Recently I read an article on one of the popular technology websites which drew a comparison between multi-monitor gaming and 4K displays, joining the frame in claiming that Nvidia has a superior experience in 4K over AMD. Our experience, however – was exactly the opposite.

First a bit of a background – here at BSN we have more than five years of experience working with 4K equipment, including displays. And while as a video enthusiast and 4K gaming proponent I just have to state that while gaming on a 4K panel is more immersive than AMD’s Eyefinity and Nvidia (3D) Surround – the biggest problem lies within the displays themselves.

The True State of 4K e.g. ‘Ultra HD’
Our experience with the ‘4K’ started in 2008, while I was working for Tom’s Hardware / TG Daily – at the same time, we worked with friends to launch a video production studio featuring what was one of, if not the first RED One camera in EMEA region.

Our 4K Bench featuring a 36.4" EIZO display - which is now replaced by a 31.5" panel from Sharp.
Our 4K Bench featuring a 36.4" EIZO display – which is now replaced by a 31.5" panel from Sharp.

We were proud to work together with Nvidia, Adobe and RED on enabling the RED RAW workflow on PC at the time when the only way to work with RED files was dropping $10k on a Mac Pro rig. As the 4K market matured, RED tried to control the development by pushing its "Philips Linedancer" style cards (RED Rocket) but everyone and their uncle knew that the GPU-accelerated workflow + fast storage a’la Fusion-io is the way to go.

Since 2008, our biggest pet peeve was finding an appropriate display for workflow. Naturally, after 8-12 hours of work on a 4K panel, you will want to get a bit of a ‘me’ time and play the game in its full glory. Sadly, we were greeted with plethora of problems and we tried to work with the companies in order to resolve the issues.

Our first 4K panel was massive EIZO’s DuraVision xFDH3601 (pictured above). This 36.4" monster comes at a not so lovely price of $1000 per inch e.g. you get to choose between buying a pretty powerful car or a computer display. Then again, the power brick for the display was heavier than EVGA’s 1.5 kW PSU. The FDH3601 carried a resolution of 4096×2160 pixels (8.85 MP) and required two dual-link DVI cables.

The experience with that display however, was lukewarm on anything that achieved a framerate of 30 fps or more. When running on GeForce cards (tested with GTX 580 / 590 / 680 / Titan), games would show a Vertical tear (not a horizontal one), regardless of running with Vsync on or off. Furthermore, Nvidia cards would display the Start bar only to 50% of the screen, and the wallpaper was double.

Our test setup - we use 7970 boards from PowerColor and GTX Titan cards from Nvidia.

On the other hand, AMD Radeon hardware (tested on HD 7970) worked simple – just select Eyefinity mode and voila, the task bar would fill the screen, single wallpaper and most importantly, no vertical tear in the middle.
The reason for these issues was simple – the display required two Dual-Link DVI cables and Nvidia consumer cards experienced issues when running in dual display setup. The story was exactly the opposite on the Quadro cards, as witnessed after running the Quadro K5000 – no tearing what so ever, and unified display (single wallpaper). After we worked with Nvidia on explaining the exact nature of the problems, the company released a driver that fixed all of the issues encountered.

At the time, AMD offered better game experience, as you can read in our detailed 4K Shootout article. Bear in mind that we have tested scaling between a single, dual and triple-GPU configuration between AMD and Nvidia.

AMD Ahead, Nvidia Behind, Nvidia Ahead, AMD Behind, XXX/X Ahead?
Both companies go back and forth in terms of driver development, with the pattern being ‘media discovers the issue – PR forwards the issue to the engineers – engineers provide the fix – fix goes out to the customers’. Thus, one company is on top, then is another and that’s how duopolies work. 

The story of 4K gaming is in its inception and will become central to your gaming experience within 2-4 years, just as 1080p replaced 1280×1024 within 18-24 months. Both companies currently have or have had drivers which are not up to par, but gaming developers follow the pattern as well. We’ve encountered numerous issues with the game menus that didn’t scale, or invisible menus (finding how to start a race in F1 2012 was an exercise in patience).

Bottom line is that neither NVIDIA nor AMD have a perfect solution for 4K from the simple reason that the driver engineers don’t have 4K panels ‘en masse’ and until you run 4K panel on a day by day basis, you won’t know to appreciate the progress made over the past couple of months.

To us, timing to go and criticize either AMD or Nvidia is just out of place, rather than working with the companies behind the scenes so that the customer receives the best possible experience. After all, that’s why we are here. AMD’s issues of today are going to be resolved next week with the drivers for old and new GPU architectures and the fix comes as a result of collaboration. Here at BSN, we have a standing invite for companies to work with us and work together on resolving issues, if they exist. And in the world of 4K resolution, both AMD and Nvidia require a lot of work, while Intel still keeps its head in the sand and repeats the mantra ‘next year we’ll fix things’.

Can Sharp and its Rebranded Siblings Push 4K to Gamers?
The reason why 4K gaming is coming of age is simple – to expect that there are gamers that will play games on a $36,000 display is pointless. However, we were thrilled with the acquisition of Sharp PN-K321. This 31.5" display was introduced at 2013 CES, arriving in our Lab five months (straight from Japan). Sharp carries a resolution of 3840×2160 – a step down from 4096×2160 on the EIZO – but also carries a superior panel and brand new electronics which finally support DisplayPort 1.1/1.2 and HDMI 1.4(a). Read – a single cable 4K experience is here.

If there ever was a stark contrast between two generations of essentially the same product – a 4K monitor – then Sharp vs. EIZO is the best one. $36,000 or $5,200. Things got even better as ASUS rebranded the display and started selling it for practically mediocre price of $3,499. While 3,500 dollars is a lot of money, it represents a price decrease factor of over 10x in a period of two years since EIZO launched their monster panel. It is also $1,700 cheaper than the original Sharp model. In order to help your purchasing decisions further, we are preparing several new 4k-themed articles.

And this brings us to the most important part of the whole story. Why would someone write an article mentioning or criticizing 4K gaming experience a week ahead of AMD’s launch of 4K optimized drivers and the Hawaii GPU architecture in (you’ve guessed it) – Hawaii?

Sour grapes indeed.