Monday, 30 July 2018

Low latency HDR in 4K

So I bought a LG 27UK650 gaming monitor...

...and here are my eyes on, literally, thoughts about it. This gaming monitor came out earlier this year and for me here in Norway, I had to buy it as an import purchase from the UK. Although there have emerged a few really expensive full 4K, HDR with at least 1000 nits light strength, extremely low latency and freesync technology monitors, this model aims for a considerably lower price range. Albeit still fairly pricy though for a gaming monitor, and less powerful 450nits HDR strength maximum, but does it deliver a good experience for a console gamer like me and customers wanting the full 4K, low latency and HDR triple combo?

To be short it's a perfect match for me as a Xbox One X owner, and I imagine PS4 Pro owners. The 4K is present, the HDR is strong enough when you sit as close as you do a PC monitor and the freesync is a great way to experience games which drop frames below 60fps for Xbox One X owners. Plus the seriously reduced latency going from a traditional TV screen to a PC monitor is incredible for those unaware.

Out of the box the screen sports a super thin frame with a great non-reflective surface, sporting only a lip of a frame at the bottom. The back panel is white and there's a fairly simple looking matte, silver stand. A power supply and high speed HDMI, both in white, are packed in the box. All the navigation onscreen is done with a single joystick underneath the bottom of the screen lip. Setting up the picture is fairly simple as PC monitors aim to output the most straight forward and raw image from your device, this is what is key to getting the latency low. All the extra picture effects from traditional TV's add input lag to your games and serve little purpose as console are getting increasingly powerful and great looking graphically when it comes to resolution and image quality. Perhaps this generation of consoles is the first where you really benefit from playing on a PC monitor, provided you have a place to sit close to the screen.

Even on a 27 inch monitor like this, the difference between 1080 and 4K is very apparent. Higher resolutions than 1080p look super sharp and make the distant details pop much more. This is my first time experiencing HDR too, as my 4K TV is without HDR. I'm very impressed by the extremely bright lighting and beautiful colours it delivers. Although it depends on the how each game implements it. some games look a little overdone with HDR and offer no ways to alter it's brightness. I really enjoy the ones that let you tweak the setting to your liking. Forza Motorsport 7, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Gears of War 4 on the Xbox One X and even my 1080p-only experience with Horizon Zero Dawn back on the base PS4 all showcase fantastic and impressive implementation of HDR. Turning it off again in these games that implement it well, is like looking at a duller and less colourful version of the game, even though that's what you used to play with!

As mentioned earlier, another star of the show with this monitor, and most PC monitors in general, is the extremely low latency. While it's been a norm for PC gamers to be in the 1ms to 5ms range in monitor latency for a few years now, it's a huge difference to go from my TV's rather lazy 40-60ms range to this screens 5-10ms one. Non-HDR mode sets you at 5ms if you choose the fastest setting, while activating HDR, which is conveniently done automatically for games that are detected as such, will put you on the "fast" setting in the 10ms ball park. It's a really noticeable and precise feeling going over to playing on such low latency, even for 30fps games that have felt sluggish on normal TV's.

The Freesync technology can be activated regardless of HDR. This makes the refresh rate of the screen match the framerate of the game. It's perfect to help games that drop below 60fps feel consistent in the controls and not like they're slowing down. Games that hover in the 40-60fps range will feel like they are speeding up and slowing down all the time, the consistency in framerate is key and freesync aims to help with, it's a fantastic technology that luckily the Xbox One X supports. I hope to see this technology become a norm in later generations of consoles and supported on TV's across the board.

Although I've mostly tested my XB1X and base PS4 with the monitor, I have also given retro consoles a spin with a Open Source Scan Converter (OSSC). This device converts analogue signals from old consoles to digital ones through a HDMI cable and basically zero addition to input lag. My Mega Drive and PlayStation 1 felt great and the picture looks razor sharp in RGB output from the old classics. I like that I can pivot my screen for Tate modes in games, although it sadly pivots the wrong way compared to many Tate games and as such I had to disconnect the screen from the mount to turn it vertical. PC monitors are in general very suitable screens to play old consoles on as they match the low or non-existent latency that old CRT's screens had.

So to summarise; if you are on the market looking for a nice monitor to play your consoles on, and PC games alike, I can really recommend LG's 600, 650 and 850 lineup. They're all identical panels, that support a few physical extras for each model up: 600 has no pivot stand, no USB/USB-C connectors and no speakers, 650 (my model) adds a pivot stand, while the 850 adds USB/USB-C connectors and speakers. The screen panel is identical across the models and as such the picture quality alike. All models have two HDMI 2.2 ports, a Display Port, and a headphone output.

While I mostly would recommend Xbox One X or PS4 Pro owners going for this screen, I also played the PS4 base model, standard Xbox One games and even a Nintendo Switch on it and they all looked great. It's a nice alternative if you lack the space of a large TV and want the latest technologies in screens without paying for a full price, massive TV. Plus that latency is really going to impress you if you have only played games on flatscreen TV models prior to this.

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