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Using a 4K Television as a Monitor (Is it a Good Idea?)

BY KEVIN MORTIMOR: Early in the days of computing, monitors were just smaller versions of tube televisions. When HD became a part of the market, that shifted how monitors were built along with LED and LCD technology. Now we 4K monitors that are taking HD to a new level. The same progression was occurring in televisions. As time progressed and inputs for televisions became the same as monitors, crossover occurred. Most 4K televisions have several HDMI 2.0 connections and they’re not nearly as expensive as a 4K monitor.

Naturally, you’re wondering if you can just use a 4K television in place of a monitor for gaming. On a basic level, the answer is yes. However, there’s more to it than a simple yes or no answer.

The reason why you can use a TV that has HDMI slots instead of a monitor is due to the specs on HDMI 2.0. If you have a GPU with a base HDMI 2.0 port, the connection allows you to run the basics needed for gaming. For 4K, this means you get 60Hz speed and 24-bit color. As far as a GPU is concerned, the Nvidia 10-series along with the AMD RX Vega 56/64 and GTX 950/960 work with HDMI 2.0. Bottom line, if your hardware works with these settings, your TV will be fine. However, in the battle of pc monitor vs TV, there are many who give you the answer of “Yes, but” to the question posed earlier. Here comes the but.

The cost of a 4K television that’s about 45 inches can run $300. The same $300 buys a 28-inch 4K monitor. There is clear value but remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Input lag is why TVs are not ideal for gaming. A TV has to decode a signal and transmit the image to the screen. The process does have delays of 50ms up to 100ms. This is what’s called “signal processing.” Usually, there’s an audio component into the television as well. Decoding the different signals is what televisions do. Monitors don’t have nearly as much signal processing, and that’s because of how specialized the 4K monitor is. A 4K television is something nearly everyone can use.

One great advancement for gamers is now many TVs offer what’s called a “Game Mode.” This mode stops the processing of video. The picture is still fantastic, but what you’re really doing is getting the TV, not to as much thinking. Also. Newer TVs have less lag time.

There are other features in TVs that are not conducive to gaming. Many TVs including 4K TVs overscan. This means when a signal comes to the television, more than 5% of the signal is thrown away. The good news is many menus allow you to cancel the feature. Another resource is working the control panels in the Nvidia or AMD GPUs. Using these tools is a great way to manipulate the signal so overscan is avoided. The problem is it’s not a task for amateurs.

Signal support is another problem TVs have with gaming. Many TVs use different signals and ratios. TVs mostly use Y’CbCr signals while monitors use RGB signals. When a TV supports only 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 chroma you will lose image quality. Text interfaces have a haziness on the letters’ edges with chroma subsampling. Videos aren’t too badly affected. TVs with 4:4:4 ratios are the ones that gamers want.

Next, think about how you interact with your TV. Generally, folks don’t sit right on the TV the way they do with monitors. It’s awkward to be in as close to a 45-inch TV as you are to your monitor. That said, there are solutions. For the problems of adjusting the height, you can get a VESA TV and stand. Or, if you want the TV to stand alone, then you need to get into the peripheral market. This means getting a keyboard and mouse where you can be on the couch while using the tools of your trade. Console gamers are used to this setup, but PC gamers may not be used to having what feels like a disembodied keyboard and mouse around. But, if you have the right TV, then the results may be worth it.

When it comes to distinct advantages that TVs have upon monitors, the clearest one is the sound. TVs are built with sound quality being a big part of the appliance’s selling points. Computer monitors have tinny-sounding speakers that rarely provide excellent quality. Usually, you have to connect external speakers to the PC itself to get good quality sound. With TVs, the sound is built in. One of the best parts of these speakers is the bass response. The sound is more resonant, and you get to feel as if you are right in the game. 5.1 surround is the new standard, so if you want to experience the game as if it’s right in your living room, the built-in speakers on the television do exactly what is expected of them.

To recap the question posed earlier, there are several things to consider if you are going to use a 4K TV as a monitor. These considerations include:

  • HDMI Status: Is your GPU equipped for HDMI 2.0? If not, you’ll have problems with the monitor
  • Overscan and Signal Support: These problems affect the picture, check the specs very carefully on the TV and GPU
  • Need for Accessories: If your TV is going to be your monitor, invest in wireless keyboards and mice
  • Sound Quality: A good TV will provide a rich sound that just isn’t reproduced on a monitor.

TV quality is rapidly improving and there will be a day when TVs replace monitors. As of right now, that day isn’t arriving anytime soon. There are plenty of great reasons to use TVs in place of monitors. For example, if your monitor is old, getting a 4K TV is an easy and less expensive way to replace the component. There are other options coming to the market as well. Ultra HD is very exciting and 8K resolutions are starting to spring up in a few places. Getting a jump on the future never hurt anyone, after all.

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