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Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: LG E42.5" UHD 4K monitor

I normally like to wait for a bit before reviewing electronics, but there's a limited time deal on the 43UD79-B monitor ($530), so I'll make an exception.

I've used wide-screen monitors like the Dell 3818 before, but I've found them to be impractical if you're a writer or programmer: the extra width might give you multiple side-by-side windows for comparing photos or viewing graphs, but when you are writing, it's the amount of text you can fit in vertically that matters. So when I thought about what was practical, the standard 4:3 ratio is what you really want, along with a big screen.

4K is not useful on TVs because of the viewing distance. But 4K is great for computer monitors. With a big screen like the LG 43" display, you can use the screen without turning on resolution scaling, giving you huge amounts of text for writing. The screen comes with 4HDMI inputs, 2 of which allow for 60fps when driven by say, an Nvidi GTX 1030 (yes, I had to upgrade my wife's Optiplex 790 so it could drive a 4K display) , and a display port input as well as a USB-C alt-mode-capable input. The device won't switch automatically between them, requiring you to push "OK" on the remote (yes, the monitor comes with a remote!) in order to flip between inputs.

I was skeptical of the remote at first, but it's turned out to be much better than the usual buttons at the bottom or sides of Dell's monitors, which respond slowly (if at all) to text input and are frustrating to use. The monitor also comes with speakers, which lets you declutter your desk by eliminating the speakers.

Like all screens, your first impression upon unboxing it is that "it's huge." But by the next day, you're going to think: "all the other screens are so small! How the heck did I get anything done on them?" It is amusing that the various collection of monitors in the house show their age by the kind of connectors available on them: DVI-D inputs are no longer provided on the modern monitors, and one monitor actually has a VGA-input, and composite-video input which are no longer found at all anywhere. All this in the space of 10 years. It looks like mini-display ports are going to go next.

By far the worst feature of a 4K screen is that compression artifacts such as those imposed by Google Photos are readily visible. I used to think that Google Photos did an acceptable job of compressing pictures, but now that I regularly see those same photos on a 4K screen I no longer think so: edges that are even a bit off look blurry, and faces don't have the same clarity that you can clearly see from the original Canon RAW file and/or the Lightroom uncompressed JPG output. I'm glad that I have a decent backup solution for my RAW images, as I'm pretty sure I will have to re-render many of them to not be annoyed by looking at them on the 4K screen. I'm doubly happy that I have high resolution cameras and don't go through life shooting pictures of my kids with crappy cell phone cameras. I'm afraid the price of a monitor this good is that the limitations of your photo gear will become readily apparent, and you'll have to buy better cameras to keep up.

I'm red-green color-blind, so I can't comment on color accuracy. If you care about it, use a color-calibration tool.

It's very rare that the cheaper device (the LG 43" monitor) outperforms and is more practical than the more expensive device (the Dell 3818), but this is clearly the case here, especially if you use your screen for real work (programming, writing, photography). If you fit into one of those categories, take advantage of the current prices and get one (and if you're a manager of a team of programmers/writers, you owe it to your team to buy one for every member of the team --- this is one of the best bang for the buck upgrades you can get for your team, right up there with SSDs back when they were first introduced).  If you don't like buying from Amazon, Costco has it for a bit more ($550). Given Costco's longer warranty coverage that might be worth the extra $30 anyway.

Monitors last forever (though my HP ZR2740W had to be replaced under warranty once), so it's not worth replacing them unless something dramatically better comes along. It looks like the LG 43UD79-B is that something. Recommended.

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