Is a 4k monitor, downscaled to 1600x900 crisp?
November 17, 2016 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Can a 4k 21.5 inch monitor do 1600x900 crisply? The standard 21 inch resolution is 1920x1080, which means DPI 102, and that's unusable for me. UI elements are too small for me to see. I could scale it to 1600x900, but for a standard monitor, it gets fuzzy. Does a 4k monitor solve this issue? I'm using a late 2014 Mac Mini (i7 3.0GHz, 16GB RAM).

A 21.5 inch monitor is the largest size that will fit my workspace. For my situation, bigger is bad.

A monitor with DPI higher than 87 makes UI elements in many apps too small for my poor vision.

I'm currently using a 19 inch 1280x1024 monitor and it does the job, but it's dying. I could just replace it, but a 21 inch at 1600x900, either native or scaled crisply, would be significantly better for me.

My priorities are crisp details and accurate color (especially for Lightroom). To be clear, I'm not interested in more screen real estate. I'm trying to hit the sweet spot, between 1280x1024 and 1600x900... and sharp, not fuzzy.

21.5 inch 1600x900 native would be perfect! Since I can't find that, I'm trying to figure out if a 21.5 inch 4k scaled to 1600x900 would do the job, or would it be fuzzy too.

As a point of reference: my monitor is a Dell 1908FP, 1280x1024. If a 4k 21.5 inch scaled to 1600x900 would be at least as sharp as my Dell 1908FP, then I'd be happy.
posted by 2oh1 to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Would HiDPI mode be an option?
posted by radwolf76 at 2:36 PM on November 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't think 4k monitors exist that are that small. The smallest I can find is 23.6" or 24".

There are lots of 1600x900 monitors that size though.
posted by GuyZero at 3:10 PM on November 17, 2016

radwolf76: "Would HiDPI mode be an option?" It sounds like that might go too far in the other direction. 900x600 isn't enough screen real estate. As I said, I'm trying to hit the sweet spot, between 1280x1024 on a 19 inch monitor and 1600x900 on a 21.5 inch.

GuyZero: "I don't think 4k monitors exist that are that small." LG makes one - the LG UltraFine 4K Display is a 21.5 inch. "There are lots of 1600x900 monitors that size though." Native 1600x900, 21.5 inch monitors? I don't see any. Link? I see some 20 inch monitors that are 1600x900, but at 20 inches, that's DPI 91, which means UI elements would be too small for me.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:14 PM on November 17, 2016

HiDPI should offer multiple modes; don't take that link literally, as it's being used on a 1920x1200 monitor that wouldn't normally support it.
posted by destructive cactus at 3:48 PM on November 17, 2016

Ah. So FWIW I have a larger 4K monitor (28") with a Mac (Mac Mini late 2014) connected over DisplayPort. Apparently they can scale to 1600x900 if you use this trick when selecting a scaled resolution setting.

it is not fuzzy at all on my monitor - when scaled the text is very sharp. Although there are two entries for 1600x900:

- 1600x900
- 1600x900 (low resolution)

and if you select the low resolution one the text is indeed fuzzy. But if you select the other option it's very sharp. It's hard to say why they have the low resolution option.
posted by GuyZero at 4:04 PM on November 17, 2016

The LG UltraFine 4K you referenced connects via USB-C, so it's not compatible with the Mac Mini. A native 1600x900 monitor may be the way to go, even if they max out at 20".
posted by bgrebs at 4:07 PM on November 17, 2016

And you can also select 1504x846 or 1280x720 or 1152x648 so there are a bunch of options to tweak the size to your liking.
posted by GuyZero at 4:07 PM on November 17, 2016

Not compatible out of the box, but you can get the bidirectional adapter.
posted by wnissen at 4:09 PM on November 17, 2016

bgrebs: "The LG UltraFine 4K you referenced connects via USB-C, so it's not compatible with the Mac Mini."

Uh oh. Apple shows it being compatible with a late 2014 Mac mini, which is what I have... but I'll have to look into it.

"A native 1600x900 monitor may be the way to go, even if they max out at 20"

A 20 inch at 1600x900 is not doable. With correction, my vision is 20/200. The difference between 1600x900 at 21.5 inches vs 20 inches is enough to make the monitor unusable for me. 20" at 1600x900 is DPI 91, meaning everything is too small for my vision. 21.5" at 1600x900 is DPI 85.4.

From what I've learned through experience, a monitor with greater than 86.5 DPI is unusable for me. An 18.5" inch monitor at 1360x768 is DPI 84, and that's really tempting, but 1360x768 isn't a lot of screen real estate (at least, not in terms of the 768 height). 21.5 at 1600x900 would be great - if it's an option.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:58 PM on November 17, 2016

What about 1680x1050 at 22"? I realize that's just over the DPI line, but there are lots of those out there, like this guy.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 5:36 PM on November 17, 2016

I EAT TAPAS: I wish there was some sort of online tool I could use to generate real world examples of the differences between different resolutions at a given screen size. You're right, that one is over my DPI line, which makes me assume UI elements and such would be too small on it... but... is that true? I wish there was an easy way to see what things really look like at that combination of size and resolution.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:01 PM on November 17, 2016

Your resolution choices for perfectly crisp scaling on a 4k (3840x2160) monitor are 1920x1080 and 1280x720. That is because the native screen resolution is an integer multiple of those two. (2x and 3x, respectively) Blurriness happens when you are trying to scale to a resolution that is not an integer multiple of native, since the display can't draw a line that is 1.5 or 1.25 pixels wide.

FWIW, I find that Windows' native UI scaling works quite well in Windows 7 and above. It works independently of the monitor's resolution, so always generates text/lines that fall on pixel boundaries. That is how I manage to use a 55" 4k TV from several feet away without everything appearing ridiculously small. I don't use recent versions of Adobe software, though, so I don't know if Lightroom respects the OS' UI scaling knobs or not. (Older versions used native controls on Windows, so they did scale properly, but new versions look like they use custom UI widgets, so may or may not)
posted by wierdo at 7:19 PM on November 17, 2016

The MacMini's GPU isn't really capable of driving a 4K monitor. It works fine with older generation larger monitors (such as the 2560 pixel wide Cinema Display 30), but doesn't offer many scaling modes for a 4K.

I suggest you stick with looking for an older 19 or 21 inch display running at native resolution. Sorry.
posted by DaveP at 6:11 AM on November 18, 2016

Does the fact that I'd be driving this monitor at a significantly lower resolution change the requirements on the GPU to drive it?

I went to the Apple Store and put the larger iMac at 1600x900 and was amazed by how sharp it looked (they didn't have a 21 inch retina iMac on display, or I would have tried that instead). So, it looks like a 4k monitor would definitely be a great option for me if my Mac can use one. I still have a lot of research to do.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2016

Yes, driving a monitor at a lower resolution reduces the computational workload the same as if the monitor used that resolution natively. The scaling is done in the monitor itself. If the monitor had the port, you could drive a 4k monitor at 1280x720 over a VGA cable.

Driving a monitor at a lower-than-native resolution is like using a monitor with that resolution.
posted by wierdo at 4:50 PM on November 20, 2016

I have an i5 Mac Mini hooked to both a HD and a 4K monitor simultaneously and it's fine.

That said, I don't edit video and it sucks playing games on any monitor.
posted by GuyZero at 10:03 PM on November 20, 2016

GuyZero: It sucks playing games on it?

I don't play games at all, but I do watch things like Netflix. I don't edit video. I edit photos.
posted by 2oh1 at 8:06 PM on November 21, 2016

It lacks the GPU for high-end games. Although it's not fair to say games suck on it - lots of games run fine, especially older ones. New AAA games do not.

Editing photos on that generation of Mac Mini at 4K should be fine.
posted by GuyZero at 9:17 AM on November 22, 2016

Thanks, GuyZero. I appreciate your input! Thanks to all who replied!
posted by 2oh1 at 11:12 AM on November 22, 2016

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