Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 09.50.59This 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.

Settings

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:

  1. Tweak display settings
  2. 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…

Seiki 4K Screen settings

Seiki 4K Screen settings

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

Color calibration

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.

Color Calibration

Color Calibration

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

Tweaking

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…

Conclusion

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 🙂

20 comments on “Seiki 4K 39″ display

  • March 14, 2014 at 19:31
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    It appears as though Amazon is now out of stock. They only list it as being sold by TigerDirect and for $100 more. Too bad, it looked promising!

    Reply
  • May 6, 2014 at 19:57
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    Hi,

    What is the max resolution that you can go on your Macbook Pro?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • May 6, 2014 at 20:57
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      I can get the full 3840×2160. I have not been able to find a reliable source of info on what resolution you can get on what computer, it seems to depend on the graphics card, but not only. One thing is sure, no Intel built-in graphics cards will drive that screen to its native resolution, I’m afraid – always interested to hear the contrary if anyone’s got another experience there?

      Reply
      • May 6, 2014 at 23:27
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        So you can get 3840×2160 with AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB? The reason I am asking I have the same graphic card on my MBP and I am thinking of buying this. Thank you again.

        Reply
        • May 6, 2014 at 23:30
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          Yes, this is what I have. Additionally, my built-in screen is a 15-inch matte with 1680 x 1050 resolution. Apparently some people with a different screen didn’t have the same luck with the Seiki. Frustrating, I know.

          My view on this was: take a gamble, and if it goes wrong, you can always send it back with Amazon, right? Just double check their conditions beforehand…

          Reply
  • May 13, 2014 at 21:56
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    So…er…are you *really* running at 3840×2160 and not just upscaled 1080P? I ask because I have identical equipment to yours here and no option for the resolution in the Display panel. Plus, you didn’t discuss your monitor configuration other than plugging it in. When you press the “info” key on the SEIKI remote, what does it say?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2014 at 22:20
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      Yes, I run 3840×2160, no upscaling going on there, the screen states its resolution when it detects the signal from the Mac. My Mac detected the screen and used its native resolution automatically. If you want to change it, you can do so in the preferences – you change the screen resolution from ‘best for display’ to ‘scaled’ and modify it.

      What screen type do you have on your Mac? Matte or not ?

      Reply
  • May 13, 2014 at 23:42
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    Thanks for the reply and confirmation. It is matte. MBP. AMD Radeon HD 6750M 1024 MB. Early 2011. Feeding through an “Amazon Basics” MDP to HDMI converter my boss got — don’t know if it is exactly the same as yours, but generic and close.

    I know the display is reporting the 3840×2160 over EDID — I can see this if I run ScreenResX. So the mac knows about the native mode. But neither the Display panel or ScreenResX will let me set that. (Display won’t show it, and ScreenResX says it is invalid.)

    I did upgrade the SEKI firmware to the .1 version and am running Mavericks 10.9.2 — so maybe something there.

    Reply
  • May 13, 2014 at 23:47
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    Ooo. Looks like your MDP to HDMI adapter is more better than mine. At least explicitly says it supports 4K. So am going to try that. Will advise. Thanks.

    Reply
    • May 15, 2014 at 17:15
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      I’m interested by the results, please report once you get the adapter!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2014 at 00:40
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    Yes! That works great. Oooo…it’s so BIG! Plug in, select 3840×2160 from Display panel and bang — huge desktop. An active adapter is critical. Thanks!

    Reply
  • July 3, 2014 at 22:12
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    Thanks to Ed for posting this writeup!. I was holding out buying the Seiki 39″ since I didn’t know if my Macbook could drive it. Having an detailed article where someone has done it successfully has increased my confidence to where I am going to try the same approach. I have a 17″ Macbook Pro with the AMD Radeon HD 6750M as well. I have ordered the same Mini HDMI adapter that Ed used and the Seiki 39″ from Amazon. Thanks for blazing the trail, Ed. 🙂

    Reply
  • July 10, 2014 at 21:34
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    UPDATE: Success!

    For what it is worth, I followed the instructions her in Ed’s writeup exactly. I ordered the same adapter from Amazon and am using a 17″ Macbook Pro with AMD Radeon HD 6750M chip. The display was recognized immediately and worked out of the box with no issues. I will update this post if I run into any issues. So far, so good.

    Reply
    • July 11, 2014 at 17:02
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      Thanks for the follow up, Stacy! Yes, the adapter model is key in order to be able to drive the display at native 4k resolution. On the good news front, on recent Macbooks with built-in HDMI, everything works out of the box, and automatic display standby works better than with a firewire adapter.

      Reply
  • July 25, 2014 at 03:44
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    Hi, Ed. Thanks for sharing your findings. I also have an AMD Radeon HD 6750M in my late 2011 MBP. Mine however, has only 512 MB. Do you think this would be a problem to use this monitor effectively in 4k?

    Reply
    • July 25, 2014 at 05:32
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      Very hard to guarantee, I’m afraid… let’s see if another visitor is in the same situation as you and can reply. On the other hand, it is fairly easy to return things on Amazon, so your risk is limited.

      Reply
  • August 26, 2014 at 17:48
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    Fantastic! I’ve been using this “monitor” for a few days and couldn’t get the settings correct for low-contrast, low-brightness (which is very much needed for long viewing sessions. Your icc works great. Thank you very much.

    Reply
    • August 26, 2014 at 17:52
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      I guess I should note that I’m using Linux (Fedora) with an AMD R7 240.

      Reply
  • November 13, 2015 at 20:16
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    Hi, I have a MacBook Pro 17″ with AMD Radeon HD 6750M 1 Gb, so from what I see here the Seiki 39″ 4k monitor should work at 30 Hz with a thunderbolt to HDMI adapter, even if Apple states that only MacBook Pro with Retina from late 2013 on can do that.
    But then, If I try to edit 4k video in Final Cut Pro X, will my Macbook + Seiki monitor handle the task?
    At 30 Hz, is there any limit to frame per second video the monitor can show without artifacts or slowing the reproduction? I mean, until 30 p should it handle correctly?
    I still shoot in Full HD 24 or 25 p/i but thinking to upgrade to a 4k camera, just to know if I have to invest in a new Mac or just camera + monitor.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • December 17, 2015 at 08:42
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    I am so glad I found your blog post about this! Until now I did not know anything about an “active adapter.” I tried several mini DP to HDMI adapters I had laying around, but none of them as it turns out is HDMI 1.4a compatible. After purchasing the active adapter you recommended it was plug and play from there! I too, like you, have a 2011 15″ MacBook Pro with a AMD Radeon HD 6750M 1 Gb graphics card, I was searching all over to figure out how to get 4K (UHD) resolution to my new Visio M series TV. The only issues I had was the audio passthrough, but then I remembered that the Vizio TV has a dedicated 4k port on it (HDMI 5) and as soon as I plugged it into that port, BAM! Smooth UHD playback with audio to my sound system. Works perfectly!! 4k 30Hz 2160p resolution to my fancy new TV. So many pixels, thanks Ed for the writeup!

    Reply

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