An IMAX screen...for your desk? That's the promise of the latest wave of massive, curved, ultrawide ever-so-slightly-obnoxious-but-we-love-you monitors that PC peripheral makers are pushing. I've been playing with LG's 34UC97 for the last week-and-a-bit (damn you MWC, pulling me away from this beautiful, staggeringly expensive thing), and thought I'd share some of the points I've noticed that those considering shelling out for a similar monitor may want to be aware of.
While this piece is going to focus on some experiential impressions of using an ultra-wide curved monitor – including issues I'd expect to find with any similarly-shaped display, whatever the brand – we'll have a full review of the LG 34UC97 in the coming days. In terms of a few quick key specs to be aware of though, these are the ones worth noting for now on this model:
- Screen Size: 34-inch
- Aspect Ratio: 21:9 Ultra-Wide
- Resolution: 3440×1440
- 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)
Over the week I spent with LG's shiny monitor, I took into consideration what I believe to be the three most pertinent tasks you'd be buying a screen like this for: gaming, watching films and boring, boring work.
Until virtual reality headsets become commercially available, a giant 4K curved monitor is about as immersive as you can get for gaming. Sitting up close for your PC gaming sessions, the pixel dense screens shine, and while you won't feel surrounded by the action, you'll definitely feel more involved in it. The LG 34UC97's 3440 x 1440 display is pin sharp and beautifully coloured, with the slight curve making events happening in the periphery of your vision feel more natural. You'll need a hefty PC to push all those pixels though.
The problem is, so few games are optimised for resolutions this wide and high. More often than not, firing up a game at 3440 x 1440 would break one element or another: Far Cry 3's HUD sat too close to the centre of the screen, obscuring my view; Skyrim's FOV slider made characters at the edges seem squat no matter how much fine-tuning I did; Gone Home outright refused to use the entire screen real estate at its disposal. Only Borderlands 2 worked satisfyingly without hassle – all the others required deep .ini file settings tweaks or superwide mods be applied. When it worked, it was awesome, but you'll have to jump through lots of hoops to get the experience you'd expect.
A key draw of a 21:9 curved monitor is its ability to deliver cinematic movie experiences. Unlike a regular widescreen TV, a 21:9 screen can give you that super-wide cinema feel, free of annoying black bars at the top and bottom of your screen. Switch off the lights, sit close enough, and a curved monitor like this can give deliver a screening that's not unlike the sensation you'd get at an IMAX.
The LG screen's colours and sharpness make it a great fit for this sort of auteur movie night, but content is a problem. It's still hard to find lots of movies that take advantage of a such high and wide resolutions natively; I found myself using trailers and YouTube test footage to get a real feel of what the monitor was capable of. Finding footage in the correct aspect ratio isn't always easy either, and the screen doesn't automatically compensate for the black bars, meaning you'll have to fiddle around in the settings to get the desired borderless effect, which in turn can lead to stretched images that look fuzzier than their native states. Again, when it's paired with the right footage, a screen like this is incredible, but expect to be tinkering before settling down with the popcorn.
Boring, Boring Work
Of course the least exciting use of the screen served up the fewest problems! Whether using Windows or Mac OS X, both operating systems scaled seamlessly to the ratio and resolution, and worked like a charm.
Anyone that usually uses two Full HD monitors while working could easily replace them for a single curved ultrawide at this resolution. While the benefit of the curve in this respect is negligible (“It's like I can almost touch the spreadsheet!” said no-one ever), the extra width and pixel count is a blessing. I could stack multiple spreadsheets on top of each other, alongside Word documents, multiple browser windows Photoshop and Spotify, be able to see them all clearly and still have room left over. You'll want to make sure you've got a mouse with a high DPI range though, or you may find you're pushing it around loads to get from one end of the screen to the other. Anyone that works with audio recording apps or video editing software will see the most benefit though, with fine cuts and edits easily achievable in full screen.
Worth the Money?
You're looking at around £930 for the LG 34UC97. That's not chump change, even for a monitor as eye-catching as this. Even if curved remains something of a novelty, ultrawide monitors seem destined to be the way forward – from a productivity standpoint, it just makes so much sense. In that respect, buying something like the LG 34UC97 will leave you future proofed. But for now, the experience feels a little too fraught for the casual user – game settings will frustrate and movie viewing may not be what you were expecting in every case.
The LG 34UC97 keeps up its end of the bargain, but the content it wants to breathe new life into lets it down. The monitor in some respects feels ahead of its time even, especially for gamers. Keep an eye out for our full review, coming soon.