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The state of 4K gaming: What you need to know, from pricing to performance needs

Marco Chiappetta | Nov. 4, 2015
Some 4K monitor prices are starting to reach affordable levels, but is 4K gaming really within reach for most PC gamers? We dig in.

Image quality considerations

Texture and shadow quality settings, anti-aliasing and aniso filtering, and resolutions can all be decreased if you’re trying to achieve playable framerates at 4K. But you don’t want to dial things too far back and make a game look relatively terrible to smooth things out. The whole point of a 4K display is to enjoy the benefits of sharper, higher-quality on-screen images. Reducing in-game image quality somewhat defeats the purpose.

You can, however, dial things back slightly without detracting too badly from your gaming experience. Dialing texture and shadow quality back in some games isn’t always noticeable when things are in motion. And the need for anti-aliasing is greatly diminished at ultra-high resolutions, but it still shouldn’t be eliminated altogether. In addition to smoothing out edges, anti-aliasing also helps minimize the “stair-stepping” that happens on angled surfaces when in motion.

aa compare
The need for anti-aliasing is diminished at ultra-high resolutions like 4K, especially on smaller displays where the pixels are more densely packed, but it will still improve image quality. (Click to enlarge and compare.)

How far you can dial things back varies from game to game. Experiment with settings to see just how low you can go before the on-screen imagery is no longer to your satisfaction.

Whether it’s worth upgrading to 4K, especially if you already have a 1440p panel, is another question altogether. Many enthusiasts are currently contemplating fast 144Hz 2560x1440 panels or 60-75Hz 4K panels. This choice is going to come down to personal preference for most users. 1440p is still a fairly high resolution, and the benefits of a high refresh rate are immediately noticeable—everything from mouse movements to on-screen animation are smoother. At 4K though, individual pixels are almost indiscernible at a normal sitting distance, which makes for ultra-sharp text and edges.

4K gaming by the numbers

Taking all the display, graphics, and other considerations into account, your total cost for 4K gaming may vary—but assume it’ll be upward.

acer 4k
The 23.9” Acer K242HQ, which sells for about $349 as of this article’s publication, is among the most affordable 4K desktop monitors currently available.

Pricing on 4K monitors depends on the panel technology used, size, and features. Entry-level 4K monitors in the 27-inch to 29-inch range with TN panels can currently be had for about $350 to $500, with minimal connectivity or adjustability, whereas high-end, professional, pre-calibrated 30-plus-inch 4K displays with IPS panels and an array of inputs can cost upwards of $3300. Some of the highest-rated mainstream 4K displays with IPS panels fall within the $600-$1000 range, however—including many with FreeSync or G-Sync compatibility—so some fairly high quality 4K monitors are within reach.

 

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