Long, long ago, I described “my dream monitor” here, in terms of a newly announced (in 2007) 52" 4K TV. My take at the time was that it was maybe a bit big (the corners would be hard to use) and maybe a bit low-DPI, but overall it’d be a great improvement over the 24" 1080P screen I had at the time, although connecting it to a computer would be a bit entertaining.
Over the last decade, I’ve mostly worked on 39"+ monitors. I had a 39" 4K 30 Hz TV (Seiki SE39UY04) (too slow for games, mostly fine for text, but kinda fuzzy), a 43" Dell 4K monitor (nice, but DPI was kinda low and color was meh), and a 40" LG 5120x2180 widescreen (beautiful, but vertically shorter than I wanted).
My “dream” monitor hasn’t actually changed much since 2007: around 50-55" with All The Pixels. I don’t really care if a couple corners are hard to reach–at this scale, there’s no point in maximizing non-game, non-video windows. I don’t think there’s much of a point in going bigger than that, unless you can mount it 4’ or more away. Personally, I’d rather have a relatively large monitor slightly further away, because it’s easier for my eyes to focus.
So, the only thing that’s really changed since 2007 is the understanding that 4k isn’t really a high enough resolution for that big of a monitor. 6k or so would be a minimum, and 8k (or even slightly higher) would be much better.
The problem has been that no one actually sells the monitor that I want. As of 2023, there’s really only one true 8k monitor on the market, a somewhat long-in-the-tooth 32" Dell. There are a few curved >35" gaming monitors with more-than-4k resolution, but they’re all shorter than I want.
There are, however, a bunch of 8k TVs on the market now. Unfortunately, almost all of them are huge. That’s because 8k TVs barely make sense as TVs today, and there’s no market for “tiny” 8k TVs in the US. A couple years ago, Samsung, etc, made 55, 65, and 75" models, but the 55s have mostly vanished.
Except for one: the Samsung QN700B, which is only available from Best Buy in the US. It’s a 55" 8k TV with 4 HDMI 2.1 inputs, and it’s currently selling for under $1,000.
A local Best Buy had an open-box model on sale for around $800, so I decided to give it a shot. Online reviews of people using this as a monitor are split 3 ways:
- It looks horrible, why would anyone want this?
- It’s fine but not great. Maybe too big?
- It’s awesome, but a pain to set up. Once you get it right, though, it’s amazing.
Fundamentally, I think the third group are right. Out of the box, it looks terrible, because it tries to be an overly-smart TV, not a monitor. Finding everything that needs to be disabled is a pain, but once that’s done, it’s nearly perfect. If you don’t set it up just right then you end up with barely-readable text, which is where the “it looks horrible” complaints probably come from.
To make life easier for others, I’m writing this up as a short guide.
You really need a video card (or laptop) with HDMI 2.1. This TV is overly picky about settings, and I don’t think there’s any way to get a good image out of it without HDMI 2.1 support. It works fine with a new Macbook Pro M2 Max and also with a PC with a nVidia RTX 4090. It doesn’t work well with an nVidia RTX 2080 Ti with a DP to HDMI 2.1 adapter.
On the Mac front, it looks like an M2 or M3 Pro/Max/Ultra is needed. The base (non-Pro) M2 and M3 don’t support 8k over HDMI, and none of Apple’s specs for the M1 chips list 8k support. An Intel Mac with an AMD eGPU might work but I haven’t tested it yet.
On the PC front, you’re probably fine with any GPU with an HDMI 2.1 port. Those first arrived in the nVidia RTX 30xx and AMD Radeon 6xxx series. I haven’t tested AMD’s cards in Windows.
Make sure that you use a good HDMI cable, 8k pushes a lot of bits down the wire, and older cables almost certainly aren’t up to spec.
There are four settings that are required to get good text quality on the TV:
- The HDMI input needs to be in ‘PC’ mode
- The TV needs to be in ‘Game’ mode.
- The computer needs to send RGB-format video to the monitor, not TV-format Y* video.
- The computer needs to enable variable refresh rates.
Until all four of these are set, the image is going to look bad, and text will be fuzzy or worse.
Let’s break these down.
The TV needs to think that it’s connected to a PC, or it’ll (apparently) refuse to support RGB mode (below). My PC automatically went into PC mode, but my Mac did not. Changing this is kind of dumb–hit the ‘Home’ button on the TV remote, then go left with the remote, select ‘Connected Devices’, arrow over to your Mac’s HDMI port, arrow down and change the icon to ‘PC’.
Next, the TV has to be in Game Mode. This can be selected using the TV remote. Without this, the TV turns on all sorts of image optimization logic, all of which is terrible for text and mostly can’t be disabled any otherway. Also, it’s a requirement for VRR (below).
Without game mode, the monitor is prone to dithering solid color areas, even in 4k, which makes everything look terrible.
TVs traditionally expect to see YCbCr (or YBpBr?) color information over HDMI, not RGB. In a lot of cases, the Y* information is subsampled; brightness information is provided per-pixel, but color information is maybe only provided for blocks of 4 pixels. This isn’t a huge deal with video, but it destroys small text. The best way to stop this is to have your computer send RGB color to the screen, not Y* color.
Windows 11 (at least with nVidia) seems to default to RGB, and provides a handy setting for controlling it.
Unfortunately, Macs frequently default to YCbCr with TVs. My 2023 MacBook Pro 16 (M2 Max) running Ventura 13.6 still defaulted to Y*, not RGB. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to fix. You need to edit a plist file and reboot, and it will force your TV to RGB by default.
*Make sure that the TV thinks that it’s connected to a PC (see above), or this may fail silently.
According to Samsung’s e-manual for the QN700B, you can tell if it’s in RGB mode by going into settings / Connection / External Device Manager and trying to change the HDMI black levels setting. They claim that this is only supported in RGB mode. I have never once had this work, however.
Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)
The last thing that is critical is to enable Variable Refresh Rate. This disables yet another optimization on the TV side. You must enable Game mode for this to be available. On the Mac side, this shows up in the Display control panel under “Refresh rate”. Just choose “Variable (48-60 Hertz)”.
On Windows 11 with nVidia, this didn’t become an option until I fired up the nVidia control panel and forced GSync on for the TV. I suspect that AMD cards will Just Work here.
Note: this is where my RTX 2080 Ti fell down: it wouldn’t let me enable VRR, and without VRR the text quality is spotty.
There are a few additional things that you’ll probably want to do. Enable 10-bit color if possible. On Windows, this lives in the nVidia control panel. On the Mac, it seems to be on by default, but it’s not easy to check out of the box.
On the Mac, consider installing BetterDisplay. It gives you more control and visibility, and makes it possible to pick scaling factors that MacOS doens’t provide by default. Out of the box, MacOS Ventura supported 8k (text too small) and 2x scaling (text too big), but nothing in between. BetterDisplay fixes this:
- Enable high resolution HiDPI: Settings -> Displays -> Overview -> “Enable resolutions over 8K (4K HiDPI)”
- Customize available resolutions: Settings -> Displays -> SAMSUNG -> “Enable smooth scaling”, “Add near-native HiDPI resolutoon with smooth scaling”, and others. If you turn everything on, then you’ll end up with a giant list that is kind of a pain. Also, over-4k resolutions tend to be further down the list, so you may need to scroll down to find them.
Windows doesn’t seem to have a similar issue, just a single scaling percentage control, which defaulted to 500% on my system (ha!). I found 150% to 175% looked best, although Windows being Windows a couple apps had minor rendering problems with fractional zoom ratios.
- It’s a TV. It has a remote, and it doesn’t really want to power on/off the same way that PC monitors do. It’s possible that some of the TV’s power settings will help with this. I haven’t tried yet.
- Sometimes a chunk of my display flickers; usually it’s a vertical segment that covers 1/4 of the screen, just right of the center line. This has happened twice, power-cycling has fixed it both times.
- Sometimes game mode turns itself off when turning the screen on for the day. Suddenly all text looks horrible. Just turn it back on.
- It’s enormous and heavy. Yep. Can’t help much there. I have mine mounted to a framework made of 80-20 aluminum extrusion. I had a mounting plate custom-cut that screws into the extrusion and has the right mounting holes for the 400x300mm mounting pattern on the monitor. Then I adjusted it so that the monitor is sitting ~1 cm above my desk. That puts my eyeline pretty close to the midline of the screen. I’m sure that someone makes an adjustable monitor arm that can hold this thing, but I don’t know who and I doubt that I’d be happy paying for it. I don’t want to adjust it, anyway. I just want to put it in the right place and leave it alone.
- The TV supports HDR, but generally having HDR turned on for desktop use is counterproductive. Both OSes do a poor job of mapping “normal” sRGB-ish colors into HDR’s color space, which leaves things looking washed out.
- It also supports 4k at 120Hz. I’ve never really played games at over 60Hz before, and it’s not a high priority for me, but it seems to work. The one game that I’ve tried at 120Hz (Cyberpunk 2077) actually had a harder time getting ~120 FPS in 4k than it did getting 60 Hz in 8k, and vsync was weird at 120Hz. But I’m sure that’s managable with a few extra minutes’ work.
- 2023-11-20: Verified that the specs for Apple M3 Pro/Max should work, and clarified M1 wording.
- 2023-11-20: Added “PC mode” to the list of required settings.