1080p is so yesterday. More and more, 1440p and higher-resolution monitors are starting to become the norm, especially at larger screen sizes. There's no doubt that 4K is the future, but it requires a fair bit of graphical power for smooth frame rates.
At the moment, somewhere in between 4K and 1440p seems to be the sweet spot. And we all like widescreen -- the wider the better. Most movies and TV shows are in the 16:9 ratio, but on a computer there are plenty of situations where you might want that extra real estate. Oh, and curved screens are in vogue at the moment too. LG's curved, 3440x1440 pixel, 21:9 ratio LED monitor is an eye-watering $1799, but goddamn is it good.
What Is It?
- Screen Size: 34-inch
- Aspect Ratio: 21:9 Ultra-Wide
- Resolution: 3440x1440
- Inputs: 2x HDMI 1.4a, DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 2
- Outputs: 2x USB 3.0, 3.5mm analog audio
- Curved: Yes (3.8-metre radius)
The LG 34UC97 21:9 Curved UltraWide Monitor, to use its Christian name, is a $1799 34-inch LED-backlit LCD display with a curved design (with a 3.8-metre radius, so it's a relatively gentle curve). Being a pixel-dense computer monitor, designed for close viewing, its 3440x1440 pixel resolution sits perfectly in between the 1080p entry-level and 4K high-end res (for the serious gamer, at least). Now, we usually measure screen sizes diagonally, so while that makes a 24-inch 16:9 monitor directly comparable to a 27-inch 16:9 model, the 34-inch 34UC97 actually sits only as tall as a 24-inch model but is a lot wider.
The curve really does suit the superwide aspect ratio of the 34UC97 -- it's not exactly a massive curvature, but it does make the screen's curve a little more manageable when it's sitting right in front of your face. There's a small lower bezel which hides two 7 Watt stereo speakers, with central LG logo but otherwise unadorned; the similarly-sized side and top bezels are edgeless from the single satin plastic screen covering.
The stand of this particular LG monitor, though, is its most attractive feature -- a twin-legged, chrome-plated foot that almost makes you forget that the 34UC97, at least in Australia, does not include any option for VESA wall mounting. You get tilting, but no swivel or rotate from the included stand, which is similarly just a bit disappointing. Around the back you'll find the 34UC97's various inputs, which range from power and dual HDMI to full-size DisplayPort and two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which do double duty as mini-DisplayPort. As well as a 3.5mm analog audio output for headphones, the 34UC97 has two USB 3.0 ports -- so you'll have to find a USB port spare on your PC for the upstream data cable.
What's It Good At?
The display of the LG 34UC97 is really impressive when you sit down in front of it with native resolution content displayed. Whether that's a Blu-ray movie in the 2.35:1 anamorphic cinematic aspect ratio (with the letterboxing cropped out in your video player of choice -- I prefer VLC), or a game like Tomb Raider or Metro: Last Light displayed at the full 3440x1440 pixel resolution, with that curved design that genuinely does immerse you further in the video at such a relatively short viewing distance, the 34UC97 is just beautiful.
That IPS screen has excellent viewing angles and properly excellent colour reproduction -- surprisingly, for what I thought would be an otherwise standard LCD with an inflated price tag from that smooth curve. Maximum brightness is good if not amazing, and it's more than enough for everything but constant use in the most bright of day-lit rooms. The satin anti-glare screen finish doesn't rob too much of that per-pixel clarity that glossier displays can always boast about, and response times and input lag are acceptably low for twitchy first person shooter gameplay either on PC or on console.
In all my notes about the LG 34UC97 I just keep coming back to that curve. It really does suit the monitor, and I think even more than on a TV the curvature is a smart choice -- doubly so because of the ultrawide aspect ratio. In this particular instance, it's not a gimmick -- I genuinely did feel more immersed in the video being displayed in front of me. The same was even true with 16:9 stretched content like Destiny on the PS4; the stretching isn't especially severe or detrimental and it's actually a little Oculus-esque in the way that it fills more of your field of vision when you're up close.
If you want inputs, the 34UC97 got 'em. DisplayPort 1.2 is my usual go-to, so it's nice to see that included, and two HDMI 1.4a connectors support the 3440x1440 pixel res at 60Hz with ease. Thunderbolt 2 -- two of them, so you can daisy-chain monitors or additional devices -- will keep any modern Mac user happy. I didn't use the USB 3.0 ports more than a couple of times, but anecdotal data transfer speeds were certainly not far off the dedicated connectors on my PC's rear I/O.
What's It Not Good At?
There's a single button on the LG 34UC97's body, if you discount the power switch on the back near the digital video inputs. That multipurpose switch, below the LG logo at the centre of the screen, handles everything from power toggling to changing inputs, adjusting volume and altering video settings. It's actually a four way controller with a central clicker -- and that means any aspect of the 34UC97's control has to go through its onscreen display. And some of those features are frustratingly hard to access -- changing between two active video inputs, for example, requires four or five direction or button presses instead of just one (one of the four quick-access directions on the controller is dedicated to picture-by-picture screen sharing instead, puzzlingly).
Having a comprehensive on-screen display is useful, don't get me wrong -- especially on a high-end screen that serves double duty for gaming and productivity. When you offer this many inputs, though, please make switching between them faster than a five-second click-and-press process. There are just a few frustrating choices in the on-screen display that hamper the easy usability of this screen -- I genuinely hope they can be fixed with a future software update. With them out of the way, the LG 34UC97 would become so much easier to recommend.
Beyond that, there's one other issue with the 34UC97 and that's the bleed from its edge LED backlighting when the screen is lit but otherwise black. When there's nothing displayed on-screen, you can see bright points in the backlight -- some areas more luminant than others where the reflective matrices behind the LCD are imperfectly aimed. On the perfect LED-backlit LCD, the backlight is perfectly consistent, and I'd say the 34UC97 is 80 per cent of the way there. Of course, these torchlighting spots often vary from model to model, so it's possible that I may just have a bad egg that slipped through quality control, or an early revision with less stringent tolerances. (Or it may be a shipping issue -- our review units sometimes have a pretty rough life).
Should You Buy It?
The $1799 LG 34UC97 is a beautiful monitor, with a smart and stylish design. That 3440x1440 pixel curved display isn't Ultra HD-detailed, but it's a damn sight better than 1080p, and it has generally pretty impressive colour and contrast reproduction for an edge-lit LED screen. Backlight bleed at a few key points along the edges of the display is somewhat annoying, especially you're regularly using pillarboxing to view 16:9 or 4:3 native content -- if you're taking full advantage of the superwide ratio then it's less of a concern.
The 21:9 ratio could have been the UC97's downfall, but it's genuinely hugely useful for split-screen PC use. If you're going to be using this display strictly for movies or for console gaming, there's not much point -- you have to take advantage of its PC abilities, whether for gaming or for Web browsing or something else worthwhile, and make the best use of all dat screen real estate.
My biggest issue with this monitor is the unnecessary complexity of its control scheme. It's a massively wide screen, for God's sake -- there's space there for a button for every feature in that sub-menu-heavy on-screen display. At least a dedicated button for input and a dedicated button for switching aspect ratio stretching would have been appreciated. If you don't mind diving into the menu system every time you want to switch from PS4 to PC and vice versa, then the LG 34UC97 is a worthy investment for your hardcore gaming rig.