Your 1440p QHD monitor might be actually housing a 4K UHD panel
Monitors sporting the QHD resolution (2560 x 1440) are increasingly turning out to be a sweet spot for gamers who prefer a balance between high resolution and high refresh rates. Although 4K monitors with 144 Hz refresh rates are now real, it will be sometime before they can get mainstream acceptance as the costs are sort of prohibitive for the average consumer at this point. However, what if we told you that your shiny new QHD panel is actually a 4K panel in disguise? Color us surprised as well.
The report comes from German media outlet Prad, which cites sources close to monitor panel manufacturers. The report claims that panel manufacturers could be looking at economics to decide what panel to include in a monitor. The sources say that the cost of producing a 27-inch 4K UHD panel (3840 x 2160) is now more or less in line with what would be incurred while producing a QHD panel of the same size. Therefore, if there is a supply shortage, OEMs simply prefer to substitute the QHD panel with a 4K one and still continue to market the final product as a QHD display with the necessary downscaling settings hardcoded in the firmware.
So if the report were to be true, theoretically, altering the firmware by some means should give you a 4K upgrade for free, right? Apparently not. Manufacturers have taken care of this and have made the firmware virtually impossible to alter. While this in itself is not a big deal and customers will hardly ever get to notice this, it does present a slightly worrying situation — you could be looking at a blurrier image if your QHD monitor has a 4K panel due to the downscaling process.
You need to really study the spec sheet to be sure you're actually getting a native QHD display. A QHD monitor has a pixel size of 0.23mm compared to 0.16mm in a 4K monitor. Manufacturers cannot lie in a spec sheet so if you notice your QHD monitor's pixel size listed at 0.16mm, you can safely assume that the panel inside is a 4K panel. Another way to examine this is to look at a test pattern (see image below) and see if the lines and shapes are crisp and sharp. If the firmware is downscaling the resolution to QHD on a 4K panel, the pattern will be visibly blurry. While many customers will not be noticing this loss in sharpness especially while consuming media or gaming, those who work with text might be able to spot the difference especially if the font is not anti-aliased for some reason.
Also, it is to be noted that since 4K panels at 144 Hz are yet to become mainstream, this substitution, if any, should only be affecting QHD panels at 60 Hz. Therefore, your QHD monitor at 144 Hz should, in all likelihood, be a native 1440p panel and not a downscaled 4K UHD one.
Prad does not name any specific manufacturers or monitor models that have had this substitution. It can be speculated, however, that in a sea of many 1440p monitors out there, at least some of them would be equipped with a 4K panel albeit clandestinely.
Do you think it is right on the manufacturers' part to substitute panels? Do you use a QHD monitor and felt that the display could have been much crisper? Let us know in the comments below.