4K is a slightly murky, slightly arbitrary term that is universal shorthand for the next big step in high definition. Whereas 1080p, the reigning king of crisp picture, refers to the vertical dimension of a screen, 4K refers to the horizontal dimension…sort of. We say “sort of” because the horizontal dimension of the six standardized resolutions dubbed 4K varies anywhere between 3,840 and 5,120 pixels and is never exactly 4,000. A more fitting description that keeps in line with the old 480, 720 and 1080 naming conventions would be 2160p, but that doesn’t sound as cool, does it?
So, now that we haven’t really cleared that up, let’s move on. 4K is already well into its high-def junta, and though there hasn’t been much content released in the format so far, that seems to be changing. Apple’s recent introduction of the Mac Pro, one of the first computers made specifically with 4K video display and editing in mind, was a big step for the format; so was Netflix’s recent announcement that House of Cards season 2 will stream in 4k to specific devices. Another issue that 4K is quickly overcoming is price (a running theme in cutting-edge tech). For the past few years 4k has been the HD plaything of those with too much money, now — and especially as of this years CES show — prices are beginning to tumble from their 4-digit perches and are finally arriving at figures that the average consumer or budget pro can afford.
Now that the content is beginning to arrive and prices are right, it’s time for consumers and video professionals to use 4K monitors. A whole crop of 4K displays have been announced by all the big names in electronics (save for one…we’re waiting on you, Cupertino), and the variety combined with esoteric naming conventions (seriously, can we stop naming computer monitors after license plates? This writer will wholeheartedly endorse any monitor called “Enforcer” or “Falcon” introduced in 2014) can lead any well-minded consumer to bouts of madness. We’re here to help. Here are our five favorites.
24-inch Dell Ultrasharp Monitor
Best New Office Standard 4K Display: One of Dell’s first 4K offerings, the elegantly named UP2414Q is an impressive stab at the new technology. Announced in early December of last year, the 24-inch display boasts a resolution of 3840 x 2160 and the highest pixel density the company’s ever produced. Like their previous UltraSharp branded offerings, this one boasts exceptional picture quality, extensive connectivity, and a price point that’s incredibly persuasive — not to mention its relatively demure size, which helps you gracefully toe the line between screen real estate and desk real estate.
31-inch LG 31MU95
Best 4K Display for the Raw 4K Editor: You missed that discussion on Standardized Resolutions and naming conventions earlier, didn’t you? To avoid any more boredom, we’ll keep it simple: LG has decided to eschew the “normal” 4K dimensions (3840 x 2160) and go for a super-wide 4096 x 2160 format called DCI 4K. This decision isn’t just so you can claim your monitor is 256 pixels longer, either. Because 4K cameras like the RED EPIC shoot natively in this same wider format, LG’s machine allows for native resolution editing and — when paired with its Thunderbolt 2 port — the ability to monitor raw footage as it’s being recorded to the camera. If you’re looking for a monitor perfectly suited for the wider DCI standard or raw 4K, there’s no substitute for the LG.
28-inch Lenovo Pro2840m
Best Killer Inch-for-Price 4K Display: “2014 is the year that 4K displays become affordable and make their way to consumer markets!” That’s probably what some enthusiastic Lenovo exec said to another Lenovo exec before they introduced the impressive and impressively priced Pro2840m. Lenovo’s 28-inch offering brings 4K to consumers and budget pros with a mind-bending price point of around $800 and seemingly very little compromise. The standard slew of connectivity options, true 10-bit color and streaming capabilities bolster the already impressive résumé of the Lenovo. Look for it in April.
31.5-inch ASUS PQ321Q
Best 4K Display Alternative to Sharp: Funny thing about the 31.5-inch ASUS: its 4K IGZO display comes from Sharp’s PN-K321, one of its biggest competitors in the display market. Another funny thing? It’s $600 cheaper. The Asus has the incredible picture quality you’d expect, massive screen real estate, 2 HDMI ports, a display port and built-in speakers to round out the package. If you need the best 4K experience out right now, it’s hard to look past the PQ321Q.
28-inch Dell P2815Q
Best Value 4K Display: Announced at CES 2014 and carrying a price tag of $699, Dell’s machine proves the brand is pushing even harder than Lenovo to get 4k displays in the hands of consumers. For that (relatively) low, low price you get full 4K (3840 x 2160) big screen for video, photo editing, browsing, or creating MS paint masterpieces. One notable caveat to this value monitor is that it’s limited to a refresh rate of 30hz (effectively 30 frames per second) at its maximum 4K resolution; gamers after the most impressive performance will want to look elsewhere. Otherwise, the Dell is a fantastic way to get an incredible amount of screen space for an incredibly low sum.