LG’s new UltraFine 4K monitor gives your MacBook’s Touch Bar a job

Finally, the Touch Bar has something to do

LG UltraFine Display 24MD4KL

LG’s new UltraFine 4K monitor gives your MacBook’s Touch Bar a job

“LG’s UltraFine is only for hardcore Mac fans, but they'll love it.”
  • Color accurate panel optimized for creative workflows
  • Lots of ports that are easily accessible
  • Versatile mounting options
  • No legacy ports, lacks Windows support
  • Thick bezels are clunky

Using monitor buttons feels like traveling back in time. Next to a sleek MacBook Pro, the chunky buttons and menus feels downright antiquated. What if you could just use the Touch Bar to quickly change brightness or flip through settings? That’s the proposition of LG’s latest UltraFine 24 monitor.

Windows users may feel left out of the loop, but LG is clearly catering to Apple’s creative user base, given the panel’s high price and coveted position in Apple Stores.

For creative professionals who don’t need the extra large canvas of Apple’s 32-inch Display XDR with 6K pixels of resolution, the UltraFine 24 is certainly a more affordable alternative that sheds some of the premium features. Given that Apple’s premium display starts at $5,000, LG’s $700 UltraFine seems like an affordable panel for creatives. Is it the ultimate monitor to match your MacBook Pro?

Basic is the new black

Unless you need a color accurate display that supports a wide P3 color space, the design of LG’s UltraFine 24 may seem a bit underwhelming for the average person. For the most part, the UltraFine 24’s understated basic black design does serve a useful purpose for the creative audience that LG is clearly targeting, given that the hue is a neutral color that will help your eyes distinguish the various shades of color brightly displayed on the screen. However, in somewhat of an ironic twist, the all-black hue of the UltraFine makes it appear more like a PC companion than something that was designed to complement Jony Ive’s love affair with silver metal-clad computers. Creatives needing a larger display can also opt for LG’s similarly styled 27-inch UltraFine 5K panel, which costs a $600 premium over our review unit.

In spite of its more utilitarian aesthetics, the basic silhouette of LG’s made-for-Mac monitor is very similar to Apple’s now discontinued Thunderbolt Display. The focal point of UltraFine is its rectangular, 24-inch 4K screen, which is pre-mounted to a solid cylindrical stand that’s attached to a metal square-shaped base straight out of the box – no assembly required here.

LG UltraFine Display 24MD4KL
Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

Unlike Apple’s branded products, this display is largely constructed from plastic, but at 25 pounds, the UltraFine still manages to appear solid and feel reassuringly durable. It certainly won’t be sliding away on your desk. And unlike most all-in-ones – like Apple’s iMac and HP’s Envy Curved All-In-One 34 – the stand can be raised and lowered for better ergonomics, a requirement for professionals sitting for hours each day working on their creative projects.

If you’re used to more modern consumer panels, you’ll immediately be drawn to the panel’s symmetrical bezels. While I appreciated the uniformity of the bezels on all four sides – most displays have a larger bottom bezel, giving it a chin-like effect – the rather large 5/8-inch symmetrical bezels make this panel look less modern. But don’t be fooled by the UltraFine’s somewhat dated appearance, as the larger bezels do serve a useful purpose. Though Dell had popularized the nearly invisible bezels with its Infinity Edge Display, most creatives generally prefer having a bezel to help minimize distractions and help them focus their attention on the screen.

The all-black hue of the UltraFine makes it looks more like a PC companion than something designed to complement Jony Ive’s design.

Though most of the UltraFine’s traits that do not appeal to consumers can be chalked up to the UltraFine’s professional pedigree, there’s still one design element that will raise a few eyebrows, even among creative users. The flat screen comes in at just under an inch thick, measuring 7/8 of an inch. In addition to the screen’s thickness, there’s also a protruding trapezoidal structure that houses the display’s internal electronics. While it’s not an unattractive design, the angular rear design brings back vibes of large, flat-screen CRT televisions from the 90s.

Though the stand can be raised and lowered, and the panel can be tilted upward and downward, the UltraFine cannot swivel from side-to-side on the stand. Depending on how you like to view your display, you’ll likely want to center the UltraFine on their desk for the best experience. Unlike the larger 32-inch BenQ PD3220U, coders and Twitch streamers won’t be able to rotate the UltraFine 90 degrees to use the screen vertically.

The daisy-chaining difference

Compared to older video connectors – HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA – having Thunderbolt 3 makes a big difference in helping to manage cable clutter when using the UltraFine 4K. Not only can Thunderbolt 3 handle your display feed, it can also charge your laptop with a uni-cable setup. This year, the Thunderbolt 3 port gets a big upgrade from LG’s earlier UltraFine monitor releases, as it’s capable of delivering 85 Watts of power to high powered laptops, like Apple’s MacBook Pro with discrete graphics.

The LG UltraFine 4K comes with two rear-facing Thunderbolt 3 ports, and another benefit with this input protocol is that you can daisy-chain your accessories. With older video ports, you’ll need two video output ports on your laptop to connect multiple displays, requiring two cables to run from your laptops to your monitors. If you’re after a multi-display setup, a single cable running from the UltraFine to your laptop will be able to handle both video and power, and if you have two LG displays, you can use the second Thunderbolt port to connect the two monitors together. The result is that you will get three displays – two externals and your laptop’s built-in screen – with just one visible cable running on your desk.

LG UltraFine Display 24MD4KL
Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

In addition to the Thunderbolt ports, you’ll also find three adjacent USB-C ports to quickly connect other accessories, like external drives, and a plug to connect a cable to power the display itself. Thankfully, the power supply for the monitor is built-in, and you won’t be left with an unsightly power brick. The UltraFine ships with three cables – a power cord, a Thunderbolt 3 cable, and a USB-C cable. If you have an older Mac, you may need an adapter.

Despite the location of the ports on the rear, the panel’s manageable 24-inch size makes reaching for these ports more comfortable than the awkwardly placed downward-facing ports on Alienware’s larger curved 34-inch panel. And compared to the rear ports on HP’s Envy Curved AIO 34, the ability to swivel the UltraFine’s screen on the display stand makes it easier to plug in accessories to LG’s panel. If you prefer to mount the UltraFine to your own stand or a wall, there’s also a VESA bracket in the box.

Clutter-free controls

Though most gaming and office monitors ship with a plethora of unlabeled buttons on the underside of the bottom edge, providing users with a way to make granular adjustments to the brightness, contrast, and preset modes, the UltraFine sheds all of its buttons, letting the Touch Bar take over. You won’t even find a power button on this panel, which helps to keep the design clean.

The UltraFine sheds all of its buttons, letting the Touch Bar take over.

Instead, plugging in the USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 into your device will automatically turn on the panel. I’ve connected a Windows 10-powered HP EliteBook laptop and a 13-inch MacBook Pro using the Thunderbolt 3 port, and the display turned on with either setup. However, Windows users won’t be able to make any adjustments to the screen, as most of the controls typically handled by buttons and an on-screen display interface are now instead handled by software. In this case, LG doesn’t provide the software or drivers that work with Windows system, so only Mac users will be able to make those display adjustments.

This means that on the HP EliteBook, I wasn’t even able to lower the display brightness. Though the UltraFine was able to display content, I would have preferred a way to dim the insanely bright display down. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro, when the display is plugged in, the Touch Bar offers brightness slider controls to adjust the brightness on the built-in display as well as the UltraFine. Once you’re on the desktop screen of MacOS, options for audio settings, brightness controls, and a Siri shortcut will appear on the right-hand side of the Touch Bar. Tapping on the brightness button will bring up a slider tool to adjust the display settings, and when the UltraFine is connected to the MacBook Pro, you’ll find two sliders – one for the MacBook’s native display and a second slider for the external display.

LG UltraFine Display 24MD4KL
Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

The USB-C connection means you should also be able to use the UltraFine with Apple’s latest iPad Pro, which will be useful for creatives dealing with sketches and hand-drawn artwork, but I didn’t get a chance to see what display controls iPad OS offers with such a setup.

Because of the non-existent support for Windows from LG, if you’re looking for a studio-grade display for your PC, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Similarly, if you’re a Mac user and find that you spend a considerable amount of time working in Boot Camp as part of your workflow, the UltraFine may not be a good fit. This monitor is designed primarily for users who reside within Apple’s software ecosystem.

Shades of color

Similar to Apple’s high-end computing products with a built-in display – like the iMac, iPad Pro, and MacBook Pro – the LG UltraFine supports a wide DCI-P3 color space, making it a great tool for creatives who need a display that supports a wider color space than the typical sRGB.

When put to the test with Datacolor’s Spyder5 Elite tool and the companion display analysis software, we found that the UltraFine is capable of supporting 100 percent of the sRGB color space and 87 percent of the wider Adobe RGB color space, placing it within striking distance of the built-in panels used on Apple’s iMac, Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2, and the portable 15-inch MacBook Pro. Apple’s panels, for reference, covers the same sRGB color space and comes in just slightly higher at 90 percent on the Adobe RGB spectrum.

For creatives switching between a mobile and desktop workflow, for example, can be confident that colors will translate properly between the smaller, more mobile display of the 15-inch 2019 MacBook Pro and the larger screen of the UltraFine.  Similarly, if you’re working with an iMac and need a multi-monitor workflow, adding LG’s monitor to your setup will deliver consistent color reproduction across your screens.

The UltraFine’s contrast is similarly consistent with Apple’s built-in displays, supporting a ratio of 930:1 at 100 percent brightness. This is in line with the 2019 iMac’s 900:1 contrast reading and the 990:1 supported on Apple’s latest 15-inch MacBook Pro. Datacolor’s tool rated the UltraFine as excellent for color gamut, tone response, contrast, and color uniformity, earning at least a 4.5 out of five score in each of the listed categories. With an average delta value of 2.49, color accuracy, Datacolor rated color accuracy as good. That’s not horrible, but it should get the job done.

The color accuracy rating seems appropriate, given that the delta score for the MacBook Pro is just 0.8 – lower scores are better here – and the iMac’s delta is similarly under 1, while Microsoft’s Surface Studio delta is 1.12. This places the UltraFine ahead of Dell’s slightly older Ultrasharp UP3218K, which has a 3.22 delta score and behind the newer Dell Ultrasharp U4919DW’s 1.36 delta.

LG UltraFine Display 24MD4KL
Chuong Nguyen/Digital Trends

Another monitor that was built to serve the needs of MacOS users is BenQ’s PD3220U, a panel with a 32-inch 4K screen. The BenQ monitor performs similarly to the UltraFine in terms of contrast and color gamut support, but has a lower 1.43 delta for color accuracy, making it a more accurate panel for creative work.

Brightness uniformity is rated by Datacolor as above average on the UltraFine, as the display’s top and left edges are lit slightly brighter than the bottom and right edges. LG rates the panel with 500 nits, giving the screen a similar brightness to the iMac 5K and the latest MacBook Pro. For comparison, Apple’s Pro Display XDR promises to deliver double the brightness of these listed panels with its stated 1,000 nits rating.

Out of the box, LG’s display appears on the cooler side, with skin tones on images lacking the warmth that appears on the MacBook Pro’s display. After running Datacolor’s screen calibration utility on my MacBook Pro 13-inch, images appeared warmer.

Gamers should look elsewhere

The UltraFine 4K is first and foremost and production display, and its features won’t appeal to gamers. Lacking features like a fast response time and shipping without support for Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync technology, the UltraFine was not designed for fast action games. And even though the panel’s 60Hz refresh rate is more optimized for video editing work, more modern gaming panels sport 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rates, making them a better value if that’s what you’re after.

Still, giving the Mac-centric design of the UltraFine, this shouldn’t be too big of a problem, as gaming was never really a strong suit for MacOS.

Warranty

Given its focus on a professional audience, LG’s limited one-year warranty on the UltraFine covering parts and labor appears more limited than the competition. Rivals, like HP, Dell, and Lenovo, offer optional warranty extensions that can extend your coverage to up to four or five years, depending on the company, and a few even offer next business day repairs or on-site coverage. Dell, for example, offers a standard three-year limited warranty for its premium panels, which includes monitors sold under the Ultrasharp, Professional, and Alienware brands, making them more suited for the business and enterprise use.

Extended protection plans can help reduce downtime or costly repairs and replacements for creatives who need a display for work, and it’s something that we wish LG would offer for the UltraFine. Even though the UltraFine is sold through Apple’s retail stores, the extended AppleCare coverage doesn’t apply when purchasing the third-party LG display.

Our Take

If you’re a Mac user and in need of a color-accurate display that was designed specifically for MacOS, LG’s UltraFine 4K represents an affordable value to extend your viewing canvas. With options for a 24-inch 4K or 27-inch 5K panel, LG’s UltraFine series is more budget-friendly than the Apple Thunderbolt Display which it replaces in Apple’s lineup and is a far more inexpensive option than the soon to arrive Pro Display XDR.

If you work in a multi-platform environment, switching between PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks, you want to look elsewhere, as the UltraFine lacks hardware buttons for granular controls, and outside of Apple’s software ecosystem, software support is non-existent for even simple brightness adjustments.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re looking for a Mac-specific display, LG’s UltraFine feels a lot like a first-party panel made by Apple. Given its prominent placement in Apple’s retail stores, the product gets a subtle endorsement by Apple when the Thunderbolt Display was discontinued. And at $700, it may be an affordable piece of hardware for Apple users accustomed to paying premium pricing, but PC users can find better deals by looking elsewhere.

One alternative to the UltraFine for Mac creatives is BenQ’s PD3220U, a display that supports many of the features on LG’s model, like USB-C port on-board, support for a wide P3 color space, and 4K resolution. If you have a more expansive desk, the BenQ may be a better option, giving its 32-inch screen size dwarves the 24-inch panel on the UltraFine 4K. At $1,200, the BenQ is a considerable premium over the 24-inch UItraFine, but still costs $100 less than LG’s larger 27-inch UltraFine 5K.

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more than the UltraFine 24, at $839, you can get a significantly larger canvas with Dell’s 43-inch 4K Multi-Client P4317Q monitor. Graphics designer and photographers more accustomed to pixel-peeping may find Dell’s UltraSharp 32 UP3218K an attractive option with its vivid 32-inch display supporting Dell’s PremierColor technology and 8K of pixel resolution. At $3,2899, the 8K panel costs significantly more than the UltraFine 4K, but is very competitive against Apple’s Pro Display XDR.

How long will it last?

Sporting a 4K resolution screen and a color accurate display, the UltraFine will be a tool in your creative arsenal that will last you for years to come. Given its modern USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, the panel is almost guaranteed to work with any new or future Mac, MacBook series, or iPad Pro in the foreseeable future. The only thing holding back LG’s UltraFine is its short warranty and its non-existent support for non-Mac users.

Should you buy it?

If you’re a Mac creative professional, the LG UltraFine is an excellent and affordable companion to your MacBook, coming in at a lower entry price than the Apple-branded Thunderbolt Display that it replaces. Modern ports and an understated design help you keep focus on your projects.

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