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4K Hooray in TedLand

A victory lap in the quest for a UHD screen solution

At long last, I have achieved the UHD bliss that I knew was just a matter of predictable technological progress.  A few articles ago, [ see The 4K in the Road ] I shared the typical struggles of early adopters engaging a new technology.  There was a dearth of suitable video cards, just one mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI 2.0 adapter being sold in the whole world, and the prospect of buying a large (40-inch plus) screen that could do 4:4:4 chroma subsampling would pucker a credit card.  That was two years ago. 

What’s happened since is that many busy vendors across the international electronics ecosystem have been cooking up lovely components at tasty prices.  The $800 to $1500 screens have become $400 screens, and the $50 adapters have become $13, including shipping.  During that same two-year interval, I have dipped my toes into the chilly video waters, and learned a few things about my preferred work flow. The back story is below.

A Pricing Collapse

When my friend Bernie first suggested a single, giant  (50-inch, or more) screen to replace the three that were there before, I didn’t react because I was suppressing a gag reflex on the cost of such a proposal.  At the time, UHD screens of that size went for more than $2000, and if HDR was part of the equation, then another $500 was a definite possibility.  Two Black Fridays later, $500 gets you all of that, and 50-inches is now along the small end in the size range of products offered at the electronics department. 

The DAW Backstory

The real problem to be solved was one of pixel density. This is where most Internet discussions go off the rails. Because of my Midas M32 mixer/interface between me and the screen, my eyes are about 43 inches away from the screen.  Back in the olden days, 4 years ago, my eyes were happy at that distance using three 28-inch HD screens (1920x1200).  Not so long ago, in the summer of 2017,  I went through the exercise of configuring the demo of Studio One 3.5 under Sierra to take advantage of the Sierra screen scaling.  This was a few months before the Gibson company announced that development of Sonar would end, and that the Sonar product was effectively dead. As I started with a couple basic tasks in Studio One, I could see that they still haven't finished maturing this product.  

 

I needed to make a track template for recording 11-channels of drums, and a way to route the metronome to specific channel outputs. The drum template function turned out to be a 2-year old unfulfilled feature request to PreSonus, and the metronome signal routing makes all output busses metronome-capable, after which you simply enable/disable as required. It's different, but workable.

At the time, that was enough to push me to look at the *real* problem in Sonar, which is that I couldn’t easily read the track and folder names, etc. at the 125% limit of functional magnification in Win7.  (That's a Sonar quirk, not a general Windows 7 limitation.)  Since my June 2017 Win10 data earthquake disaster in the Mac Pro (a pox on you, Microsoft), I cannot go back into that swamp in the pursuit of magnification. Luke Skywalker would understand.

Calculating the Real Problem

So, the real answer was to analyze what was right about the original three 28-inch 1920x1200 screens, and make that happen again.  The key factor is that those three screens had a pixel density of 80.8 PPI. Pixel density factor is one of the most overlooked aspects of Internet discussions about what screen to choose. I had suffered with the 30-inch Apple Cinema because its pixel density was 100.6 PPI.  The left-side 24-inch Dell screen at its native 1920x1200 resolution had a pixel density of 94.3 PPI, making it only slightly friendlier than the Cinema in that respect.

However, when running the same 24-inch Dell on the right side at 1680x1050, that yields an 'apparent' pixel density of 82.5 DPI. That's why my eyes are happy with that screen!  The 'retina distance' [ see www.isthisretina.com for a calculator ] of this combination is 42 inches.  That's an important range.  The retina distance of the 30-inch Apple Cinema display was 34 inches, and that's why my eyes were struggling.  When I had replaced it with the $400 40-inch Samsung 4K screen, it made everything worse with a 31-inch retina distance at 109.7 PPI, compared to the Cinema's retina distance of 34-inches.

Therefore, the right solution is to get a 4K screen that has a pixel density in the 80 PPI range, so my 43-inch working distance doesn't force me to lean in and squint. The victory comes in the form of the TCL 55S405.  It's UHD, and a beautiful 55 inches diagonally, ringing in at 80.1 PPI; a 43-inch retina distance.  This TCL TV is effectively four of my old 28-inch HD screens on one piece of glass with about 1/4 of the power consumption at 45 watts. For added warm fuzzy feelings, at $450, it’s less than 30% the price of a comparable product just two years earlier. 

Video Card and Operation

The Nvidia GTX 1070 video card was chosen because it fits within the power profile of a single 6-pin ATX connector. It cost $450 plus $225 for MacVidCards [ www.macvidcards.com ] to upgrade the video card's firmware for Mac compatibility.  It's connected to the TCL 55-inch via a DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0 adapter. Initially, the Mac Pro would not consistently show me the EFI boot choice screen unless there was a ‘real’ computer screen connected via a DVI port. Since then I committed to using a 19-inch 1920x1080 ViewSonic screen for the inter-room and NVR security video, aided my a Monoprice 4x4 HDMI matrix switch.  

 

Now the 55-inch TCL is the only screen connected to the GTX 1070. As long as the screen is powered up first, the Mac Pro is happy to show the EFI boot choices and easily go back and forth between Win7/Sierra.  The Mac Pro does require a full power-down to reboot into Win7 after running Sierra, whereas going Win7-to-Sierra seems to always work fine without the hiatus (restart-only) of a 30-second power-off status. 

This new 55-inch screen fills the entire gap between the Adam A7X monitors, and I’m relieved to report that I’ve had no new issues with imaging or tonal changes due to SBIR (Speaker Boundary Interference Response).  As the final step, I moved my DIY Auratone knockoff speakers to my administrative desk, and all is well.

Viewing Angle Details

For those who care, the Fujitsu company empirically determined that 15-degrees is the limit for viewers' eyes to be looking upward to see an HD screen. The 15-degree up-angle rule still applies in this situation, so the top 20-percent of the screen has been reserved for infrequently used content. When I’m mixing, I keep the console/meter bridge and plugin GUI's up there.  When editing video, it’s fine to keep the media preview and output images up there.  That's it! For once, a simple technological hooray!  

Oh Happy Day

 

So, on this bright and chilly day in January, the springtime birds are chirping in my head each time I boot my Sierra or Win7 to bask in the glow of my 55-inch ocean of pixels.  
 

Now, I can’t wait to tell you about the 20-gigabit fiber optic Link Aggregation Control Protocol project that’s stirring in TedLand Labs. Muahahahahaaaha!

- Ted Gary of TedLand

January 02, 2017