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Review: LG 32GK850F gaming monitor

HIGH-RES DISPLAYS with a decent refresh rate are becoming more common as panel makers step up to the challenge of proving that LCD can do anything that OLED can.

We’ve got 2560×1440 monitors with 144Hz refresh rates from Samsung, AOC, Asus and others, but in a market where 27in  is normally the upper limit, LG pushed higher with the 31.5in  32GK850G – and it will release a Freesync version this month.

High resolution and refresh rate are crucial for LG’s target market (gamers), and Freesync makes movement buttery smooth. On top of that the company has achieved all of this with a VA panel rather than TN, aiding colour reproduction and accuracy while keeping response times low.

Design
The LG 32GK850F is built in matte black, with a glossy black plastic strip separating front from back. The eye is drawn by the 1mm flush top and side bezels, with the screen’s controlling electronics hidden in the 18mm bezel at the bottom. Inner bezels are 6mm on the top and sides and 3mm on the bottom.

LG 32GK850F gaming monitor

The display stand, using an attractive wide-V design in red and black (of course), is attached to the monitor through a 100×100 VESA mount, and felt very solid. The non-slip base held it to the desk firmly and the monitor was never in danger of overbalancing. The screen can swivel, tilt and pivot as expected from a premium product, as well as raised and lowered (110mm).

A circular red strip outlines the bulge at the back of the display, which houses the Sphere Lighting system.

RGB lights on components can seem like old hat today, but do have some provable benefits for screens. Not only can the addition of ambient light reduce eye strain, but black levels appear to be higher. Of course, LG’s implementation isn’t at the level of Philips’ Ambilight, which ties colours to those shown on-screen.

A simple but much-appreciated feature is the position of the inputs (DisplayPort 1.2, 2 x HDMI 2.0 (apparently), 2x USB-A 3.0, 1x USB-B and audio in/out) on the rear of the unit, which face outwards rather than down; this makes it much easier to connect cables without having to rotate the screen. A cable-tidy attachment is supplied, which can be clipped to the rear of the stand.

LG 32GK850F rear ports

Many high-end displays today are curved, with an ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio: the 32GK850F retains the more standard flat 16:9 design. While wide models are great for productivity, game support is still limited; and they can actually be a disadvantage in twitch games like PUBG as your eyes have further to travel between on-screen action, which slows response time

That said, LG’s monitor still has plenty of screen space to go around and some of the same issues do haunt it. It remains to be seen if the gaming market will be convinced by the larger size of this display, even on a flat model. From our own experience, we often lost track of the position of the mouse cursor – which does not scale up in size to match the display – when there was a lot of action on-screen, especially in MOBA games.

Like the 34UC79G, LG has hidden the controls for the on-screen display underneath the screen, with a joystick controller.

Picture
Having added almost in  of screen real estate diagonally, LG’s GK850 displays naturally have a lower PPI than competitors’ similar 27in models: 93 vs 108. Some people may notice a difference, but it won’t be an issue for the majority of the population,

The uniqueness of the GK850 products is in the panel, which is an M315DV01 AMVA (active matrix vertical alignment) type from AUO: one of, if not the only, VA flat panels of this size, resolution and refresh rate. LG has certainly found a gap in the market, and the reaction to the G-Sync model suggests that it was one that gamers were keen to have filled.

LG 32GK850F monitorLG 32GK850F in sRGB mode

LG’s use of a VA panel, which has better response times although less accurate colours than IPS, is a good decision for a gaming monitor – although it has meant that the component had to be supplied by AUO rather than LG Display, which solely manufactures IPS. The backlight (a W-LED), however, is from LGD.

On the topic of colours, people who want to use this monitor for image or video editing are out of luck, as sRGB (97.5 per cent coverage) is the only default colour space. LG says that DCI-P3 (95 per cent coverage) is also built in, but we couldn’t find a dedicated option for it; perhaps it’s part of the Cinema mode.

Playing around with the other picture modes like ‘Reader’ and ‘Vivid’ adjusted the display as you might expect, respectively lowering brightness and blue light or upping brightness and colour saturation.

LG 32GK850F monitorLG 32GK850F in Vivid mode

Colour accuracy is good, and LG has calibrated the monitor well: the colour temperature of white is 6458K out of the box, which is very close to the ideal 6500K measurement.

HDR Effect, LG’s attempt to replicate the effects of high dynamic range on displays with low peak brightness (320 cd/m² in this case), adjusts the gamma curve, black/white level and contrast to pick out more detail in a scene. This setting should only be used for specific types of content: text, for example, looks incredibly fuzzy.

LG 32GK850F monitorLG 32GK850F with HDR Effect mode on

As a flat screen, the 32GK850F does not have the uniformity issues that are often associated with curved displays, and the VA panel lessens the chance of it being affected by backlight bleed or grey areas. VA’s black levels are much darker than IPS (0.11 cd/m² at maximum brightness), and the screen showed extremely minimal deviation across its surface: around 0.02 cd/m².

A common uniformity issue that affects large displays with VA panels is vignetting, where the outer edges appear darker than the inside. This is not a defect, but the result of VA’s lower viewing angles compared to IPS. There have been reports that some samples of the 32GK850G are affected, but we didn’t observe any vignetting on our model of the Freesync monitor.

Gaming
The 32GK850F is primarily a gaming monitor, so refresh rate and response times are extremely important.

The monitor’s 144Hz refresh rate is at the top end of today’s displays and makes a difference in every scenario: games, Netflix and YouTube were all much smoother than on our normal 60Hz screen. Overdrive increases this to 165Hz.

LG 32GK850F OSD

A low pixel response time is necessary to keep up with frame rate demands, otherwise smearing will occur on fast-moving content. Response times need to be below 6.94ms at 144Hz and 6.06ms at 165Hz.

In practice, despite the stated 5ms GtG response, the monitor just missed its response time targets and exhibited some smearing at these speeds; however, 120Hz (requiring a sub-8.33ms response time) was a good balance.

Freesync (and G-Sync) is used to eliminate screen tearing, and is a large benefit when it comes to gaming. Running a screen at full 2560×1440 resolution and 144/165Hz refresh rate requires a significant amount of compute and graphics power, so Freesync is an excellent tool to compensate for less powerful systems.

In short
LG’s 32GK850F is a great option for gamers who can afford it. Its specs, largely thanks to the VA panel, place it well ahead of the TN or IPS-using competition, with an excellent contrast ratio and black levels, as well as minimal colour shift. It is the only monitor in its size class that offers the potent combination of Freesync and a 144/165Hz refresh rate.

LG is certainly providing customers with a lot for their money: a large size, common aspect ratio, excellent specs and superb uniformity. We did feel that some of the features, especially in the menu, were very (too?) gaming-specific, though; while the monitor performs well as a general-purpose device, there are other (cheaper) options if video games aren’t your primary use.

The good
One of the very few screens with a VA panel at this size, refresh rate and resolution, Freesync greatly smooths motion, affordable for what it offers.

The bad
Smearing at high refresh rates may limit the display to 120Hz, vignetting has been reported by some users, non-gamers should look elsewhere

The ugly
Nothing.

Bartender’s score
8/10

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