The current crop of 4K monitors have a lot going on -- they have to compromise on price, size, design and image quality all at the same time. You can either pay peanuts and get a monkey, or pay through the nose and get something unquestionably brilliant. Samsung's new 28-inch UD590 4K monitor balances a number of spinning plates to get the compromise just right.
What Is It?
The $749 RRP Samsung Series 5 UHD LED Monitor (S28D590D), to give it its full name, is a 28-inch, LED edge-lit, 'premium' computer monitor that has a native resolution of 3480x2160 pixels. It's quite a thin, attractive display, and the materials it's built with -- aluminium for the base, brushed metallic plastic for the front and rear casing, and a satin anti-glare coating for the screen -- scream quality. The 5kg monitor measures 661x410x65mm without its base, although the stem makes up most of that depth, and the stand extends that depth to 170mm.
Straight out of the box, there's only two things to do to get the UD590 set up. Connect the stand to the stem (two small screws are included), connect the stem to the monitor itself simply by pushing the two together, and presto -- you have yourself a 4K monitor ready to go. Being such a thin monitor, the UD590's power circuitry doesn't fit inside, so you'll have to find a convenient hiding place for its external DC power brick.
The screen's two HDMI 1.4 ports support 38 40x2160 at 30 frames per second, but you'll almost certainly want to use the DisplayPort 1.2a port that supports the current top-of-the-line 3840x2160 60fps option to get a smooth gameplay experience. There's a rear analog 3.5mm headphone jack, but no internal speakers despite both HDMI and DP carrying audio to the monitor by default.
The Series 5 UHD monitor's single multipurpose power button and five-way controller is on the rear of the screen on the right; it turns the UD590 on and off and works in concert with the display's on-screen display. I'm not generally a huge fan of these controls, since it's difficult to quickly and simply switch inputs or change brightness, which you have dedicated buttons for on monitors from Dell's lineup, for example, but on the UD590 the on-screen menu is pretty decent and gets the job done for the most part.
What Is It Good At?
With the right content displayed on it, this is one seriously detailed monitor. The Series 5's 3840x2160 pixel Ultra HD (or 4K, or whatever you want to call it) resolution is four times higher than 1920x1080 pixel Full HD, and while you'd better have a pretty beefy graphics card to run any recent 3D games at the monitor's default resolution, doing so gives you a picture that really has to be seen to be believed. The UD590 is so pixel-dense compared to a similarly sized Full HD monitor that there really is a noticeable difference in detail.
This is most obvious when you're comparing Full HD and Ultra HD content. I compared the 25GB 3840x2160p TimeScapes to the 5GB 1920x1080p version, and the difference in video quality is immediately obvious. TimeScapes is excellent for this purpose, being one of the few easily available 4K films on the market, and it does show the extra detail visible when you make the step up to a 4K screen -- and on PC, where you have the ability to run 3D games at 4K resolutions, buying a 4K monitor makes much more sense than buying a 4K TV.
Games look great, too. I played Titanfall for a couple of hours at 4K resolution -- although my test rig's (overclocked) GTX 670 barely kept up with playable frame rates -- and was consistently impressed with the level of texture and edge detail otherwise unnoticeable with my everyday 24-inch Dell U2413. Older games -- hello, Half Life 2 and all its episodes -- genuinely do get a new lease on life at the massively higher resolution, especially since they're less graphically demanding in the first place.
Anecdotally, I'd say 28 inches is just about the perfect screen size for 4K in a near-field computer setting, where you're sitting reasonably close to the display and taking in all the detail that the Samsung UD590 has to offer. 32 inches is, for my home office desk, a little too large, and requires me sitting further back than I'm comfortable with my keyboard and mouse, and 24-inch screens just look tiny by comparison. If I could wall-mount the UD590 -- which you can't, and that totally sucks -- I'd probably go out and buy one right now.
While the Samsung UD590's TN panel cedes ground to IPS and PLS displays in terms of colour reproduction and depth of contrast, Samsung's various MagicBright and various Magic Angle screen settings -- which optimise the display for various seating or standing positions, as well as for movies or gaming or general Web usage -- work well to fit most usage scenarios. Given that the screen tilts slightly forward and back over a range of around 15 degrees, it's a pretty versatile setup overall. There's no horizontal swivel or rotation, though.
What Is It Not Good At?
Being a TN panel, the Samsung UD590 doesn't quite have the same colour reproduction nous as the best IPS panels out there. Of course, it's a brand new TN panel, and one with an extremely high native resolution, and I'd absolutely pick it over a similar-size IPS panel from even a single generation ago, but it's not up to the standard of Samsung's previous excellent plane-line switching (PLS) panels or even a lower-resolution current-generation IPS display. You do make a sacrifice in the extent of minute colour gradations that you'll see, and while the difference is mostly academic, you can see a small difference if you compare the UD590 and a good IPS display side-by-side.
As I mentioned earlier, it's a relatively minor complaint, but I don't like the Samsung UD590's participation in this trend of all-in-one power/control buttons. It's unnecessarily complicated and it's never going to be as fast as using a dedicated button to change inputs or toggle power. There's more than enough room on the back of this 28-inch monitor for half a dozen dedicated buttons, guys -- don't be afraid to use it.
Not having VESA wall-mounting holes on its rear panel, anyone with hopes of mounting the UD590 on a wall for the perfect minimalist gaming setup will be left sorely disappointed. This isn't unique to Samsung's monitors -- plenty of screens don't have mounts -- but it's just slightly disappointing when you consider it as missing from an objective list of features on an otherwise generally highly-specced and impressive display.
For what it's worth, while the MagicBright presets are pretty decent, straight out of the box the Samsung UD590 is set up blindingly bright and with a colour balance that is too cold and not nearly as flattering to the monitor's panel as it could be. You'll need to do a fair bit of tweaking and calibration, ideally with an external colorimeter, to get the Series 5 to its optimal viewing conditions -- so set aside half an hour for tweaking and you'll be much happier in the long run.
Should You Buy It?
The UD590 is a great monitor if you want a (relatively) cheap entry into 4K gaming or movie-watching or photo editing. It's not perfect, of course, but it's a good choice for a future-proofed display that is versatile enough to handle a wide variety of tasks and present a high quality image while doing so. Since a monitor is one of the three things (alongside keyboard and mouse) that are crucially important in your computing or gaming experience, it pays to find the right one, and if I was looking right now the UD590 would be near the top of my list.
The lack of wall-mounting options is a pain, the TN panel doesn't have the most brilliant viewing angles, and the UD590's non-dynamic contrast ratio (achieved through backlight dimming) isn't exactly world-beating, but you can't expect the world for a $649 street price. If outright resolution is one of your most important buying factors -- and if you have a gutsy enough PC to run modern games at 3840x2160 pixels -- then you won't be disappointed with Samsung's Series 5 UD590 monitor.