LG 38UC99-W UltraWide Curved Display Review

The concept of curved displays is not new. They made their debut in Cinema way back in the 1950s where they were touted as countering problems with distortion at the extreme edges of wide cinema video formats. They’ve since arrived in the consumer television market where, frankly, they’re just another non-feature to shift an endless stream of new TV sets in a market that’s so totally saturated, uniform and absolutely commodity that the high-end is desperate to find something that sets it apart from the riff raff. Despite purportedly offering a better viewing experience, this only really applies if you happen to be one person, sat dead in the centre of the display.

Sound like a familiar viewing situation on a family TV? Not really. But on a computer monitor? Absolutely. The total absurdness of concave curves on televisions, admittedly, made me extremely sceptical of curved displays so when I had the opportunity to test the LG 38UC99-W I fully expected it to be a nice enough monitor, but for the curvature to be a silly non-feature. I’d go as far to say TVs should, if anything, be curved the other way! How many times have you been sat in a living room glancing up at the TV from the extreme edge and perhaps wishing it had a convex curvature?

Anyway. I digress. It just so happens that the claims used to sell curved TVs actually apply extraordinarily well to cured monitors. It feels less of a gimmick, and more a legitimate solution to view distortion on an ultra wide display. If you want a point of comparison- how many times have you seen or used a dual or triple display setup where all of the monitors are aligned flat? Not often, I’d wager, since it sucks. Most comfortable multi-monitor setups will result in the monitors arrayed in an arc around your head, and that’s just what a curved monitor does- only with just one, seamless display.

With the curvy elephant in the room addressed, let’s take a look at the LG 38UC99-W in detail:

Quality & Construction

Make no mistake, the 38UC99 is an expensive monitor with a solid build but it’s not without its flaws. Since LG have clearly poured a lot of love and attention into this product, let’s start with the good and ease into the not so good.

Despite appearing solid, the 38UC99 has been carefully designed with a bit of give so that it can survive use, transportation and perhaps a small dose of abuse. The unit I’m testing is scarred with a few knocks around the edge from it’s journey around various reviewers, but the outer bezel is actually separated from the display itself by a good millimetre (not in an unsightly way, mind) so that any knocks to the edge of the screen are not transferred and the display seems to have suffered no ill effect.

This give is also evident in the display itself, which is fairly springy to the touch; this may be perhaps as much a symptom of its curvature than anything else, but in practise means it will probably take a knock from a blunt object without being harmed. Since the box it’s shipped in is big enough that you’ll want to dispose of it fairly quickly, this is good news if you ever need to move or relocate the display. The old tape-some-bubble-wrap-to-the-front trick will probably do you proud.

About 1cm of black surrounds the whole display- while it would have been nice to see it lit edge-to-edge it’s really not an issue, nor even noticeable, on a display this size. Since the surface of the display is flush to the edges, without a recess, there are fewer places for troublesome dust and dirt to lodge.

The bottom edge of the display has a slightly protruding black plastic strip which bears the LG logo and appears to all the world to be a place for touch-sensitive controls. None are to be found, however, since all the controls are via a single, pushable joystick concealed underneath the display in the center- more on this later!

Around the very edge is a 2mm thin silver outer bezel- the one I mentioned earlier- which trims the front and side, joining onto the white back panel which makes of the rest of the construction.

Everything is plastic. But this is fine. I’m willing to bet the huge, curved panel itself makes up the lions share of the cost and swanky aluminium construction would push the price (and possibly weight?) out of the realms of sanity. As it is, it’s fairly reasonable if you contrast it with two good quality (£400-£700) displays- I’d use Dell UltraSharp as my point of comparison here, because they comprise the dual display setup I use on a daily basis.

What’s not so good? When first setting up, moving or transporting the monitor the lack of any easy place to grip it is very apparent. A handle or hand grip near the top would have been a welcome addition. The thin bezel, combined with the heft of such a big display make it a cumbersome beast to relocate.

The stand is also not great. In fact I’d go as far to call it junk. While it’s fairly solidly built in its own right it irritated me in so many ways that I was quick to remove it and continue my testing with a relatively cheap and cheerful Hama “Fullmotion” swing-arm VESA mount. Let’s list them:

  • The weight of the monitor, plus the rubberised feet on the stand made it incredibly hard to position on my desk. I like to slide it toward me or away from me depending on use cases- it’s nice close up when gaming (for immersion, of course!), and far away when working to get the best out of its exuberant real-estate.
  • It really gets in the way. I like my keyboard pushed toward the back of my desk so I can rest my forearms comfortably. The curved feet on the display got in the way, even on my very deep Ikea trestle-table desk. If you sit with the keyboard close to you and type like a pianist then this would be much less of an issue, but it really bugged me.
  • It has absolutely no cable management whatsoever. Promotional photos for this display are rife with beautiful, cable-free shots showing a pristine, ideal desk, but the reality is that anything you plug into this display- which can include your mouse and keyboard- is going to contribute to a spaghetti mess of unsightly visible wiring hanging down the back. The stand has what appear to be clips for some kind of management system, and there’s a plastic bit in the box that doesn’t fit. If I RTFM it might help, but even if this was some half-baked attempt at cable management it would be woefully inadequate for the up to seven cables you could have sprouting from this thing.
  • It doesn’t connect solidly to the display, and has a bit of side-to-side give.

Honestly, the stand isn’t completely terrible, but it’s bad enough that I wonder if LG could sell a version of this display without it, and save people the hassle of shoving it in the loft when they switch to a VESA mount.

With a simple swing-arm mount- I actually modified the Hama mount by removing the short part since I didn’t need the full range of motion- the LG 38UC99 is an absolute joy to use. I can now gently pull the display forwards for gaming with no trouble whatsoever, and push it back again when I’m done. I can also tilt it upwards so that I can use it when standing up and playing a piano or keyboard- a really great setup for a DAW.

I’m also pretty sure I could drill out the plastic cap on top of the upright part of the mount, drill a corresponding hole in my desk, and feed the USB-C and power cables invisibly through the middle. I wont try this, however, since I can’t keep the display.

If you’re looking at this display, be prepared to use a VESA table-top or wall mount. It will make a world of difference!

Connections & Cables

While cable management may not be up to snuff, or even present at all, LG have bundled more-or-less white cables that match, ironically, the white back of the display you’ll never see during general use. If you’re an Apple-user, however, then the white power and USB Type-C cable will look absolutely at home with your other spaghetti. Interestingly, though, the HDMI and USB Type-C supplied are white, while the power cable and DisplayPort cables are closer to beige. It’s academic, really, since you’re absolutely going to want to hide as many cables as possible for the best looking setup.

In the back of the display you’ll find a generous two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort connection, a USB Type-C connection, two USB3.0 ports (one of them capable of delivering up to 1.5A for charging) and a socket for a 3.5mm audio output TRS jack- despite USB-C being capable of it, there’s no way to use a headset with this connection but regular headphones will work just fine.

The existence of USB Type-C was my hook for testing this monitor, and it doesn’t disappoint. While the monitor could have used a couple more USB ports just being able to get a video signal, a couple of peripherals, audio and- for computers that support it- power delivery through a single tidy cable is, simply, awesome.

The USB Type-C cable supplied is a generous 1.5 meters long and is the longest cable I’ve successfully used with any USB Type-C device to date. It’s a welcome and refreshing change from the incredibly short cables necessitated by high-bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 devices and gives you the flexibility to place your laptop pretty much anywhere on even the biggest desks. Heck the cable is so long I’ve got it loosely looped three times around the top of my stand, just to take up some of the slack!

The display worked phonemically well with both a new Touchbar MacBook Pro, and a Dell Lattitude 5285 that I had handy for testing. In both cases these computers could drive it at its full 3840×1600 resolution (as well they should), use the connected USB peripherals and charge from the monitor which comes with a whopping 140W power supply. Assuming a generous 80W is needed for the display itself, that’s still 60W headroom for USB Type-C Power Delivery- IE: charging your laptop.

HDMI also worked flawlessly supporting the full 3840×1600 resolution (take note, Dell!), and I’ve had everything from Raspberry Pi’s, to the Zotac PI221, and Intel NUC hooked up in various configurations as I experiment with the display’s features.

Features & Controls

Perhaps the most interesting feature on the LG 38UC99 is Picture-by-Picture. LG have gone to pains to make this feature actually useful. Right down to supplying a software KVM so you can use the same keyboard and mouse with multiple computers. Where previously I’ve owned monitors with Picture-in-Picture and it’s been basically worthless, the LG display is wide enough that Picture-by-Picture offers two whopping 1920×1600 desktops- placing any two connected computers side-by-side which is great when you need to test or develop on something, or run a Linux box alongside your Mac or Windows workstation.

Picture-by-Picture is far from half-baked on this display, too. LG have implemented a feature they call “Dual EDID” which, effectively, causes the monitor to re-identify itself as a different display when you switch in and out of Picture-by-Picture mode. Once you’ve set your preferred resolution for both full-screen and PBP modes on your computers, they will remember this setting and change resolution to make optimum use of the mode you’re in.

If I switch into PBP mode now, my laptop will re-detect the LG monitor, switch itself into 1920×1600 mirrored mode and the Zotac PI221 I’ve got connected will pop up on the other screen. If I switch back out of PBP to either computer, they’ll switch back to using the full display. Neat!

A possible downside, although not a frustration yet since the displays OSD is so fabulously intuitive to navigate, is that entering, exiting and calibrating PBP mode is done through the OSD, via the single joystick control on the bottom of the display. Let’s look at that in some detail;

When I first set up the LG 38UC99 I hunted, as we all might, along the right-hand bottom edge for buttons. None. I touched the front bezel. Nothing. I stuck my head under the screen and looked around. Aha! Located right in the very centre of the monitor is a tiny little joystick (that incidentally also doubles as the power LED if you leave it turned on) which is the gateway to all interaction with the display. At first I was sceptical of this unusual divergence from the bevvy of buttons you might normally find on an LCD. But, good grief it’s so intuitive to use!

Buttons have always bean a bugbear of mine on LCD. Remembering which button does what at any point is often tricky, and many LCDs don’t really communicate it well. Incidentally it’s an old LG Flatron W2486L that I’m thinking about when I complain about this stuff, so clearly LG are capable of both the best, and worst, when it comes to UX design.

Make no mistake, the 38UC99 represents the very best. The single joystick serves as both the power on/off button, a quick access to volume control (by far the most commonly used control) by moving it left/right and intuitive navigation of the OSD itself. Since I’ve been pretty much trained from childhood to successfully navigate interfaces with a joystick, it feels incredibly familiar and I can fly through the various configuration options with absolute ease. LG… you done good!

And this is where I get back to PBP- to enter PBP mode you need to click down the joystick, push right to enter the menu, press down once to select “Input”, press right to enter this menu, then down twice to select “PBP”, right to enter the menu, and finally down/up and right to choose and confirm your chosen PBP mode. Reading this, you might be forgiven for thinking this is an arduous trial of an experience to go through every time you want to change modes, but in practise it takes me a second or two to negotiate this menu and once you’re familiar with the basics you’ll find it similarly easy.

Thankfully, changing inputs isn’t quite so tricky. Just press once, push left to enter the input shortcut menu, select your input and push right to confirm. This is quick and easy, and a far cry from the awful experiences I’ve had with many, many other displays where, not for want of trying, the OSD always manages to be as unintuitive as possible.

Wrapping up the fairly comprehensive feature set on this display is another feature; Bluetooth Audio. In a world where everyone and their dog has a Bluetooth Speaker on the market, and they’re all uncompromising pointless garbage (hint: I don’t like Bluetooth speakers much) it’s no surprise that LG would value-add this commodity feature into their display to justify some of the hefty price. At first I had my laptop paired via Bluetooth, mistaking it for the only way to deliver sound via the speakers, but it’s really just for pairing your mobile phone, tablet or MP3 player for some quick and easy audio output. (Connected computers can send audio via USB Type-C, HDMI or DisplayPort with no problems whatsoever.) Playing audio over Bluetooth will periodically display a little icon in the bottom-right corner, which makes it somewhat irritating if you’re trying to use the monitor at the same time. And… well… you’ve got a whole flippin’ computer connected to the thing, just run Spotify on that! True to my disdain for Bluetooth audio, I didn’t find this feature much use but I will happily concede that it’s nicer to have a feature (one that will ever get in your way) and not use it, than want it and not have it.

Viewing Experience

F*(&king glorious. Ahem. I’m totally ready to concede that curved displays are a wonderful glorious thing, and I don’t miss my awkward pair of Dell monitors and their thick, thick bezel (a whole foot of wall and then some separates them in fact) one bit. Let’s look at the LG 38UC99-W objectively as the alternative to two 27″ 2650×1440 monitors:

  • No gap in the middle. Meaning you can use the same setup for work that you use for gaming.
  • No gap in the middle. Meaning you can spread Adobe Premier, or a multi-track audio workstation across the whole expanse of the screen seamlessly- both apps with timelines that benefit greatly from a wider display.
  • One, single display to scatter windows on. I found with two separate displays, or three, that I would place one single window on each display and a vast majority of the space was simply wasted. Having *one* big seamless desktop is really much more flexible, and let’s me use the space efficiently.

In practise I went from having a setup like this:

Or this:

To this:

And I think it goes without saying that I prefer the single, large, 38″ curved display. It looks much tidier, it’s much more flexible- allowing for gaming and multimedia viewing without a gap between the two halves- and in most cases it’s more efficient in terms of desktop real-estate; I’m forced to use space properly, rather than just toss a single window up onto an auxiliary monitor.

Software

Reinforcing the latter point, LG actually provide an app (albeit a not especially useful one) called “Screen Split” that allows you to configure the windows on your desktop in various different patterns. It seems like a great idea in practise, and since it’s a freebie I can’t really fault it, but it’s put to total shame by more flexible apps like Divvy which you can bind to Ctrl+Shift+Space and use to resize and position windows with an intuitive grid-snap.

Also Windows 10 has native support for most of the configurations that LG Screen Split offers. You can very easily get a two-up pair of windows by dragging one to the left (or right) hand edge of your screen and letting it snap into place. Windows 10 will then show a list of open windows on the right for you to fill the other slot. What’s more, press the Windows Key + Up on either of these snapped side-by-side windows and it will snap to a quarter of the screen, letting you pick a window for the revealed quarter.

What this all amounts to is that for Windows 10 users LG’s Screen Snap software is at best useless, and at worse actively irritating- in my experience it seems to cause a weird freezing bug when it activates during a switch from PBP to regular mode or back. For Mac users it may be a different story, however, since window-snapping is not natively supported in OSX.

But LGs software being useless for Windows users is a *good* thing for this display. Window’s native support for window snapping in a variety of configurations makes it easy to make efficient use of the desktop real-estate using shortcuts you may already have mastered.

LG also provide a software KVM application called Dual Controller, one which I’ve admittedly not actually tried since it lacks a Linux version. When I heard “software KVM” I simply went with my go-to software for this task; Synergy. Synergy is a keyboard and mouse sharing app written by UK company Symless and I’ve been using it on and off for many, many years. While Synergy seems to have transitioned from free software (at least I remember it being free?) to a paid app, it still does what it says on the tin and, more importantly, has a Linux version which is just an “apt install synergy” away on both x86 Linux platforms and my beloved (and essential) Raspberry Pi.

I’ll be taking a look at Synergy in more depth but suffice to say it excelled on the LG monitor, allowing me to use a single mouse and keyboard across Linux and Windows. It’s fairly straight-forward to configure, and works in a client-server pattern where the computer with the mouse/keyboard you want to share is the server, and clients connect to it. Moving the cursor off the edge of your server PC will make it magically appear on a client. Simple, but extremely powerful.

Use Cases

I was going to go into some depth here, but a picture is worth a thousand words and, well, I’ve waffled quite enough as it is. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the LG display can be used.

Multimedia

A 21:9 display excels at displaying, well, 21:9 content. Below is a shot of the 4k, 21:9 Guardians of the Galaxy 2 trailer playing on the screen. It looks absolutely stunning and if I were to pick up one of these displays, I’d take my clunky old 32″ LG TV to a charity shop since it doesn’t even begin to compare. The built-in speakers are plenty punchy enough for TV and film viewing.

Digital Audio Workstation

I loved this setup, but didn’t get to play with it much. The width of the screen lends itself supremely well to a DAW setup, showing a wide and detailed view of your tracks. In a more advanced DAW such as FL Studio, Cubase, Reaper or others you’ll find plenty of room for inline balance controls and labels for each track. I don’t have to tell you that these apps eat screen real-estate for breakfast.

Gaming

The wide-angle display offers a great deal of extra detail over and above the 16:9 aspect ratio you might get from other displays, but it’s not without its problems. The very nature of how objects are projected on the screen in video games causes some interesting distortion effects towards the extreme edges, and these can be exaggerated on a wider display. Check out this fantastic, interactive visualisation of projections to give you an idea of exactly what’s going on.

Linux/Windows side-by-side

The picture-by-picture mode of the LG 38UC99-W is nothing short of fantastic. It cleverly re-identifies itself so attached PCs can switch between 3840×1600 and 1920×1600 resolution on the fly, depending on how they’re set up. Since the LG display will likely replace 2 or 3 monitor setups

In Summary

This is the flippin’ king of monitors right now. If you’re on the fence, buy it! I’ve tested it successfully with my Razer Blade laptop via USB-C, a Dell Latitude 5285 via USB-C and a 13″ TouchBar MacBook Pro via USB-C, plus the Raspberry Pi, Intel NUC and Zotac PI221 over HDMI in various different PBP configurations with no troubles. Coupled with a laptop or tablet that can charge and output a picture via USB Type-C it’s absolutely flippin’ glorious and, as long as you replace the garbage stand with a decent VESA mount, will keep your desk free from cable spaghetti.

My dream setup right now would be this monitor, VESA mounted to my wall with a swing-arm, and all cables running down a hidden trunking buried beneath the plaster. It’s… just glorious. When it comes time to return it to LG, I’ll be very sad to see it go.

Yes, the price feels steep, but I don’t want to begin to imagine just how difficult manufacturing 38″ curved displays is and what that does to their price. Compare it to the cost of two, decent 27″ monitors and, given its decent built-in speakers, USB Type-C connection and superior flexibility, there really is no contest.

WIDESCREEEEEEEEEEEEN.