believed there's no such thing as "too many pixels." My desk setup follows that to a tee: I currently use a 27-inch iMac and two external displays, which, when combined, offer me 6656 horizontal pixels of resolution. But this setup, while great, requires a fair bit of head movement--it's over four feet from the left edge of the left display to the right edge of the right display.

Because of this, I'd recently been mulling over 4K displays: They offer many more pixels per inch than your traditional monitor, allowing you to have lots of screen real estate at your disposal without having to fill your desk's horizontal space with screens. Making such a move can be a pricey proposition, however; even the least-expensive 4K displays are $500 to $600.

But then a helpful friend alerted me to a deal on the Seiki SE39UY04, a 39-inch Ultra HD TV set with 3840-by-2160 resolution. Amazon has these sets for just $339, and at that price, I thought I'd give it a try.

Not for all Macs
Before you run off and order a 4K/Ultra HD display of your own, you first need to know if your Mac will support said 4K display. Checking your Mac's technical specs on Apple's website provides the official answer: only the Retina MacBook Pros and Mac Pro are listed as supporting 4K displays. (The MacBook Air and iMac will drive an external display at up to 2560x1600; the Mac mini's limits aren't listed, but it's got an older video card than the iMac, so it's doubtful it can drive a 4K display.)

As I have a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, I went ahead and ordered the Seiki TV set. In addition to the TV, I also ordered a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter; this adapter is required to get the full 4K resolution from your TV to your Mac.

There are many of these adapters out there, and most any one should work fine. I used this one from Monoprice.com.

Initial setup
With the TV and adapter in-house, initial setup is relatively simple. Plug in the TV, connect the HDMI cable to the adapter, then connect the adapter to your Mac.

Once everything was powered on, I found I had to do some adjusting to the TV's settings: it ships with noise reduction on (I disabled it), and with sharpness and brightness values at 50 (I set them both to zero, and increased the contrast). With these changes, I found the image quite nice--text is sharp and colors (after a few tweaks to color settings) look good.

For fun, I also tried connecting the display to my 2011-era iMac, and it worked...occasionally. Sometimes when I'd connect, I'd see the full 4K display; other times, I'd see a blue screen on the TV and "no signal." I wasn't able to ever make it work reliably, so I'd say if you have an older computer that doesn't officially support 4K displays, this setup isn't recommended.

 

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