LG 34UC97 Curved UltraWide Monitor Review
An extremely solid display that's mildly under-cut by the screen curvature.
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Some computer monitors live in the value category. Some are best for video games, and some are best for graphic design or CAD/CAM work. The LG 34UC97 (MSRP $1,299) defies such attempts at easy categorization, and instead offers users a massive variety of uses and functions with the price tag to match.
While the two are identical in their wide variety of connectivity options, software features, and QHD (3,440 x 1,440) resolutions, the UC97's curvature introduces performance problems that we didn't notice while testing the UM95. The curve introduces some backlight bleed in the corners, which creates visual distractions and occasionally mars the purity of colors at those edges.
Despite those problems, the 34UC97 is still an excellent monitor for power users. Its dual Thunderbolt ports, USB hub, and screen splitting software mean it can easily take the place of two monitors at the center of your work station. If you're a stickler for the best possible image quality, however, there's no reason to buy it over the 34UM95, which is also more affordable.
The LG 34UC97 (MSRP $1,299.99) is an excellent performer overall, though its image quality is somewhat marred by edge-bleeding in the corners, likely due to the curvature of the screen. Even still, testing revealed a good degree of color accuracy, decent white balance, and satisfactory contrast performance. On the other hand, the 34UC97 is generally a worse performer than the flat 34UM95, though the degree of perceptible error between one or the other is almost negligible.
Design & Features
Make no mistake: This display will dominate your workspace.
This 34-inch, curved, super-minimalist monitor refuses to share the spotlight. The spindly metal stand branches out aggressively beneath the behemoth screen, which curves along a gentle radius, reaching out 33.7 inches (just under three feet) from edge to edge. Silver trim wraps the bezels, giving way to an aluminum rear casing reminiscent of Apple's Thunderbolt displays.
In fact, like the 34UM95, the 34UC97 works especially well with Apple systems thanks to its two Thunderbolt ports, which you'll find tucked away in an ample cutout section on the back of the display.
You also get two HDMI inputs, a DisplayPort input, output for headphones, one USB downstream, and two USB upstream ports, meaning you can easily connect two or more sources and integrate an entire workstation.
While it offers plenty of connectivity options, the 34UC97 isn't very capable in terms of physical adjustments. The panel tilts forward/backward by about 25°, but you can't raise, lower, or rotate to portrait orientation. Likewise, the caltrop-like stand does an alright job counterbalancing the weight of the screen, but we recommend taking special care whenever you move the monitor or shift it around.
Finally, you'll find a single control "nub" on the under-side of the screen—right in the middle below LG's logo—that controls the software and menu functions.
If this monitor's price tag gives you cold feet, keep in mind that the screen is so large (and its resolution so ample) that it can easily take the place of two desktop displays.
In fact, that's one area it excels in: There's an entire sub-menu given over to PbP (Picture-by-Picture) and PiP (Picture-in-Picture) options. Whether it's two HDMI inputs or an HDMI/DisplayPort 1.2 combination, you'll have 1,720 horizontal and 720 vertical pixels for either source.
Alongside Picture-by-Picture options, the 34UC97 also has a feature called "MaxxAudio," which claims to wring better bass/treble perfomance out of the monitor's dual 7-watt speakers. You'll find a full color tuner in the menu, as well as various picture modes (Photo, Game, Cinema) and color temperature settings. Navigating the menu is surprisingly easy and intuitive, considering you're doing everything with a single control stick.
Our color gamut test measures how accurate a monitor's color production is compared to the sRGB or Adobe RGB standards for digital/print color. The 34UC97 does not approach Adobe RGB colors, so it won't work for photo editors or print designers who need that wider color space, but it adheres to the sRGB standard quite well.
It's not without some imperfections, however. Green is a bit oversaturated, which in turn skews the fidelity of both cyan and white. Overall, however, this color accuracy is good enough for almost any task that doesn't require professional-grade color production.
Many of the same strengths as the flat variant, but the curve introduces some problems
As you might expect, the 34-inch UC97 performs very similarly to the flat variant, the 34UM95. Like that monitor, the UC97 wields an IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel, and delivers bright, vibrant colors, great viewing angles, and stellar image fidelity.
The 3,440 x 1,440 (QHD) resolution is obviously a boon, as well. Text and images look very crisp and sharp, and there's enough pixel real estate here that you can easily view two, three, or even four windows simultaneously (once you've installed LG's ScreenSplit software). This functionality works for both Windows- and Mac-based operating systems, to boot.
If there's one place the UC97 doesn't look so good, it's backlight uniformity. The gentle curve of the screen certainly looks great, and adds a dash of novelty to the usual flat-panel monitor look, but it also introduce some ugly corner flashlighting and backlight bleed.
This excess light introduces more than just distracting background noise to images, unfortunately. Color quality gets worse as you track them from the center to the edges of the display, where excess light mixes with low-level gradated areas and dirties the integrity of some hues/shades.
This discrepancy also affects the UC97's contrast performance—black levels are deeper at the center of the screen than at the edges. If you're watching movies with lots of dark scenes, you may notice interruptions in shadow quality across the screen.
Grayscale Error & RGB Balance
Displays like this one produce "grayscale" elements (neutral tones, like gray and white) by combining red, green, and blue. When the combined RGB sub-pixels are emphasized evenly, they create clean, color-free grayscale tones. When one or more is over- or under-emphasized, the remaining colors must take the "brunt" of electricity meant for luminous production and add their color, unduly, to would-be neutral tones. It ain't good.
Error within the grayscale is expressed in a collective called DeltaE, where a DeltaE of 3 or less is ideal. The 34UC97 tested with a slightly higher DeltaE than we would like to see in this price range, though nothing so bad that it was visually distracting. Overall, we measured a grayscale DeltaE of 8.71, which is a good bit higher than the 4.81 result we got from the 34UM95, the flat variant of this display.
If we take a look at the UC97's underlying RGB emphasis, we can see where the problems lie. The display tends to gradually under-emphasize blue as it adds light at each signal step from 0 to 255. This results in the slightly yellow tint of the white point that we saw during the color gamut section.
A bounty of strengths, but no selling point over the flat version
Like the 34UM95 before it, the 34UC97 is a solid display. Its IPS panel is rich with color and its QHD resolution provides ample screen real estate. Additional features, such as LG's ScreenSplit software, add even further to the monitor's abilities and pedigree.
Unfortunately, the curved design—while unique and arguably more attractive than a flat panel—introduces image production issues, including flashlighting in the corners of the display and reduced color purity along edges.
While the monitor's value is not entirely diminished by these problems, it does make it hard to recommend the 34UC97 over the 34UM95, which is not only our current #1 computer monitor, it's also more affordable.
Gamma, usually measured as 2.0, 2.2, 2.3, or 2.4, is a measurement of how quickly (or slowly) a display adds luminance as it progresses out of black (minimum luminance) and travels to peak white (reference luminance). Typically, computer monitors adhere to a flat gamma of 2.2, which is ideal for a normally lit environment. The 34UC97 performed in an odd manner in this regard, behaving with more variance between gamma steps than is ideal.
Overall, we measured a gamma of 2.1, which is not that far from the gamma standards. On the other hand, the gamma itself was quite choppy and irregular, meaning that while collectively it creates a 2.1 luminance shift across the entire spectrum, luminance changes between steps are erratic and inconsistent.