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.

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?

Time for some PC forgiveness

Blue screen of death parody
Not a real blue screen of death (BSOD) but I’ve seen too many worrying ones this week.

It never rains but it pours, so the saying goes. On top of a chest, throat and ear infection and general exhaustion (more on that, perhaps, in a future post) my desktop PC has now started to play up. It’s time for some PC ‘forgiveness’, reformat the C drive and start again.

With most other versions of Windows that I’ve used (98 second edition, XP, 7, 8 and 8.1) I have performed a full ‘factory reset’, a clean install of Windows, every nine to twelve months.

For me though, Windows 10 has been the most stable version of Windows to date—at least, this side of Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. I have had very few issues with it, and until last week very few blue screens of death: fatal system error messages that suddenly bring your workflow to a crashing halt.

Backup

So, when my PC started acting up a few weeks back I reached for both my trusty Trello board that documents for me what software I have installed, what order things need to be installed, and notes about any installation woes, and my external hard drive to check that everything was backed up okay.

Then my external hard drive died.

Over the last three or more years I’ve been running a nightly back-up, using SecondCopy, to a Seagate Backup Plus drive (1TB USB 3.0).

I have extracted the 3.5″ SATA hard drive from the enclosure to check if the drive itself has failed or just the power supply. But in the meantime I ordered myself a Seagate Backup Plus Slim portable drive (2TB USB 3.0) and have spent the weekend progressively backing up everything: drivers, application files, game progressive backups, music, videos and photos.

As I write this, I’m currently virus-scanning the backup on my laptop to ensure data integrity.

Once that is done I can start the reinstall.

Reinstall

Here’s my general order of doing things:

  1. Reformat the hard drive(s).
  2. Install Windows 10.
  3. Motherboard drivers (including chipset driver, Intel management engine interface, network card, and diagnostic tools).
  4. Graphics card drivers.
  5. Windows 10 updates.
  6. Google Chrome.
  7. .NET Framework.
  8. Soundcard drivers.
  9. Keyboard drivers.
  10. Mouse drivers.
  11. Webcam drivers.
  12. Scanner drivers.
  13. Laser printer drivers.
  14. Gamepad drivers.
  15. Install software…

I generally start with a few system tools and accessories before moving on to the bigger guns like office applications and graphics, multimedia, web development, and lastly games.

Essential tweaks

Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Koroush Ghazi’s TweakGuides tweaking companion documents. But Windows 10 is the most complete Windows operating system that I’ve used to date. I now have to make very few, if any, tweaks at all.

I still rely on the following applications to give me additional functionality:

  • Agent Ransack
    I use this instead of the default Windows search. It’s much faster and more configurable.
  • allSnap
    This makes windows snap together and to the edge of the screen, as though they are magnetic.
  • f.lux
    F.lux adjusts the colour of my monitor depending on the time of day. It helps me sleep better at night by reducing the blue light in the evening, which is what keeps you awake.
  • Pixel Ruler
    This allows you to measure stuff on your screen, in pixels.
  • PrintFolder Pro (paid)
    This allows me to list folders within a directory. It can be really useful.
  • PureText
    This converts any text on the clipboard to plain text, removing all formatting. It’s the quick equivalent to pasting something into Notepad, then selecting all and copying it back to the clipboard.
  • TED Notepad
    This is my Notepad replacement of choice. It has some really nice features like sorting, case changing, trimming spaces, etc.
  • TreeSize Free
    This is really useful for checking the size of directories, say for backing up or pre-zipping.
  • WinSplit Revolution
    This has been discontinued, but I still use the old version. It allows me to quickly move windows around my desktop, for example, align two windows side-by-side, or one to be one-third and the other two-thirds.

I’ll see you on the other side (unless I blog before then from my laptop).

Using TreeSize Free to increase disk space

A couple of days ago, when I switched on my PC and opened My Computer I was presented with a bright red drive tile icon, indicating that it was running short of free disk space.

Drive C is red and reports 10.0 GB of 111 GB free
Drive C isn’t looking very healthy

I was puzzled as I had only recently run CCleaner to collect unused files, old browser caches, un-required file settings and bin them all. I was sure that I had over 13 GB of free space.

TreeSize Free

I turned to TreeSize Free to help me identify what was taking up so much space. I first blogged about TreeSize Free in 2011 in a post called My top free Windows 7 add-ons.

Once installed, all you do is right-click a folder (or drive), select TreeSize Free from the context menu and after running for a moment the application will tell you how large that folder and all its sub-folders are.

This is what it looks like.

Screenshot of TreeSize
TreeSize shows me that I have 5.4 GB of music in the Amazon Music directory

What I learned the other day was that four items were taking up the most space:

  • Podcasts (14.8 GB)
  • Amazon Music (5.3 GB)
  • XAMPP Apache server (2.9 GB)
  • Adobe CS4 applications (2.7 GB)

I deleted the podcasts and music—I keep the music I listen to on another drive, this is simply where I download them after purchase.

Then I uninstalled Adobe and XAMPP, and reinstalled them on a larger drive.

Now I have a much more healthy 36.0 GB of free drive space.

Drive C now shows 36 GB free
That looks more healthy

If you are in a similar situation, I thoroughly recommend TreeSize Free. As they say: if you don’t measure it, you can’t control it.