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What is a 4K Monitor?

What is a 4K Monitor?

Daniel Horowitz
Reading time: 9 minutes
We all like to know that we’re enjoying our favorite shows, movies, and video games on the best screens possible. Not only does it make the experience more enjoyable, but it also brings out the best in our favorite media.
A 4K monitor is one of the newest ways to consume media with a whole new perspective, but it can be difficult to know whether it is the right option for you.
Here’s why you may want to consider purchasing a 4K monitor for your computer or home entertainment system, and what you can expect if you do make this upgrade.

What is the difference between a 4K monitor and other monitors?

There are a few differences between the most recent models of 4K monitors and the one you may currently have on your desk. The major one is the pixel quality, which goes above and beyond displays that have been available over the past few years.
HP 4K Monitor
The typical display resolution of most TVs and monitors has been stagnant at 1290 x 1080. A 4K monitor, however, increases that count to 3840 x 2160. At almost four times the regular resolution, images are sharper and tighter, which is perfect for HD video and higher quality video game graphics.

Should you get a 4K computer monitor or TV?

You can get 4K technology in either a TV or a computer monitor, but deciding which one you should get can be tricky.
A 4K television is typically “smart,” which means you can use streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu directly through the TV. However, a standard Blu-ray player and certain video game consoles aren’t capable of taking full advantage of 4K because they’re designed for lower resolutions.
The truth is that there isn’t that much content available on streaming services for 4K TVs - yet. This is likely to change in the future as more media is made for this resolution, but for now there may not be as many as you would like.
Price is another consideration, because 4K televisions tend to cost a lot more than a monitor. While you may only spend a few hundred dollars on a new screen for your computer, a 4K TV could cost a few thousand. Of course, that will depend on the size of the monitor or TV you’re considering.
If you’re undecided about which option is best for you, a monitor may be the right choice. It can immediately upgrade the picture for your computer, provided you have a compatible graphics card available for your system. If you do, every application you use will be enhanced.

What kind of system should I have for a 4K monitor?

How your computer system looks and operates with a new monitor can vary. Much of what you will see and how the graphics will appear on your monitor depends on which size you choose. Bigger tends to be better when choosing a 4K monitor, because the screen is designed for showing off high-quality pictures and videos.
Your operating system can also have a large impact on whether a 4K monitor will meet your expectations. Windows® 10 has offered several scaling features that allow you to tweak the size of applications and how they look on various displays.
First, you should raise your DPI in order to increase windows and menus to a size that looks reasonable on your screen. If you’re running an OS older than Windows 10, your games and apps may look blurry. If that’s the case, it may be time to upgrade to a Windows 7 or 10 PC.

What about 4K monitors for gaming?

Gaming is where 4K monitors have really caught on. As graphics continue to get better with PC gaming, it would make sense to upgrade your display to get the best quality from the latest titles. Lower-pixelated displays are simply not as crisp as 4K, and if you’re a serious gamer, it can be worth the investment to see your games at their finest.
So what do you need to consider about your system to get the most from your 4K gaming monitor?

Graphics card

In order to play and see games properly on a 4K monitor, you may need to upgrade to a newer, high-end graphics card. These can be a bit expensive, but the investment can be worthwhile depending on how much you play.

Refresh rate

It’s also important to consider the refresh rate when looking into a 4K screen. When the action moves too quickly, the picture can appear laggy. A display that refreshes at 120 Hz may do the trick, but 144 Hz is ideal. Anything lower would work, but the picture quality won’t be quite as good.
As these higher-quality screens become more common, it’s likely that gaming developers will adapt as well. While you can play older games on a 4K screen and notice a difference, they won’t be optimized to run at that resolution like the latest titles.
Once 4K becomes more the norm and less of a higher-end upgrade, you can expect more new content that looks amazing on one of these displays. That being said, both of the upgraded Sony and Microsoft consoles - PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X - already have quite a number of games rendered for 4K. Also, there are several PC graphics cards that can run some games beautifully, whether on a laptop or desktop.

What applications are best with 4K?

A 4K monitor can be appealing for a variety of reasons. A higher-quality screen can be perfect for desktop video editing and photo editing, because you’re seeing your work at a much higher quality. That being said, whether or not a 4K monitor can offer a better experience depends on which applications you use.
If you use Adobe Photoshop, for example, a 4K screen can really maximize the potential of certain images and allow for extremely high-quality resolution. You’ll want to check if the applications you plan to use with your new monitor have been optimized for it.
Some software has been updated with 4K in mind, which can make working with new display values all the more rewarding. While you can always do some scaling within your operating system, many applications haven’t quite caught up yet and it shows. This can also be visible on certain browsers and websites, which usually aren’t updated often and will appear as a single column on your display screen.

Which panel type is best?

As with almost all monitors, the panel type you choose will determine which display will work best with your system and what you want to do with it. There are a number of different types, and which you end up choosing can also determine how much you will end up paying.
Depending on what you plan to view on your new monitor, you may want to avoid certain types of panels and spend a little more to get the graphics you want.

TN panels

TN panels are the cheapest and typically the best for gaming and video. However, TN panels tend to have problems with color and certain angles, which makes photo editing a bit less precise. For the average user, TN panels may be enough to enjoy a better picture without paying too much.

IPS panels

For better angles, IPS panels tend to look better and offer more color accuracy. There are also several models available that offer decent response times for gaming.

IGZO panels

IGZO panels take the positives of IPS panels a step further with beautiful viewing specs that make colors and angles shine. These two options do tend to cost a bit more, though, so it does really depend on how you use your computer.

Can I use HDMI with my 4K monitor?

The new HDMI 2.0 has been created in order to work with 4K displays. As more and more screens move that way, it has also been made simpler to connect.
Using an HDMI 2.0 allows greater refresh speeds at up to 24 frames per second, and the option to work with 3D televisions and a better Audio Return Channel, as well. With a new hardware update, the HDMI 2.0 can transfer information faster. This can not only allow you to enjoy higher-quality streaming on your 4K display, but it can also help older and lower-quality videos look better overall.
This makes both home movies and video games really stand out over other types of screens. The best thing about this is that you do not need to buy any new cables, because your current HDMI cables should work just fine with your new monitor. If not, then you don’t need an “upgrade,” just a new cable to avoid glitches with the connection and your picture quality.

What is the difference between 4K and HDR?

4K monitors have become fairly common over the past few years, and the fact that they have become so popular has ushered in an interest in high-quality displays. One of the results has been the development of HDR (high-dynamic range) displays, which provide brighter and richer colors. This visual upgrade can make compatible media truly breathtaking. On the other hand, this technology can be quite expensive and tends to work better for movie viewing rather than as a computer monitor.
Many 4K screens offer support for HDR10 devices, and they are more affordable and have more content available than the higher-end, solely HDR displays. HDR can also be mislabeled, and several manufacturers have claimed to offer it when they really offer 10-bit color on an 8-bit screen.
Overall, it may be a better choice to go with a 4K monitor because it offers consumers a standard that HDR doesn’t yet. This is especially true if you are planning to upgrade your computer monitor over your television, because 4K is likely to be integrated into more games and applications in the future.

What about 5K?

While 4K may seem like the latest tech, there are already new displays being developed in 5K. Basically, 5K offers a 33% higher pixel rate than its predecessor. Although it seems logical that 5K displays would be the next thing to catch on, it actually looks as though technology is already making the leap to the more advanced 8K monitor.
Several companies have released up to an 8K display [1], which touts higher graphics quality and allows those working with video and photos to have room on the side for various tools. Monitors are the first to show off this new technology, and the added space along with better display value is likely to catch on with other screens as well. The technology is more geared toward for TVs, and it can require a very expensive series of graphic cards in order to allow a computer to run properly with an 8K screen.
It will be some time before 8K becomes as widespread as its predecessor, primarily because even 4K isn’t exactly the standard just yet. Many systems have yet to fully upgrade to better-quality graphics as of now, so it could take some time before you can expect to see affordable 8K TVs or monitors.


As the quality of a display becomes more and more essential to enjoying media, a 4K screen can add a lot to current media. The tech is becoming more ubiquitous, and it won’t be long before almost all of our displays provide better resolutions.
If you are thinking about a 4K monitor, you are likely to enjoy your computer in new ways and notice details you wouldn’t have before thanks to increased quality and technology.
[1] PC Gamer, More 8K displays are coming in the first half of 2018

About the Author

Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.

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