LG’s bonkers new 38-inch superwide monitor

Behold the stunning breadth of its super-wide proportions. Marvel at the lustrous sheen of its impeccable anti-glare coating. Is LG’s new 38-inch, 21:9-aspect FreeSync-capable masterwork not every gamer’s ultimate fantasy? You’d think so. But it just goes to show how complex the monitor market has become, especially for we gamers, that the LG 38UC99 falls surprisingly short as a gaming companion. There’s a broader lesson in here, I reckon, when it comes to picking gaming panels.

It seems like only yesterday that 34 inches and 3,440 by 1,440 pixels was the latest hotness in terms of form factors for luxurious computing and gaming – hell, even Alec bought one. Now LG has already upped the ante to 38 inches and 3,840 by 1,600 pixels, the latter being sort-of-but-not-conventionally 4K.

LG has also thrown support for AMD’s FreeSync adaptive frame syncing into the mix, along with so-called 1ms motion blur reduction and a slight uptick in refresh compared to the 60Hz norm at 75Hz. Thus, LG’s sales pitch for the thing takes a fair old tilt at gamers. ‘Fluid motion in high-res games’, they say. ‘Precision and accuracy for playing at the highest level’, too.

And all for the minor matter of £1,200 or $1,500. Youch. At that price point you won’t be surprised to learn the 38UC99 packs an IPS panel and a number of pro-friendly features including 8-bit per channel colour and coverage of 99% of the sRGB colour space, the former making for nice colour and smooth gradients for all, the latter not being especially critical outside of professional circles.

Normal-sized laptop made to look positively puny…

Anyway, the point this panel nails a pretty broad range of theoretical usage models, on paper. In practice, I’m not sure it really nails any of them. For starters, the basic image quality of the IPS panel is surprisingly, well, a tiny bit dreary.

Maybe I’m being a bit unrealistic having experience a few quantum dot and HDR-capable screens of late, but the 38UC99 simply lacks pizzazz compared to toher screens in the latest and greatest category, like Asus’s incredible ProArt PA329Q, if you want an example.

That was a real surprise on two accounts. Firstly, LG is one of the few outfits that actually makes LCD panels. Most monitor manufacturers buy them in. The implication being LG has the pick of its finest LCD substrate production for this high-end monitor. And secondly, given that this is a size and resolution that’s not been seen before, you’d think it used the very latest generation of LG’s LCD panels.

Browsing a single webpage can look a little comical

If that’s subjective, what’s not is the visible judder when running at 75Hz at the native 3,440 by 1,440. At first I went into the video driver and create a custom 60Hz refresh profile at native to smooth things out. Which worked. Then I swapped out the Nvidia GTX 1070 I was using for a 1050, just to check it wasn’t a board-specific issue, which it wasn’t.

Then I had a ponder about the fact that I was using Nvidia at all, hopped into the OSD menu, found the FreeSync setting, saw it was enabled, switched it off and discovered 75Hz refresh was no longer being offered. It was therefore no surprise to find in the spec small print that the 75Hz refresh capability is tied to FreeSync. And of course FreeSync only works with AMD boards.

A few weeks ago, I had a play with this exact example of the 38UC99 hooked up via an AMD RX 480 and there was no noticeable judder at 75Hz and indeed I was able to confirm that the FreeSync feature also worked flawlessly and without that nasty ghosting nonsense that blighted early panels that supported AMD’s adaptive sync tech. So that all works, but your access to it is limited by your GPU choice.

FreeSync works fine with AMD cards, but the 75Hz refresh feature is also AMD-bound

Another aspect I’m not totally convinced by is the panel response. The bumpf makes impressive claims around sub-1ms performance. But despite jiggling with the response options and the global gaming presets, it never looks as responsive as that.

Again, the fine detail of the official panel spec quotes 14ms / 5ms, the latter being the fairly meaningless metric that measures how long it takes the panel to switch from one tone of grey to another fairly similar tone of grey. Put another way, the inherent response of the panel is relatively ordinary and there’s only so much you can do to wake that up by blasting it with current à la pixel overdrive features.

It ain’t perfect, but it can still look pretty glorious

Of course, the 38UC99 still has a lot going for it. If I hadn’t seen the very latest quantum dot and HDR panels, I’d probably think the basic image quality was pretty nice. And the visuals are fairly mega in games despite the shortcomings. It really is a pleasure to lord it over a Total War battlefield, to combine a such a broad overview of proceedings with so much local fine detail, to have the numerous menus and tools nevertheless encroach so little into the visual spectacle.

The extra pixels over 34-inch 21:9 screens are welcome, too, in terms of desktop space. Likewise, it’s nice to be able to view the full glory of 21:9 4K movies, which undeniably look pretty stellar thanks to the combination of pixel count, large proportions and super-slim bezel. Don’t get me wrong, I could live with this screen’s shortcomings. It’s bloody nice. Just not at anything like this much money.

To be frank, if I was a graphics pro I’d also be less than wowed. I’d expect native 10-bit colour and probably quantum dot tech and even broader colour space support. And a bit more visual clout.

21:9 movies look fugging fantastic, too

But that’s by the by. The lesson here, I think, is not to make too many assumptions about a screen based on its specs or broader provenance. I was pretty sure this thing was going to be spectacular. I was had a feeling the IPS panel itself was going to be one of the best I’d ever seen in terms of colour production and I thought that LG had clearly given the thing some thought as a device for gamers thanks to the FreeSync, 75Hz and so-called 1ms capabilities.

It probably had. But that didn’t prevent it missing the target a bit with the 38UC99. So try before you buy, or at the very least do your due diligence and dig out some reliable third party resources. Otherwise you might just buy yourself some disappointment.

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33 Comments

  1. brucethemoose says:

    Freesync and 72hz is nice, but is it really worth it when you can get a 40″ 4k HDR TV for 1/2 the price?

    The day TVs start implementing adaptive sync is the day a whole chunk of the “gaming” monitor market dies. Even without the insane markups they have now, monitors just can’t compete with the manufacturing volume of TVs.

    • UncleLou says:

      TVs seem to look universally awful in desktop mode though. I wouldn’t want to browse the internet (let alone edit photos) on my TV. It’s a few years old though, maybe things got better.

      • Jeremy Laird says:

        Definitely used to be the case. But the Samsung UHD / HDR TV I tried recently basically had no obvious issues.

        • brucethemoose says:

          You remember which one it was?

          I’ve seen 43″ Samsung HDR TVs for like $400. Even if they don’t have local dimming, that’s still a heck of a deal, and I’m thinking about getting one.

          • Jeremy Laird says:

            Samsung UE49KS9000 9 series
            link to rockpapershotgun.com

            Not cheap and would also strongly advise trying before you buy if at all possible. One way to do that at given store is ask if they’ll hook up a HDMI 2.0 / 4K capable laptop to the screen – so a store that does TVs and laptops would be a good place to go.

        • Ghostwise says:

          Sounds like a good subject for a full RPS article to me…. :-)

      • brucethemoose says:

        Depends on the TV. Last one I used looked just as sharp as my monitor, but I’ve seen some bad ones too.

        You gotta make sure subpixel rendering and over/underscanning is set up right though. That can make a TV look truly awful.

    • GameCat says:

      I think it’s still hard to find good TV with low input lag that can compete with monitors.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Yeah, every TV I’ve tried had input lag that’s just way too high for my taste. I like instantaneous clickies.

  2. caff says:

    I’m still not going to switch from my Philips BDM4065UC. I love the thought of a super-wide curved monitor, but I want to see something huge that can dominate the width of a whole desk – something in the region of 60 inches or so.

    Also, it seems like 21:9 is taking developers a while to catch up with. It seems like a great aspect ratio for immersion (but not necessarily pixel-art roguelikes!) so hopefully we’ll see more support for it.

  3. Boozebeard says:

    Maybe it lacks “pizzazz”because it’s actually very colour accurate out of the box? There’s a reason that displays often have profiles like “entertainment” built in or are simply just over saturated out of the box, being colour accurate isn’t always the most visually striking.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Very well could be. A highly accurate screen doesn’t wow some people because it looks so close to how things look normally with their own eyes. Like you said, that’s why they push certain aspects to catch the eye. Then you take it home and it gives you headaches.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      No. I measured the Asus Quantum Dot display I mentioned and it managed .9-something out of the box and 0.7-something calibrated delta e’s.

      I didn’t calibrate this LG screen and there’s zero chance it’s more accurate uncalibrated and very little chance it would be more accurate calibrated. It’s true that visual pop and accuracy are not well correlated. But that works both ways. Accurate doesn’t mean dull.

  4. racccoon says:

    Normal t.v.’s today are so superior and vastly bigger!
    There is nothing more satisfying than having a ka’trillion use for such a thing.
    I moved from my bedroom PC computer the norm syndrome to the front room, for T.V./Internet PC computer world..donkeys ago!..easily 10+yrs now its been in my front room with family and they love it.
    Todays tv’s are more than worthy so was the past ones as they keep up with time & tech and having this, beats spending volumes on stupid addon crap fests like pay by the month movie come more ads in your programs bullshit! In my case, the whole internet is a show! not for free, as you still have to pay internet server, but its all it costs to entertain anyone! A one payment fee plus electricity, lol, and a place to use it, lol + I got another choice do I or don’t I use the t.v. itself for all that free to air ads n more ads crap!
    Front room PC computer T.v. anyday!
    Remember scart plugs I used to make them lol

    • Unclepauly says:

      For gaming not so much, unless you game with gamepads. With m/kb the input lag is beyond annoying.

      • Hard_Celery says:

        Well pick one with low input lag, I’m sure you could still find a monitor that has a lower input lag but I find the 16.3ms lag on my 4k TV unnoticeable.

  5. Strabo says:

    Do you get a quid for every mention of the Quantum Dot marketing stuff? ;)

    Generally OLED and nano particle coating (aka Quantum Dot) look nice, but they aren’t very accurate in terms of colour reproduction.

    • Asurmen says:

      Well, they’re both better than LED, and quantum dot is better still than OLED, and will continue to get better when they become electroluminescent.

  6. Rindan says:

    Honestly, there gets a point where a monitor is just too damn big. Stuff just doesn’t scale properly. I’m using a 27″ and I just can’t imagine getting it much bigger, at least for gaming. For doing work on, sure, make it a wall. For gaming though? If I have to turn my damn head to see my health, I don’t think that is going to work.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      I have the 34″ super-wide, bells and whistles that Jeremy talks about. It’s fantastic, and I love it, but I do concede, I probably don’t need a monitor that big. i feel my 34″ is a bit silly, 38″ is definitely too big.

      • Ghostwise says:

        I sunk 2 years of savings into a 34″ 1440p UW and I like it much better than my old 27″ 1080p.

        “How much do you multi-windows whilst working ?” is an important aspect of 34″ UWD value, I think.

        As well as the sort of games you tend to play (and whether you’re allergic to tinkering with .ini and crap for make older games display correctly).

  7. Tiax says:

    I’ll keep on waiting for my 38′, OLED, 1ms, G-Sync, 21:9 screen I guess.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      38′ is 11.6 meters, mate. You might have to wait a while.

      • spacedyemeerkat says:

        I managed to keep my yoghurt in my mouth while reading your comment. Not entirely sure how. Just really tickled me for some reason!

    • melerski says:

      27″, OLED, G-Sync, 120Hz would be enough for me. Been using a 15″ OLED (LG) for 5/6 years now.

  8. Michael Anson says:

    I’m still somewhat amused that the aspect ratio is constantly discussed as “21:9” instead of “7:3”, even though it is a ratio and should be expressed in the smallest factors possible, simply because it sounds bigger.

    • TheSkiGeek says:

      Although this is true, the ratios it’s usually compared against (16:9 and 16:10) cannot be reduced. 21:9 is easier to compare to 16:9 at a glance.

      • Ghostwise says:

        Though technically we could rename 16:9 as 5.34:3.

        I guess.

      • Person of Interest says:

        Excellent nerdbait.

        16:10 can also be expressed as 8:5, or 1.6:1.

        While I’m at it, 3840×1600 is actually 12:5 or 2.4:1, not 21:9. (Neither is 3440×1440.)

  9. criskywalker says:

    I’ll wait for a monitor that supports HDR and 120 hz that is not crazy expensive. I don’t mind if it’s smaller than 34″ if it has those two features.

  10. El_MUERkO says:

    I’m sat at my desk with a $500 Philips 43″ 4k monitor and the older 40″ version, I could never go back to a smaller monitor, easily readable native 4k is amazing and 43″ gives you the perfect PPI for that.

    I’m just hoping a company offers a +100hz gsync/freesync version now that DP1.4 is more common on GFX cards.

  11. DanMan says:

    Is this curved? If not, it should be at that size with that aspect ratio.