The cheapest 4k monitor you can get

Sometimes a small screen is fine.  I’m typing this right now on a Nexus 5 with a Stowaway keyboard.  The whole package fits in my pocket and works just fine for writing.

But I also run a company specialising in design and animation – the kind of work that needs more elbow room.  My basic work setup in a Retina Macbook pro with an external HD monitor, but recently I found myself running a crew of people working on multiple projects in remote locations.

Checking everyones work, giving feedback and flipping back and forth within the constrains of my two monitors was not ideal and a waste of potential productivity. Now it’s cheap and easy to add another HD/2k monitor, but I was thinking how nice it would be to able to fit MORE on a single monitor.

Enter the Seiki 4k 39″ television. Proper 4k monitors are coming down in price, but they still tend to be a bit expensive, especially above 30 inches.  I picked up this monitor at the end of 2013 for about $500.  It’s currently as low as $340 on amazon: Seiki SE39UY04-1 39″ Class 4K LED Ultra HDTV


Of course you’ve probably noticed that it’s a television, not a ‘proper’ monitor, so what kind of tradeoffs do you have to make at that price point?

Obviously there are a few. First of the screen is decent, but color accuracy and quality aren’t even close to the screen on the macbook.  This can be partly mitigated with some adjustments and using a monitor calibration system like the ColorMunky.

The biggest tradeoff is the refresh rate – at 4k res this monitor will only run at a 30hz screen refresh.  This is apparently a limitation of the HDMI 1.4. spec and would make this monitor pretty much useless for games.

For 30 fps TV animation work, design layout and text work it’s fine.  There’s some mouse lag, but surprisingly adjusting the speed and using smooth mouse mostly seem to get rid of this.  I imagine this would be a great monitor to work with for a coder on a budget.

Overall what you get for the price is a decent monitor if the drawbacks aren’t deal killers.  After using the seiki for a several months it’s got me looking at some of the newer 4k monitors.  A smaller monitor with a higher refresh rate would be great, but as a stopgap way to get massive desktop resolution on the cheap it’s tough to beat.

The 39″ screen is large though, you may find it involves a lot of head swiveling if you’re sitting close to it.  I’m glad I didn’t go with my initial thought and order a 50″ version.

Of course the 5k iMac changes everything and is probably the best way to go if you want a new monitor AND a new computer.  Unfortunately we have to wait for displayport technology to catch up before you’ll be able to use something like that as an external monitor for another computer.

If you just want to add a bunch of extra real estate to an existing macbook pro retinal or similar laptop this is a decent cheap interim solution that can be used as a TV when you no longer need it as a monitor.

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