Ever since the Mac Pro was released in December, we’ve faced an onslaught of 4k displays. We reviewed Seiki’s budget offering last year, and while we liked it overall, it did have more than its fair share of set backs. For instance, you could only use the full 4k resolution at 30Hz, which meant that there would be noticeable lag when using the display as a monitor. Despite the low refresh rate, the display was still a great deal at its then $450 price point (now down to $390) and truly got us excited for the potential of 4k. At CES this year, we also saw a variety of 4k displays, some of which were priced for budget-minded customers, and some of which were high-end. Noticeably missing from CES, however, was Apple’s frenemy supplier/competitor Samsung.
Samsung, at the end of May, unveiled its take on an affordable 4k display. Samsung’s U28D590D is a 28-inch 4k monitor that supports full 4k resolution at 60Hz via a DisplayPort 1.2 connection. There are also two HDMI ports, but they’ll only do 4k at 30Hz, like the Seiki. The big selling point of the Samsung monitor, aside from doing 4k at 60Hz, is that it costs just $646 on Amazon. This puts it far below any currently available 4k monitor with 60Hz capabilities. I purchased the Samsung U28D590D on Amazon while it was priced at $666 and have been using it as my primary display for the past week. How does it compare to the Seiki? Is 4k all it’s hyped up to be? Let’s discuss.
Let me preface this review by saying that I’m using the monitor in conjunction with the Hackintosh that I built back in December. You can read about that in detail here, but I’ll summarize. It’s got an Intel Core i7-4770k processor clocked at 3.5GHz, paired with an EVGA GeForce GTX760 graphics card and 16GB of RAM. Needless to say, I expected this thing to be able to run 4k at 60Hz without any hiccups whatsoever. I initially built the Hackintosh in hope of using it with the Seiki 4k display, but its limitations quickly showed that it wasn’t meant to be used day-to-day as a monitor, so it’s now a bedroom TV.
One annoyance is that Samsung failed to add any sort of VESA mounting capabilities to the monitor, meaning that you’re stuck using it with the original stand. There’s no ability to mount it or use a third-party base. This wouldn’t be a big deal if Samsung’s base was sturdy, but it’s not. The screen itself is half glossy and half matte. It’s more reflective than your average matte display, but nowhere near as reflective and glossy as an Apple Thunderbolt display.
In terms of ports, you won’t find many. On the back of the display itself is a DisplayPort 1.2 port and 2 HDMI 1.4 ports. As I mentioned before, however, you’ll only get 60Hz 4k out of the DisplayPort connection, not HDMI. The HDMI 1.4 spec doesn’t support 60Hz, which was the issue with the Seiki, as well. This means, however, that if you are using a recent Macbook Pro with Retina or the latest Mac Pro, you will need to buy a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort 1.2 converter, such as this one for $14 on Amazon.
The menu system on the U28D590D is actually somewhat easy to navigate through. On the back of the display is a knob that you can push once to bring up the menu. From there, you can use the knob like a joystick almost to navigate through the menus and settings.
With Mac OS X 10.9.3, Apple made some huge, much-needed improvements to how the operating system handles 4k monitors. As we initially reported on back in March, OS X 10.9.3 allows for users with 4k monitors to adjust their resolution, much like on a Retina Macbook Pro, to create a pixel-doubled resolution. With the Samsung U28D590D, there are five screen resolution settings in the System Preferences to choose from. The lowest is 1504 x 846, which of course gives you the largest text, but makes everything hilariously large. The next highest setting is 1920×1080 which still has relatively large text and is far more realistic to use than the 1504 x 846 option.
The middle setting is 2560 x 1440. In my usage, this option offered an increased amount of space to work but still had easy to read text. The next setting comes in at 3008 x 1692 and is still easy to use, presuming you have good eyesight. This is the setting I found myself using more often than not. The smaller text takes some getting used to, but the added space is well worth it. Finally, the highest resolution the U28D590D supports is 3840 x 2160. The text on this setting was incredibly small and when I tried using it for an extended period of time, I quickly got tired of having to squint to read text. The added space, however, was amazing.
As I expected, my custom built Hackintosh was easily able to power the Samsung U28D590D, in addition to another 1080p Acer display, without any hiccups whatsoever. All animations in OS X were as smooth as you’d expect them to be. Scrolling through webpages, even at 3840 x 2160, was smooth, as well.
As far as actual display quality goes, I had few qualms with the U28D590D. One area in which Samsung was able to keep the cost of this display down was the technology it used. The U28D590D uses a TN panel, which is considered inferior to the IGZO panels used on other 4k displays, such as the ASUS PQ321Q. The ASUS monitor, however, is currently going for $2400. I haven’t personally used one of the higher end ASUS or Sharp 4k displays, but in my research and time with the Samsung U28D590D, I’m pretty confident that, for me personally, there’s no reason to shell out another $1,800 for the higher end panels.
Of course, there are some issues with the TN panel over an IGZO or IPS display. For one, viewing angles will be considerably worse with a TN panel, but if you’re sitting in a desktop environment, rarely moving the display, this shouldn’t be a big issue at all. By no means am I an expert in terms of display technology and quality, but in my opinion, color reproduction with the display was fantastic and no worse than any IPS display I’ve used. The 1ms response time also means that gaming will be relatively smooth.
The Samsung U28D590D is a phenomenal monitor, especially for the price. 4k is the future of display technology, and Samsung being able to launch a 60Hz 4k monitor for $680 is incredibly impressive. The 4k Seiki display got us excited for 4k and its potential, but the limited refresh rate meant that using it as an actual monitor was unlikely. Although the Samsung is a bit more pricey than the Seiki, and of course smaller, the extra money for 60Hz is well worth it.
Having come from a 27-inch 1080p Acer display, I can safely say that once you go to a 4k monitor, it’s nearly impossible to back to anything of lower resolution. Sure, it would have been nice for Samsung to use an IGZO panel for the U28D590D, but it had to keep the price down somehow. There are also rumors that Apple is planning both a 4k Thunderbolt display and Retina iMacs. It’s hard to say how they will compare to the Samsung U28D590D, but they will without a doubt cost more.