Review: 3 curved displays

Review: 3 curved displays provide a new view

Juggling two or more monitors on your desktop? A curved screen can give you a wider view while taking up less room.

curved displays

Review

3 curved displays

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If your desktop is dominated by two or three monitors, it might be time to consolidate them into a single curved screen. This will not only make your desk look a lot less cluttered (and do away with the black stripe where the displays meet), but the display's curve can bring the image a little closer to your eyes.

That's right -- monitors no longer need to be flat. In this roundup, I review three 34-in. monitors that work on a curve: the HP Envy 34c, the LG 34UC97 and the Samsung S34E790C.

I decided to take a look at them for one very selfish reason: For my day-to-day use, I have a pair of 22-in. monitors that dominate my workspace -- and there's no denying that the interruption of the image where the monitors meet can be very annoying. In contrast, each of these curved displays provides an uninterrupted wide expanse with a 21:9 aspect ratio and 3440 x 1440 (WQHD) resolution. At nearly 5 million pixels, that's 2.4 times the pixel count of a conventional high-definition screen. (It doesn't quite measure up, however, to the newest 4K and 8K displays, which can marshal 8.8- and 35.5-million pixels to create an ultra-sharp image.)

In addition, the curved 34-in. screens are actually more space efficient than my pair of 22-in. displays. The latter take up a total width of 41 in., and provide 392 square inches of viewing space. By contrast, each of the curved screens delivers 415 square inches of viewable display to work with while taking up less space. (The HP, the largest of the three, needs 37.5 in. of desktop width.)

To gauge the curve of each display I measured the radius of each (the radius being a line from any point on the display to the center of its imaginary circle). While the HP and Samsung screens have a 9.8-ft. radius, the LG has a wider 11.5-ft. radius and looks slightly flatter by comparison.

However, the real test of any display is what it's like to use them -- and in this case, working with them was a delight. Each screen's slight curve enveloped me, surrounding me with images; I found that my eyes needed to refocus less when I scanned from one corner to another. In addition, because each pixel is aimed more directly at my eyes rather than off at an angle, a curved display requires less side-to-side head movement. In fact, after a short while I hardly noticed the curvature.

One big advantage has nothing to do with whether the screen is curved or flat: these screens let you use more than one input at a time. With the included software, they let you set the display up with two (or more) separate images from different inputs. (Unfortunately, HP's app only works with Windows.)

What do you give up for one of these wide-screen beauties? There are a few things missing. For instance, none of the three has a webcam, microphone or even a simple VGA port for using an older computer. Also, they're not cheap; the most inexpensive of the three reviewed here, the HP Envy 34c, lists at $980.

In the end, though, I'm convinced that these curved displays are the way to go. They are not only easier on the eyes, but they enabled me to work better with my data -- and keep my desk neater. For me, seeing really was believing.

HP Envy 34c

At 37.4 in. wide and 7.8 in. high (including its stand), the HP Envy 34c is the widest of these three curved screens by about five inches, but it takes up less desk space overall than the Samsung. It has two big advantages over the other two displays: In addition to two front-facing speakers on either side of the display, it comes with a clever remote control so you don't have to lean in to make adjustments or mute the sound.

There are 0.8-in. bezels on the top and bottom of the screen; the speakers occupy a 3-in.-wide strip on each side. It adds up to the widest trim of the three screens reviewed here.

I really like that its dull aluminum stand has a tray where you can put your notebook, tablet or phone. The stand is the most stable of the three; you can tilt it anywhere from 2 degrees toward you to 25 degrees away, the largest range of the three. What you can't do, though, is raise or lower the display from its 18.8-in. height. The HP includes a mounting plate so that you can use it with any stand that utilizes 100-millimeter VESA mounting screws.

HP Envy 34c HP

HP Envy 34c

The HP's display panel has a radius of 9.8 ft., which produces a nice wrap-around effect. This matches the curvature of the Samsung display and is tighter than the bend of the LG screen. You can show content from two different sources at once with the HP's picture-by-picture format or by using the included My Display software, which lets you divide up the screen into two or three windows; each window can be adjusted to one of three relative sizes. The software only works with Windows computers, though.

In the back of the display is a good selection of input ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort connection.

There's also a headphone jack up front and a handy volume control knob that mutes the sound when you press it. Speaking of volume -- the HP had the best sound of the three, with its speakers putting out rich audio and pointing directly at the user; the others have speakers that point down. The display's internal 6-watt amplifier is also enhanced by DTS audio technology, which helps as well.

The on-screen menu uses three buttons in the back, which can be awkward to reach. Happily, the company includes a small curved remote control for making adjustments. The menu includes options to change the brightness or color balance; there are five presets and you can add your own.

Brightness and color

According to HP, the IPS display can accurately create 98.8% of the sRGB spectrum; it certainly has a sharp focus. Of the three curved displays, this was also the brightest, delivering 265 candelas per square meter; however, that's well short of its claimed 350 rating. It also had the least variation in lighting level with a score of 98.2%, but its color balance was a little on the green side and often oversaturated.

Its HD video was smooth, although the display occasionally faltered when displaying WQHD resolution clips. When I looked at a Word document with a mix of typefaces and type sizes on a white background, I found it quite readable, with no jagged edges or color variation.

The HP uses 57.3 watts when in use and 6.2 while asleep; the latter is a much higher usage rate than the other two reviewed here. This adds up to an estimated $22 a year of electricity bills if used for 10 hours every workday, the highest of the three (but only by a few dollars).

Bottom line

Its $980 price tag makes the HP the least expensive of the three and a genuine bargain for combining sight and sound. Just make sure your desk is big enough to handle it.

LG 34UC97

The first out with a 34-inch curved screen, LG Electronics has the most experience with this new genre of displays. The question is: Does its latest curved-screen display measure up to the competition?

At 32.4 in. wide and 8.8 in. high (including its stand), the LG has the smallest footprint of the three reviewed here. For example, it's over five inches narrower than the HP.

The stand has room below for a notebook, tablet or phone, but of the three I found that it wobbled the most. You can tilt the screen 5 degrees towards you or up to 15 degrees away from you. The display sits 18.5 in. above the desk and can't be adjusted up or down. (A similar model, the LG 34U87, does let you adjust the height.) The screen has a midsized frame around its display panel: 0.6-in. bezels right and left, a 0.5-in bezel on top and a 0.9-in. bezel at the bottom.

lg 34uc97 LG

LG 34UC97

Unlike the other two displays, the LG doesn't have VESA mounting holes. However, if you want to mount it, you can get a free adapter plate by calling LG support.

With a screen radius of about 11.5 ft., the LG has a wider curvature and so looks more like a conventional screen than the other two. Still, the IPS display is immersive and its images sharp. It can handle two feeds at once in picture-by-picture format, but you can't adjust the relative sizes of the images.

The included Screen Split software, which works with Windows or OS X systems, lets you evenly divide the screen into two, three or four individual windows.

In addition to two USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort, the LG is the only one of the three curved screens to offer Mac-friendly Thunderbolt 2 ports; it has two. The connections are recessed in the back, making it hard to insert them correctly on the first try.

On the other hand, the LG is the only one of this group of three displays to have a snap-on cable cover that hides its warren of wires.

The display also has a headphone jack (inconveniently in the back). Its 14-watt amplifier can use the built-in Maxx Audio enhancement, which adds richness, but the speakers sit under the lower edge of the screen and point down, which makes the audio sound muffled at times.

Below the display is a tiny control joystick; you press the stick to turn the screen on or wake it up and nudge it right, left, front or back to navigate the menu.

The on-screen menu is surprisingly slow; it took at least two seconds for it to respond. Once it loads, it offers settings for Photo, Cinema and Game as well as one you can set up to your own taste; you can adjust the black level and screen response, and select from three color temperature settings.

You can control the volume by either using the display's on-screen menu or giving the control stick a push to the left or right.

In my testing, the LG was the least bright of the three displays in this roundup; to my eyes, it was visibly dimmer. It delivered 229 candelas per square meter of illumination, well short of its 300 cd/m2 specification. It had a rating for variation in lighting level rating of 93.5%.

The LG display covers 99% of the sRGB gamut, according to the company. Its color balance was fine, but I felt that the individual colors were unsaturated and flat. It handled video well with smooth action, but at the extremes of brightness and darkness, individual tones merged -- in other words, when the image was very dark or very light, objects within the image could be obscured. Text, on the other hand, was comfortably readable.

The LG uses 66 watts, the highest power consumption of the three; that drops to 0.5 watts when it's asleep. That adds up to estimated power bills of $20.19 over a year of using it for 10 hours every workday.

Bottom line

LG's display works well, but doesn't quite come up to the other screens in brightness or color quality.

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