Boasting an ultra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio and a monster resolution of 3440x1440 plastered across a 34 inch diagonal, this monitor promises a viewing experience that even desktop users will drool over, never mind that you can also enjoy it connected to your notebook. Does this display stand a chance among the slew of 4K panels being dumped onto the market in 2014? I believe it does.
PROS: Unique aspect ratio/resolution, IPS panel, factory pre-calibrated, competitive entry price, built-in scaler/speakers, Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, USB 3.0 hub, VESA mount.
CONS: Lack of height adjustment, it will pwn your desk, more expensive than multiple smaller displays.
Walking in to my local Fry's on this monitor's U.S. launch day (May 1st), my original reason for obtaining the LG 34UM95 was not to enjoy it with my Toshiba Qosmio X305 notebook. Rather the goal was a down-payment for when I move over to a desktop system later on in the year. At least that was the idea. After four eye-popping weeks of use, however, I have found that the display is working so well with my notebook that I may just delay that desktop purchase a little bit further. Saving money can be a good thing!
It's worth noting as well that hardly any notebooks from six years ago came with Display Port connectivity, but the Qosmio X305 DOES. This means that I can enjoy working on a 3440x1440 desktop with the newest display hardware, and my notebook investment remains that much more useful.
It also means I can hold out just that little bit longer for Intel's Broadwell, go X99/DDR4 or see how nVidia moves forward with their Maxwell architecture.
When you first look at the box the LG 34UM95 comes in, you may get a shock at just how big (and wide) this monitor really is. Measuring in at just over 32 inches from side to side, be prepared to sweep your desk clean of all obstacles before even thinking of setting this monitor up.
The surface of the monitor has a borderless matte coating, so in order to avoid laying prints on it as you remove it from the box, it's wise to keep the sleeve it comes in on until you have it placed on your desk. You will need to screw the stand on as it doesn't come with this fitted.
Once you've got it planted on your desk, feel free to connect the power, display and USB cables around the back. LG supplies both a HDMI and full-size Display Port cable. If the device you're plugging into has mini versions of those ports, you will need either a different cable or an adapter.
Before connecting and powering it on, you should make sure to update the display driver on your GPU. This is especially true with older hardware, as I found I could not get it working properly on my X305 with the drivers I was using originally. LG recommends a desktop-class GT660 or higher GPU, but the fact is my mobile GT 9400M is quite capable of feeding a 3440x1440 50Hz signal through Display Port.
Also, LG includes a disc with a monitor driver, which is also wise to install as it will allow Windows to correctly recognize the monitor, it's modes and refresh rates properly, rather than list it as a generic monitor. Keep in mind I am using Windows 7 - Windows 8/8.1 may not require this step.
Powering on the monitor requires pushing the button located right below the LG logo. This button is also a joystick that gets you access to the OSD menu where you can configure your inputs, color settings and the like. A soft light comes on to tell you the monitor is powered on, which you can turn off manually. When the monitor detects no signal, such as in sleep mode, this light will blink at a steady rate. The light is not annoying at all, even in a completely dark environment, so it's fine to keep it on.
|Toss that hardware calibration tool|
Even without the included chart, it's evident after powering it on that this monitor offers zero complaints. There's no backlight bleed whatsoever along the edges, color uniformity is rock solid and viewing angles are very wide both along the vertical and horizontal. As the saying goes - you get what you pay for.
|A desktop experience like no other|
Of course, it's what you can do with that truly expansive space that makes this monitor so special. You can lay out four Word documents side-by-side-by-side-by-side at 100% zoom for editing. You can display your massive Excel spreadsheet 53 columns across and 58 rows tall, again at 100% zoom. Working on a website? It's easy to lay three across with room to spare, or go single screen if you are a tab monster.
|Cool Edit Pro has never looked so... cool|
Movie buffs will LOVE the extra-wide field of view for watching movies, and I have to admit it's better for that than any 16:9 TV, especially footage that's filmed in classic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I wouldn't be surprised to see this monitor now being paired with HTPC's just for it's cinematic viewing experience.
|An aquarium with zero maintenance|
The best use case by far will actually be for those who love to
In short, this monitor can do many tasks better than three conventional monitors, thanks to the total absence of any bezels, and the luxury of having everything viewable on a single, large screen.
Need I mention as well, this monitor would also work with and elegantly complement a Surface Pro 2 slate, especially if you have the docking station on your desk. The HD4400 is quite capable of running 3440x1440 at full 60Hz over DisplayPort. If you've been looking for a way to integrate your Surface Pro 2 as a no-nonsense work PC, grab the docking station accessory and connect the 34UM95 - your coworkers and boss will be blown away!
While it isn't G-Sync capable or offers a 120Hz+ refresh rate, the LG 34UM95 is still able to offer quite a spectacular gaming experience given it's high resolution and wide aspect ratio. Most games that support 2560x1440 should be configurable for 3440x1440, and the difference in GPU load should only be around 30% increase. That would mean that you could easily drive this monitor with a pair of desktop GTX780 cards, a single overclocked GTX780 Ti, or even a pair of mobile GTX880M cards in SLI from a gaming notebook, and still enjoy your eye-candy on medium or high settings.
|Civilization V at 3440x1440 maxed out|
For games that don't support a 21:9 aspect ratio, you can still play at 2560x1440 and enjoy some black bars down the side. This isn't too annoying, and I still think it's better being able to load and play a game at such settings, than not be able to play your game at all.
Of course, it's also possible to game at 1080p, full-screen, and not even need a dedicated graphics card. That's the great thing about this monitor - you have the flexibility of gaming at whatever resolution your GPU can support, even if it's integrated graphics or a notebook GPU, yet still retain that native 3440x1440 desktop for multitasking and productivity.
THE CHALLENGE WITH 4K:
As much as 4K panels have been teased by manufacturers and worshiped by the tech press, the technology still is in it's infancy, something that can be seen when you first deal with the quirks involved in getting it to work properly.
The first issue is connectivity. You need DP 1.2, and with that, a graphics card that can support two streams in parallel (MST). This was necessary as the current standard doesn't support 4K bandwidth at 60Hz refresh, and most first-generation monitors actually stitch that 4K image together using two 1920x2160 streams. While it's fine for use on the desktop, how good that pseudo multi-monitor hack works for full-screen 3D titles (and multi-GPU configurations) is questionable. There have been issues, for example, of MST monitors not waking up from sleep properly, resulting in the Windows desktop showing on only half of the screen.
Of course, the other reason for MST was because manufacturers still didn't have 4K scalers to properly handle the resolution. The scaler is a common chip found inside a monitor that allows images smaller than the screen's native resolution to still work in full-screen mode. So a 1080p game, for example, would only run in a lower right hand corner of a 4K display. This, fortunately, is something GPU manufacturers can address with a driver update that includes support for such monitors that lack their own built-in scaler. How soon that will happen is anybody's guess, and how well it works compared to an actual hardware scaler is yet to be seen.
Another issue is the GPU power needed to run modern 3D titles. A 3440x1440 image is just shy of 5 million pixels. Compare to a 4K image which requires approx. 8.3 million pixels to display. That's a massive 67% increase in the GPU's workload. As a result, you will need enthusiast-class GPU performance in the form of dual GTX780Ti and 290x type cards to even approach playable 4K frame rates and quad-SLI/Crossfire to talk about numbers north of 50FPS. And that's assuming of course that the game you want to play at 4K does support SLI/CF in the first place, and not chug along with only a single GPU under load.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all that's handicapping 4K is the pixel density being used with these monitors. A typical 27-inch 2560x1440 display will do a comfortable 110PPI. At that pixel density Windows icons, menus and text remain easy to see and click on, even sitting at a distance further away then you would if using a notebook screen. That changes big-time with 4K, since if we look at 32/28/24 inch screens you now move up to 140/157/185PPI respectively. When you cram pixels that close together, those same icons and text become incredibly small and difficult to read. Trying to increase their size with scaling in Windows 7/8.1 may help to an extent, except for software that wasn't designed for scaling beyond 100%. That means a broken UI and a loss in productivity. Fortunately, the 34UM95 being only wider in both size and resolution, it retains that same 110PPI appearance, so you don't have to deal with scaling issues, trying to click on miniscule icons or straining your eyesight sitting closer than required.
To put that PPI argument into perspective, my 10" netbook runs at 1366x768, or around 155PPI. I sit fairly close to that screen and am lucky to have better than 20/10 vision. But sit further away from the screen as you would at a monitor on your desk, that 155PPI makes icons tiny and text illegible. Unless you have bionic vision, you would need to have your nose planted within 18 inches of a 24-inch 4K screen to work at 100% desktop scaling. That's not only extremely unergonomic, but will damage a pair of eyes over long-term use. If you absolutely must go 4K for your 9x5, a 32 inch panel is the one you want to be sitting in front of.
Unfortunately, those 32 inch 4K panels come at a hefty price premium. Dell's UP3214Q retails for $2900, almost three times the price of the $999 LG 34UM95. Sure, there are cheaper 4K alternatives now being released, but these are TN panels which lack the color reproduction, uniformity and wide viewing angles that the LG 34UM95's more advanced IPS panel offers - increasing pixels alone doesn't get you a better monitor!
At the end of the day, you can spend $1700 on the LG 34UM95 and an overclocked GTX780Ti and have a sweet setup for gaming AND productivity. Or you can drop substantially more than that for a 4K TN panel, a pair of uber-expensive 6GB GTX780Ti's (whenever they're released), put up with a less-than-ideal productivity experience, deal with games that don't support SLI properly, give up those Thunderbolt ports, and forget about having built-in speakers and a USB3.0 hub.
For my money, the smart choice is the 34UM95. The fact that I can also run this monitor off a notebook and game at any resolution I want is a huge bonus!
As some reviews have mentioned, the 34UM95 stand lacks a true height adjustment, but rather lets you mount the monitor at two fixed positions. The lower setting places the top of the display at 17.25 inches above your desk. Mounting it at the higher position simply adds 0.75 inches onto that number. For me this wasn't an issue, but for some folks who like their display mounted above eye level, you may be looking at getting a monitor stand on your table.
Likewise, because of the unusually wide footprint, you may need to rethink your setup when it comes to flanking the display with a pair of speakers either side. In my case that meant adding 8 more inches in width to my desk, which thankfully I was able to solve with a little handy-work and ingenuity. But with some of you out there thinking of getting this display, especially where a 17" notebook had ample space to sit with speakers, you may have to consider shopping for a new desk.
In a similar fashion, you may also need to invest in an external keyboard if using this with your notebook as I do at the moment. The only way to see the monitor for me is to have my notebook's lid down. That means that I lose the ability to work on my notebook's keyboard and trackpad. Fortunately. I have the desk space for a separate keyboard with my notebook, just not the ability to use the monitor with my notebook's lid open.
Some may argue that $999 is a steep price for a monitor, and compared to a budget 1080p display, it certainly is. But when you compare to the ~$750 price of a 2560x1440 IPS monitor with similar connectivity, the 34UM95 isn't that much more expensive. As mentioned already, a similarly-sized 4K IPS display will currently cost you north of $2000.
For a final deal-breaker, many will rightly mention that a conventional triple monitor setup offers more screen real-estate for far less money. That's an expense you will only consider depending on what software it is you have running on your multiple screens, and whether that software will also work (or perhaps work better) on a single, but wider panel such as this one.
Editor's Choice Award for something that isn't a notebook, but the LG 34UM95 is thoroughly deserving. This is beyond just an accessory for your notebook, but will become the centerpiece of your gaming, multimedia and productivity system. It negates all of the drawbacks 4K displays have presented, comes in at a reasonable price considering it's impeccable display quality and feature set, and will work well with any modern notebook.
In my case, it has breathed new life into my older hardware, and will be even more useful once I move on to a more powerful system. It lets me be productive in ways my 17" notebook's display simply cannot do, and has already helped me improve my workflow in a major way. When I no longer have to miss out on a lost opportunity, that is a big deal.
Heck, this thing can even help turn your Surface Pro 2 slate into a full-blown desktop.
For those of you that have the hardware to run 3440x1440, appreciate the productivity benefits of a single, wide, high-resolution display, have been cut by the bleeding edge of 4K, or are simply sick and tired of looking at bezels, the LG 34UM95 is a breath of fresh air. Add some nice speakers and an external keyboard, and it will transform your notebook into a desktop command center.
You may never want to go back to using a smaller display ever again.
I know I won't.