Hewlett-Packard's Z27s is a 27-inch 4K Display for Your Mac Without the 4K Price

Hewlett-Packard Z27s 27-inch IPS UHD Display

1. Introduction

I spent many years of working with very nice Apple displays, culminating in a 2010 iMac. However, things changed a few years ago when Apple elected to let its 27-inch Thunderbolt display, launched in July 2011, stagnate. That resulted in my search for a suitable display for a 2013 Mac Pro which I acquired in June of 2014. That was just about the time when Hewlett-Packard began to deliver some really modern, exceptional displays. That story about my search for a new display starts with:

My Search: a New Display for a Mac Pro, Part I

The end result was the purchase of a Hewlett-Packard Z27i which I described here:

My Search: a New Display for a Mac Pro, Part II

The Z27i was purchased in December, 2014, and I have been incredibly pleased with its 2nd generation, crisp 2560 x 1440 IPS display.

Since then, Hewlett-Packard has continued to develop its line of "Z Displays" and the "Ultra-high Def Z displays". The Z27s is the display I have been testing lately, and while it is very similar in appearance to the Z27i I own, its major feature is the 3840 x 2160 resolution, technically Ultra High Definition (UHD) display. Read on to see more about my out of box experience, use with a Mac Pro, my reaction to using a 4K display for everyday work and other features.

Finally, as you will see, this review was written from the perspective of a fairly experienced Mac user, but not as a video professional or a color professional.

2. What You Need to Know First

Here's the executive summary for the tl;dr crowd. This display comes well packed in a not-too-large box filled with plenty of styrofoam. A DisplayPort to miniDisplayPort cable was included, which is just what one needs for a Mac. I connected the power cable with ease; there is no power brick. After connecting the DisplayPort cable and booting up, the display detected an input on that port, and my display was up and running along side the 2nd display I use, the Apple 24-inch Cinema display. No software or drivers are required for a Mac. All I needed to do was set the desired resolution in System Preferences > Display. Here's the configuration from About This Mac > Displays.

Out of the box, I checked the display for bad pixels and found none. I started the review process in September with OS X Yosemite and am now running El Capitan. During that transition, there was no impact or significant change in operation. In fact, things got better. When I switched Desktop Spaces in OS X Yosemite, there was no slow glide right to left. Instead, it was almost a snap and a stutter. That effect is gone in El Capitan and switching between spaces is very smooth.

This product was flawless out of the box, and as Apple people like to say, "everything just worked." That's important these days.

3. How it Was Tested

The Mac used for testing is a 2013 Mac Pro with 16 GB RAM and 2 x AMD FirePro D300s with 2 GB VRAM each. I made the HP display the main display with a single menu bar via System Preferences > Mission Control > Displays have separate Spaces = off. Thanks to the vertical adjustment ability of the Z27s, I was able to match its height to be the same as the Apple Cinema display. (That height adjustment is important to me and was a major factor in my original decision to go with the HP Z display family last year.)

Left: Apple 24-inch Cinema. RIght: Z27s (Mac Pro behind on left.)

The HP display was connected to Thunderbolt Bus 1, Port 1 and the Apple Cinema display to Thunderbolt Bus 2, Port 2. See Apple tech note HT202801. As I mentioned above, with DisplayPort 1.2, only one cable is required to drive this display. DisplayPort 1.2 allows 4K at 60 Hz.

Next page: The Out of Box Experience

4. Out of Box Experience

I recommend laying the box, gently, on its side and sliding all the packaging out onto a large, open area. The box, as shipped, with accessories but no display weights just about 6 pounds (2.7 kilos) which is miraculous. I recommend taking photos of your unboxing so, in the event of a problem, you can put everything back together correctly.

Box not overly large. Shipping weight is about 23 pounds (10.4 kg)

The display comes in two pieces: the stand/backarm and the display itself. After clearing a space on a desk for the stand, it's a simple matter to insert the connector on the back of the display to the vertical backarm and snap it into place. A quick reference sheet is pretty clear about the assembly. However, I must admit that with the unfamiliar Z27i it took perhaps 30 minutes to unbox and assemble, but having done it once, the Z27s went from box to assembled desktop in about 10 minutes.

All that remained was to plug in the power cord and the DisplayPort cable. The one thing that irritates me here is that most of the connectors are on the bottom of the frame behind the display. It requires some neck bending, display rotation, or someone else to hold and elevate the display while you peer underneath to find the sockets. At least that's the mode for a conventional landscape view.

I would normally prefer the Apple display method of having the power and connectors horizontally on the back, just like the familiar iMacs. However, I should also note that this display rotates 90 degrees to the portrait position, and the current design probably makes for easier cable management. There is no auto-detect of rotation to portrait mode. HP told me:

The Z27s does not have a sensor to detect the display-head position (landscape or portrait). The Auto-Pivot feature in HP Display Assistant works by using the monitor’s on-screen display (OSD) control to rotate the OSD menus. The change in the OSD position triggers HP Display Assistant to rotate the video displayed on the monitor.

Once the cable were connected, I pressed the power button on the bottom right (it glows white) and booted up the Mac. Done. It all worked,

5. Accessories

These items were included in the box I received.

  • 6 ft (1.9 meter) AC power cord. (No power brick required).
  • 6 ft. DisplayPort (display) to miniDisplayPort cable (Mac).
  • 6 ft. DisplayPort (display) to DisplayPort (workstation) cable.
  • 6 ft. USB 3 cable to connect to a Mac and activate the four USB 3 ports (2 on bottom, 2 on side) on the display.
  • Quick Reference Sheet
  • CD with user Guide, warranty (3 years) and software drivers (if needed).

Those who don't have a Superdrive handy can use the support links below to get to the PDF manual on the Internet.

Next page: Connections and Technical Specifications

6. Connections 

This display has the following ports. (Not shown: the other two USB 3 ports on the left side.)

7. Technical Specifications of Interest

  • 27-inch (68.4 cm) IPS with LED backlighting.
  • Maximum resolution: 3840 x 2160 (16:9) at 60 Hz.
  • Pixels per Inch: 163.
  • Brightness: 300 cd/m2 (nits)
  • Static Contrast ratio: 1000.
  • Response: 6 ms (gray to gray).
  • Color depth: 10 bits (Deep color, 1.07 billion colors).
  • Color gamut: 110 percent of sRGB.
  • Weight: 17.2 pounds (7.8 kg).
  • Tilt: -5 to + 20 degrees, Swivel 45 degrees, Pivot 90 degrees.
  • Energy Star certified.

For more details, see HP's Quick Specs page. I work in a brightly lit office, and the display is directly in front of a window. I found the daytime brightness level of 50 percent to be sufficient and much too bright in the evening. An auto brightness control, such as found in an iMac, would be much appreciated.

There is no High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability in this display. Also, This display doesn't have built-in speakers. Nor are they needed with today's available sound technologies.

8. The Controls

To the left of the power button, which is easy to see because it is lit, there are four smart buttons, called the On Screen Display (OSD). The left one is the menu button which activates the display and the other buttons are used in response to the onscreen labeling.

There is a big problem with the visibility of the buttons because they aren't marked with, say, white lettering, and they're not backlit. I found myself, even in bright daylight needing to shine a flashlight in that region in order to find the menu button and see the remaining buttons, even though they do line up under the OSD icons. It's perhaps the worst part of the design of this display.

The four options are a 1) full menu, 2) display info, 3) input selector, 4) color temperature selector, and 5) brightness control. These are not picked up in an OSX screen shot. More advanced users who want to do more careful color work will want to adjust the color temperature manually. I I found the warm color too yellow and the cool too blue. The neutral setting seemed visually identical to the Apple Cinema display to its left.

What's nice is that one can have multiple computere connected to this display (see the port diagram above), then use the OSD controls to select the desired input.

Next page: Everyday use, Support and Final Words

9. Everyday Use and Observations

The very first temptation was to set up this display as UHD and get to work. However, I found that the 3840 x 2160 resolution on a 27-inch display made everything too small. I sit with my eyes almost exactly 24 inches (60 cm) from the display and it just didn't work. At that distance my computer glasses bring me to 20/20 vision, so that wasn't the problem.

Going back to the resolution I had on the Z27i (and standard on 27-inch iMacs) of 2560 x 1440 gained me nothing. However, on this Mac, I had another option: 3008 x 1692, and it was perfect. I had more room than before, I could see everything clearly, and I have much more room than I had before for browsers, editors and graphics tools. I tested this fairly thoroughly, and I believe that unless one sits a lot closer, 4K on a 27-inch display is best reserved for video, not OS X operations.

Two browsers on 3008 x 1692 rez. That's how I roll.

As I mentioned above, the display is easily bright enough for daylight use in a brightly lit office.

There is no perceptible heat coming form the vent at the top, and I run it 24 x 7. (The average output is about 61 watts and less than a watt when sleeping.)

At 24 inches (60 cm) viewing distance, the viewer obtains the full benefit of the 4K display of this size. (This article has the chart I used.) I switched to 4K UHD resolution and looked at some 4K video from YouTube, and while I didn't do any rigorous testing, the images were pleasing and as expected.

4K video still, full screen. (Scaled down of course.)

10. Comparison to Apple 24-inch Cinema Display

Unlike the Apple 24-inch cinema display, this HP has no built-in camera, what we Apple people call a FaceTime camera. That requires one to add on a camera that clips to the top of the display, making it look like some awful government monitor from the U.S. Navy in 1995. I asked the HP product team about this, and they replied:

In essence we don’t have enough customers wanting this feature to justify including it on this specific display (or to do another variation with the camera). The main issue is definitely around security for the customers that would buy this type of display, such as those in the enterprise and public sector. We are seeing that more customers wanting conferencing features on displays – but they tend to be in more mainstream office environments and display sizes where the users are knowledge workers vs. a more workflow productivity environment like in CAD/CAM, etc.

Unlike the Apple display, this Z27s has an anti-reflection coatring rather than a glossy coating. It doesn't look as sexy, but most professionals will agree that a glossy coating is just not the modern answer for professional work. Personally, I hate glossy coatings, and this HP display pleased me greatly.

Unlike the Apple display, which only has a mild forward/backward tilt, the Z27s tilts, pivots and rotates to portrait mode. (To get to portrait mode, you have to tilt the top of the display back first.) In this sense, it embarrasses my 24-inch Cinema and the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt display.

I will say that, in landscape mode, the ports are a little bit hard to access, but on the whole, they're hardly ever accessed once connected. And the design seems to facilitate the rotation to portrait mode.

Because this display's resolution is so high, I don't recommend having a moderate resolution display next to it because of the vastly different sizes of windows. Plus, the 1080p Apple display, sitting in a logical space that's smaller requires on to slide the cursor to the side at the top of the HP display. Otherwise, your cursor will be mysteriously stuck near the bottom vertical edge.

10. Support Information

Here are some handy links.

A warranty statement comes from the product page:

Protected by HP, including a 3-year standard limited warranty. Optional HP Care Pack Services are extended service contracts that extend your protection beyond the standard warranties.

11. Final Words

From the perspective of a serious Mac user who wants a high quality, high resolution, very adjustable display, I consider the Z27s to be superbly done (except for the OSD control markings) and splendidly priced. It's a giant leap beyond what Apple has to offer in terms of a standalone display and is a formidable contender amongst the modern day, discount 4K displays I mentioned in my research in the Introduction. Everything just worked right out of the box with my Mac and still does eight weeks later.

Product: HP Z27s 27-inch IPS UHD Display

Company: Hewlett-Packard

List Price: US$699.00

Rating:

Outstanding Product. Get It Now!

Pros:

Bright, fast, LED backlit 4K IPS display that works with any modern Mac (or PC). Many resolution modes less than 4K. Height, pivot, tilt and rotation (to portrait) adjustments. 10-bit color and reaches 111 percent of the sRGB color gamut. Worked out of the box with a Mac and no drivers required. Several different cables included. Three year warranty.

Cons:

The onscreen display panel is hard to locate and the buttons aren't well marked. There is no built-in camera or speakers for conferencing. USB 3 ports on the side are awkward.