Year by year, the world is migrating from 1080p. 1440p is now become the sweet spot even for mid-range graphics cards. Even consoles are making a break for the 4K horizon, courtesy of the PS4 Pro and Microsoft's Project Scorpio.
But if you want to purchase a 4K monitor today, it's not enough to do it for gaming. There has to be a productivity benefit. So over the last few months, I've been using one of LG's latest 4K monitors - the 27UD88-W, a $900 4K monitor with an IPS panel, FreeSync and a very versatile USB-C port.
What Is It?
Part of the fun of computers is the upgrading process. After a couple of years, you can swap out an aging, incapable piece of tech for something newer, cooler, faster, flashier.
But we don't do that with monitors. Rarely, if at all, in fact.
Case in point: I have two monitors at home for my gaming/video editing rig. The first is a BenQ 24" XL2410T 120hz monitor, the very first model to come on the market. It's really a gaming-first and nothing else monitor. The colours are washed out. The contrast is pretty poor. The viewing angles are pretty ordinary and it doesn't handle bright situations well at all.
But the one thing it does - gaming - it does damn well, even today when it largely functions as a screen for the PS4.
Six years ago, I paid $699. It'll still be in service for at least the next year or two.
With that in mind, the argument for a $900 begins to make a lot more sense.
The only way anyone can justify dropping that amount of cash on a monitor that expensive, of course, is with a good deal of futureproofing. The LG's answer to that is through the highly versatile, and soon to be far more ubiquitous, USB-C port.
Located on the back of the matte silver chassis, the USB-C port will charge laptops or mobiles up to 6W. It supports 4K video playback and data transfer as well, although there's two regular USB 3.0 ports should you need them.
On top of that, there's a couple of HDMI ports, a single DisplayPort and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The jack makes up for the lack of any in-built speakers, which isn't a major detractor for me: I've never found myself in a scenario where in-built monitor speakers were anything but a last resort, as better speakers or headphones were always plugged in or readily available. (And if you're going to be spending $900 on a monitor, it's not a stretch to assume you've got some audio equipment lying around either.)
Another bonus: the joystick control, neatly located under the front bezel. It replaces individual buttons that most monitors have had since the beginning of PC Time, and it's a vast, vast improvement.
The bezel itself is quite thin, which works nicely against the matte chrome exterior. It's pretty pleasing on the eye, although the white plastic covering on the stand and the back of the monitor is a good target for unsightly dust.
The plastic covering is worth mentioning, if only because it's not an element you'd expect to find on a unit costing $900. It doesn't impede the flexibility though: the whole unit can be rotated from landscape to portrait, tilted back and forward a few degrees, and lifted up and down.
From a gaming perspective, the lack of a high refresh rate can be mitigated somewhat by the inclusion of FreeSync. It won't be as appealing for those with NVIDIA cards, since Team Green is all about G-Sync, but the inclusion is nice and there are some manual workarounds available if you want to get the feature going with a GeForce card.
More impressive regardless of your GPU is the maximum brightness and colour reproduction. Out of the box LG has quoted the 27UD88 at 350cd/m2, and while in practice it's not quite that high it's a still a decent notch above the 300cd/m2 seen on other monitors.
There's also a swath of preset calibrated modes, although you'll need to install LG's monitor software to access most of those. And not all of them are great, either. There is barely any perceptible difference between the FPS 1, FPS 2 and RTS modes, for instance, which makes you wonder why they were included at all.
The Reading preset deserves special mention. It applies a reddish tint, designed to make reading comfortable particularly late at night. But all it does in practice is make the monitor uncomfortable to view, especially if you're reading documents at 4K with no scaling applied.
And if you want to get really technical, LG quotes the 27UD88-W as being capable of reproducing 99% of the sRGB colour spectrum. I've seen other 4K monitors around the similar price range that can do a little better, but they're not all IPS models.
Another mark against the monitor: there's no HDR support. If you're buying a monitor of this calibre, it's likely a multipurpose buy; you'll want to edit photos, code, cut video, play some games, and maybe hook up a console as well. For those looking at the PS4 Pro or next year's Scorpio, that might be a factor worthy of consideration.
But while there's no high refresh rates, the 5ms response time is pretty effective for most gaming circumstances. FPS fetishists will recoil at the lack of smoothness while attempting to control their recoil, but for those who just want to game for an hour or two after a day's work it's more than sufficient.
The real boon here is the productivity, being able to have two full windows side-by-side while working without having to turn your eyes or head to a second screen. It doesn't eliminate the value of a second or third screen, but it does make working more efficient.
And the colour is difficult to fault. The 27UD88 comes with a lab report out of the box and you can download additional colour calibration software from LG, if you don't have specialist tools for the job.
I've been considering retiring my 6-year-old BenQ for a while, but I was always split on two considerations: the needs of my job (productivity, colour accuracy and image quality) and the preference for my job (gaming, and gaming performance).
Ideally, one monitor would do it all: a 4K IPS panel running at 144hz or better with superb colour reproduction, good contrast ratios and plenty of features for future-proofing.
You can get most of that right now: the panel, the colour reproduction, the resolution, the features, the future-proofing. 4K 144hz IPS panels are coming - ASUS showed off one at Computex this year. But even if that monitor was available now, chances are your PC wouldn't be able to run anything at a high enough frame rate to make it worthwhile.
Photographers, graphic designers, programmers, architects, producers and artists who like to game on the side, will get the benefits of 4K now. And having USB-C will be a huge plus in the years to come, as the standard becomes more ubiquitous across smartphones and laptops.
Should You Buy It?
So: do you buy into 4K now? That depends on your work - and the more 4K factors into your working day, the stronger the justification. And that's probably what is stopping people from migrating to a 4K monitor: it requires justification, forethought, and the price is still too significant for it to be an impulse buy.
But everyone will reach that justification point eventually. Some are there already. And if you're happy to spend $900 on a screen now that will serve you until 12K is the new 4K, the 27UD88-W will do just fine.