Best 4K monitors for Video Editing & Graphic Design & Photography

This article looks at things you should know before getting a 4K monitor, and also looks at selected models in the market currently.

Who am I?

Let me start with some background on the work I do. I'm a graphic artist at a newspaper company, and on the side I run this blog and a Youtube channel. I spend hours editing every day.

My perspective will be from someone who's going to use the monitor mainly for video editing purposes.

If you're a graphic designer, I've some tips for you too.

Understanding 4K

There are two standards for 4K out there. There's the DCI 4K which has a resolution of 4096 × 2160. And there's the UHD-1 (aka UHD 4K) with 3840 × 2160 --- when people refer to 4K, they are usually referring to this resolution.

Most cameras shoot the UHD 4K resolution. More specialized cameras shoot at DCI 4K. I've a Panasonic GH4 which can shoot at 4096 x 2160 but I rarely use that mode. I shoot most videos in 3840 x 2160 and the reason for that is because my videos go on Youtube. When people watch my videos on their 16:9 screens, there will not be black bars at the top and bottom.

Why do I mention the two standards? Well, that's because there are monitors with 4096 × 2160 (rare) and 3840 × 2160 (more common) resolution. If you're shooting primarily in DCI 4K, and want to view your content without black bars, then you probably should get the 4096 x 2160 monitor because it offers 1:1 view without scaling. If you shoot DCI 4K and want to get the more common UHD 4K monitors, it's perfectly fine too, and there are more (affordable) options.

So why would a video editor want a 4K screen?

Two things.

First, you get to watch your own video at 1:1 scale and it will be amazing because of the amount of detail the screen can display.

Second, you get to have a lot more working desktop space, which can be very productive with some programs. For example, in Final Cut Pro (I use Mac), you can minimize the amount of vertical scrolling to show the timeline, unless of course you like to stack the timeline like a multi-layered cake.

When I get a new piece of hardware, technology, the only question I ask myself is always this: Is this technology going to help me save time or money? And in this case, it helps me save time because I don't have to scroll as much. You may not think that it's a lot of time saved by scrolling up and down. When you work video for hours each day, every little bit adds up.

The main reason why I would get a 4K monitor is to save time.

As for the first reason. It's nice to be able to view your content at 1:1. But in my opinion, it doesn't impact productivity. Editing 4K videos with a 2560 x 1440 monitor is perfectly doable, like I have for years.

Even if you don't edit 4K videos, you can still get a 4K monitor because of the second reason. Productivity.

Downside of 4K

Because 4K is 4 times 1080P's resolution, the user interface will appear small as you're squeezing 8,294,400 pixels onto the screen. Everything will appear sharp. There will be no pixelation for fonts, neither in your graphic design software or through your web browser. A QHD 2560 x 1440 resolution only has 3,686,400 pixels and usually seen on a 27-inch monitor.

A 4K 32-inch screen has 137.68 PPI. A QHD 27-inch screen has 108.79 PPI.

The downside to a 4K screen is you need to use software that has been optimized for such high resolution. Software such as Adobe CS6 and older will have tiny user interface such as menus and buttons on a 4K screen. It's not too bad if you're using a 32-inch screen but the small user interface elements may make you frustrated enough to upgrade your software if you haven't done so. Worst case scenarios, some software have just not been updated to run on such screens. So my general recommendation for 4K screens is to get at least 30-inch and above in sizes, in case you're still using older software, you won't have to squint your eyes too bad. Be sure to research on whether your software can support the resolution before you make the purchase.

Most computers nowadays are able to support 4K. Even those with integraded graphics units, e.g. Surface Pro 4, or even my old 2012 quad-core Mac Mini, are able to support 4K just fine. There may be some lag when you move windows around but it's usable. Any computer in the last 2 or even 3 years should be fine, you just need the right cable connection.

Alright, here are the list of 4K monitors...

Dell UP3216Q


The Dell UP3216Q is one of the earlier 4K monitors to hit the market. It has pretty good specifications that's makes it great for video editing. The only concern is there are some reviews on Amazon complaining about colour uniformity. I personally use Dell monitors for the last 10 years and I've never received a less that perfect monitor before so I guess it may come down to luck.

The built-in card reader is incredibly convenient.

Size 31.5 inch
Aspect Ratio 16: 9
Panel Type, Surface IPS, matte
Resolution 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz
Contrast Ratio 1000 to 1 (typical), 2 Million to 1 (dynamic)
Brightness 300 cd/m2 (typical)
Response Time 6ms fast mode . GTG
Adjustability: Tilt, Swivel, Height
Colour support 100% REC 709 and 87% DCI-P3 in addition to 99.5% Adobe RGB and 100% sRGB
Connectivity DP, mDP, HDMI (MHL), 4 x USB3 with one charging port, 1 x USB3 upstream, Media Card Reader
Price

BenQ 3200U


BenQ has three 4K monitors, namely the BL3201PH, BenQ 3200U and SW320.

The best one is the pricey SW320 which is a 10-bit monitor and has 14 bits 3D LUT, supports up to 99% AdobeRGB. It also comes with shading hoods and a built-in card reader. The other two monitors are more affordable with pretty good colour support too.

Here are the specifications of the three:

Model BL3201PH 3200U SW320
Size 32 inch 32 inch 31.5 inch
Aspect Ratio 16: 9 16: 9 16: 9
Panel Type, Surface IPS, matte IPS, matte IPS, matte
Resolution 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz
Contrast Ratio 1000 to 1 (typical) 1000 to 1 (typical) 1000 to 1 (typical)
Brightness 350 cd/m2 (typical) 350 cd/m2 (typical) 350 cd/m2 (typical)
Response Time 4ms 4ms 5ms
Adjustability: Tilt, Swivel, Height Tilt, Swivel, Height Tilt, Swivel, Height
Colour support 100% sRGB 100% sRGB, Rec.709‎, 10-bit 100% Rec. 709/ sRGB, 99% AdobeRGB, DCI-P3, 10-bit with 14 bits 3D LUT‎‎
Connectivity DVI-DL/ HDMI1.4 x 2 / DP1.2 /mDP1.2 headphone jack / line in‎ USB3 x 4, HDMI x 2, DP, mDP, headphone jack / line in, card reader‎ DP x 1, HDMI x 1, USB x 4, card reader
Shading hood No‎ No‎ Yes
Price

Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K


Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K should meet the highest expectation should you have the budget. This 31.1-inch monitor has 4096 x 2160 resolution with 10-bit colour and support the colour gamut Adobe RGB at 99% and DCI-P3 and 98%.

The monitor even comes with its own colour calibrator, hidden right at the top behind the front bezel.

The contrast is insane at 1,500:1. Usually IPS monitors have that characteristic glow by Eizo monitors are designed to minimize that so that when you work in a dim room, your blacks should look black without any glow. That's the holy grail of a colour grading screen. Quality does come with a price and this is the most expensive monitor among the listed.

Oh, this monitor comes with a 5 year warranty.

Size 31.1 inch
Aspect Ratio 1.9: 1
Panel Type, Surface IPS, matte
Resolution 4096 x 2160
Contrast Ratio 1500 to 1
Brightness 350 cd/m2 (typical)
Response Time 9ms
Adjustability: Tilt, Swivel, Height
Colour support Adobe RGB: 99%, DCI-P3: 98%, 3D LUT included
Connectivity DP x2, HDMI x2, USB3 x3
Price

HP


HP also has several 4K monitors, namely HP Z27q (a 5K screen really), HP Z24s and Z27s and the Z32x. They differ mainly in sizes.

My recommendation for 4K screens is to get at least 30 inches or larger so that would be the Z32x.

Size 31.6 inch
Aspect Ratio 16:9/td>
Panel Type, Surface IPS, matte
Resolution 3840 x 2160
Contrast Ratio 1000 to 1
Brightness 300 cd/m2 (typical)
Response Time 8ms
Adjustability: Tilt, Swivel, Height
Colour support Adobe RGB: 99%
Connectivity DP, mDP, HDMI x2, USB3 x4, Audio output
Price

ASUS ProArt PA32U HDR Display


ASUS announced the ProArt PA32U HDR display at CES 2017. Specs look good but there's no pricing information and release date.

Resolution: 4K (3840 by 2160)
Refresh rate: 60 Hz
Brightness: 1000 cd/m²
Viewing angles: 178 degrees
Pixel density: 138 ppi
Color gamut: 99.5% Adobe RGB, 95% DCI-P3, 100% sRGB, 85%Rec. 2020
Connection: 1x Thunderbolt 3, 1x DisplayPort 1.2
Price: Unknown
Availability date: Unknown

My recommendation

If you want the best possible monitor, that's the Eizo Color Edge CG318-4K without any doubt. This is for designers or video editors who are very particular about what they want.

For others, I suggest either the BenQ 3200U (cheaper) and SW320. Both have very respectable colour reproduction.

I'm currently using a BenQ 2700PT and the quality is very good. I'm not sure about their 4K monitors but if the quality is same as the one I have, I would say it's a good buy. I had wanted to get a 4K screen but they are priced 2 times that of QHD screens so I decided that maybe right now is not the time for me to upgrade to 4K. But I do make 4K videos occasionally. I've tested 4K screens before and I just love the increased desktop area, more specifically the increased working area inside Final Cut Pro.

All other monitors from this list are very capable. Other considerations would be whether there are card readers (I find this really convenient) and the warranty period.

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