Technology moves so fast these days, there’s almost no time to savor the current gadget in your hands before the next upgrade comes along and shatters your definition of “satisfactory.” Such is the case for screen resolution, prompting the question, is 4K worth it?
Right now, 4K is a huge buzzword for TVs and monitors, or anything with a digital or LCD display, really. It’s actually not the most pixel-dense resolution there is as you can actually search for 8K videos on YouTube and there are even a handful of 5K monitors available right now.
That only means the norms and standards for digital screens are shifting once more. Still, 4K is what you can consider a premium, especially for gaming hardware as running games in 4K is a taxing affair whether the demands are money or electricity. And whether is 4K worth it or not depends on a lot of factors such as your use case and your preference.
We’re here to help you decide whether the shift to 4K is worth it by exploring certain aspects of your digital usage and how the resolution can affect each of them. Let’s start with the most practical use, productivity.
4K Lets You Multitask More of Your Work
4K stands for the 3840 x 2160 resolution or pixels. That’s the number of pixels crammed into the screen. And as we all know, more pixels means more of the image can fit.
If you’re comparing 1080p (1920 x 1080) to 4K directly using just the default Windows desktop display, you’ll be surprised at how much more icons you can fit or how much space there is on the taskbar. But once you open an Excel sheet or a browser, this is where you can immediately see the possibilities of having a 4K resolution.
Because now, you can see more of your Excel sheet or now, your monitor or desktop can hold three to four browser tabs instead of just one and a half.
4K is literally four 1080p screens placed in a rectangle. So if you find yourself needing to constantly shift between four browser tabs or browser sessions (or even four Windows applications), you can now do so on just one screen and not lose any clarity or detail since 4K resolutions tend to be paired with monitor sizes above 27 inches.
That’s less confusion with alt-tabbing and marginally more work done in a shorter amount of time. You could argue that two or three monitors could achieve the same effect, but that would take up so much desk space– space you might not have.
Any work that’s text-based (including programming or coding) will benefit a lot from 4K since details are sharper and more crisp. This can lead to less eye fatigue.
4K Allows Pixel Perfect Accuracy for Images & Art
Since 4K displays a larger image and more pixels, accuracy for digital artists (particularly those who use Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator) will find 4K almost mandatory for their creations.
4K simply allows artists to zoom in better and adjust the finer details in their digital sketches. Or they could zoom out more and hide these finer details. In any case, graphic designs will be more accurate to draw since they’re now sharper.
User interface elements will also be sharper and more detailed and will no longer be crammed in submenus since they can now fit in the larger bar. This is especially useful for image editors in Photoshop.
4K Makes Gaming More Detailed & Less Constrained
This is where you can notice the benefits of 4K the most. Entertainment. Specifically gaming.
Games can readily adjust to 4K resolution (unlike movies or TV shows) and this allows your computer to color more pixels and add to the moving image. Overall, it leads to a larger image where the UI has trouble filling all the empty space since they have their own static resolution and can’t be stretched, giving you the feeling of less constraint.
Of course, textures, effects, and details are more noticeable and more pronounced. You no longer have to squint to see something far away when you’re planning to snipe them.
It also helps that 4K resolutions are paired with bigger screens, allowing you to sit further away from the monitor or screen while still seeing more details. This can lead to less eyestrain or less visual-related headaches.
The Cost of 4K
The more important notion we have to discuss when asking ‘Is 4K worth it?’ would be the price of admission.
Despite newer and more gorgeous screen resolutions popping up (we’re on our road to 8K monitors in less than a decade, maybe), 4K monitors and TVs remain expensive. Heck, even phones with 4K resolution are expensive and are usually only reserved for flagship models.
The average price for a 4K monitor (whether for gaming or work) is around $700 (USD). There are cheaper ones that go for as low as $300 but they’re usually devoid of other features such as high refresh rates, and G-Sync, and only come in 27-inch models which is the lower end for 4K.
Meanwhile, a 4K TV costs somewhere around $400, and if you want something that has low latency and high refresh rates for console gaming, that average price can easily double.
Phones with 4K resolutions even go for as high as $800 even though the difference is somewhat hard to notice since the screens are so small.
And then there are 4K laptops which are already hard to find at $1,500. If you want a good and new 4K laptop, you’re going to need to go above a $2,500 budget.
It’s Even More Expensive for Gaming
4K’s cost is not just in the monitor or screen price tag for gaming PCs.
The most demanding graphical setting in a video game is resolution since that’s literally the number of pixels being used to display the dynamically moving 3D image.
So you can imagine just how high the requirements for 4K gaming are. Even consoles are having trouble running 4K resolution.
Let’s say, for example, you have an RTX 4060 or RTX 3060 which is the most common GPU tier since it’s mid-range. These GPUs were made with 1080p gaming in mind. If you try to set the game’s resolution to 4K while gaming with the aforementioned mid-range cards, the frame rate will tank– your game will look stunning but it will be a slideshow. It will be almost unplayable if it’s a new AAA video game.
So in order to accommodate 4K gaming demands, you’ll need high-end hardware which is nearly or easily double the price of mid-range gaming hardware for gaming PCs. This usually starts with RTX 3070 or RTX 4070 or higher.
On top of the expensive 4K monitor, you’ll also need an expensive high-end gaming PC or laptop if you want to play the latest games in 4K. You can get away with mid-range gaming hardware running older games in 4K, however– or sometimes it depends on the game’s system requirements.
But games with lower system requirements aren’t exactly graphically impressive regardless of their art style. More often than not, going 4K in gaming means compounding the cost of your gaming hardware.
4K Is Worth It if You Have the Budget or if It’s an Investment
To summarize, 4K is really only worth it if it can pay for itself (i.e. you’re using it for work as a photographer or digital artist).
If you need it for work, then go for it. It makes a world of difference in your day-to-day digital tasks. Because in that case, a 4K monitor is an investment.
For gaming or entertainment, on the other hand, it depends on your budget. If you’ve saved up for a high-end 4K gaming PC or TV to pay for it in full, then you might as well indulge yourself. That kind of quality-of-life improvement in your hobbies or entertainment is motivating and rewarding.
But 4K is not worth it if you’re going to be stretching your budget thin or don’t have the actual money to pay for it and have to rely on a loan. Because by the time you’ve paid for that 4K screen or gaming setup in full, there might already be another technology or upgrade that’s superior or more affordable.
There’s always QHD (1440p) or FHD (1080p) anyway.