PC gaming basics: can 1080p monitors display 4K?

The gist of it:

  • 1080p monitors and TVs can’t display a 4K resolution outright
  • Supersampling can be toggled on PC render at 4K resolution, and ultimately provide a much cleaner image on your 1080p display
  • Supersampling will automatically be done on consoles like the Xbox Series X|S and PS5

Considering monitors and TVs last well over 5 years in most cases, it’s likely that you’ll get a new console or upgrade your PC well before your display dies out. What happens when your new PC can display resolutions up to 4K while you’re still playing on a 1080p monitor?

A 1080p monitor or TV can’t actually display 4K (3840 x 2160) – it can’t display 1440p (2560 x 1440) either – but you can still benefit from a system that’s capable of pushing resolutions higher than 1080p.

The key to benefiting from higher resolutions while using a 1080p monitor or TV is supersampling. Many monitors are capable of pumping out 120 Hz or more, and there’s no sense in immediately ditching the advantages of a higher frame rate without first trying out supersampling. What the technique does is render your game at 4K internally before displaying an image with much less aliasing (jaggies) on your monitor, and at a resolution of 1080p.

Setting resolution percentage or scale above 100% in game will supersample while dropping below 100% will upscale the game to your monitor’s resolution.

You can use supersampling by either using in game settings or using Nvidia/AMD settings for your graphics card. It’s going to depend on the game, but I noticed during the launch days of Diablo 4 that this is referred to as “Resolution Percentage”. Other titles may simply communicate this by allowing you to change the resolution higher than 1080p rather than using a slider of discrete percentages like Diablo 4.

Setting the resolution percentage lower than 100% can also be useful if you’re trying to improve performance. This would render the game at a resolution lower than 1080p and then upscale the image to 1080p. If you’re reading this you probably have a pretty beefy system, but rendering below a monitor’s native resolution is a great way to squeeze more life out of your gaming PC.

Have a modern Nvidia card? You also might want to try out DLAA (Deep Learning Anti-Aliasing). Rock Paper Shotgun has an excellent write up on what you can expect from the anti-aliasing technique, but the short of it is that it’s Nvidia’s proprietary AI assisted method of improving image quality. I’ve personally used it with Diablo 4, and while I did notice a cleaner image (maybe even “overly” clean), there was a bit of a performance hit.

And this is a “gotcha” that applies to supersampling as well – depending on your system you may notice FPS drops while enabling it. Supersampling is a fantastic way of getting more out of your 1080p monitor or TV, but you’ll have to do your own testing to decide where that increase in image quality coincides with acceptable performance.

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