One of my desktop monitors gave it up last week, the backlight started flickering and randomly disconnecting from my Mac (which causes all attached displays to go dark for a second while it recomputes your workspace). Needless to say, it was sapping productivity even worse than Facebook. I’ve been eyeing 4K monitors for a while now, and both Dell and Lenovo have some decent low-cost options in 28″ sizes ($700ish), but that was still more than I was willing to cough up for a new monitor right now, even with the Lenovo dealer demo discount.
Then came last weekend, where TigerDirect ran a $70 rebate on a Seiki SE39UY04 39″ (yes, you read that right, thirty-nine inches) 4K TV with a whole mess of inputs (3 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 Component, as well as a tuner). Base price before rebate: $400. Four hundred bucks. BEFORE the rebate. For 4K. That brings it down into the realm of even inexpensive 27″ monitors. Some googling found that the tech press actually has good things to say about this “off-brand” display (with the caveat that there are very few graphics chips currently out there that can drive this resolution, and that HDMI 1.4 is limited to 30Hz refresh at 4K). Since the rebate was a very limited-time offer, I jumped on it, figuring I was gonna have spend that much on a monitor anyway. For those who missed last weekend’s rebate from TD, It’s currently available on Amazon (with Prime!) for $299 (plus larger sizes too!).
Three days later, UPS shows up bearing goodies, and I hooked it up this morning. The unit is generally well built, comes with a solid but unobtrusive pedestal, and the bezel is not huge. It even comes with a decent HDMI cable. There’s been a lot of discussion online as to whether the first-generation Retina MacBook Pro can drive this monster at native resolutions at all. Let me put those to rest: it can, with Mavericks 10.9.3, at 30Hz. Because of the refresh rate, it’s not a great rig for gaming (but it’s still beautiful with X-Plane!!!), but it’s great for sheer pixel space to put my calendar, e-mail, a couple of network monitoring screens, multiple RDP sessions, and lots of other things that don’t require high refresh rates. Colors are quite good, as is brightness, and the built-in speakers are surprisingly loud (almost too loud to use with my computer even at the lowest volume setting) If you press “Menu” on the remote, followed by “0 0 0 0”, you can get into the factory menu which allows you to tweak the color temperature, and the “Warm” setting is shockingly close to my MacBook. The factory menu also lets you dial down the backlight (which I did – even so, this TV is already near the bottom of its category when it comes to energy consumption). I also dialed the default sharpness setting down to 0, as, like most TVs, the edge enhancement algorithms designed for making TV pictures look better really butcher computer signals.
Did I mention that 4K is an awful lot of pixels? It is a LOT of pixels. 8,294,400 of them . Holy cow. I’m a lifelong pixel junkie, and I’m loving this. The 39″ display is big enough to use on your desktop at native resolution at a comfortable distance of about 4′ (rather than driving it at a pixel-doubled 1920×1080 workspace). Drawing network maps in Visio and Ekahau at 4K resolution is something out of a dream.
My biggest problem? Losing my mouse cursor. Gotta use a solid color background. That’s OK, my GPU is probably just as glad it doesn’t have to deal with an 8MP image.
Bottom line, for under $400, this is a surprisingly good piece of hardware. Seiki may be considered an “off-brand” label, but don’t forget that Vizio was in the same position when they started selling good HD televisions for dirt cheap. The only real downside I see right now is using a VGA port that is limited to 1920×1080 instead of putting a DisplayPort interface there instead. OK, Roku, When can I expect a 4K version of your box so I can watch Breaking Bad and House of Cards in their full 4K glory? Et tu, Chromecast?
This video looks utterly spectacular on this screen (Downloaded with YTD and played with QuickTime)