4K Monitors for Gamers: No Slam Dunk Yet [analysis]

4k monitor featured
Written by Mark Kaelin

There are dozens of 4K computer monitors for sale, but this is not the year to buy one.

aNewDomain.net — My name is Mark and I’m a computer gamer. That statement is not the first step of some 12 step program, but rather it’s an affirmation of my chosen preferred leisure activity. It doesn’t matter whether your leisure activity is golf, bowling, snowboarding or extreme sports. If you care about that activity you want and are willing to spend money for the best equipment. It comes with the territory.

For computer gamers, the quality of a computer monitor can make or break the gaming experience. There many factors to consider when choosing your monitor. Factors like screen size, resolution, pixels and response times all come into play. Well, now there is one new factor to consider — 4K. But before you go off and buy a 4K monitor, there are some gritty specifics that might temper your enthusiasm.

4k monitor example

Credit TRauMa, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

What is 4K?

There are several definitions of what 4K means when it comes to PC displays, but the general consensus has settled on a monitor with a pixel resolution of 3840 x 2160, which maintains the 16:9 aspect ratio that is most common for displays today. When you do the math you’ll see that 3840 x 2160 translates into double the pixel width and length of the common 1080p display (1920 x 1080).

With the definition agreed upon we can now start to consider what that means for our purchase decisions.

Graphics hardware

The first, and most essential, factor to assess when shopping for a 4K monitor is the current graphics capabilities of your existing computer. With a 4K monitor, you will be asking your graphics card (GPU) to pump out the pixels required to run four 1080p displays at the same time. That is more pixels than just about any single graphics card can currently handle, at least when we are talking gaming at 60 frames per second.

That means if you want to create the best gaming experience, you will likely need two (that’s right, two) powerful and expensive video cards operating in tandem inside your PC. That’s a significant investment and it may price you right out of the 4K monitor idea completely.


The next gotcha to account for in your quest for 4K computer monitor bliss is the connection. At the moment, the only monitor connection that can deliver the pixels required for 4K, assuming your graphic cards can pump them out, is DisplayPort 1.2. Note, that is not DisplayPort 1.1, nor is it HDMI or DVI. This is a very particular specification, which will require you to take a close look at the technical specs of any prospective monitor.

4k monitor displays

Image Courtesy of ASUSTeK Computer Inc.

Pixel pitch

The last complicating factor is a function of the very thing we are looking for in a 4K monitor — lots of pixels. More specifically, the problem is pixel pitch. On a 24-inch monitor all of those pixels crammed into a relatively small area are going to distort some applications. Windows and web browsers, for example, are not designed for pixel pitches that extreme.

Therefore, when it comes to choosing which 4K monitor to buy, you are going to start with the 28-inch varieties. A 32-inch screen size would be even better. Of course, that raises the cost of your quest even more.

As you can see, 4K is not an inexpensive option.


So, when it comes down to it, this may be one time where the prudent choice for computer gamers, or any consumer, will be to wait for the next generation of 4K monitors. After the technology matures a little more you’ll be likely to find not only less expensive hardware available, but also better overall gaming experiences. Typically, I’m not one to wait for new technology when it comes to my computer gaming. But, in this case, I won’t be an early adopter of 4k monitors. I think my patience will be rewarded.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Mark Kaelin.

Featured Image: Samsung Euro Forum 2014” by K?rlis Dambr?ns via Flickr Creative Commons

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