Using a 4K ultra HD TV as a PC monitor

LG 43UK6950 PLB (4K Ultra HD TV)

Over the last couple of months I’ve been considering buying a TV to also use as a PC monitor. I’ve been surprised to find relatively very little information online about it so here’s what I’ve discovered and my experiences so far.

My experience has been great, so far.

You don’t have a telly?!

I’ve often been amazed by people’s reactions whenever I’ve told them that I don’t own a TV.

“You don’t have a telly?!”

Until recently I’ve not felt that I’ve really need one. I do have a TV licence as you still need one to watch shows on the BBC iPlayer but I watch those on my PC or Android tablet.

This is fine on my own, but watching films with my boys has been tricky. Most often we’ve been lying down, scrunched up, watching my laptop at the foot of the bed.

Moving out of hall into my own wee house added new dynamics, so I finally gave in and decided to buy a TV.

As I don’t have much space in my house and wouldn’t have anywhere to put it other than on my desk, I knew that it would have to double as a PC monitor.

So I knew my research had to cover two areas:

  • Graphics cards
  • 4K Ultra HD televisions

Graphics card

Put simply, a graphics card is the technology inside a computer that creates the images to output to a screen. Generally speaking, the better the card, the better quality the images and the higher resolution it can handle. This is especially true if you play computer games. The better the graphics card, the more detail you see and the smoother the games appear to play.

I had quite an old graphics card, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 (2 GB) which at the time I bought it was only a few notches down from the top-level gaming cards available. It used a PCI Express 3.0 slot, had two GB of RAM and supported a maximum digital resolution of 4K (4096 × 2160) which was fine for my dual-HD monitors setup (3840 × 1080). It served me well for four or five years and was exactly what I needed then.

But it was beginning to struggle with a few of the more modern games. Forza Horizons 3, for example, we were running on the lowest specs available within the game and even then it was complaining that the graphics card wasn’t coping.

This article from PC Gamer was very helpful in helping me identify the kind of graphics card to upgrade to:

You can use any TV with HDMI inputs in place of a computer display. If you’re looking at 4K TVs, you’ll want a graphics card with at least an HDMI 2.0 port (HDMI 2.0a or later for HDR10 displays). That allows for 4K at 60Hz, with 24-bit color. For GPUs, all the Nvidia 10-series parts and the GTX 950/960 can do this, and AMD’s RX Vega 56/64 and 500-series cards also support HDMI 2.0 or later.

Should I use a 4K TV as a computer monitor?

After a little research, I upgraded to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 with 6 GB of RAM. Another PCI Express 3.0 card but this time with an overclocked processor (so that it runs faster), three times as much memory, and support for 8K resolution (7680 × 4320 pixels). It also had the outputs that I needed (DVI and HDMI), giving me plenty of options.

That should do the job.

Top tip: I used PC Part Picker to identify graphics cards that would be compatible with my motherboard.

Asus NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 OC Edition 6 GB graphics card

It took me about 10 minutes to remove the old card and install the new. I then downloaded and installed the latest drivers.

What a difference it made. On my 24″ HD monitor, I was able to run Forza Horizons with everything cranked up to high or ultra!

Time to choose a television.

4K Ultra HD TVs

While researching whether you could feasibly use a 4K TV as a monitor, besides the advice about using HDMI 2.0a, I discovered two further considerations:

  1. Signal lag
  2. Chroma subsampling 4:4:4

Signal lag

One of the biggest differences between traditional PC monitors and televisions is input lag. This makes sense as the only input a TV generally needs to consider most of the time is from the remote control, and most of us will happily wait for a second or two while the channel changes.

The only other time that most TVs need to consider input lag is when you plug a games console into it. When you tap left on your gamepad stick you want your character to move left immediately.

As a lot of modern TVs process the video signal to make the action in films look smoother, you need to switch this off when plugging in a games console or computer. To enable this, most TV manufacturers now include a ‘game’ mode.

This is important when connecting a PC to a TV because without game mode enabled even simple things like dragging your mouse across the screen shows a noticeable lag: you move the mouse—there is a slight delay—the pointer eases itself across the screen. It doesn’t take too long for this to get annoying.

4:4:4 chroma subsampling

Because TVs are designed for watching fast-action images they are not so good at displaying the sharp text that you might want to manipulate while using a computer.

So if you want to use a 4K TV as a monitor, we need to make sure it is capable of displaying sharp text. TVs manage this using something called ‘chroma subsampling’, although most of the documentation and specifications of TVs—disappointingly—won’t call it this. You may have to do some digging around in user manuals.

This article “chroma subsampling 4:4:4 vs 4:2:2 vs 4:2:0” explains the importance of 4:4:4 chroma subsampling better than I ever could, but the thing to remember if you want to use a 4K (ultra HD) TV as a monitor is that it must support 4:4:4 chroma subsampling.

For moving images such as TV shows and movies this isn’t critical, 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 do just fine, but for displaying crisp text—which most of us use our PCs for manipulating—it is essential that you have a screen that supports 4:4:4.

I had to do a lot of detective work to figure this out for most of the TV models that I looked at. It is rarely included in the at-a-glance specifications for each TV. I often had to find the model on the manufacturers’ websites, download the manual and search through it.

It turns out that most modern television sets will support 4:4:4. After a lot of reading, I discovered that each manufacturer has a particular way of describing it.

  • Sony TVs call it “HDMI enhanced format” and require you to set the picture mode to “graphics”.
  • Samsung TVs call it “HDMI UHD color” and require you to select “PC” mode.
  • LG TVs called it “HDMI ULTRA HD deep color” and require you to set the picture mode to “game”.

My experience so far…

LG 43UK6950PLB—43″ Ultra HD TV

In the end I bought an LG 43UK6950PLB, a 43″ ultra HD TV with four HDMI inputs (including one ARC) and built-in Freeview and Freesat tuners.

I have plugged into it:

So far, my experience with the TV as a monitor has been great. 

Picture mode is set to “Game” and “HDMI ULTRA HD deep color” is set to on for the input to ensure 4:4:4 chroma subsampling.

Within Windows’ display settings, I also have the HDR (high dynamic range) and WCG (wide colour gamut) setting set to on.

HDR and WCG settings screen
HDR and WCG set to on

Forty-three inches is a good size for my desk. If anything, it is a little large and a curved model may have been better (though I can’t see any smaller than 49″).

Picture quality has been superb. For writing and reading text documents and browsing I have no issues.

There is no discernible input lag on any of the games we’ve played (mostly LEGO, Call of Duty Black Ops, Fortnite, Overwatch and Forza).

As indicated above, with game mode enabled there is little noticeable lag when moving the mouse. Until the recent WebOS update on the TV (v4.10.04), sticking the TV into any other mode (eco, sports, vivid, etc.) made it look like the mouse was slowly gliding through water; the latest update seems to have reduced the latency on other picture modes.

And with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 pushing the graphics the quality has been wonderful, with every game on high and/or ultra settings.

I would definitely recommend making the switch from HD monitors to a 4K ultra HD TV.

RAVPower 30W 3-port USB UK wall charger review

RAVPower 30W 3-port USB wall charger
RAVPower 30W 3-port USB wall charger

The RAVPower RP-PC020 is a 30W 3-port USB wall charger that, as the name suggests, allows up to three devices to charge simultaneously.

Each port offers the same output: DC 5V at a maximum of 2.5A, so it should be suitable for charging anything from the most humble feature phone to a smartphone or tablet; I’ve used mine to charge all three without incident. The built-in iSmart technology adjusts the output automatically so that each device charges quickly and safely.

The charger comes packaged in a small, sturdy white box with a simple and attractive design. It already looks and feels like a quality product.

Opening the box I was greeted by the quick start guide (written in six languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese) draped over the charger, and a friendly “Hello” written on the cover. I like it already.

Inside the box, the charger was wrapped in a plastic sleeve and nestled between two cardboard arms within the box, offering excellent protection for transit or an accidental drop. The only other item in the box is a small card with details about a free 12-month extended warranty.

The charger itself seems solid: this feels like a quality product. The model I have is encased in hard, shiny white plastic with RAVPower written on one side and iSmart on the other. On the side closest to the floor when plugged into a wall socket is written model name and number, input and output values plus various other health and safety icons. The remaining sides offer the UK 3-pin plug and opposite it three USB type A ports.

When plugged in and switched on the USB ports light up, a light blue/white colour, which makes plugging USB cables into it in the dark a little easier — even if you always try to plug it in the wrong way first… oh for when USB C becomes the standard).

One niggle I have with many computer-related plugs is that when plugged into a multisocket block many plugs are too long and so obscure the socket opposite, reducing the number of available sockets by one. Happily this is not one of them: the body of the charger does not extend beyond the height of the plug meaning that you can always plug in something else opposite. The whole unit is really neat and portable; I wouldn’t think twice about throwing this in my bag and taking it with me — it takes up hardly any space at all.

All in all, I am delighted with this adapter. As I’ve already said, it feels like a quality product, I love that the sockets light up, and that it can handle three cables at once means that I now use this as my primary adapter for my smartphone and tablet, with a spare socket for guests or my children’s Amazon Fire tablets. I would wholeheartedly recommend this adapter.

In the interests of transparency: I was sent this product by RAVPower for review. I am not connected to the company in any way apart from having been a former customer.

I’m selling my Psion PDAs

Update (15 August)

My Psion archive has now been sold. This is the first day in 21 years that I’ve not had a Psion computer or book in my possession.

Many thanks to everyone who got in touch regarding these sales, and especially to the lovely Psion enthusiasts who purchased these machines. They gave me a great deal of joy over the years, I hope they serve you equally as well.


Original post

Today, I put my four Psion PDAs up for auction on eBay UK:

Psion Series 7book

Psion Series 7book (Series 7 with netBook personality module)
Psion Series 7book (Series 7 with netBook personality module)

This was the last Psion that I bought—it must have been early 2004. I bought it to take to the US with me on holiday, and for a couple of writing projects I was working on.

It was a Series 7, bought on eBay, and later upgraded to a 7book by fitting a Psion netBook personality module. This made it capable of accepting a wi-fi adapter card (I bought two, one each of the two main chipsets that work well with netBooks).

I’m selling the lot in one bundle:

  • Psion 7book (Series 7 with netBook module)
  • Leathette carry case
  • Psion Series 7 user guide
  • PsiWin 2.3 CD-ROM
  • RS232 serial cable
  • USB to serial adapter (D400)
  • 2 x UK power adapters
  • Psion Series 7 personality module
  • 2 x compact flash cards (one contains the EPOC R5 OS required for booting the first time)
  • 2 x Wi-fi cards (Lucent Orinoco Gold and Buffalo Air Station WLI-PCM-L11GP)
  • DVD containing all the Psion software I collected over the years; I used to sell this online.

See listing on eBay (offers over £80)

Psion Series 5mx

Psion 5mx 16MB and accessories
Psion 5mx 16MB and accessories

I bought the 5mx shortly after moving to Edinburgh, from Inverness in 2003. It was another eBay purchase and was to replace my Psion 3mx.

I just wanted a new piece of kit. It has a 32-bit operating system, a beautiful clam-shell case, where the keyboard slides out when you open it, and a backlit, touch screen. What more could you want from a PDA?

I’m selling:

  • Psion 5mx 16MB
  • RS232 serial cable
  • PsiWin 2.3 CD-ROM
  • Proporta.com hard case
  • 2 x UK power adapter (one with interchangable UK/Euro/USA pins)
  • Boxed Purple Software Chess software (3.5″ floppy) and manuals
  • Palmtop Street Planner 99 software on CD-ROMs and manuals

See listing on eBay (offers over £45)

Psion 3mx

Psion 3mx, with UK power adapter and solid state disks
Psion 3mx, with UK power adapter and solid state disks

This Psion was my workhorse for many years. It’s solid and dependable, and I don’t ever remember the screen cable breaking, which was the most common fault these machines suffered. I did have it fully refurbished a couple of times, though, from the dependable POS Ltd in London, run by Paul Pinnock.

Something I loved about the 3mx is how long the batteries lasted. I could usually get about one month’s use out of a pair of AA batteries.

Included I’ve got:

  • Psion Series 3mx 2MB palmtop computer
  • Series 3mx original user guide
  • Series 3a programming manual (OPL)
  • Programming manual (OVAL) and disk
  • PsiWin 1.1 disks and manual
  • Psion 56k infrared travel modem (with disks and manual)
  • 4 x solid state disks (3 x 1MB and AutoRoute Express software).
  • UK power adapter

See listing on eBay (offers over £65)

Psion Siena 512k

Psion Siena 512k
Psion Siena 512k

Ah! My first Psion.

I saw an advert for the Psion Siena in a copy of MicroMart, I think it was. And I immediately fell in love with it. I pondered buying one for weeks before getting up one sunny morning in my flat and travelling to London’s busy Oxford Street to purchase it at Debenham’s department store.

It immediately became my diary, contacts list, to do list, journal and programming machine. I bought a copy of PsiWin 1.1 (for £80) and connected it to my Windows 3.11 for Workgroups PC (a 386 SX-20).

I used it to write and edit my masters dissertation in 1999.

This includes only:

  • Psion Siena 512 KB palmtop computer
  • User guide
  • A letter from Psion

See listing on eBay (offers over £20)

Programming Psion Computers

Programming Psion Computers by Leigh Edwards (EMCC, 1999)
Programming Psion Computers by Leigh Edwards (EMCC, 1999)

This book was the bible of Psion computing about 18 years ago. I managed to grab myself a copy in Waterstones bookshop on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, for £29.99.

It soon became quite a rare book, and so the publisher, EMCC, made it available in PDF on their website, as well as a zip archive of the CD-ROM that accompanied it. Many years ago, I gave away the CD-ROM to someone who was desperate for a copy of the original.

See listing on eBay (offers over £12)

The end of an era

I’ve been meaning to list these for months, but only just got around to it now while I have my head in the selling-space as part of the divorce settlement.

I feel sorry to see these go, but they are just sitting in a box in my cupboard and I would much rather they went to someone who got some pleasure out of them.

Reinstalling Windows 10—my process

Trello board for reinstalling software on my PC
Trello board for reinstalling software on my PC

About two months ago, I reinstalled Windows 10 on both my desktop and laptop computers. This post is about what I do to make sure the process is as smooth as possible.

Installation files

Something I have done for years (since Windows 98) is to store most of my installation files in a directory.

I store mostly drivers, plus applications that are either rare or that I have purchased. I don’t store applications that update regularly (e.g. web browsers, WinSCP, IrfanView, etc.).

Within my installation directory I organise the files into sub-categories, like this:

Installation files organised into categories
Installation files organised into categories

This allows me to find drivers and applications more easily. It’s also roughly how I organise the installed applications on my Windows start screen:

My Windows 10 start screen categories more or less match how I organise them in the installation folder
My Windows 10 start screen categories more or less match how I organise them in the installation folder

I store these files on a separate hard drive from the one that I install Windows on; I always install Windows on its own drive. This allows me to quickly reinstall Windows without worrying about overwriting the installation files.

I also backup these files to an external hard drive. I currently use a 2TB Seagate Backup Plus drive (USB 3.0).

Trello board

For each computer, I have created a separate Trello board to guide me through the installation process.

I have boards for my desktop and laptop computers, plus my work computer. I also do the same for my Android smartphone.

Everything I need to know to carry out a smooth reinstallation
Everything I need to know to carry out a smooth reinstallation

Each board outlines my backup routine for each computer, any applications or services that I need to uninstall or deactivate before the reinstall, and then for each driver or application I record the steps I need to take, options to select, or any problems that I’ve encountered, etc.

The first few columns on each board outline the order in which I like to install things: drivers first then essential system applications. Within each column, again the arrangement of cards shows me the order that applications need to be installed, e.g. motherboard drivers, graphics card drivers then Windows updates.

I use images on some cards to make it quicker to identify them.

Images help me quickly identify to what the cards relate
Images help me quickly identify to what the cards relate

And as you may suspect, the column names on these Trello board match one-to-one the sub-directory names in my installation folder.

I then use Trello labels to track the status of each driver or application. I can see at a glance which applications I regard as essential and which I install only the first time I require them.

I use red labels to indicate any problems; purple labels tell me whether I need a reboot after installation; navy labels indicate work-related applications; and light blue labels give me a clue as to where to find them.

Labels help me track type of application plus installation status
Labels help me track type of application plus installation status

SafeInCloud

The last piece of the puzzle is where I keep any registration or serial keys. I store these in my encrypted password safe, SafeInCloud.

I use my password safe to also store registration keys for software applications
I use my password safe to also store registration keys for software applications

Conclusion

Since moving to this workflow, I have found the process to be very straightforward. I can track everything using my smartphone using the Android apps for Trello and SafeInCloud, and I can easily record any problems or lessons learned meaning that each time I do this it gets easier each time.

Do you have any top tips for reinstalling your computer?