Photography / Hands-on Review

Hands-On Review: LG 38" 21:9 UltraWide Curved Monitor for Photography and Video

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For creatives, there is one critical computer peripheral that can completely change how you work: the monitor. Everyone will remember the first time they stepped up to a “serious” display with accurate colors, a larger area, and high resolution. As creative professionals ourselves, we were excited to take a look at LG’s new 38" Class 21:9 UltraWide WQHD+ IPS Curved LED Monitor to see how it fit into our photography- and video-editing workflows. Also, we were lucky enough to be handed a Wacom 13.3" MobileStudio Pro 13 Graphics Tablet, loaded up with Adobe Creative Cloud software, to use with the display.

For Photography

For a photographer, the most prized attributes a monitor can offer are space and room to work with high-resolution files at a decent magnification, for making more critical edits without needing to constantly zoom in and out and move around the image while applying masks or selections. The 3840 x 1600 resolution of the 38UC99-W alleviates the desire to work with two separate monitors for reviewing images while simultaneously working with layers, palettes, and various other editing menus, and by keeping your entire workspace on a single monitor, you can maintain consistent color accuracy, as well as avoid a visible split in the middle of your space for more seamless use.

With these initial impressions in mind, when I started to work with the 38UC99-W, I was at first, of course, enamored by the huge area to work in and the ability to view multiple images at once. Comparing pairs of images of the same scene while editing was one area in which this monitor excelled—more efficient than a smaller, boxier monitor that limits the size of image previews while comparing photos. For retouchers, the wide aspect ratio effectively gives you a main area to keep a large preview visible, with plenty of room off to the side to display a large list of layers, along with history, actions, and other Photoshop windows open. This felt like a more efficient use of space for my workflow, compared to dedicating a second monitor to a tools palette and having a main monitor solely for editing. On the other hand, though, it is nice sometimes to have the flexibility of a completely separate monitor for keeping a Bridge or Lightroom window open to display your library, while having Photoshop open on the second monitor; a bit trickier to perform on this single widescreen monitor.

Beyond the room to work, the second and equally critical point for any monitor is color. This is especially true for photographers, whose work is wholly dependent on the way things look. This includes how images look both on the screen itself, as well as how they will look when exporting to print or elsewhere. The 38UC99-W is rated to cover over 99% of the sRGB color space, and has 8-bit color depth plus frame-rate control (FRC) to simulate the look of a 10-bit monitor, which would produce 1.07 billion colors. In practice, however, the monitor felt more like a true 8-bit monitor with some visible color banding in tight gradients in the highlight and mid-tone regions of an image. In covering nearly all of the sRGB color space, images edited on this monitor will display best for web purposes; however, a wider gamut monitor, such as one covering the wider Adobe RGB color space, would be preferred for doing critical print work. If primarily editing for the Web, however, this monitor is very suitable for generating accurate colors once it has been calibrated.

Finally, the last aspect and calling card of the monitor is its curved design, which makes working with it a much more immersive experience than using a standard flat panel monitor. When facing the curved design head on, the bend of the single monitor is much more fluid and seamless than having a pair of flat panels angled together. The viewing angle is also consistent when working at eye level, thanks to the use of an IPS panel; however, after standing back and away from the monitor, some shifts in brightness seemed to be more exaggerated than if viewing other flat monitors from a distance. This isn’t a practical issue, though, since the 38UC99-W is designed for use at eye-level and a desk-length viewing distance; and under these conditions, the monitor certainly excels.

For Video Editing

With more and more NLEs optimizing for single-screen workflows, this display just makes a whole lot of sense. Using Premiere Pro on the large display was really nice; I could view my timeline and preview windows on a large, long area of the screen, while still keeping my media browser and files readily available. And now I don’t have to drag from one screen to the other since it’s a single, seamless display. The other benefit of this display is the almost UHD 4K resolution of 3840 x 1600. This meant I could zoom in to 100% and view the entire width of the video with a 1:1 pixel ratio, allowing me to check fine details and focus with ease. If you wanted to work on 21:9 aspect footage, you could watch it natively without any of the usual letterboxing—a really gratifying experience.

However, there are similar concerns for video as for photography, especially with color gamut and accuracy. Being only an sRGB panel, you won’t be able to monitor accurately anything meant for display on high-end screens. Now, sRGB is perfectly fine for web and if all you do is edit some 8-bit footage to share with some friends, but in a professional world with a dramatically expanding world of Log gammas and wide color workflows, as well as price drops on 4K HDR TVs and YouTube adding support for HDR video, this display isn’t future proof. Many shooters will also want to produce a master that has all these features even if the final deliverable is of a lower spec, so that if in the future a higher-quality version is required you won’t have to do all the work over again.

Some of the Screen Split 2.0 features available do open up options for more screen setups if needed, and all without the intrusive bezels of a two-display setup. While I didn’t spend much time experimenting with this, I could definitely see myself using some of the options, including a two-screen setting that provides a large working space, as well as a smaller strip on the side for an additional application.

Other Features and Settings

One thing to appreciate about the 38UC99-W is that it eliminates wire clutter at your workstation. It offers a relatively new USB Type-C port, which we connected to directly with the Wacom tablet. The rear of the display also offers two USB 3.0 ports, which allowed us to connect a keyboard and mouse to almost create a docking station for the tablet, but still only required a single connection to the computer. A minor inconvenience is, perhaps, the lack of readily accessible USB ports on the side of the display. If you want to plug something in, you have to reach and look all the way around or over the top of the monitor.

The monitor sports two 10 W speakers, as well as Bluetooth audio that make it easy to play music or audio from your computer or phone. There are also two HDMI 2.0 inputs and one DisplayPort 1.2 input for working with a variety of different computers and graphics cards. A disappointing feature of this monitor is the stand, which allows the monitor to wobble with even light taps. It does offer 4.3" of height adjustment, tilt from -5 to 15°, and a standard 100 x 100mm VESA mount.

Overall, it is a decent monitor if you want a large workspace without having to use two monitors. It also works if you do most of your work for web or other avenues, which mostly use the sRGB space. However, if you are a professional looking for color critical work a true 10-bit monitor will be a better option.

Is this monitor right for you and your workflow? Tell us why or why not in the Comments section, below.

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Looks promising, but as you mentioned I think I will stick with the 2 monitor display until the Adobe RGB version hits the shelf.  Overall a good review with pros and cons.

Thank you for a very thorough, well-illustrated and informative article. I'd like to try one of these curved monitors and see how they feel. I think I could get used to the curve.

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