Henry’s Tech Tips: 4K Screens

Henry’s Tech Tips: Why 4K screens are unharmonious with small screens

Written by Henry C, Grade 12

If you have recently been to an electronic shop, there’s a good chance you may have heard the term “4K.” No, it’s not $4000! 4K is the abbreviation of a monitor which contains around 4000 pixels. It is claimed to be the highest resolution available for PC entertainment and that all images will appear crystal clear.

However, do these 4K computer monitors perform as well as they sound?

Well… sort of… just sort of…

Before I get into why 4K monitors are unharmonious with non-TV screens, let me explain how a monitor works. Anything with a screen, whether it be computer monitors, TVs, calculators… etc. will typically use liquid crystal displays (LCD). LCD screens contain pixels; when you hold the screen close to your eyes, you’ll notice little “blocks” or “dots” in the screen – those are the pixels that generate each image that is displayed to you.

Think of pixels as a grid you use in math class except 100 times smaller; every square in the grid is identical. When you colour a rectangle on the grid, that’s the equivalent of your computer drawing a rectangle using pixels. As you read this article, you are in fact reading pixels on a screen that take the form of words.

Every screen has a native resolution. On a PC, right click on the desktop and select “screen resolution.” On a Mac, go to System Preferences and select Displays. You’ll screen resolution will be (width) x (height). Some examples include, but are not limited to, 1366×768, 1440×900, 1600×900, or 1920×1080. These are called native resolutions – the maximum amount of pixels your screen can handle.

When you change fonts on a screen, you’re choosing how many pixels should display the words. On a screen running 1366×768 resolution (an example is our computer lab monitors running this resolution), you’ll notice that everything in general, including text, looks bigger. Switch that to a higher resolution screen (such as on Macs) and everything suddenly looks a tad smaller. Why? Take a look at the example below:

Resolution Comparasion

See the Full HD rectangle above? This web page looks perfect sized at the Full HD ratio. Image looking at this exact screen, but shrunk to the size of the Quad HD screen. Compared to the Quad HD, the Full HD looks tiny! If you take this web page and put it on the Quad HD screen, which is the equivalent of a 4K monitor, everything will appear so tiny you will have a hard time trying to distinguish words. Now image what I just wrote on an even smaller 13 inch screen….. Fact: you won’t be able to read it without squinting. Trust me, I’ve tried it….

Of course, you can make text bigger, but you’re ONLY making text bigger. Images on websites and in general, almost every website, will look so blurry that you won’t be able to see any graphics clearly; you would see one big fuzzy mess. Why? You can experiment this right now. Whip out your phone, go to maximum zoom, and take a picture. After this, magnify it to the max. Notice how the more you magnify, the blurrier it seems? That’s what happens on a 4K monitor on a small device.

4000 pixels on a large 60 inch TV looks amazing; I’ve seen these TV models displayed beside regular 1080 resolution screens and it just blows me away by the level of crisp, clear, and brilliant-coloured screen. However, it is just not meant to be squished onto a 13 inch device. When your computer has spent its last day and you decide to get a new one, keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the smaller the text will appear. If you want a high-resolution display, always make sure the physical screen is big enough to support it. Otherwise, you are best off with a smaller screen—it saves you the pain of squinting at every letter!