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On Black Friday week, Amazon ($449) and Sears ($499) went into a price war on the 39-inch “120Hz” Seiki 4K displays culminating in a Sub-$400 price (that I jumped on) for the 39-inch variant.

I’ve been using it as a 4K, 3840×2160 display for my MacBook Pro 2013 base model (no discrete graphics) off and on for a week.

How is it as a HDTV? Can you use it as a 4K display? Should you? Here’s my take:

Overall, it isn’t as ‘bargain basement’ as I expected on the outside. It comes with a small bezel around the edges and typical plastic back. It is very thin overall and would be fine mounted on a wall – around 2 inches thick except for an annoying protruding bump on the bottom.  The stand is bare-bones without any rotating features but works fine. As for ports, this has everything most high end HDTVs come with: 3 HDMIs, 2 USBs, AUX in/out, Component, RCA etc.  The 1 and 2 HDMIs are kind of buried so you’ll need adapters to put in a Chromecast or other HDMI dongles. I used the HDMI 3 on the side but later needed it for the Mac.

I bought a refurbished unit and the settings had to be reset and firmware updated, so after hitting menu and “0” 4 times I was able to update the firmware. The menu buttons and the remote were a pleasant surprise reacting faster than either of my home TVs  – a Panasonic and a Vizio.

As a 1080P TV, this is much better than I thought. Colors, after calibration, were nice and angles were respectable.  I was able to watch Apple TV and Chromecast video just like I would on any other TV at 120Hz. I don’t do cable TV but after plugging in a $20 HDTV antenna, local channels came in great. I don’t have any 4K streaming devices so to check the 4K capabilities, I had to hook up my MacBook Pro…

Apple lists the 2013 MacBook Pro with Intel Iris Technology as being able to run a 4K display at 4096-by-2160 resolution and 24 Hz as well as 3840-by-2160 displays at 30 Hz over its HDMI port. The latter is the resolution of the Seiki and conveniently as high as it goes at 4K – HDMI 1.4 is limited at these rates. Some manufacturers say that they will update their HDMI 1.4 to 2.0 which can do higher frame rates, but Seiki has made no such promise.

I’ll say right here that this was almost a dealbreaker for me. 30Hz is unusable for gaming and pretty not fantastic for website scrolling and other stuff I do on a daily basis (not that you’ll need to do much scrolling on a huge 4K display).

I initially tried plugging in the display to HDMI port 1. The included HDMI cable was a snug fit, but it went in. The Mac wouldn’t boot it up even though the Apple TV worked on it previously. I therefore had to evict the Chromecast from port 3 where the MacBook Pro’s HDMI cable worked brilliantly.

The uncalibrated 4K display coming out of the MacBook is probably enough to scare off most people. It is, in a word, horrific. However, immediately dialing down the contrast and sharpness a great deal immediately saw better results. Then, moving over to the Mac’s built-in color calibration control panel and spending some quality time in the advanced level settings yields something you can actually work with.

I’m not saying you are going to come anywhere near a Thunderbolt Display or even a high quality Dell or NEC display. But it is a usable 4K and cost me less than $400. I think this would be great for coding and as a second display for those who have video/chats/etc going on in the background.

As for usability, there are plenty of bugs to be worked out. The Chrome browser is way slower than Safari right now – almost unusable, but I am writing this post in WordPress in Chrome so not entirely. Also, the mouse pointer is just a fraction of a second slower than it is natively on the MacBook Pro. It feels like I am remote desktop-ing into the display, which was initially annoying but I’ve gotten used to it.  I think this might be another casualty of the 30Hz limit of HDMI 1.4. Images, no matter how much I’ve tried, still don’t look as good as they do on a typical external display – but this may require more tweaking on my part.

On the other hand, the brightness and color seem to remain consistent throughout the display, even on the corners. One gripe I’ve had with Apple’s displays is that there is too much shine. The Seiki doesn’t shine much at all, and where it does reflect light, it is diffused in a way that isn’t hard on the eyes.

4K Youtube videos played in Safari look great and are easily watchable. I downloaded an upconverted 4K movie and it looked as good as any display I’ve ever seen. There isn’t much 4K content out there, so I wasn’t able to test as much as I would like.

But all of that is coming…

The bottom line: It does work, and for the price, it would be silly to expect more.

Will I be using this as my main display? No. 30Hz is a little hard on the eyes, and the MacBook Pro’s Iris graphics really isn’t up to the task of pushing 4K out of its HDMI 1.4 port.  However, as we look forward to the Mac Pro and its ability to throw 3 different 4K displays around at much higher framerates, this is a look into the near future.

For me? I’m going to keep this display as secondary monitor to watch videos on (in both 120Hz 1080P and 30Hz 4K), watch TV at my desk, and for testing Chromecasts, Apple TVs and anything that needs 4K in the future.

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18 Responses to “Review: Seiki’s 39-inch 4K TV as a display for a 2013 MacBook Pro with Intel Iris”

  1. Bob Zapp says:

    Seth, Is your take that performance is mostly crippled by the 30Hz limitation? How’s the experience with another mac that has a discrete 1 or 2 gig graphics card?

    • I think performance is crippled by the HDMI 1.4 limitations AND the Intel Iris. I don’t have any other version of the MacBook to test against but I’d bet that even high end wouldn’t be able to do justice. At this moment, if you want to do a 4K properly with a Mac, you need a desktop video card.

    • There is new firmware available for the SE39UY04. After the upgrade you can calibrate RGB and set the backlight, without it getting reset anymore after switching the monitor to standby. Also the Seiki doesn’t lose it’s user setttings anymore after disconnection from power.

  2. You need to try enabling HiDPI mode for this display. I am running the same Seiki TV at 1080p HiDPI, and while at 30Hz, everything looks crisp. Just run this command in Terminal, and log back in: sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver.plist DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool true

  3. Iain Dunn says:

    I am using this as my main monitor, lucky enough to get it new for $405 from Amazon.

    It does have the 30hz shortcoming but as I am not a big gamer that is not an issue. You can always drop the resolution down to getter a better refresh rate if needed.

    Biggest issue I have is as you mentioned Chrome does not like the 4k resolution. Chatter on the web indicates this is a known problem with Chrome, hopefully they will fix it soon, until then it’s back to Safari for me.

    It takes a bit of tinkering with the advanced colour controls but it is possible to get a good colour reproduction. I am using a Dell as a second monitor in my setup and the Seiki colour output is pretty well on par with the Dell, the Seiki though is much more vibrant making the Dell look washed out in comparison.

    At the end of the day the Seiki is a low end unit but the price difference between this and the main stream 4K manufacturers makes this a bargain, especially given the amount of real estate you get.

  4. I have a Late 2013 MacBook Pro with the Nvidia GT750M card how will it handle this has a second monitor.

  5. Roger Royce says:

    Interesting to read your comments re: Seiki and Apple use. Here’s mine from the dark side aka a PC. I took of the 39in Seiki base to remove the ‘lump’ at the bottom and it now sits nicely against the back of my desk on a couple rubber bumpers I stuck to the bottom of the frame. Looks slick and with the small bezel really quite stunning. I’m running an Intel I7-3770 and AMD HD7870 video card in 3840×2160 @30Hz.. There is no perceptible lag that I can detect using any functions. Cursor movement and web video is smooth and the only hiccups are streaming buffering interruption, esp. on 4k youtube content. Divix content is better with no interruptions. The screen itself far exceeds my expectations, i.e., no light bleeding, uniform brightness edge to edge and stunning detail and resolution. It did require a video card upgrade to get to this high point – and I’d venture many of your dissatisfactions are from video card shortcomings, not Seiki monitor shortcomings. From this experience, I doubt I’ll ever buy another 1080p display again, they simply now look so rough with detail lacking and (now) noticeable scan lines.

  6. Sean Hoyt says:

    Why aren’t any of these reviews revealing the horrible gamut on these 39″ 4k screens? A simple i1 Display Pro shows you that post-calibration there are severe magenta clippings. Grayscale is plagued with color banding. I’m a pro photographer that’s calibrated for over a decade… do not use this screen for color applications.

  7. I was just wondering, if you use this 4k display at 1080p, will everything look clearer than in 4k? i mean just like how the retina macbook does it, doubling the resolution but keeping the DPI the same as the older models which makes everything much much clearer. does this logic also work with 4k monitors?

  8. Would you mind sharing your calibration setting for the 39″ Seiki? I’m trying to get my colors similar to what I see on a rMBP, but I could use a little help. Thank you.

  9. Hi Seth, thanks to your review I ordered this Seiki screen at amazon.com and had it shipped to the Netherlands. I can confirm it works with the european 220Volt. I hooked the Seiki up to my late 2013 rMBP 15 and it was immediately recognized. Small text looked but turning down contrast to zero solved that. Colors were way too saturated so I dialed that down a lot too. So now I have a magnificently large desktop!

  10. driverbenji says:

    FYI, currently the only mac that can drive a 4K display at 60Hz (3840×2860) is the new Mac Pro, and only using a display port connection. As stated in the article, HDMI 1.x is unable to drive this resolution faster than 30Hz. (Also, the MacBook Pro cannot drive 4K faster than 30Hz).

    So, in order to do 4K @ 60Hz you need one with a display port connection…at this point in time. HDMI 2 upgrades will, apparently, overcome the 30Hz limitation, but, this TV has HDMI 1.4.

    I will add link for the apple article on this, but, not sure if links are allowed in these comments (if not, go to apple’s support page search for article HT6008): http://support.apple.com/kb/HT6008

  11. I have the exact same setup, but a early 2013 MacBook Pro retina. Works like a charm, at least after Mavericks got released. The Seiki 39″ as well as the MacBook Pro has a limitation of 30Hz for 4K though…

    I got Chrome up to speed again by using a little app called BeamSyncDropper2. And by enlarging the mouse pointer as well as increasing the mouse speed, it now all works great. Sure 60Hz would be perfect, but for now this is great! Love the resolution!!!

    And with the new OS X 10.9.3 released today, MacBook Pro 2013 can get 60Hz 4K output. So now it is all up to Seiki to release a new version of it’s great 39″ screen.

    I must say I like the display size. Perfect for work!!! A smaller size with 4K res would make it too dense and small I think.

    This is too small (in my opinion), but does 60Hz over display port.
    http://www.samsung.com/levant/consumer/computers-peripherals/monitors/led-monitor/LU28D590DS/ZN-features

    Just my 2 cents.

    Regards,

    Oystein

  12. Robert Dufly says:

    “The uncalibrated 4K display coming out of the MacBook is probably enough to scare off most people. ”

    I am so happy for your blog post. When I set up my Seiki, it was so bad, I thought I had made a huge mistake.

    I followed your settings, it looks much better now.