Turns Out, Your Fancy Monitor Might Have a 4K Display Inside

Illustration for article titled Turns Out, Your Fancy Monitor Might Have a 4K Display Inside
Photo: Joe Scarnici (Getty)

Unsatisfied with the sharpness in your new QHD monitor? Thanks to the power of economics, that display of yours might actually have a downscaled 4K panel, one that isn’t doing your image quality or refresh rate any favors. The worst part? You can’t even upscale them.

A report from display review site PRAD ProAdviser claims certain unnamed manufacturers are using 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) panels instead of the proper QHD (2560 x 1440) panels to outfit monitors advertised as QHD-resolution displays. In order to pose as lower-resolution displays, the 4K monitors must be downscaled. That’s leading to a loss of image sharpness thanks to the dissonance between the desired resolution and the native resolution of the panel. The reason? Manufacturing shortages. According to panel manufacturers who spoke to PRAD, it’s sometimes cheaper to use and downscale UHD panels instead of the lower-resolution QHD panel.

Normally, discovering a secret superpower in your gadget is pretty cool, but in this case, using a 4K panel can cause more problems than you’d expect. For one, there’s no way to actually access that potential 4K resolution if it’s being sold as a QHD display. Thanks to firmware preventing you from upscaling, screens are reportedly locked to a “maximum” QHD resolution. Not everyone needs a 4K monitor, even though the increased image resolution is nice. QHD monitors have incredibly fast refresh rates, and are perfect for gaming when rendering scenes in 4K would be too intensive on a graphics card.

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Figuring out what kind of monitor you’ve got requires a trip to your monitor’s spec sheet. Proper QHD monitors have a larger pixel pitch or pixel width (the distance between the center of two sequential pixels) compared to 4K UHD monitors. If your QHD monitor has a pixel pitch of .233mm or so, then you’re working with the real deal. If it’s got a 0.16mm pixel pitch, the same as a UHD monitor, you’re probably working with a downscaled display. Eagle-eyed owners can likely confirm their suspicions by looking at text or small icons, but you should probably contact your manufacturer to get some clarification.

Staff Reporter, Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

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In many cases, the other advantage that QHD gives you over 4K is color space and fidelity at a given price: If you want to cover >99% of Adobe RGB (useful for photos) or DCI P3 (for videos), you’re looking at well over $1,000 for any 4k monitor. Otherwise, you’re often limited to sRGB; that’s not a problem now unless you print photos you edit, but might be over the lifetime of the monitor since more and more devices target larger color spaces (new-ish phones from Apple, Samsung, Google, etc., all have wider gamut displays, as do newer Macs; most decent-priced 4K TVs target DCI P3).

You can often get a QHD display for less than half the cost of a 4K monitor. Yes, you give up resolution, but the tradeoff might be worth it. I’ve got a 4K monitor that targets sRGB next to a QHD monitor that covers Adobe RGB, and flip back and forth between them for editing (the 4K is calibrated to sRGB, I use it to seee detail and what’s in focus, and I use the QHD display to finalize colors before I print).