External Display Similar to iMac 5K

bluespark

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jul 11, 2009
1,862
2,002
Chicago
I am considering switching from my iMac 5K (27") to a laptop-plus-display combination. The iMac is perfect when I'm sitting at my desk, but I need to be portable more than I expected. For the laptop, I'll buy either a MacBook Air or one of its closest competitors on the Windows side (either a ThinkPad X1 or a Dell XPS). For the display, I want to end up with something at least 27" in size that doesn't feel like a downgrade from my iMac's 5K display. What are my options?

The closest would seem to be the LG UltraFine if I plan to use it with a Mac, although a bit more flexibility with connections would be nice if possible. Dell and others have some 4K options in the 27-32" size, but would those feel like downgrades? In other words, would a normal person (not a graphic artist) notice a drop from 5K to 4K? Are there other considerations I should be aware of?

A built-in webcam would be a nice plus (and, honestly, I don't understand why this isn't a standard feature on every display), but I suppose I could live without it if necessary.
 

MacGizmo

macrumors 65816
Apr 27, 2003
1,425
780
Arizona
5K is a complete waste of money if you're not a designer or videographer. You can't use them at their full resolution anyway (everything on the screen is way too small). Get yourself a decent 4K display - Dell makes a really good one (just stick with the UltraSharp line).

You probably aren't going to find many displays with a webcam built-in, since most laptops already have one. Plus it increases the cost of the display and comes with inherent compatibility issues.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Fishrrman

leovilma

macrumors newbie
Feb 22, 2017
18
9
Buying generic 4k monitor wont only be downgrade from pixel count, Apple 5k panels are very high quality in many aspects and they are glossy for better or worse. I guess it really depends on how big of a snob you are regarding hardware. If anything is fine then Dell would be ok, if you want as good quality as iMac go LG 5k but the real winning move would be to wait for the new Apple display that should come out this year.
 

bluespark

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jul 11, 2009
1,862
2,002
Chicago
5K is a complete waste of money if you're not a designer or videographer. You can't use them at their full resolution anyway (everything on the screen is way too small). Get yourself a decent 4K display - Dell makes a really good one (just stick with the UltraSharp line).

You probably aren't going to find many displays with a webcam built-in, since most laptops already have one. Plus it increases the cost of the display and comes with inherent compatibility issues.
What's the largest 4K display I could buy that would look as sharp as my 5K iMac? I'm not a designer and I'm 50 years old with imperfect vision, so I'm after something that would look the same subjectively. But that said, I'm sometimes in front of my screen reading text for 10+ hours in a day, so I do need something good.
[doublepost=1552158390][/doublepost]
Buying generic 4k monitor wont only be downgrade from pixel count, Apple 5k panels are very high quality in many aspects and they are glossy for better or worse. I guess it really depends on how big of a snob you are regarding hardware. If anything is fine then Dell would be ok, if you want as good quality as iMac go LG 5k but the real winning move would be to wait for the new Apple display that should come out this year.
Waiting for the rumored Apple display is an appealing option, though the price may be more than I want to pay. I like the LG 5K, so that's definitely an option, though I wish it had PC drivers as well. I wish Apple would offer a few displays at varying price points. I think they'd be pretty popular.
 

a2jack

macrumors 6502
Feb 5, 2013
384
227
Better low cost monitors are on their way. Save your $$ and buy more computer, rather than a soon to be outdated display.

I use a new 32" TCL tv and love it at 1080p, and i'm older than you. LOL a2
 
  • Like
Reactions: bluespark

Fishrrman

macrumors P6
Feb 20, 2009
17,456
5,671
Keep the iMac you have now and buy a nice Mac laptop.
It doesn't have to be "all decked out", even a "base model" will serve well enough "for laptop things".

There's NOTHING that beats having a nice Mac desktop AND a nice MacBook as well.

I use both of mine for extended periods each day.
 
Last edited:

bluespark

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jul 11, 2009
1,862
2,002
Chicago
Some great advice here. At the very least, it sounds like I should pump the breaks here and see what is released this year. Thanks, all.
 

Martius

macrumors 6502
Jul 12, 2008
385
1,162
Prague, CZ
I think the current state of true 5k thunderbolt monitors is just a reflection of current state of Mac product line. The 5K panel in iMac is great. It gives you more room than 4k, the scaling on macOS is perfect. Yet you have just only one plasticky (and quite expensive) option.

Ridiculous. I think you should get Dell 4k or wait till the end of this year. All we ever wanted was 5k iMac monitor inside Apple 27" thunderbolt monitor chassis. No need for a redesign.

Apple just can't deliver anything on time (since 2015).
 

theluggage

macrumors 601
Jul 29, 2011
4,159
2,874
5K is a complete waste of money if you're not a designer or videographer. You can't use them at their full resolution anyway (everything on the screen is way too small).
Not true - MacOS "Hi DPI" screen modes don't work that way. Unless you specifically enable "low resolution" or are running ancient software that doesn't support HiDPI modes, the screen is always running at full 5k resolution. The "looks like 2560x1440" description only refers to the physical size of system text and icons which are the same as they were on the old 27" 1440p display - the actual level of detail you see on the screen is far higher. The alternative, "scaled" modes are a bit more complicated (and put extra load on the GPU and VRAM) but - at worst - consist of 2x the "looks like" resolution downsampled to 5k, which is still more detail than you'd see on a sub-5k screen.

At the very least, it sounds like I should pump the breaks here and see what is released this year. Thanks, all.
I'd suggest that you also decide first whether you're going for Mac or PC (which isn't a debate to start in this thread) - the way MacOS and Windows handle higher resolution screens is different, and while 5k > 4k on either systems, there are reasons why 5k is particularly suitable for Mac - whereas I personally wouldn't bother with 5k on Windows.

Simplified somewhat - Mac applications are designed to work at one of two pixel sizes - standard (ballpark 100 pixels-per-inch) and "HiDPI" (with exactly twice as many pixels per-inch). So, what works best when moving from a standard def display to a high-def display is exactly double the number of pixels - which is what you get going from an old 27" iMac (2560x1440) to a 5k iMac (5120x2880), so everything comes out the same physical size as on an old iMac, but with twice as many (linear) pixels worth of detail. On a 4k display at 27" the system text, menus, icons and window furniture all come out a bit large (although the level of detail is still 4k) so 4k on a Mac is more suited to the 21" models.

The alternative is to use the scaled modes that render to 2x the 'looks like' resolution then downsample to 4k/5k - which produces excellent-looking results at the expense of more load on the GPU and VRAM.

Windows applications are supposed to be resolution independent and use OS calls to translate between inches/cm/points and pixels, and the system-wide pixels-per-inch setting can be freely changed. (In theory this is superior to MacOS, in practice, not so much, as it relies more on applications obeying the rules and gets really confused if you have multiple displays with different scales). But if you go windows, that's what you get (fifty billion flies can't be wrong) and it means there's no intrinsic advantage to 5k over 4k beyond the increase in resolution (and I can vouch that 50 year-old imperfect eyeballs won't notice that).

I've got a 28" 4k screen next to a 2017 5k iMac - its a cheap & cheerful Dell S2817Q that doesn't compete with the iMac when it comes to colour reproduction (+it has horrible controls and stand), but its pin sharp and you have to look very closely to see a difference in detail. Of course the 5k is better than 4k, but its not night-and-day. Also, for general use, the iMac doesn't seem to break a sweat driving it in "looks like 2560x1440" mode so it roughly matches the iMac.

(I got the Dell before my iMac when I was experimenting with a Hackintosh and didn't want to sink a lot of cash into a display that might not work. Frankly, it did the job for 'general' use for several months, although it wouldn't cut it for photography or semi-serious graphics).

The other thing to consider if you get a Macbook are the charging and docking facilities of the Apple/LG 5k display.

If you get a Mac Mini I'd worry about the ability of the GPU to really drive a 4k or 5k display, including scaled modes if you wanted some flexibility about font/icon sizes. From other posts here, it sounds like you'd at least need to get 16GB RAM (the Mini uses main RAM as VRAM).

* Once upon a time, in the Classic Mac/Mac II era, all Apple displays were physically 72 pixels-per-inch so 1 pixel = 1 PostScript Point.
 

bluespark

macrumors 68000
Original poster
Jul 11, 2009
1,862
2,002
Chicago
Thank you, theluggage. That was a great post and it answers the main thing I was wondering about: whether stepping down to 4K would result in less sharpness for my purposes. I hadn't thought about the fact that interface elements would increase in size if used with a Mac (absent a corrective measure), and you're correct that this is a consideration I should account for.
 

AlphaCentauri

macrumors newbie
Mar 10, 2019
11
4
Norwich, United Kingdom
LG 5K has its fair share of problems, which are well documented on this forum. Iiyama is actually quite good (review here), colour accuracy is so so, but otherwise - it is proper IPS panel in an enclosure that resembles iMac 27". LCD panel is covered with glass and the screen is glossy (which may be an advantage to some and nuisance for others). Price is decent for 5K, IMHO.
 

jimthing

macrumors 65816
Apr 6, 2011
1,415
662
London, UK (Europe, Earth, Space)
LG 5K has its fair share of problems, which are well documented on this forum. Iiyama is actually quite good (review here), colour accuracy is so so, but otherwise - it is proper IPS panel in an enclosure that resembles iMac 27". LCD panel is covered with glass and the screen is glossy (which may be an advantage to some and nuisance for others). Price is decent for 5K, IMHO.
I happen to have two LG 5K's for two years now, and am very critical of stuff that doesn't work properly, however the couple of problems on the LG's are completely overblown, often posted by others who haven't actually owned one for more than five minutes. Sure it's not perfect, but the minor issues are just that; minor.

The Iiyama 5K may be cheaper, but IMO it's still not worth bothering with. It does not work on some Thunderbolt 3 Mac's which feature DP1.2 (Alpine Ridge vs. Falcon Ridge: conflicting reports on this?!), as this display uses either solely DP1.4 (although again conflicting reports, as some outlets said it was DP 1.3, but it's not that important, except for longevity!) for 5K, or HDMI 2.0 for 4K.

More importantly, the colour accuracy isn't very good either (average colour spaces), and only millions (True Colour) rather then the more customary billions (Deep Colour), because it only has a cheaper 6-bit+A-FRC panel rather than the better ones the LG 5K has, or beyond. So you buy this for 5K clarity, yet colour accuracy is entirely the opposite of the high resolution; so the only 'target' market for this is... maybe programmers who like crisp b+w text, or something, lol.

Also, the controls are naff ones, being done via buttons on the front and rubbish fiddly onscreen controls, rather than ones controllable by the actual OS.

That review is the typically over excited, 'it looks stunning' 'the design looks gorgeous' (they are joking right; it looks plasticy and cheap). The Anandtech one is more reflective (pun intended!).

You can get refurbished LG 5K's for around the same money, so I'd go for one of those every time – in fact I nearly did myself very recently, until I decided to wait out Apple's new offering instead!
 
  • Like
Reactions: kerplunknet

MacGizmo

macrumors 65816
Apr 27, 2003
1,425
780
Arizona
Not true - MacOS "Hi DPI" screen modes don't work that way...
You can go into all the technical mumbo-jumbo all you want. If you set the resolution of a 27" screen to 5220x2880 (the iMac, or the LG Ultrafine), everything but a full screen image or video will absolutely be too small to use for 99.999999% of people to actually use. Period. There is no debate about it at all. I'm not talking about clarity, color accuracy, sharpness or anything else. I'm talking purely about the size of things on the screen and their usability by the average person when set to the highest resolution possible (to get the most screen real estate).
 

theluggage

macrumors 601
Jul 29, 2011
4,159
2,874
You can go into all the technical mumbo-jumbo all you want. If you set the resolution of a 27" screen to 5220x2880 (the iMac, or the LG Ultrafine)
...if by "technical mumbo-jumbo" you mean the inconvenient reality of how it actually works. Sorry if the way MacOS conflates screen resolution with UI scaling requires more words to explain, but them's the breaks. Windows is much more straightforward - choose display resolution and global 'zoom' factor - but doesn't work so well.

On an iMac at least the screen is always running at 5120x2880 (unless you jump through hoops to enable low resolution modes - which are not the same as 'scaled modes'). The "looks like 2560x1440" only refers to the physical size of the fixed system text, icons etc. which is the same as on the old 27" 1440p display. Everything that can be rendered at 5120x2880 is. That includes whatever is displayed in your wordprocessor, text editor, vector graphics app (which I assume from your avatar is your thing) and those apps invariably let you adjust the zoom/font size to whatever you want.

There are also a couple of "scaled modes"

to get the most screen real estate
Theres no single measure of "screen real estate" - it depends on the screen size, how far away you sit, how good your eyesight is, what software you are using, what zoom levels/font sizes you use etc. The actual displayed resolution is one factor in how much you can 'zoom out' without becoming illegible - and, hence, how much you can fit on the screen - and the actual displayed resolution of an iMac or 5k LG in the pixel-doubled mode that everybody uses is 5120x2880.

In other news, 1:1 resolution without pixel-doubling is virtually unusable without eyeballs of steel on any retina or 4k display (which is why none of Apple's internal displays let you choose it without a hack). They all rely on pixel doubling or non-integer scaling.

Is 5k "diminishing returns" over 4k? Yes, that's effectively what I said in an earlier post - but it is still better. However, the main advantage is that on a 27"+ display, 5k with pixel-doubled UI elements is a better fit for MacOS's UI than 4k, and reduces the need for less efficient non-integer "scaled" modes.
 

MacGizmo

macrumors 65816
Apr 27, 2003
1,425
780
Arizona
Your entire response is the technical mumbo-jumbo I'm referring to. Yes, it's accurate—but it doesn't change the fact that no matter what your eyesight is like, no matter how close/far you sit from the screen and no matter what app you use, if you set the resolution of the 5K iMac or LG Ultrafine to 5220x2880 to get the most amount of stuff to display on the screen - everything appears too small to actually use (with the exception of watching high-res video or photos).
 

theluggage

macrumors 601
Jul 29, 2011
4,159
2,874
if you set the resolution of the 5K iMac or LG Ultrafine to 5220x2880 to get the most amount of stuff to display on the screen
Ok, I've already explained, twice, what the problem is with that statement and why the perfectly usable, default, "looks like 2560x1440" mode is 5120x2880 - I'm sorry if reality isn't as straightforward as you'd like it to be. To be fair, Apple's attempt to 'simplify' the situation has led to a misleading and inconsistent scheme for naming screen modes.

Bottom line: on a 27" display, on a Mac, 5k is better than 4k, and 4k will feel like a slight downgrade after an iMac. However 4k is still pretty good and, given the price difference and limited 5k options, an entirely reasonable compromise.

...but a major argument for 5k over 4k on the Mac is not that it gives a night-and-day increase in "screen estate" (whatever that means to you) but that a 27" 5k display is a better "fit" for the screen modes offered by MacOS if you prefer not to resort to a non-integer "scaled" mode (although those are far more acceptable than many people maintain). That could be why 5k has taken off for Mac but not so much for Windows (which handles high-def screens in a different way).
 
  • Like
Reactions: jimthing

kerplunknet

macrumors 6502
Oct 8, 2006
312
512
Your entire response is the technical mumbo-jumbo I'm referring to. Yes, it's accurate—but it doesn't change the fact that no matter what your eyesight is like, no matter how close/far you sit from the screen and no matter what app you use, if you set the resolution of the 5K iMac or LG Ultrafine to 5220x2880 to get the most amount of stuff to display on the screen - everything appears too small to actually use (with the exception of watching high-res video or photos).
theluggage's posts are correct, but long-winded. Let me put this into more simple terms to help you understand:

While it is absolutely possible to display everything natively at 5120x2880 resolution on a 5K monitor, that almost always is not what happens. By default, macOS "scales" the resolution to 2560x1440. The physical 5120x2880 pixels are still there, but the screen looks like the resolution is 2560x1440 (everything appears in normal sizes) EXCEPT it looks amazing in quality because instead of 1 pixel used, there are 4.



Do you see how you can fit four 2560x1440 rectangles into the 5210x2880 rectangle?

This is why if you switched the resolution to anything other than 2560x1440, the GPU (or CPU) would need to do a lot of match to figure out how to draw the resolution. So for 4K monitors, you would want to use 1920x1080.

In summary, put a native 2560x1440 monitor (1440p monitor) next to a 5K monitor scaled to 2560x1440 and the 5K monitor is going to look wayyyyyyy better.
 
Last edited:

MacGizmo

macrumors 65816
Apr 27, 2003
1,425
780
Arizona
I didn't need an explanation, I know exactly what he was saying. The point still stands. If you want to use the screens at 5120x2880 for the screen real estate, you can't because everything is too small. You guys keep missing that I'm not talking about quality of image, the way something "looks" or "appears", or scaling, or anything but pixel dimensions (real estate).

If I want to see 5120 pixels on my screen at 100%, setting it to 2560x1440 is pointless. It is going to result in having to reduce the image or scrolling to see the whole image. The problem with 5120x2880 is that while the image itself looks fantastic, user interface elements are too small to actually use.

I think theluggage skimmed my original post and only took away what he wanted to see, not what was really there.
 

kerplunknet

macrumors 6502
Oct 8, 2006
312
512
I didn't need an explanation, I know exactly what he was saying. The point still stands. If you want to use the screens at 5120x2880 for the screen real estate, you can't because everything is too small. You guys keep missing that I'm not talking about quality of image, the way something "looks" or "appears", or scaling, or anything but pixel dimensions (real estate).

If I want to see 5120 pixels on my screen at 100%, setting it to 2560x1440 is pointless. It is going to result in having to reduce the image or scrolling to see the whole image. The problem with 5120x2880 is that while the image itself looks fantastic, user interface elements are too small to actually use.

I think theluggage skimmed my original post and only took away what he wanted to see, not what was really there.
No one is disagreeing that if you use the native 5K resolution, on a 27-inch screen without scaling, everything on screen appears too small.

I think the original issue is that you stated:

"5K is a complete waste of money if you're not a designer or videographer."

Which, of course, is not true, as we have illustrated. Even the system icons will look better on a 5K monitor scaled to 1440p versus a native 1440p monitor/resolution.
 

MacGizmo

macrumors 65816
Apr 27, 2003
1,425
780
Arizona
No one is disagreeing that if you use the native 5K resolution, on a 27-inch screen without scaling, everything on screen appears too small.

I think the original issue is that you stated:

"5K is a complete waste of money if you're not a designer or videographer."

Which, of course, is not true, as we have illustrated. Even the system icons will look better on a 5K monitor scaled to 1440p versus a native 1440p monitor/resolution.
Actually, luggage did disagree with the statements.... when he claimed I didn't understand how it works. And unless you're in the visual communications business, I do think it's a waste of money. Yes, it looks good, but not enough to warrant a $500-$800 premium over a good 4K screen. If you're only interested in the appearance of the images and not the screen real estate, then you have a lot of options that cost significantly less.