MacBook Pro 15” pushing 25+ millions pixels with dual 4K

I have to admit I have never before changed my setup so often as during the past 12 months or so. Due to The Curse of Retina however it was again time for some changes: I replaced my two 27” Dell monitors (U2713H and U2713HM) and the DELL U2414 portrait off-screen with two 28” Philips Brilliance 288P 4K ones and it has been a great improvement.

HomeOffice_MBP15-2013_Dual4Kdriving22Kpixels

The MacBook Pro 15” Retina (late 2013) with GeForce 750M can drive both 4k displays in addition to its build-in display. Running both 4K screens in their native resolution of 3840×2160 and the build-in display at 2880×1800 (which I actually often do) totals an insane 21.7 million pixels of screen real-estate.

This allows me to open all the large documents and spreadsheets I work on and multiple browser windows with tons of tabs in each and keep it all visible while having room to spare.

In this configuration you have one of the two Thunderbolt ports free. You can push those 22.7 million pixels to an staggering almost 25+ million pixels by attaching a 27” or 30” screen running at 2560×1440 or 2560×1600 respectively! It did it for a couple of days, but I dislike the lack of crispness on the normal screen compared to the 4K screens and the build-in display.

While the left 4K screen is connected via DisplayPort and runs at 60Hz, the right 4K screen has to be connected via HDMI which limits its refresh rate to 30Hz. While I personally deem 30Hz to not be sufficient for a main screen, I noticed that for an off-screen it actually is OK. I use it to dump all documents and apps I’m not currently working on, but still need to glance at every now and then. Often the messenger window and Skype land there as well.

So, how does the MacBook Pro 15” cope with pushing that many pixel? Pretty damn well! I actually feared it will come to a crawl when I switched from driving 15 million pixels to almost 22 million, but as a matter of fact, I haven’t noticed any difference in performance for productivity, office and coding tasks.

There is an occasional hiccup, especially when invoking Exposé, but that actually happens occasionally even when I just run the build-in display without external screens. Moving windows, scrolling large documents or website etc. is smooth and even not half-bad on the 30Hz right screen.

Running 4K displays in their native resolution requires good eyesight – not as good as running the build-in display in native 2880×1800, but still. As I often work late at night my eyes are getting tired after 12 or more hours staring at various screens. The first thing I do when I notice my eyes and myself are becoming tired is to switch the build-in display to 1920×1200. The next step is to reduce the resolution on the 4K screens. The next lower resolution is 3008×1692 and I use it on both screens. Oddly enough when I used Samsung’s U28D590D it offered different scaled resolutions when connected via HDMI and mini DisplayPort.

Don’t be afraid of using scaled resolutions on 4K displays – you are unlikely to notice even the tiniest artefacts. It is nothing like setting a different resolution on a Full HD display thanks to the very high pixel density of 4K displays.

HomeOffice_MBP15-2013_3displaysDriving25Kpixels

Another topic of interest are the 4K panels themselves. Displays featuring IPS 4K panels are still quite expensive. The new wave of “cheap” 4K displays that swept the market over the past months all come with TN panels. Usually I would run for the hills at the thought of a TN panel, but a few years back I learned a valuable lesson when it comes to that type of panels.

For years I only used IPS screens due to their superior color reproduction and viewing angles or very little to no color shifting. Then I got my MacBook Air and liked its display a lot. Good colors, great viewing angles – as it supposed to be for an IPS panel. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks down the road I learned it’s actually a TN panel that comes in the MacBook Air…

The lesson learned was that IPS panels are better then TN panels, but TN panels are not made equal. There are some really good TN panels where it’s hard to tell them apart from an IPS panel – at least on first sight – and there are TN panels that just make you run screaming.

The TN panel in the Philips 288P is really decent. I have no issues with color shifting or viewing angles despite the display’s large size. That being said, please notice that the right screen is at an angle for better viewing comfort. When you put them side by side in a straight line you are actually able to notice light color shifts when you don’t sit in the middle. Similar situation arises if you sit further away. That however shouldn’t be a problem since you can’t actually work sitting that far away due to the size of elements on the screen. Considering the affordable price of these new 28” 4K TN displays I can only say that they are great for office & productivity work as well as coding. The Philips 288P I can recommend without hesitation. I am also currently evaluating the Samsung U28D590D as well as AOC’s and IIYAMA’s new 28” 4K TN screens. Stay tunes for some thoughts on those displays…

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6 comments

  1. kayoone

    So do i understand this correctly that you do not use OSX scaled resolutions but set the screens to actual different resolutions from the main resolution ? Is it for performance reasons ? Visual quality is superb with scaled resolutions because it’s actually supersampling and the display is running at the same native res as ever.

    • lucjano

      On OSX I always use the system’s scaled resolutions on the external screens, only the MacBook Pro 15″ display gets switched to native resolution, but still non-scaled. I do however occasionally use non OS X scaling when connecting a different device to the right screen and switch it via input source. The harsh truth is: outside of OS X the scaling is hit and miss, even at 1080p which should be fine as it is a simple quadrupling pixel to pixel.

  2. Alexey Zimarev

    What did you use to connect 288P to the Thunderbolt port? I have Belkin mDP to HDMI and some other mDP to DP and they both deliver rubbish. The image is shaking and native resolution not supported. I ended up with HDMI and this is the only thing that works for me so far. I am wondering what cable did you use.

    • lucjano

      Since I was moving them from desk to desk I actually used multiple cables, mostly no-name DP-mDP so I can’t help you with a particular brand. What I did notice though, that some cables worked better than others.
      However, before you run off to get some new cables, please make sure you switched your 288P to DisplayPort 1.2 in the settings – if it’s still running on the DisplayPort 1.1 factory setting than that would also explain the issues you have.

      • Alexey Zimarev

        Thanks, I actually found the DP setting yesterday and make the monitor work through mDP to DP and mDP to DVI, they both worked.

      • Alexey Zimarev

        Currently I am on mDP to DP no-name cable and it works fine, however I sometimes have two second monitor doing off and on again. When I was typing the previous sentence, it happened again, this time for about five seconds and the monitor reported “no video input”. This is strange, I will try playing around with cables.

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