Is 4K TV effective for software development?

Until recent time i thought that developer who tried 2x 24 inch fullhd monitors will stay with this setup as must have option for more productive work. (If you still below this setup you must be located at the beach, drink some cocktails and just cant bring monitors with you.) But now is the time to move further upgrading your workplace – now i use 4K 42-inch TV for development.

4K tv for software dev

Why now? In 2014 manufacturers released new cheap UHD devices in range between 39-42 inches. And by cheap i mean less than 1000 USD (I bought some LG 42UB820V model as it had IPS lcd and HDMI 2.0). Only 4K UHD resolution makes 72dpi and can be used as “normal” computer monitor when you sit close to it.

What for? I suppose as developer you know the advantages of having large workspace in terms of resolution. When you switch from 1280×800 to 1920×1200 you feel joy as now you have to waste less time scrolling, switching windows, finding things and so on. When you go to 2-monitor setup with fullhd resolution – you can open several IDEs simultaneously, do live development, run virtual machine at second monitor and so on. And finally when you go to 3840×2160 (4K) you get twice more space again and this is amazing space to work with when its 42 inches big. So effectively you have 4 full hd monitors! WOW was my first word when i plugged it in. This is perfect for development.

4k resolution

You can now open several virtual machines, several IDEs and still have some space for terminals, finders and so on. Overall this boosts your productivity as you now can arrange all chain of applications you need for implementation of tasks. For example, you you do some web development – you can open database view, js code editor, css editor and web browser to see your changes right away (and may be some ftp clients, ssh shells, etc). You can see all this chain at the same time and this boosts your productivity. You waste much less time switching and finding your windows and looking at whole picture can help you to concentrate on your real task.

I personally enjoy having several XCodes, Eclipse, sublime text, brackets, terms and a lot of other stuff opened at the same time to get more fluent development process. For me there are no problems such as “you have to turn your head”. I don’t have such issues. Personally its very comfortable to work and if you shift from 2-monitor setup it will be smooth transaction.

Also there is nice feature that you can resize windows as large vertical columns. You can view web pages and code this way and get much more information from single view. Once again less scrolling.

Of course you will not get 50% productivity boost (if you re not mad copy-paster). As i remember some old sources stated about more than 10% boost in case of second monitor (Adding a second screen can achieve productivity increases of 9 to 50 percent – microsoft research). So even if it is only 9% for 2 mons its already worth it! And if you go further to 4K you can expect another 10%. And if you work with complex systems and environments this number can be even bigger. So its actual 15-20% productivity boost in comparison to single notebook screen. And for me it really feels like this. Nice!

Any disadvantages?

Frequency limit. 4K resolution requires a lot of bandwidth from your video system. You need to have HDMI 1.4 at least to produce output at 30Hz and HDMI 2.0 to produce 60Hz. When you buy TV be sure it has HDMI 2.0 input. Another option is DisplayPort – there is only one problem – most TV dont have it at all. When im writing this there is only one panasonic tv (and its 65 inches) and its not suitable for developing. Also you have to get new mac/pc with good video card to handle it.

So right now you have to expect it work as 30Hz. I was afraid that lag will be pain… but after 10 minutes you dont feel cursor slowness at all! Scrolling and animations are also ok – not so smooth as 60 fps, of course, but it is not slow as i expected. Its not suitable for gaming, but its enough for work. Watching 4K video is also possible through HDMI 1.4 as 30Hz is enough (keep in mind that you need to have good CPU for 4K codecs). So overall 30Hz is enough for software development.

Second problem is “ugly fonts on tv”. When i first plugged in TV i was shocked as text become almost unreadable. But there are some cures for it. First – disable TV postprocessing of signal. Set game mode. Set saturation and sharpening to zero. Lower contrast slider. Disable all other tricky TV filters as they will only corrupt the text. Those actions will change font output to more readable form.

Under mac also there are some scripts for making it even more nice-looking, as mac has some special font processing. One script change font smoothing algorithm (defaults write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 2). Second script changes color transfer mode from CMYC to RGB (http://www.ireckon.net/2013/03/force-rgb-mode-in-mac-os-x-to-fix-the-picture-quality-of-an-external-monitor). This did not work for me – but may be i was not stubborn enough with running it properly.

So after some tuning font shapes became ok, but not perfect. If you are retina fan you will suffer some discomfort, but as you work in such vast workspace this becomes minor bearable disadvantage imho.

Finally (in my case):

– Pros – super vast working area, price is low enough now, one solid working space, ability to see a lot of apps at the same time

– Cons – 30Hz only for now,  fonts are not so perfect under osX

Verdict:

I totally love this setup for working! So if you spend a lot of time developing apps as me i totally recommend this as nice instrument to make your life more productive and fun.

If you are buying hardware for your office devs consider discussing TVs instead of 2-monitors setups. I bet they will be very happy with it.

PS. New retina age will still come soon to PC with retina displays (which i already have at my macpro). I waited for Apple to announce theirs external retina display which is rumoured to have 5K resolution. I think it will be only iMac (because of bandwidth problems i described earlier). Anyway now there are 28inch monitors with 4K resolution (from DELL, samsung, etc) and you can make 2x monitor setup as 2x 4K monitors and have retina beauty for your fonts and images – but it will not give you new actual additional work space. This is not bad as upgrade, but not as amazing as 42 inch field. So i think my next setup will be 8K Retina tv-like monitor.

ADDITION 1:

Here are some macro photos of lcd matrix. View as 100% because browser resize will produce artefacts. The distance between pixels is not visible in real life. Also there no noticeable differences in color depth.

4kscreen 029

Brackets

4k screen macro photo 1

Icon

Xcode

Xcode

Dock

Dock

  • Bill

    Nice piece, it’s tempted me to get this screen plus a gtx970/980 for 60hz to do my daily coding on. If you could provide any hires pictures of the font rendering issues you have that would be greatly appreciated. I’m still unsure if I could handle 4:2:0 chroma to code on everyday. Thanks.

    • http://vitiy.info Victor Laskin

      Ill try to make some macro-photos of screen later (and add them to the post). I hope it will help.

      • Bill

        That would be fantastic.

        • http://vitiy.info Victor Laskin

          I uploaded some. Don’t be scared as its very close macro. Make photos of your own monitor and compare. I don’t see the difference in color space with my previous monitors.

          • Bill

            Many thanks.

            Not nearly as bad as I was expecting, people tend to make out 4:2:0 subsampling is horrific on text but that looks like something I can live with. And it sounds like you have no problem working on it daily. I think I’ll give it a go, the 42UB820V is very nicely priced at the moment.

            Thanks again.

          • http://vitiy.info Victor Laskin

            I think its not 4:2:2 – HDMI can do sRGB and YCbCr 4:2:2/4:4:4. In my case its YCbCr4:4:4 (i suppose) – i would feel the difference looking at photos. 4:2:0 chroma subsampling is optional in hdmi description. I made some test looking at small blue text on red background (same intensity – different chroma). That should produce very blurry result – but no, text was readable. In your case you might even set hdmi to sRGB mode.

  • http://www.g4egk.com/ Greg K

    Thanks for the in depth review. I was tempted by LG and Samsung’s 34″ 1440p 21:9 monitors but for that price this 42″ LG + GTX 970 falls within budget.

  • Stephane

    Hi Victor, very helpful review! Could you kindly tell me if at 2560x1440p the refresh rate is 30 or 60Hz on that TV monitor, using the latest MacMini with Intel Iris Graphics? If so, what adapter would be required? Thanks!

    • Victor Laskin

      Hello, Stephane. Thanks. I use 3840x2160p at 30Hz via HDMI atm. As this page says – https://www.apple.com/mac-mini/specs/ :

      Support for 3840-by-2160 resolution at 30Hz

      So all you need is hdmi cable.

      • Stephane

        Thanks for the reply :) Yes, I read about the 3840x2160p specs. However, what I’m trying to understand (since it’s not mentioned anywhere) is the refresh rate at the lower resolution 2560x1440p, which for me would be ideal. From other reviews it doesn’t even seem to show up as an option. Am I missing something?

        • Victor Laskin

          Inside ‘Displays’ settings you can only switch to 1080p by default (which is 60hz). You can tweak some configuration files to get it work at custom resolution and i’m pretty sure 1440p will work at high frequency as it requires a lot less bandwidth than 4k. But i would not recommend such resolution if you want to use it as monitor (unless you want to use it from distance)

          • Stephane

            Got it! Thanks, Victor. I’ll buy this monitor later this month.

          • Stephane

            I have already received my monitor today! It’s a first class experience on my 70cm deep desk. I am still waiting for the MacMini, so at the moment I can only use it at 1080p@60Hz with my MacBookAir (with a mini DP to HDMI, the thunderbolt is v1 so I can’t even get 2K).
            I am trying 30Hz and honestly it’s better than I expected: I don’t feel any limitations in my workflow. I’m not programming but composing and I can’t wait to see big arrangements at a glance.
            Will report once I get the computer. Thanks!

          • Victor Laskin

            Yes, 30Hz is not so bad as i expected too :)

          • Stephane

            I received the computer and I can finally enjoy full 4k resolution. What a difference! My music composition software now can display plenty of arrangement, mixing desk and instruments to work really comfortably.

            I was curious to experience 2K resolution, as it seems to me a good compromise since it’d still be very spacious and running at 60Hz. However I’ve noticed that even with ctrl-click in displays preferences, after 1080p, the next available resolution is 2160p, with no options in between.

            I’ve tried using a program called SwitchResX which allowed all sorts of resolutions, and when I tried 2160×1440, to my disappointment, I ended up with a horribly jagged desktop…

            Anyway, not a big deal after all. I’ll stick to 4k as I’m very happy with it. I’m still fine-tuning the monitor’s parameters to improve the fonts, as you already mentioned. I recommend this solution to anyone who makes composition: being composition a work of patterns and shapes, the view of large arrangements at once really helps being in control of the whole structure.

            Thanks again, Victor!

          • Victor Laskin

            It’s nice to hear that you enjoy such vast work-field too.