You might have heard of the next big thing adopted by TVs and desktop monitors called HDR. LG has released the 34WK650-W which is capable of HDR10, IPS, and FreeSync. The combination of all three provides excellent technology for entering the HDR gaming scene. When considering current tech for enthusiasts, one may think of 4K, high refresh rates, adaptive refresh rate technology, but what exactly is HDR? A quiet war has been going on behind the scenes and color reproduction is just hitting the mainstream markets and HDR is gaining traction with gamers. It's not hard to sell the idea of better visuals to gamers, especially when gaming relies so heavily on your visual experiences. We are going to take a look at what exactly this monitor provides and how HDR has evolved into an industry standard. Everyone once belive 1080P was the future, now we have 4k, is HDR already the next big thing?
What is HDR?
You will most likely have heard the term HDR (High Dynamic Range) floating around retail TV sales, gaming consoles, and now desktop monitors. In the simplest terms, HDR does look better and significantly separates the color spectrum bringing more clarity to the bright and dark levels of an image. This is going to be beneficial for gaming and movies which help create more realistic images. In an SDR image (Standard Dynamic Range) your rendering of bright scenes is capped at default white levels. In less bright levels these images will be lower than the standard white levels giving an effect of a darker image but not true blacks.
There are two major content standards for HDR and that is Dolby Vision and HDR 10. I could go on for days about these two standards but Dolby Vision is considered to offer better support through dynamic adjustments with 12-bit color. The reason this standard isn't heavily used is due to its licensing fees and required hardware makes it more expensive to implement. HDR 10 supports 10-bit color and supports static adjustments but is also open source. Who doesn't love open source? Major companies like Microsoft and game publishers have heavily supported HDR 10 making it the most popular used standard. Don't fret about the different standards though as its possible for a display to support multiple standards in one unit and there are future ideas of HDR 10+ in the works.
To implement HDR into the gaming world, games need to render back down to SDR to produce the RGB image you're used to seeing. It's quite simple because games are already rendered in HDR using FP16 (Rendering calculation). The challenge is working back up from the standard and making sure the game and textures are rendered correctly.
Why Consider the LG 34WK650?
For starters, the price point is excellent for an introduction into HDR. At $399.00 you get support for HDR, FreeSync, and IPS viewing. The design is virtually borderless which offers a streamlined visual experience and offers a 21:9 ultra-wide aspect ratio. Let's dive into what each of these technologies means for you.
HDR 10 is supported by this monitor and offers brightness levels that exceed the capabilities of standard ones. Keep in mind, Windows 10 is required to take full advantage of HDR and it may be set to off by default. You will need to enable this under your PC settings "Display" menu.
HDR is immature in nature and still needs a lot of work for mainstream adoption. Windows 10 has gotten much better over the lastest 1803 update but still has washed out color saturation and requires adjustments of brightness levels during desktop usage. The screen feels too dark and colors feel inaccurate while using Windows from the desktop. Where HDR shines is in content consumption through games, movies, and images. My suggestion is to switch it off for productivity and back on for gaming or watching movies. In the latest 1803 build Microsoft did add a level adjustment setting which makes having HDR on less annoying. The brightness setting can darken the image making it easier to read and makes the desktop colors feel more natural.
What is AMD FreeSync? Simply put its a variable refresh rate technology. To understand how this works, we must look at the two major variable refresh rate technologies. Yeah, you guessed it, Nvidia has one called Gsync but what could the differences be? A traditionally fixed refresh rate monitor is usually 60Hz (Refresh every 1/60 of a second) and in the past has caused synchronization problems between the monitor and the GPU. These synchronization issues can be referred to as screen tearing or ghosting but that's when V-sync was introduced. However, V-sync turned on causes its own set of problems. This can easily cause stuttering while the monitor has to wait to update every time a new frame is introduced.
FreeSync & G-Sync eliminate those problems by synchronizing the refresh rate between the GPU and your monitor but each technology does it differently. FreeSync is based on the VESA Adaptive-Sync open standard and has no licensing fees associated with it. This is just like the HDR10 standard introduced above. This helps keep costs down and is easy to implement, It's based on the DisplayPort 1.2a standard and makes entry-level gaming displays widely versatile. G-Sync, on the other hand, is proprietary and requires display manufacturers to use a custom module built into supported panels. G-Sync advertises better 1:1 ratio performance of synchronization and many articles glorify the technology but this article is not a battle of who offers the best variable refresh rate technology. The LG 34WK650 includes FreeSync and helps keep the cost of the monitor within reason for budget-conscious gamers. Also, its pretty simple, if you have AMD you need to use a FreeSync monitor and if you use Nvidia GPUs you'll need a G-Sync panel. The technologies are not interchangeable yet. When considering a monitor look for what technology fits with your GPU brand and look for high refresh rates because this will show huge advantages in gaming.
This LG monitor uses IPS (In-Plane Switching) display technology. There is another major display technology called TN (Twisted Nematic) and has been more common among high refresh rate displays due to its speed and faster response times but lacks accurate viewing angles and accurate color reproduction. IPS fixes those issues by having a parallel array of pixels but does have slower response times compared to TN technology. The LG 34WK650 offers IPS with sRGB up to 99% coverage of the color spectrum and is going to be ideal for photographers and graphic designers looking for the best looking images. With the introduction of AMD FreeSync, this LG monitor allows a refresh rate up to 75Hz and creates an affordable balance for gamers too. You can expect excellent viewing angles, great color accuracy, and better than average gaming with built-in dynamic sync features.
The I/O is kind of weak on this monitor. You have 1x DisplayPort, 2x HDMI, 3.5 mm jack, and power DC in. The display inputs support HDCP 2.2/1.4 respectively.
One of the absolute most impressive things about this monitor may surprise you. It's not the quality of the screen, although this is excellent too. The sound quality from the speakers is surprisingly great quality. Most of the time built in monitor speakers flat out suck, but these dual 5W speakers using MAXXAudio are fantastic. I found myself enjoying some gaming without headphones for once. The great thing about MaxxAudio is the ability to get larger sound from smaller components.
The on-screen control puts a host of essential settings at your fingertips. The quick menu is easy to navigate and LG even provides software to bypass the hardware button that you can control with your mouse. This is a great idea and makes navigating even easier. I still found the hard button easy to navigate and making adjustments is easy. To download please check LG's site here. The menu system is also where you can change FreeSync and your advanced gaming features.
It's incredibly hard to test monitors in a way that shows accurate performance but I will include my test bench hardware used and some performance benchmarks highlighting AMD FreeSync. I will also try and showcase a few HDR images so you can see the differences for yourselves. The problem is that I can't guarantee you will see the difference without an HDR monitor. let me know what you guys think in the comments below.
Tech Specs of the LG 34WK650:
- Screen Size> 34"
- Panel Type> IPS
- Color Gamut>sRGB>99%
- Color Depth>8bits (6bit +FRC) 16.7M
- Response Time>5ms
- Aspect Ratio> 21:9
- Resolution> 2560 x 1080
- Brightness> 300, 240 cd/m2
- Contrast Ratio> 1000:1
- Inputs> HDMI:2 / DispalyPort:1 / Headphone Out:Yes
- Power> Input:100~240V / Normal Operation: 28W / Factory Operation: 42W / Sleep: 0.5W
- Video> HDR10:Yes / Super Resolution:Yes / FreeSync:Yes
- Sound> Speaker: Yes 5W x2 / Audio Tuning: MaxxAudio
- Dimensions> With Stand (WxHxD):32.5" x 22.5" (Up) / 18.1"(Down) x 9.1" / With Stand Weight:16.76 lbs
PC: Intel Hades NUC (NUC8i7HVK)
Monitor: LG 34WK650
Peripherals: Logitech PRO Series (Headset, Mouse, and Keyboard)
One of the better additions of the Hades NUC is the built-in VegaM GPU that will allow for FreeSync testing. One of the drawbacks here will be the very limiting performance numbers because this NUC is designed for 1080P gaming, but the LG resolution being 2560x1080P will help show any real-world advantages that FreeSync will offer. In fact, you will probably see more of an advantage on lower end GPUs than higher end because it closes the gap depending on FPS, refresh rate, and game settings used.
All three titles above are optimized for HDR content and FreeSync. You will notice lower FPS mostly because the Hades NUC was designed with 1080P (1920 x 1080) performance in mind and that is what the VegaM GPU is capable of. If you were hoping for higher FPS at 2560x1080P resolution then you will be disappointed. Remember that this panel is 21:9 UltraWide and has a much larger aspect ratio than traditional panels. The graph above represents medium preset game settings for each title. This should represent a decent balance to offset the higher resolution and HDR images. The average FPS for each game was recorded using FRAPS.
You can hopefully see above some of the color advantages that HDR offers. What you should be seeing is brighter richer colors from your content. I could definitely tell the difference right away! Destiny 2 was my favorite title to test using HDR as it offers rich colorful worlds with nice contrasts. You're going to enjoy HDR movies and images as well using the LG 34WK650. I watched DareDevil and Stranger things which really highlight their darker environments. I also enjoyed looking at HDR images too as you can notice richer colors through proper color reproduction. My opinion is that you will probably notice right away the difference between the two SDR & HDR standards, especially if you've been using SDR for some time.
I can't really tear LG apart for using a 75HZ refresh rate for this panel. This is one of my least favorite things about this panel but you should take into consideration cost and HDR. FreeSync works by operating within a specific range that the monitor is capable of. 75Hz is better than flat out 60 or non-variable refresh rates but is pretty limited in its range. Each game tested was dipping below minimum FPS at times, FreeSync helped maintain a smoother experience when the FPS stayed in range. I could not find the range that this monitor operates at but will update once LG gets back to me. If I had to guess the range is 35-75 FPS. If you find your monitor dips below your FreeSync threshold at say 30 FPS then you may experience stuttering. With LFC (Low Framerate Compensation) tuned through software then the monitor updates with the faster refresh rate by 2.5x the minimum. LFC extends the refresh rate of many FreeSync displays providing a smoother experience. LFC and FreeSync helped maintain better average FPS in the HDR titles I tested and helped FreeSync stay at the higher refresh rate when needed.
To wrap this article up, your probably wondering if you should wait or jump into the HDR market now. I would say that HDR still needs a bit of work on the software side of things but is definitely ready for content consumption. This particular panel from LG offers a nice set of premium features at a very reasonable cost. The fact that you get FreeSync, HDR, and 21:9 aspect ratio makes this an incredible deal.
The design quality of the monitor offers a virtually borderless design that makes the appeal of the monitor sleek and leaves extra room for mounting due to the thin bezel. I would say that the housing is made of cheaper plastic but that can only be seen from behind. The largest drawback is going to be HDR support through Windows but that should continue to improve over time with updates. The most surprising feature of this monitor is the integrated audio and speakers. It surprisingly works great and provides rich bass and tones. I definitely recommend this monitor for anyone who wants to experience a wider color spectrum and HDR content. You can also find additional benefits for AMD users with FreeSync and the panel does support additional gaming features like a black stabilizer and game mode. HDR10 is becoming more widely adopted as time goes on but it's still hard to say buy Dolby Vision over HDR10, especially since the two technologies can exist within the same panel. I like HDR10 better though due to its cheaper implementation and open standard. You can buy the LG 34WK650-W for $335.00 now on Amazon.
Pros: HDR / FreeSync / 21:9 Wide Aspect Ratio / Internal Speakers
Cons: 75Hz FreeSync range