Around last Christmas, I built myself a new workstation that bought me from a Phenom II X6 1090T (2010) up to a Ryzen 7 1700 (2017). Amongst the things I did not upgrade, that caused the most consternation was my monitors.
The four monitors I have used for the last decade include a Dell E248WFP (24” 1920×1200), BenQ FP222W (22” 1680×1050), BenQ GW2000 (20” 1680×1050) and an Asus VW161D (16” 1366×768). All of my monitors were different sizes, harvested at different stages of their life, all used TN panel technology and CFL backlighting and a mixture of DVI and VGA connections. All of them were manufactured between January and October 2008 and outlasted even my wildest expectations with about 28,000 backlight-on hours logged by the one monitor that could keep count.
But the awkward sizing, lack of 4K resolution support and limited colour/viewing angle of the non-IPS screens was starting to feel like a problem. The CFL backlighting was starting to dim and yellow, while I was being more conscious of the energy consumption and heat generation of the ageing screens.
Luckily for me, owing to a mixture of discounts on eBay, I was able to purchase the LG 27” 4K IPS Monitor (27UD59-B) for an effective price of about $390 each including GST and delivery. It was time to upgrade my vision … as it seems that 4K IPS monitors are finally reaching reasonably affordable prices.
When ordering these things online, it’s always with a sense of nervousness in the hope that it doesn’t get mistreated along the way. As expected, the unit comes packaged in a corrugated cardboard box, with an efficient size only just slightly larger than the monitor inside, slightly crumpled at one edge courtesy of Australia Post. The seller, in my case, didn’t opt to wrap it or put it in another box, so it was pretty much “advertising” the contents all the way to my house.
The unit is Made in China, with external labelling that identifies the serial numbering.
Once open, we are greeted with the calibration report, which looks pretty good (although I’m not sure how “unique” the report is), along with some handling instructions. The foam is compartmentalised to hold the necessary included cables, stand and accessories.
Partially unpacked, we see there is a warranty guide, some quick-start information, a graphic card requirements document, the base (curved), the vertical part of the stand, a cable clip, two screws, a cover and a loose software CD. The warranty period in Australia is three years, although the dead pixel warranty does not appear to be specified anywhere.
A power cable, DisplayPort to DisplayPort and HDMI to HDMI cable are included in the package, which is somewhat generous. Of note is that the monitor offers no support for legacy analog VGA video – not unsurprising given the march of technology.
Removing the Styrofoam reveals the monitor wrapped in a foam bubble bag. Removing this, we are greeted by the front of the panel, sporting a 4.5-star energy rating, consuming 108kWh/year in the standardised test procedures which assume 10-hours a day usage (implying a consumption of about 29.59W). Protective film is applied around the bezel.
The rear of the panel has a protective covering over the logo as well, along with some grubby finger marks from my fumbling of the unit to get it out of the box. The input jacks are all next to the VESA mount, in a neat vertical column, with an integrated power supply accepting an IEC lead poking straight out of the back. While not the neatest arrangement, as I prefer cables to exit downward instead, it’s probably part of the low-cost mantra which keeps everything on a smaller PCB. In addition to power, a Kensington Lock slot, audio output, two HDMI inputs and a DisplayPort input are provided.
Assembly of the stand is simple, although the stand does have a slightly large curved footprint and looks a little plasticky and cheap. It offers only very basic tilt adjustment, but that’s expected from such budget-priced monitors. The only control on this monitor is the “six-axis” joystick control which can be reached from the underside of the monitor.
Simple in design, it looks just fine plopped onto my rather messy desk. The one downside I saw was the stand being a bit taller than my previous monitors, meaning the ergonomics of my fixed desk were slightly thrown-out. I ended up elevating my seat slightly to compensate and maintain comfort.
When it comes to setting up a monitor, it is mostly straightforward. The OSD menus can be accessed with the joystick control, being relatively intuitive to navigate. Turning the monitor on is accomplished by pushing down on the joystick’s centre button, and turning it off involves a long-press-and-hold, which can be rather annoying. A single white LED adorns the front to indicate sleep/power status. Prior to sleep, the monitor displays a message on a 50% grey background which seems rather bright and potentially annoying at night.
The monitor has a number of settings worthy of note – the ability to turn on Freesync for supported AMD graphic cards can be useful to maintain tear-free images despite varying render framerates, Black Stabilizer can be used to elevate black-levels for gamers to achieve a competitive advantage in the shadows, UHD Deep Colour can be used to enable 10-bit colour for sources that support it.
After plonking it on my desk, plugging it in and going through all the menus, I was ready to get something on the screen.
While there is a software driver CD that comes bundled with the product, it is easier just to download the software via the website. There are three pieces of software including:
- The display driver INF files for ensuring Windows knows about the monitor’s capabilities.
- OnScreen Control, which allows you to adjust monitor OSD settings via software on the computer instead while also allowing you to select defined screen-split modes to better utilise the screen area.
- Dual Controller, which is used for KVM-like set-up where a keyboard and mouse on one machine is used to control another machine remotely over the network to make working with multiple machines connected to different inputs on the same monitor easier.
After installing all the software, I found that it was really not necessary and was to some extent unnecessarily bloated. The display driver INFs don’t hurt, but I found Dual Controller not to be useful at all in my ordinary usage, along with some rather awkward terms and conditions of usage which includes the collection of your IP address. OnScreen Control was of limited use – while configuring display settings via the computer seems convenient, it’s often a “one-time” configuration process that I felt was easily accomplished via the joystick control button on the monitor itself. The split-screen modes do improve utilisation of screen space but are very inflexible and automatically “snap” all apps to fit its fixed split modes. This causes some apps to be resized to awkward proportions and doesn’t allow for a more creative layout. Worse still, selecting a different split automatically rearranges your desktop apps which often wreaked havoc. It defaults to auto-starting on boot-up and sometimes presents a pink-red border around the virtual app boundaries when moving the mouse about. In the end, the biggest drawback was the lack of a proper functioning uninstall for these apps which weren’t as useful as I had imagined.
I found the upgrade to 4K IPS to be quite dramatic and exactly what I wanted it to be. With the new LED-backlit monitors, whites were a bit more white-blue than the white-yellow of the past. The IPS display technology provided a noticeable uplift in colour accuracy and viewing angles. The increased resolution finally meant that I could enjoy photos on-screen that would look of a comparable quality to printed matter. Watching high-bitrate 4K video was quite enjoyable, being incredibly sharp, to the point of making 1080p material look noticeably softer and grainer due to compression. It was very much an upgrade, and I found it to improve my productivity by giving me more space to move around. Instead of dedicating a monitor to a browser window with multiple tabs, I now have multiple browser windows with multiple tabs in each. Windows are sized independently (manually) to lay them out in whichever configuration fits best on-screen, like a jigsaw. Working with multiple VMs and VNC machines was no issue – their screens were always much smaller, so having them side by side was easy. Photo editing in LightRoom was much better – higher resolution meant less zooming in and out for details, although the performance of the application did degrade somewhat as it needed to do quite a bit of heavy lifting to produce such high-resolution previews. The colour appeared to be spot-on straight out of the box.
Other downsides were not specific to the LG monitor, but more the fact that 4K resolution is quite taxing on a computer, so if you have an older GPU without enough grunt, the wrong type of outputs or the wrong cables, it’s entirely possible that the upgrade to 4K may come with side effects. As I had carried forward my GTX970, it was possible to run the two 4K monitors I purchased, but I noticed the GPU started to strain more often even under regular desktop productivity operation with the fan coming on more frequently. My particular card had all mini DisplayPort (mDP) outputs, which the LG package does not cater for, so I had to run one through my only mDP to DP adapter, while the other ran through an mDP to DVI active adapter running into a DVI to HDMI cable at 4K/30Hz until I managed to acquire the appropriate cable to run both in their full 60Hz glory. As for gaming in 4K, that is not quite a practical proposition with the present GPU if high visual quality is expected – it makes sense to drop the resolution back to FHD to maintain appropriate levels of performance, but I am contemplating a potential upgrade to the GPU in the future. While the screens support FreeSync, I’m not sure what the flicker-free range of frame-rates are – the manual implies only a small range of about 56-60Hz of supported rates, but as an Nvidia user, I’m unable to benefit from FreeSync as Nvidia stubbornly holds onto their G-Sync technology.
The other downside has to do with how operating systems handle high-resolution screens. Windows 10, by default, seems to apply a scaling factor to the screen to compensate for the high DPI so that on-screen items look clear and of a similar physical size. Unfortunately, this default setting has a few downsides – namely that some older apps begin to look fuzzy as the scaling is applied. This sometimes applies to just the images and icons, but other times, applies to the whole app. Newer apps, however, tend to render quite well with very sharp text which appears practically like print quality.
Instead, I prefer turning off scaling entirely, resulting in a 1:1 correspondence of pixels on the screen to pixels rendered by the application assuming an “older” lower DPI display. The downside is that now everything is “tiny” – almost looking like what you might see on a mobile display, but since you are sitting at a monitor distance away from the screen, you might find it quite difficult to read the text unless you have good eyes. The upside is that everything is rendered clearly, with the downside that you might need to sit a little closer to the monitors and have sharp eyes to be able to make the most of it. This was however, the main reason for my 4K upgrade – that way I have the equivalent of eight FHD screens of work-space in just two monitors on my desk.
I have also seen some users complain that the monitor isn’t very bright – but I tend to find most LCD monitors are too bright by default, and the LG definitely was. In fact, I’ve turned down the brightness setting to around 5/100 to get it comfortable – conversely, maybe people are using monitors in rooms that are too bright. Testing the screen on the lagom.nl LCD test pages seems to show that the screen does resolve the full scale quite well with gamma that is practically spot-on. The only qualm I have is that the black level seemed to be a bit high even with the enhancements turned off – this is very much one area where LCD displays can’t compare to OLED displays.
The LG 27” 4K IPS Monitor (27UD59-B) offers quite a lot of monitor for the price. Being found on sale under AU$400, it offers 4K UHD resolution, LED-backlit IPS LCD display technology based on an 8-bit panel with FRC for 10-bit capability, Freesync support, calibration report and a three-year warranty. It uses an integrated power supply, offering one DisplayPort and two HDMI inputs; and one audio output. It comes complete with a DP, HDMI and power cable, which is generous, although mDP users will need to source their own appropriate cable or adapter. The monitor has relatively simple aesthetics, offering a basic stand with a curved footprint and a limited tilt angle adjustment.
For the most part, it offers an excellent display quality with colour that appeared to be spot-on and neither unit of mine exhibited any dead or stuck pixels. The display is as sharp as I had wanted it to be, with a good viewing angle. The screen was more than bright enough for me, and response times did not seem to be an issue.
The main downside aside from the basic stand was the joystick control. While it was simple to use to set up the device, it makes powering the monitor off rather laborious as the control has to be held in for a certain amount of time to manually power it down. Letting the monitor sleep results in a bright grey screen warning that the monitor is going to sleep which is visually distracting, especially in darkened rooms. Other downsides were not specific to the LG monitor, but 4K displays in general – related to the need to have a beefy modern graphic card to drive it and shortcomings with display scaling in Windows.
On the whole, I am very pleased with the LG 27UD59-B as it offers what I need at an affordable price – and both of my monitors are dead pixel free, so that’s lucky! But now you know why I needed a decent mDP to DP cable … 30Hz through HDMI is just not enough.