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Can You Edit 4K Video on a 1080p Monitor?


With technology moving forever forward, 4k video is becoming more and more common. This high-pixel density video works wonderfully to depict landscapes and aerial shots but has one downside: it can be hell to edit with. Many computers can have trouble handling such visually complex files.

You can edit 4k on a 1080p monitor either directly or by using proxies: temporary, lower-resolution files, which you’ll replace with the 4k footage after editing. While you could try to edit using the 4k footage, you may find your computer lagging. This is why proxies may prove a useful alternative.

With proxies, you can edit without your computer crashing from the size of the 4k files. The only drawback is that you have to do color correction afterward. This article will explain what 4k is, how 4k works on a 1080p monitor, and how to edit using proxies.

What Is 4K?

In short, 4k is a resolution four times that of 1080p. While 1080p has 1920 horizontal by 1080 vertical pixels, 4k has 3840 horizontal by 2160 vertical pixels. 

These resolutions can work on the same size screen because 4k’s pixels are smaller than those in 1080p, meaning that it fits 4 pixels in the space where 1080p fits one. This also means that 4k provides a sharper, more contrasting and detailed picture than 1080p.

Can You See 4K on Lower-Resolution Screens?

If you have a 1080p monitor, you will be able to watch 4k footage on it, but with a caveat: it will be displayed as 1080p. The way that a monitor works is that if you give it a 4k video to show, it will downsample the footage, reducing every 4 pixels to one and rendering it essentially 1080p. 

The original footage will still technically be 4k: for example, if you try to watch a 4k Youtube video on your 1080p screen, you will see it in 1080p. If you send the link to your friend and watch it on their 4k screen, they will see it in 4k. A computer will only display footage of the computer’s maximum resolution.

Editing in 4k

If you wanted to edit directly with 4k footage on your 1080p monitor, you could import your footage as usual and do your thing. The computer will play it, and you would be able to see it fine, but you will see it at 1080p

You can still do all your editing this way, except for color correcting: colors look different in 4k and 1080p. If you edit colors in 1080p then show the footage in 4k, they will look off.

Another major downside of editing directly in 4k is that your computer may slow down. If your computer does not have the CPU it takes to downsample the footage fast enough, it will start lagging and make editing a pain.

If you have the computing power, as well as 64 GB of memory, a 4 GB graphics card, and two processors, this will not be a problem for you. However, if you don’t, you might want to edit your 4k footage by proxies.

Editing With Proxies

If you do not want to edit in 4k, your other option is to make proxy copies of your footage, edit them, and then replace them again with 4k. 

Editing 4k with proxies will not allow you to color-correct, but it may save your computer from lagging or maybe even crashing while you try to edit in 4k. 

How to Create Proxies

To create proxy files, you must make 1080p copies of your 4k files and deposit them in a different folder. You can do all this quite easily with the help of Adobe Media Encoder.

  1. Organize your footage either all in one folder or per camera. It is good to have the least possible number of folders: this will save you hassle when importing and converting files.
  2. Open Adobe Media Encoder and select the files you wish to convert to 1080p. 
  3. Select an output folder different from the one your 4k files are currently lying in. Otherwise, you will likely mix up your new 1080p and your old 4k footage and won’t know what to edit with.
  4. After you have imported the files, click on the dropdown arrow in the Preset column, and choose High-Quality 1080p HD. You also want to click the dropdown arrow under Format and choose H.264, a nice and diverse file format. 
  5. Finally, click the green play button on the right side of the screen, and the conversion will begin. This might take a while, depending on how many files there are.

The Editing Process

After the files have been converted, you will find them all in your output folder. You may now reorganize the files however you see fit and do all your editing “offline.” 

All editing can be done in 1080p, except for color correction. Since 4k has more pixels than 1080p, any color correction you do in 1080p will look off in 4k since it will have to be reformatted to spread over more pixels.

Returning to 4K

When you are done editing with the proxies, you must replace them with your original 4k footage. You will do this by copying your current project, and pasting it into a new sequence with, most importantly, the specs for your 4k footage

The program will prompt that “This clip does not match the sequence’s settings. Change sequence to match the clip’s settings? You must say “no” to the prompt, or else you will end up with another 1080p sequence.

Now in this new sequence, follow these steps:

  1. Select the proxies you need to return to 4k.
  2. Then, right-click on any one of them to bring up an options menu.
  3. Choose “Make Offline”.
  4. Then, select “Media Files Remain on Disk,” and “Ok”.

Your clips are now unlinked from the proxy files and can be relinked to the 4k ones.

To relink to the files, follow these steps:

  1. Select the place where the proxy footage was.
  2. Right-click on the file and select “Link Media”.
  3. Hit “Locate” and find the 4k file that corresponds to the 1080p one you clicked on.
  4. Open the file. 

Handily, all the files in the same folder as that one will be simultaneously relinked. Repeat until all the files are replaced with 4k.

Investing in a 4K Monitor

The trouble with both direct 4k editing and editing with proxies is that neither of them allows you to color-correct. This will not be a problem for many people, but if color is important to you, you will have no choice but to invest in a 4k monitor.

The situation is not all that grim: you can get a Asus VP28UQG 28″ Monitor 4K on Amazon! It’s rated as one of the best 🙂

Final Thoughts 

You can edit 4k video using a 1080p monitor, either directly using the 4k footage – running the risk of crashing your computer – or by proxies, temporary 1080p files that you will replace with 4k. 

Either way, the footage you will see on your screen will appear in 1080p since a computer cannot show footage at a higher resolution than its screen allows. Neither option will allow you to color-correct: since colors look markedly different in 4k, by editing them in 1080p, you will essentially be editing them blindly. 

If color-correcting is essential to your operation, then you might want to invest in a 4k screen. Nowadays, with the advent of 8k, 4k screens have become less expensive and more accessible than ever.

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