The largest issue with UltraHD displays, and any HiDPI display, is operating system and application support. Sure, you can run a desktop at full resolution with no scaling but that is almost impossible for anyone to actually use. To get any real benefit from any HiDPI display you are going to need OS and Application support.

In this area OS X is far ahead of Windows. With the Retina MacBook Pro released almost 18 months ago now, there has been a much bigger push to get OS and App support working there. It isn’t perfect still as there are many apps that lack HiDPI support (including Office). The exact nature of how well OS X works with HiDPI displays that aren’t the native display for the system isn’t perfect either.

Plugging my 2013 15” MacBook Pro into the Dell UP3214Q I expected to see options for scaling. Unfortunately I saw nothing of the sort with only the native resolution available for me to choose from. Attempting to use SwitchResX and other hacks to enable scaling also did not work for me. As always user error is a likely culprit for those, but that OS X isn’t aware of high-resolution displays by default is surprising. Perhaps Apple will not do this until they have their own UltraHD panel, but with the UltraHD support of the new Mac Pro being such a big deal the lack of support here is a shortcoming. (Note: this is updated in the first beta build of OS X 10.9.3 which I don’t have access to but Anand wrote about.)

Windows still lags behind here. Windows 8.1 was supposed to deliver better DPI scaling for multiple monitor setups but I have not seen that. Setting the UP3214Q to scale correctly means that my other 27” displays now have giant icons and are worthless for working on. Since running a single display is not a sacrifice I am willing to make I have to choose the option that best bridges the two.

Application support is still very lacking on the PC side. Most programs exhibit jagged edges and other issues when DPI Scaling enabled. Some applications are there, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. However, with Ultrabooks adopting HiDPI displays faster and faster, I fully expect Windows to push to get this right in the next 8-12 months.

What else is behind the times is the DisplayPort 1.2 interface. As I mentioned earlier, you need to enable MultiStream Transport mode to get a 60 Hz UltraHD image on the Dell. This really treats it as a pair of 1920x2160 displays instead of a single monitor, as there are no DisplayPort chips that can support the higher resolution. The specification should allow for it but no silicon vendors have taken advantage of that as there has been no need until now.

Unfortunately MST support is incredibly flaky. It works great, and then your computer hibernates and the monitor won’t wake up until you power cycle it. Or the two sides get out of sync and you have correct colors on one side and an incorrect color profile on the other side. I had half of the screen change resolution on me one day and the other side remain the same. After a firmware update I felt most of these issues were resolved, but as soon as I updated the Dell Calibration software, the monitor would no longer stay in sync in MST mode anymore. You also have to give up Uniformity Compensation on the Dell to use MST.

Note: The firmware update that I installed is not being provided to end users. You would need to exchange your monitor for a refurbished one with the updated firmware from Dell. More details can be read in the thread on Dell's website here.

HDMI 2.0 could also provide a solution to this, but no one currently ships HDMI 2.0 products. Most TVs claiming HDMI 2.0 are really only HDMI 1.4 that support a specific feature of HDMI 2.0 (4:2:0 chroma subsampling support) but they label them as HDMI 2.0 anyway. Until real HDMI 2.0 silicon is available, HDMI support for UltraHD is also limited to 30 Hz. So right now you have two real choices for UltraHD resolution support: 30 Hz that works, or 60 Hz that can be problematic.

The MST feature on the Dell UP3214Q started out working poorly for me. It didn’t wake up from sleep and the other issues I mentioned. A firmware update from Dell seemed to resolve all of these. It always woke up from sleep and the color profiles managed to stay in sync as well. Dell also released a new update to their calibration software that lets you take advantage of the two CAL presets in the monitor. As soon as this was installed a new issue cropped up. In MST mode, the two halves of the monitor would flicker, then it would turn off completely, then back on, then repeat. Only disabling MST fixes this, which then puts me back at a 30 Hz refresh rate.

So at the moment, UltraHD is half-ready when it comes to hardware and software. It has improved a bit over the past few months ago, but it still isn’t quite ready for everyone yet.

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  • datobin1 - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    Without scaling on High DPI screens text becomes so small that it is not legible at worst or really uncomfortable to read. With proper scaling text looks much nicer on a high DPI screen. Look at 1080p phones as an example, text looks great.
    If you want to see the need for scaling, remote desktop to your computer from a 1080p phone. You'll have a full 1920x1080 desktop but it will not really be usable.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    I've been playing with the Dell UP2414Q and it is razor-sharp and legible without scaling at exactly the same distance that I had my 24" FW900 located - about 30" away. Spreadsheets look particularly incredible! Reply
  • peterfares - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    That's not comfortable or even possible for everyone Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    Well those people don't have to buy it. I don't believe that I have Superman-esque vision, but maybe those people that can't read the text need a newer prescription for their glasses. I know I wouldn't be able to enjoy 4K without my cheaters... I can barely enjoy 1080p at that distance without them. Reply
  • seapeople - Thursday, April 3, 2014 - link

    This monitor is at 140 dpi. The phone you're speaking of is likely well over 300 dpi. There's a difference. 140 dpi does not require superhuman vision to see without scaling, more like somewhat "normal" vision. Reply
  • peterfares - Friday, April 4, 2014 - link

    Phone is much closer to my face than my monitor. Reply
  • basroil - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    Photoshop does work just fine as long as you enable OpenGL and use Windows 7/8 with custom DPI settings.

    But I'm with npz, you don't get a 4k monitor to limit yourself to 2k spaces. The only reason to use 4k at all is to tile your windows (or for use in CAD, but most CAD work is better on 2x 1600p because it's easier to drive with cheaper cards).
    Reply
  • vshah - Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - link

    the point is that UI elements should scale to a comfortable size while content that needs hidpi should display in hidpi.

    in photoshop for example, tools & menus will be nicely sized, while the image you are working on will display using native resolution...this is the way it works on OSX.
    Reply
  • Accord99 - Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - link

    Only after Adobe updated it to work with HiDPI.

    Just like it will work fine on Windows once Adobe gets around to updating it, just as Adobe Lightroom 5 already works fine at HiDPI.
    Reply
  • houkouonchi - Friday, April 4, 2014 - link

    100% agree here. The problem is people are pussies and god forbid the text is smaller than what it is on a 96 DPI screen and it suddenly becomes unreadable. Dude there are people who say 3840x2160 on a 39 inch seiki is to small... Give me a break. I used 3840x2400 on a 22 inch LCD since 2005 and that was on linux with X set at 75 DPI (smaller than windows 96) which made stuff even smaller and I had absolutely *no* issues using it 40 hours a week at work. Reply

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