Roses and Fairy Dust: the Reality of 4K and Being a Gamer
I perhaps should have titled this "...and being a Tech Enthusiast", because a couple of these items impact me simply on account of being a power user, not necessarily because of me being a gamer. But then a lot of the reason I am a power user, or rather a lot of the things I do are driven from or platform off of my gaming hobby. The main point is, much like my cautionary advice about expectations when using a VPN client (see GearWERKZ.com's Take-On News for Sunday, 02 April, 2017), a similar theme is true when making the move to 4K in your PC workspace. Don’t get me wrong; I have no intention to back out and hang around at 1080p. There are just a couple of things that you should know so that you understand that all is not roses and fairy dust.
Let me say that everything I say here is based on what I have experienced, and I will admit that as I have encountered each of these issues, they have not been enough of a nuisance to warrant me expending effort trying to track down solutions. There may be ways to work around these that I just have not found because I have not had the time. All of these experiences have occurred while using an LG 27UD58-B 27-Inch 4K UHD IPS Monitor with FreeSync. This monitor is currently available on Amazon for $394.89 and has an average customer rating of 4.5 / 5
First off, as far as I can tell, Windows 10 does not natively support 4k monitors. So when I plugged my LG display in, there were not settings within the native Windows display settings configuration screen to set the monitor to 4K resolutions. I believe that it topped out at 1920 X 1080. In order to access higher resolution settings, I had to install LG's proprietary configuration software. While the software was on a CD included in the box, launching the CD results in the installation app phoning home to LG's site to see if there are updated versions, so you wind up just going to their site to download the drivers and config app anyway. While having to use a non-Windows config app is not that big a deal (I have the same setup with my Sound Blaster Omni Surround 5.1 USB SoundCard, and a few other peripherals here and there, it has a few unfortunate impacts.
First and foremost is that scaling, dpi settings for font, and icon sizes are not in Windows native scaling factors. Windows does not have settings to make these adjustments on its own to compensate for the larger resolution (again, only as far as I have found or know). So LG does this via software and providing custom scaling configurations. First of all, that leads to some software integration wonkiness, as now you have three vendors vying for control of your screen: nVidia and its GPU card drivers, Microsoft and its Windows native controls, and now I've added LG to the mix. So when I bounce out of games, when the drivers update, anytime there is disruption of the normal display runtime, you might see things like your desktop icons shift around and have to reset them. Minor stuff. I agree. But with that custom scaling factor applied, Windows will not let you adjust it without logging out of Windows and logging back in to change it. That's a pain. Admittedly, once you have your scaling factors set, you should not need to monkey with them that often.
The bigger issue here is that, if you are a multi-monitor user, as I am, religiously, there are other problems that will crop up if your other monitor is not also 4K. And I suspect it might even be problematic if it is not the same 4K monitor, or at least from the same vendor that uses the same display control software. I cannot imaging that installing two of these 4K display control apps on my desktop and running them alongside each other for two different monitors would work nicely. In the case where it is a lower res monitor, at least in my case, that LG display app cannot control the other monitor, and, where that display integrates with native Windows display control, it blocks me from easily making changes on the other monitor. That custom scaling factor requires me to log out and log back in whether I am changing the scaling factor on the 4K monitor or the 25" Sceptre display that I run alongside it on my main gaming PC.
To put it in perspective, at a very high res, you are not going to want to run your Windows desktop at 100% scaling, which is the norm, because your icons are going to be incredibly small and your text will be unreadable. I scale up to either 125% or 150%. Now, that scaling applies across both displays and there appears to be no way to decouple the two. It's a limiting constraint, because now your text, icons, and browser scaling is blown up to an unnaturally large and blocky upscale on the other display. In fact, I would probably run at 150% scaling on my 4K monitor to get my icons and text a skosh larger, but I constrain it to 125% because at 150% my other display fits too little on the screen and the web browser is magnified to only present like one paragraph on the screen. Of all of the murky integration points, this is the one that is the most painful, because you stare at the refined excellence of your 4K screen sitting next to a monitor that comes off looking like a 720p display because it has to be upscaled along with the 4K monitor.
So, admittedly, that is all mostly administrative. You can CTRL-scroll wheel down to reduce the scaling in a web browser. Microsoft Office apps can be set to lower their view magnification to compensate. But the gaming scene has its own issues as well. Now, if you are a gamer that plays the latest AAA titles and make those your priority, you are probably going to be fine. While I play those, I do not necessarily push those to the top of my queue. Once installed and played once, they compete for my time right alongside games as old as 10 years or more. A lot of those games don’t support 4K. Fine. No problem. That's a pain-point equivalent to the games, even the recent games (released within the last five years) that do not support SLI, as I run two GeForce GTX 1070s in my main gaming PC. But most bothersome are the games that DO scale to 4K, but DON'T support SLI. Because pushing 4K even with a GTX 1070, hits a performance limit on my system. Most notable in a game like Project CARS, this means futzing around with display settings, both just simple resolution and advanced settings like the multisampling multiplier and shadows and shading, lighting effects, and so forth, to try and tweak to find the balance that lets you play at at least 2K without seeing noticeable lag and stuttering. It feels like living in 1999 and running Windows 98SE, when you had to do these things when playing ANY PC game. The thing is, when I am running on a non-4K monitor, I do not have to do that. I just play the game, set the res at 1920 X 1080, and away I go. So the question will be, does playing at 4K really hit your hot-buttons and make you feel like you enjoy the game or just gaming in general, more.
For me, it doesn't. I get a bit of giggle school-boy delight the first time I see the game in 4K, but its over after that first launch. Here's another thing: if you do video capture or streaming, you're going to be re-setting that res often as there are no video capture cards that support 4K, as far as I know. I am not sure if OBS will handle recording and streaming in 4K, but OBS is not an option for me and I use hardware capture cards for my production projects. Also, on my display, I believe that I have to use a DisplayPort cable to render in 4K resolution. So when I video capture or stream, I have to reduce the resolution to 1080, AND I have to swap the cable to an HDMI cable to be compatible with the capture card's available inputs (none of the cards I use accommodate a DisplayPort input).
I am still happy with my move to 4K, it's just that it is less because of the impact on gaming, and more so because of the increased efficiency it offers when working from the desktop. My LG display software allows you to fence parts of the display off as if they were their own display. And those partitions offer shapes with different aspect ratio's. Right now, I run mine with the right 20% of the screen as its own display, and I typically stick my Twitter, Facebook or other UWP apps UWP apps from the Windows Store there. Anything that I need access to but don't need to see full-screen; iTunes, a browser with YouTube playing, or Disqus are some other favorites I put there. Having that third display available is a big plus to my workflow. Using other full 64-bit apps is also amazing. You just don't understand how much faster you can work until you have used your favorite video or audio editing app on a 4K display. Or better yet, used both your video and audio editing app side-by-side on your 4K display. Because you have enough real-estate to do so. Running a podcast is soooo much easier when I can fit the Google Doc with the agenda, the Hangouts window, another browser open with the news stories, and a window with social media accounts open all on the same screen.
The LG 27UD58-B 27-Inch 4K UHD IPS Monitor with FreeSync is an excellent display at a really sharp price. It's hard to get a quality 4K monitor at this price. I love the one-button control scheme on it; it has a singular, but very solid 8-direction thumb-post on the under-belly of the display at the center that provides all of the controls. You do have to specifically select which input it is supposed to be displaying; there is no auto-detect, which seems a bit janky to me. But that is also because of the very nice value-position offered by the fact that it has three display inputs; one DisplayPort, two HDMI. I have had no issues with monitor performance that are not attributable to the problems I outline above. The display is bright, but does not offer an overabundance of glare. IPS displays are tops, and the LG 27UD58-B does not disappoint. I am definitely keeping an eye out to see when these price-drop or go on sale, as I would definitely love to add a second one to my desktop setup. Ergonomic features are average; you can tilt the display back on its stand, and that is about all I need. Telescoping vertically would be nice, as would being able to rotate it into portrait view, but those are extras that I do not need on a daily basis. I have no issues giving this display a strong recommendation. You will be hard pressed I think to find a solid, reputable 4K monitor at this price otherwise for the time being.
Let me know if you have questions or feedback. Hit me back via the Twitter link is probably easiest. Until next time, stay safe out there, and game on!