Wind back a few years and monitors were like buying an Australian internet connection. You couldn’t have fast, reliable and affordable internet – it was only two of the three. Similarly, monitors were stuck in this weird spot where you could have great colour accuracy, high refresh rates and 1440p or better resolution … if you wanted to spend a few grand.
But times have changed, and screens are now starting to hit the sweet spot: good refresh rates for gaming, good response times, and decent colour accuracy out of the box at a price that regular gamers can justify paying.
Update: This story has been republished with LG advising that the 27GL850-B will be shipped and available through Computer Alliance, Scorptec, Mwave and K.S. Computers by the end of the week.
Available from most major Australian retailers for $749, LG’s 27-inch 1440p UltraGear is the latest salvo from LG’s ongoing push into the gaming monitor market. LG’s had screens targeted at gamers for a few years, but not all of them had made their way to the Australian market. The ones that did were largely either low-end office productivity monitors or higher end models focusing on ultrawide formats, 4K resolutions, or enormously oversized screens like the 43-inch monster I reviewed a couple of years back.
And for the most part, all those screens were pretty good. They weren’t always ideal for gaming, particularly the screens with 60Hz refresh rates, but the image quality was solid and they were well built displays.
But now with the UltraGear line, LG’s trying to muscle in on the gamer market.
Their plan works like this. Rather than battling with the AOC’s and Viewsonic’s at the affordable end of the market, LG wants to sell you a monitor that you’ll not upgrade for four or five years. Their plan is to pitch you gaming monitors without compromise, screens with a high refresh rate and high DCI-P3 colour accuracy and G-Sync compatibility. (The key word there is compatibility – it’s not a G-Sync Ultimate screen.)
On top of all that is the crown jewel: a quoted 1ms response time in an IPS screen that doesn’t require active cooling. As far as pitches go, that’s a good start.
It’s a huge deal because, only two or three years ago, the choices for gamers were pretty simple. If you wanted a high refresh rate monitor with good colours, you forked over a couple of grand or more. (Hell, some 4K IPS screens were selling for over $4000 in the Australian market.) Beyond that, most “gaming” screens had rubbish colour reproduction, but they were good for twitch shooters and games with fast motion.
Now, gamers don’t have to make that distinction quite so much. If anything, things have improved markedly. I remember paying $749 for the first 120Hz screen BenQ had in the country, and while the difference between 120Hz screens isn’t quite as stark as having a high refresh rate LCD for the first time, there are some definite benefits.
If you’ve used an IPS screen with a high refresh rate before, chances are the screen would have a much slower grey-to-grey response time. The slower that response time is, the more visible ghosting you get. It’s basically caused by the monitor not being able to switch the colours of individual pixels fast enough to maintain a sharp image, which makes it harder to track movement at distance, overall clarity at high speed, and so on.
Now there’s a nice little catch in the settings here. See if you can spot it below:
Did you see it? It’s listed in the Response Time section. You see, if you want that true 1ms response time, you have to have the monitor’s overdrive functionality set to “faster” (fastest also works). And if you use either of the two gaming presets in the monitor settings, this setting will be locked to fastest.
Thing is, that’s absolutely the last setting you ever want to use.
The overdrive is basically a function that uses a higher voltage in the monitor to allow pixels to switch colours more quickly. But the downside of that results in what’s been coined as coronas, or inverse ghosting, which looks like this (courtesy of the excellent guide at Blur Busters):
The technical explanation is that pixels end up overshooting their colour value and then bouncing back, creating an inverse halo-type effect that can look pretty horrible. Overdrive does reduce ghosting, and most monitors today will let you adjust how aggressive the effect is.
Having used the LG screen for a few weeks, I’d recommend keeping it on the lowest setting possible. Not only is the corona effect really unpleasant, but you can’t lower it on the two preset gamer profiles.
That said, you can avoid all of those problems by switching to a more normal sRGB profile and changing all the settings manually. Not only is the overall picture quality much more natural – the gamer profiles are completely oversaturated, which totally ruined the beautiful sunrises and sunsets in The Witcher 3 – but you can also set the overdrive to the lowest setting possible, minimising ghosting without the ugly corona effect. Plus, spending time in the monitor settings means more time playing around with the mini joystick – or the monitor nipple – under the front bezel, which is the best design trend for a monitor in the last few years.
Minus that downside – and bad overdrive effects is pretty universal to all gaming monitors, so it’s not just LG’s fault here – the 27GL850-B has a lot to like. It’s 144Hz out of the box, and while it doesn’t overclock further, you’re also not paying an extra premium for the G-Sync hardware in the monitor.
The build quality is reasonable, like the Samsung 240Hz screen I reviewed recently, with the whole unit taking less than a minute to assemble. The entire monitor unit has a spot on the rear for the stand to plug into, which attaches into the base via a pre-installed thumb screw. It’s a pretty similar design to most monitors on the market these days, and shouldn’t be difficult to install irrespective of your technical knowledge. My only complaint with the build quality is that the base could be a little heavier, which would give the whole unit better balance, but that’s the smallest of quirks that would only matter if you were using the world’s worst Bunnings table.
If you wanted to nitpick further, you could also take issue with the 27GL850-B’s HDR support. The specs say HDR10 is supported, which is true, and you can absolutely turn on an option in Windows that enables HDR video and games.
But the screen tops out at a maximum of 350nits of brightness, which isn’t enough to support the lowest of VESA’s DisplayHDR standards, HDR400 (aka. a minimum brightness of 400 nits). And even with that hurdle, there’s still the sad reality of HDR gaming on PC: it’s not widely supported, the monitors that do support HDR gaming often suffer from unsightly effects like halos, and the HDR experience in Windows generally is sketchy enough that you’re better off staying in SDR mode.
Outside of the ongoing HDR issue, which is more a fault of Windows, and quirks around overdrive and presets, LG’s 27-inch screen does well here. It’s at that nice sweet spot of a good IPS panel with fast enough refresh rate and response time to be usable in all games, while also having a decent resolution, small bezel, and easy installation. Even the 3.5mm jack and two USB 3 inputs are handy for wired mice or wireless receivers, although a USB-C plug would have been a nice bonus.
But that’s nitpicking. At $749, it’s one of the cheapest IPS 144Hz 27-inch screens available locally, and it has a much nicer (and more stable) design than the rival 27-inch Acer Nitro. The Acer Predator XB27, which is going for just over $800, has full G-Sync support, but it’s a five-year old monitor at this point with a slower IPS panel.
So really, your options are twofold: either go as affordable as possible, sacrificing some quality, colour accuracy and response time for a cheaper 27-inch 144Hz screen, either get a larger, ultrawide screen with a similar refresh rate, or look for a 120/144Hz 4K screen. Of course, you’ll need a beastly PC to maintain frame rates at 4K, which is why most people revert to a 27 or 32-inch 1440p screen instead.
And if you do that, it’s hard not to look at the LG 27GL850-B. It’s a competitive price, it’s well built, and it does everything competently. What more can you ask for? (Besides a name that doesn’t read like a cat walked across the keyboard, obviously.)