This is the latest large addition to my home office: a shiny new Seiki SE39UY04 39 inch – 100cm – display for my Mac, with 4k resolution: 4k in this instance means a massive 3840×2160 pixels. Talk about large.
Two noteworthy things: first of all pixel density works out really well with this screen size: it is very similar to my mac’s 15inch display, which means that text is super readable, an essential factor for a display especially if you sit in front of it a significant number of hours each day.
Second, this display is pretty much the best bargain you can find: I bought it on Amazon for $399. Compare this with your average large Dell monitor that will set you back $800, and it is easy to understand why it is so popular at the moment on Amazon!
One of the reasons why this display is cheap, is that it is not sold as a computer monitor, but as a TV: it has a TV tuner built in and most of its settings are really TV oriented, not computer oriented. But with a little bit of work, you will get excellent results as a computer monitor!
There are a few gotchas though – as you would expect for a cheap display, you can’t have it all. This article is about those and how to make sure you make the most of this display on a Mac.
Hooking it up
The SE39UY04 is an HDMI display that supports HDMI1.4. The direct implication is that you won’t be able to go above 30Hz on 4K resolution because of HDMI bandwidth. This is not a problem at all if you are doing web browsing or development. For gaming, you will want to get back to 1080p at 120Hz.
In my experience, the only adapter you will need is a generic mini displayport to HDMI if your macbook does not have native HDMI. I used an adapter I bought on Amazon called “Accell B086B-008B” which worked out of the box.
Then, the key potential pain point is what sort of video card you have on your computer: if this is not a recent AMD or nVidia graphics card, you are out of luck, the display won’t get above 1080p which is pretty much a waste. On identical Mac models, you can get different types of video cards depending on the screen option you pick – matte screen or not – so you want to pay attention to this.
In my particular instance, I have a Macbook pro with an AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB or ram, and a matte screen. This setup drives the Seiki display perfectly. My wife’s 13 inch MBP with an Intel graphics card can only do 1080p. As far as I can tell, there is no reliable way to know beforehand whether your computer will work fine, which is a bit of a bet.
Some people spend time trying to update their screen firmware (the screen runs a tiny embedded Linux and can be upgraded by plugging a USB key). I have not bothered until now, following the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage… The latest firmware might have LED panel brightness settings which might be interesting to investigate, any comment on this welcome.
The first time you hook the screen up, you will probably be underwhelmed by it. You will need to do two things in order to get a good picture:
- Tweak display settings
- Run color calibration on your Mac
My current display settings are shown on the screenshot below: since the screen is fairly bright, you will want to set both contrast and brightness to a low level if you are to sit in front of the screen for a long time. The settings below work well for me, and I do spend 8+ hours a day in front of a screen, which is actually scary…
The second super important setting is sharpness: while it can improve the rendering of live TV, you absolutely want to get sharpness very low here, otherwise text will get bright edges around the letters, will look bad and hurt your eyes very fast. I could probably have sharpness to zero here, but 9 gives me excellent results.
Once you have found a brightness and contrast that you like, you can then move on to color calibration, which will refine things a great deal
On the Mac, color calibration is super easy: just go to system preferences, then Display. The Seiki will automatically be recognised – it might take about 30 seconds, actually. Once it shows up, go to “Colors” and start the calibration. It took me a few tries until I found settings I really liked, but I now have really good colors on my display, not too bright and with great contrast.
I have attached the ICC profile I created just below: you can put it into “~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles” and it should become available on your settings. If you think you found better settings – and personal preferences are important there – do not hesitate to share with me, I’ll be glad to add additional profiles to this post!
ICC color profile that works fine for me: SE39UY04 Calibrated 2.icc
OK, so now you have a working screen, with good colors. There is still one thing to do if you use Google Chrome. I won’t get deep into specifics, but basically, Chrome attempts to synchronise its refresh rate with the refresh rate of the screen. Since we are only running at 30fps at 4k resolution, this actually interacts badly with Chrome, which can become super sluggish to the point complex web pages can take a long time to load and become nearly unusable. Fear not though, on the Mac there is a way to disable this feature, called “Beam Sync”: a nice person wrote a small utility that enables you to disable this feature, and provides instructions on how to do this at logon. It totally changed the behaviour of Chrome for me, especially since I often do fairly heavy duty web development for work regularly. That said, it is not totally perfect: Chrome remains a lot slower than Safari and Firefox, so there must be a way to improve this further, which I have not found yet, unfortunately…
So here you are: a $400 giant screen offering you pretty much the highest possible your graphics card will let you run, and that you can turn into a really decent monitor with just a few minute’s work. Being able to work with four “full screen” equivalent windows open at the same time on your desktop is an incredible productivity booster for software development and day to day work: you can have email, calendar, a few office applications running at the same time with no window overlap, really sweet. You do need a desk setup that will accept the size of the screen, of course 🙂