I finally did it. After months of trying to get clear answers to questions that didn’t seem to have any, I bit the bullet and went through the pain of upgrading my main studio computer screen from a healthy 30 inch Dell @ 2560 x 1600 to a 65 inch TCL 4K ultra high definition screen boasting 3840 x 2160 pixels leaving the Dell to second screen duties off to the side replacing two old 1280 x 1024 VGA screens.
I think it’s pretty obvious to most that the workflow benefits of running a program like Logic Pro X on this new screen are very significant. But perhaps the less obvious and equally significant improvement comes from getting your line of screens well out of the way of your monitoring triangle. In my case this removed lots of nasty early reflections giving a flatter frequency response in the main listening position. Before and after scans of my room prove this clearly.
So what follows is my account of all the hoops I had to jump through to make this new screen work with all it’s pixels used while running the screen at 60Hz refresh rate.
First some standards. Most of the really big 4K screens on the market are actually TV’s. After doing some very non- scientific calculations I decided that if I was going to add that many pixels and have those pixels be big enough to see from far enough away from me so the screen got out the way of my speakers, it had the be a 65 inch size.
The TCL screen I purchased – a U65E5800FS – is at the bottom of the price range for a 4K screen this size. About $1600. You can easily pay twice that for other brands but really it doesn’t mean you’re going to get a better image if, like me all you’re using it for is a computer monitor.
The other advantage the TCL has was it was using the newer HDMI 2.0 standard and not the previous HDMI 1.4 standard. The big difference with the 2.0 standard is that it supports 60Hz refresh rates whereas the 1.4 standard only offers support for 30Hz. For some that may not be a deal breaker but it’s nice that the budget screen supports the newer standard when many more current model expensive screens do not.
After lots of forum and blog reading I realised my chances were slim that the graphics card in my 2012 Mac Pro (the last silver model) a Radeon 5770 HD would be powerful enough to run a 4K screen, let alone a second big Dell screen off to the side. There were user reports stating that this card was driving a single 4K screen @ 30Hz but my initial tests proved that it did not although there was the issue of which HDMI input on the TV I was using – something I only discovered sometime later on in this process.
The other issue is that many graphics cards don’t have HDMI ports and most TV’s don’t have display ports or Mini display ports so to drive a compatible UHD HDMI input required a new kind of “active” adapter to convert display port or mini display port to HDMI. Most are about $50. Make sure it’s active. There are many cheaper one’s that are are not active that will only run resolutions up to normal HD.
So the screen arrived and I tried to get the Mac to see it as a 4K screen but the mac just though it was a 2K screen – standard HD 1920 x 1080. I started to hack around with a small app called SwitchRezX which allowed me to install custom screen resolutions but even when I got a compatible 3840 x 2160 resolution through trial and error my old graphics card presented a broken distorted image on screen – so I knew I was close. At least I was getting something.
Form using SwitchResX I discovered that this cheap TV was not reporting it’s capabilities via it’s EDID to the computer properly as it was stating it had no UHD abilities and I considered sending the screen back. I felt I was close so I took a risk and ordered a new graphics card from macvidcards.com – a Nvidia GTX 970. This card has a HDMI 2.0 port, 3 x display ports and a dual link DVI port for the Dell screen. After the US to AUD exchange rate it worked out to about $800 AUD. Ouch! Waiting for this card to arrive all I had was this giant screen running in 1920 x 1080 – a quarter of what it was capable of.
So, the card arrives, I install and plug in the HDMI cable and bang there it was, 3840 x 2160 pixels running at 30Hz. What a sight! I wasn’t expecting to get 60Hz from the HDMI port on the graphics card, I already knew from macvidcards that to do 60Hz I needed to convert one of it’s display ports to HDMI via one of those active converters I mentioned earlier. Not the one I had already bought (boohoo) as it was the Mini Display Port connector not the full size display port connector my new card has.
So more blog and forum reading time later it seemed that the only converter that was doing what I needed backed by user reports on forums etc was this one.
Amazon sell them for about $50AUD and they will ship to Australia with this item. I noticed they were out of stock but I though I’ve got my screen going now, a few more weeks waiting to get 60Hz won’t hurt, so I purchased and it arrived about 3 weeks later.
I plug it in and …. no change, still running 30Hz:-(
Gutted I start reading more forums and noticed that some have mentioned that other UHD TV models need to have a certain setting turned on in their preferences to do UHD @ 60Hz. Nothing I can find seems to be there. In a last desperate measure I start swapping HDMI inputs on the TV – 1, 2, 3, 4. After trying all the inputs still no change. I leave the TV on input 4. I give up and go to lunch. After lunch the screen had gone to sleep. I woke the screen and it came to life at 60Hz! I though I was imagining it.
Anyway turns out that only input 4 on this screen supports UHD @60Hz. No mention of it in the paper manual and no information online either. In the early days of trying to set this screen up I made a support enquiry to TCL Australia they were utterly hopeless and could not tell me a thing. All they did was direct me to a new OS for the TV claiming it enabled 60Hz. “Apparently” they were right.
I’m so blown away I finally go it to work. I used SwitchResX one last time to see whether the TV’s EDID was reporting anything different and it was reporting it’s full UHD capabilities correctly including full 4:4:4 chroma subsampling, but the EDID reports only HDMI 1.4 specification. On the TV box it’s written in big letters as a huge feature “HDMI 2.0”.
I guess I got lucky having it all work out the way it did. If you have a newer computer and/ or purchase a different brand of TV you might have less hassle than I did. With the wisdom of hindsight I can definitely say it’s a mine field getting this stuff to work – but in my case at least the pain worth it.
See you next time