LG UltraGear 34GN850 full review
The market for ultra-wide displays is evolving, as those that play simulations and FPS games on PC and console are looking for a competitive edge and more immersive experience.
Following up my review of the Philips Brilliance 346P1CRH, comes the LG UltraGear 34GN850. A design that is even more heavily gamer-focused with exceptionally low latency and support for both Nvidia and AMD variable refresh rates.
On paper, this looks like a gamer's dream, until they catch sight of the cost, so does the LG UltraGear 34GN850 justify its elevated price tag?
Design & Features
There is a feature of the LG UltraGear 34GN850 that needs a mention from the outset, and that is how lightweight it is.
Typically it might be considered a negative feature to be lightweight since it could infer that LG used more plastic in this product than metal. But trust me in saying that having pushed my back muscles beyond their practical limits extracting ultrawide monitors from packaging and positioning them on a table, the modest 5.6kg that this panel weighs is a good thing.
The narrow ‘V’ foot connects to the vertical pillar using captured thumbscrews, and the panel attaches to the post with spring-loaded tangs. It’s all amazingly simple, tool-free, and within a couple of minutes, you should be ready to plug your gaming PC or console into it.
However, one of the ways that the designers reduced the weight was to use an external power block, and that’s more cable clutter to deal with.
But where I started to like this design was when I got to cable it to the computer, because LG engineers didn’t make the glaring errors that others have made repeatedly.
Cabling on ultrawide screens is often challenging because you can’t rotate the screen into portrait mode to get easy access to all the ports. This design has no rotation or twist, only tilt and some vertical adjustment.
To help solve this problem, designers didn’t place the inputs on the bottom edge of the panel. Instead, they’re grouped in a circle to the right side of the support mount, and they all face outward. Turning the screen 90 degrees is enough to have complete access to the cabling, and with the weight of the unit, doing this is easy.
For those wondering if the red circle illuminates, that might have been the plan at one point, but it doesn’t. There are no colour LEDs on this design like the MSI Optix MAG272CQR.
There is a token nod to cable management in a notch placed in the support arm that might avoid cables hanging down, but it’s a gesture rather than a real solution.
While the support arm isn’t long enough to allow for portrait mode, VESA 1000 mounting is possible, and the setting menu allows for vertical orientation.
The majority of ultrawide designs use VA technology panels because these are relatively inexpensive, and there are several good quality panel options for manufacturers to use.
The LG UltraGear 34GN850 uses an alternative approach, a Nano IPS panel that promises the colour gamut of IPS technology with the latency of TN technology screens. And, for the most part, these aren’t just marketing aspirations.
This display manages, somehow, to deliver on those promises, admittedly with a few caveats.
One weakness of IPS technology is contrast, and even with the LG Nano twist to enhance IPS the inferior contrast to VA technology does manifest in some situations.
What it lacks is localised backlighting as seen on OLED TV technology. The backlight is at the edge, and this tends to generate a backlight bloom and reduces the impact of HDR.
But conversely, colour representation is excellent and could be useable for design applications if accurately calibrated. The only snag is that because this is a gamer orientated design, the settings menu doesn’t offer specific colour temperatures or numerical Gamma settings.
The maximum refresh is 160Hz, although this is restricted to DisplayPort connection and where 144Hz is a full 10-bit representation, 160Hz uses either 8-bit or 10-bit with 10-bit with 4:2:2 compression.
These limitations are enforced by the bandwidth available to DisplayPort 1.4, and not anything that LG chose to do.
The curve on this panel is a relatively gentle 1900R, where the focal point of the curve is 1.9 metres (6ft 2in) from the screen. That’s a long way back to achieve the illusion of a flat image, and it lacks the immersion that some more aggressively curved panels can achieve.
I’ve already described how easy to assemble and cable this screen is, and the thinking behind other aspects are generally well-considered.
The OSD is accessible from a joystick that is mounted just behind the LG logo in the centre of the bottom edge. It’s an easy to navigate interface and makes input selection or changing to one of a wide range of presets extremely easy.
One slight oddity is that the top-level menu appears directly above the centralised button, and from here there are five sub selections. These options include exiting the menu and powering off the monitor.
Most of the options lead to a menu that appears in the same place, bottom centre, yet the one with the most on it ‘settings’ appears on the extreme right.
That seems silly, since you are looking at a specific part of the screen, and then the sub-menu pops up 17 inches to the right from where you are currently focused.
However, it is worth noting that LG has created a software menu system for both PC and Mac that has everything on it that the inbuilt menu offers, and some additional options.
One trick that software menu can do is to change preset based on the application being used, enabling games to use the perfects settings for them, and then switch back to a different mode when exited.
This mechanism is significantly more user-friendly than manually selectable options and makes it more likely that users will use presets. The first two presets, Gamer 1 and Gamer 2 have more customisation available than the other choices, but there is no ability to create entirely new presets from scratch.
That’s slightly annoying for those that want the best colour accuracy. Because that comes with the sRGB preset, and yet that has minimal controls.
This software can also predefine splitting of the display and picture-in-picture for the simultaneous presentation of multiple inputs.
Some of the features require that the monitor is connected by USB to the controlling PC, like updating the monitor firmware, but many work only with a DisplayPort cable connection.
For our testing, we use a DataColor Spyder5 Elite calibration tool and the analysis offered by its software.
According to LG, this Nano IPS panel has a typical brightness of 400 nits, a static contrast ratio of 700:1 and DCI-P3 colour gamut of 98%. And, our tests got close to those brightness and contrast numbers with the exception being the DCI-P3 score, where we recorded 100% coverage.
That was using the default Gamer 1 preset, but you can get extra brightness from HDR mode and enhanced colours from sRGB.
The monitor also works well with both G-Sync and FreeSync graphics cards for variable sync, although to get the 160Hz the monitor needs to be configured for ‘overdrive’. If you don’t use overdrive mode, the maximum is 144Hz.
The panel is HDR400 certified, which isn’t the best HDR level available, but it's better than using the HDR effect mode on content that doesn’t have the extra HDR data embedded.
To use HDR fully and variable sync modes, this monitor must be connected by DisplayPort, as HDMI in this implementation does not have those capabilities.
The weakest feature of this panel is the effectiveness of the backlighting model, and its limitations are revealed in a lack of contrast in low light conditions. It can’t generate a convincing black, and you see a dark grey at best.
Turning the brightness down, as indicated by a calibration helps, but without localised backlighting IPS technology can’t emulate the blacks of an OLED panel however it is tweaked.
From a specification standpoint, the other negative I noticed was that at a typical 72W, this monitor draws plenty of power, and it can demand up to 80W in some circumstances - if you're worried about your electricity bill.
As a reviewer for some considerable time, I’ve seen some failures of execution. But the 34GN850 included one so amazing that it begs a mention.
Along with the myriad of cables placed in a box marked ‘accessories’ was a DVD emblazoned with the words ‘Owners Manual’. The disc wasn’t in a plastic bag or paper sleeve to protect it from damage, but at least it was included!
Unfortunately, this disc does not contain the owner’s manual!
It has Acrobat Reader and two PDFs of the regulatory and safety precautions, but no manual. That someone could have the disc duplicated and overprinted with the words ‘owners manual’, knowing that it doesn’t contain that precise document is bewildering.
Owners can go to the LG website and get the actual manual, and it contains plenty of useful information for anyone setting up this screen.
My advice to LG is that it should stop including optical discs and use cheap USB keys instead, and descriptions of contents should better reflect the files on it.
And, maybe putting the software display controls and drivers on wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Maybe you should put that coffee down before reading that the LG UltraGear 34GN850 costs an eye-watering £949.99 in the UK, and US$996.64 in the USA via Amazon. That might be a better deal for American buyers, but it hardly makes this product affordable.
It's also available from Overclockers.
It also costs more than the Acer Predator Z35P, a slightly larger 35-inch ultrawide design that has an MSRP of £899, but it can be bought for less than £800.
The only mainstream option that is more expensive is the Alienware AW3418DW, that Dell optimistically is asking US$1,049.99 or £967 for in a screen that can only manage a 4ms response time and a disappointing 120Hz refresh rate.
Check out our chart of the best gaming monitors to see what other options you have.
In short, the LG UltraGear 34GN850 is a remarkable piece of gear. It takes away the compromises that dogged gaming displays in terms of colour representation and delivers a solution that works well for both play and productivity applications.
It’s light, it's bright, the colours are punchy, and the refresh is fast. It also supports G-Sync and FreeSync, HDR10 and Vesa DisplayHDR 400 support. I could be wrong, but this might be the only ultrawide monitor with G-Sync certification. Or, it’s one on a truly shortlist.
So where could it be better? Well, it would be nice if it supported 160Hz without the need to activate overclocking, but 144Hz isn’t much of a downgrade using variable sync, and it is fully 10-bit at that refresh rate. And, the contrast at low brightness generates dark greys and not black.
The ‘letterbox’ aspect of this ratio takes some adjustment and doesn’t fit some titles well, but on others, it gives excellent situational awareness of threats from the side. And, in very dark screens, a degree of bloom or glow around the edges of the panel is detectable.
But these are mostly minor points, the major problem here is the price. As impressive as this screen is, a cost that’s almost double that of the Philips Brilliance 346P1CRH is unrealistic for many. Given that it is competing with some designs costing much less, this is a significant financial commitment for most gamers to justify.
And, for those with this much disposable income, they might want to spend even more when, and if, LG makes a 38in variant of this design
LG UltraGear 34GN850: Specs
- Panel Size: 34.0in (86.7cm)
- Resolution: 3440 × 1440
- Curve: 1900R
- Display Technology: Nano IPS
- Aspect Ratio: 21:9
- Response Time (MPRT): 1ms
- Viewing Angle: 178°(H)/178°(V)
- Maximum Refresh: 160Hz (with adaptive sync and overdrive)
- HDR: HDR10, VESA DisplayHDR 400
- Brightness: 400 cd/m2
- Static Contrast: 1000:1
- Video Ports: 2x HDMI 2.0, 1x DisplayPort 1.4
- USB ports: 2× USB 3.0 Type-A connectors, 1 x USB-B(upstream)
- Other Ports: 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Webcam: No
- Variable Sync: NVIDIA G-Sync, AMD FreeSync
- Weight: 7.6kg (with stand), 5.5kg (without stand)