4K monitors have moved from exotic to mainstream over the past year, and many of our favorite models now sell for $400. Yet 4K is not the final frontier in image quality. High Dynamic Range, or HDR, is another important new feature — and it’s found on a rare few displays.
The LG 32UD99-W is one such screen. It pairs HDR10 compatibility with 4K resolution, AMD FreeSync support, and HDCP 2.2 compatibility, which together make this among the most advanced 32-inch screens on the market. Its prime competitors are the BenQ SW320 and Acer ET322QK, which also have 32-inch displays with HDR, but there’s also a handful of HDR-compatible 27-inchers available.
As you may expect, the LG 32UD99-W’s advanced feature set comes with an advanced price. You’ll have to pay $1,000 to snag this screen. That’s quite a bit, though perhaps not as expensive as it could’ve been — the BenQ SW320 sells for at least $1,200. Our review will decide if LG’s latest is its greatest, or too far ahead of its time.
Nothing but screen
Thinning display bezels have swayed monitor design towards more minimalist looks, and the LG 32UD99-W is no exception. In fact, it may be the standard-bearer. The bezels, which are less than half an inch thick on all sides, are bordered by a thin strip of silver plastic. A similarly svelte stand holds the monitor aloft, while the rear panel is glossy white. Together, it creates a subtle but futuristic look that will easily blend into most homes — though it may look a bit unusual in an office.
While the stand is small, it does offer some ergonomic adjustment including height, tilt, and rotation. The stand doesn’t swivel, an option offered by some competitors. The screen itself is VESA-mount compatible, so you can swap out the stand for something more flexible, if desired.
The LG 32UD99-W doesn’t look sturdy, but it feels well-built when handled. Like most monitors, it uses plastic for most external panels, and even the stand seems to be covered with metallic-paint plastic instead of real metal. Yet that doesn’t compromise the stability of the display. The rear panel is reassuringly solid, and lends a touch of quality whenever the screen is adjusted on its stand.
Lots of connectivity, but forget the wall mount
LG offers two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, on USB-C port, and two USB-A ports on the 32UD99-W. This is a good array of connectivity, and speaks to the display being targeted at prosumers more than office users and hardcore creatives. You can plug a laptop in through USB-C and, in doing so, charge the laptop as well as drive video to the display.
All the ports are rear-facing, as well, while many competitors have ports that face down. Connecting and removing devices is much easier as a result, but this configuration will make wall-mount solutions tricky.
Joy to the joystick
All the LG’s menus are accessed through a joystick located in the middle of the display. While we generally prefer front-mounted buttons, joysticks can work when executed well –- and the LG 32UD99-W is at the top of its class.
Tapping the stick offers quick access to the most common options, including input selection and Game Mode. Enter the menu proper, though, and you’ll be greeted by a wide variety of quality adjustment options. The usual brightness and contrast options are joined by options to adjust sharpness deeper in the Picture settings.
Intense action – say, an X-Wing strafing a Star Destroyer – is more vibrant and detailed in HDR.
The Picture menu also includes color temperature adjustments, which offer a wide variety of options based on actual color temperature — not labeled presets — and precise color adjustments. Gamma is also adjustable, though it settles for preset modes instead of targeting specific gamma curves. The level of control available in the Picture menu is impressive, and a variety of calibration options are available, including those that target specific color gamuts like REC709. LG doesn’t market the 32UD99-W as a professional-grade screen, but we think its options will satisfy most photographers and digital artists.
Note, though, that almost all options are removed when HDR is turned on. That’s due to how HDR input must be handled. You can only change brightness or switch between a few pre-selected modes.
The speakers will do, in a pinch
A pair of five-watt speakers are hidden inside the LG 32UD99-W. They deliver relatively good sound for a monitor, and they’re acceptable even for use with games. Still, the internal drivers are no match for a set of $50 external speakers or halfway decent headphones.
Pre-calibration image quality
HDR10 support is the LG 32UD99-W’s headline feature, so we eagerly hooked it up to a gaming rig and fired up Star Wars Battlefront II, one of the few fully HDR-capable games currently available.
The game is among the most attractive ever made even on a “normal” display, but HDR took it to a new level. High Dynamic Range support means a display can offer a greater range of contrast, usually by hitting a higher maximum level of brightness. That means intense visual sequences – like, say, an X-Wing strafing a Star Destroyer – deliver a punchier, more detailed image. Explosions show more levels of shading and more fine details, which are lost when HDR is off.
There’s more to the display than HDR10, however. It’s a 4K panel, packing in 140 pixels per inch, so it looks quite sharp for a desktop monitor. Our test equipment found the screen could deliver a maximum brightness of 360 nits, reaching 100 percent of the sRGB gamut, and 87 percent of AdobeRGB. The gamma curve value came in at 2.0, just off the ideal target of 2.2. The contrast ratio was strong, too, reaching 990:1 at maximum brightness.
We found only one item to complain about: Color accuracy. Our tests returned an average color error of 2.34. Lower is better in this test, and while that value isn’t bad, it’s not great for a monitor that retails at $1,000. The BenQ PD3200U, another recently tested 4K monitor, scored 1.23 prior to calibration. The Acer Predator XB2 also scored better, though it’s a gaming monitor that doesn’t tout color accuracy as a strength.
Still, the LG 32UD99-W was impressive at first glance, and using the monitor didn’t cause our initial thoughts to sour. Its mediocre color accuracy result is only of importance if you do color-critical work — and, as we’ll discuss in a moment, it can be fixed.
While most people use monitors with the out-of-box settings, calibration is possible, and often necessary to achieve the best results. The LG 32UD99-W is evidence of that. It offers a wide range of settings, and they successfully compensated for the screen’s flaws.
Let’s talk color accuracy first. The pre-calibration result of 2.34 was just okay, but we quickly reduced that to a value of .96, which is excellent. That score makes the LG 32UD99-W eligible for color-critical professional work, and looks beautiful in everyday viewing.
This monitor looks spectacular after given some attention.
We also saw improvement in the gamma result, which changed from 2.0 to 2.1. That means the monitor reproduces content with a slightly darker grayscale than intended, but not drastically so. We tried to hone the monitor further using the baked-in Gamma presets, but found the monitor could hit either 2.1 or 2.3 — it was never quite perfect.
Given these results, we highly recommend calibration for this monitor. It looks spectacular after given some attention.
HDR is a quagmire on the PC
LG is proud of the 32UD99-W’s HDR10 support, and technically that claim is true. This monitor does support HDR10. Yet that doesn’t mean it can make the most of the standard. The reasons why are only partly LG’s responsibility.
A few items stand out in the HDR10 specification. These are the use of the Rec. 2020 color space, 10-bit color depth, and a maximum brightness value of 1,000 nits. LG’s 32UD99-W is an impressive monitor, but it doesn’t fully support these features. The brightness value is the most notable problem, because the monitor is quoted to hit a peak of 550 nits with a typical maximum of 350 nits. Our test equipment registered a maximum of 360 nits with the brightness setting turned all the way up. That’s not bad for a PC monitor, but it’s far short of the best HDR10 can deliver.
Windows 10 also causes problems for the monitor. While the operating system does support HDR, the desktop (and most apps) have problems with how they translate to HDR. Contrary to what you’d expect, they appear dimmer, less vibrant, and less accurate with HDR on than with HDR off.
We constantly had to open Windows’ settings to manually turn HDR on or off.
Movies and games that support HDR10 look brilliant, and we could see an immediately noticeable difference between having HDR10 on and having it off. Lighting looked more natural with less banding and far better detail in bright areas of scenes. Yet Windows 10 can’t discretely turn HDR on only when viewing clips or playing games that support HDR. We constantly had to open Windows’ settings to manually flip the feature when we were no longer viewing HDR video.
Gamers have it easier because games with HDR support usually include an in-game toggle. That means you don’t have to deal with Windows 10’s system-wide setting. Star Wars Battlefront II and Forza Motorsport 7 look stunning on the LG 32UD99-W, and Samsung’s CF791 is the only display we’ve tested that can best the LG’s wow-factor. Not many games support HDR on PC, however, so the value will depend on what you play.
LG offers a one-year parts and labor warranty on the 32UD99-W. A three-year warranty is more common, so LG’s terms are not generous.Our Take
The LG 32UD99-W is a beautiful display with many strengths, but its let down by the confusing state of HDR in Windows 10, and a general lack of HDR-compatible content on PC.
Is there a better alternative?
The LG 32UD99-W undercuts the price of top-tier 32-inch displays like the HP Dreamcolor Z32x and Dell Ultrasharp UP3216Q. On the other hand, it’s much more expensive than Acer’s ET322QK, which is only $500. We haven’t tested Acer’s entry, so we can’t say if its price cut comes with a cut in quality. You might be tempted by the HDR support on this monitor, but there a bunch of other made-for-gaming displays that get you more bang for your buck, and there’s other attractive HDR monitors available.
Big ultrawide monitors like the Dell Ultrasharp U3818DW aren’t much more expensive than this LG. While they aren’t 4K and don’t have HDR, they deliver an immersive experience that a conventional monitor can’t match.
How long will it last?
Monitors generally last a long time, and the LG 32UD99-W’s inclusion of HDR gives it an edge in longevity. The short warranty is a disappointment, however.
Should you buy it?
You should only buy the LG 32UD99-W if you’re intrigued by HDR, particularly in games that you know support it. This monitor does support FreeSync, and titles like Star Wars Battlefront II look gorgeous on it.
Everyone else should wait until Windows’ HDR support improves, or HDR-compatible content becomes more common.