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For a long time, the LG Ultrafine was No.1…but is it still king?

The Studio Display, from Apple, has come along and rocked the boat. Side by side, how do they compare?

LG Ultrafine 5k Monitor & Studio Display

I have worked on Macs, and iMacs in particular, for over a decade now. I am more than used to the astonishing Retina Displays. But the moment that Apple announced the 5K Studio Display in March, I knew I wanted one. I have had it for just under a month now….today I compared it to the LG Ultrafine 5K screen. Is the Studio Display worth the extra?

Why buy it at all

I knew I was in the market for a new Mac this year. We are in the middle of an Apple sweet spot right now, with some of the best hardware they have ever produced, available to us. OK, you can’t actually buy it due to supply shortages, but that is for another blog. But just check out on Apple’s website what is currently on offer! Apple Silicon has changed everything. For the first time, I was going to buy a laptop as my main workhorse. The deal was already pretty sealed, and when the Studio Display was announced…game over! I can now have my mobile cake and eat it too…working at the desk with the MPB andStudio display, then go freeform and work with just the Liquid Retina, mini LED 16-inch MacBook display. I can tell you, it is the best set-up I have ever had.

It is the first stand alone Apple display I have owned. I had, in the past, been tempted with the 5K LG Ultrafine. By the time I was tempted, though, Apple were no longer selling them (with hindsight, clearly a sign that they were about to jump back in to the monitor market). Today, I have the opportunity to put my display side-by-side with the LG panel, and see how they compare.

Earlier, I popped in to see my friends at Halo Architects, who are a thriving, energetic, Mac-driven team of creative architects (assuming you’ll have guessed the last bit!). I spent some time there, closely comparing these displays…here are my thoughts.

On the desk

Straight out of the box, you know you are dealing with an Apple product with the Studio Display. It has style, a solid weight and feel to it, and of course, it is clad in the trademark aluminium, with a large, black logo on the reverse. The LG is bulky! Make no mistake about it. The stand is solid. That monitor is going nowhere. The Studio Display is certainly lighter in comparison. Speaking of that stand, of course the one luxury you get with LG, is a fully adjustable stand; height and tilt. My display is the standard model, with tilt only. The LG does extend up to a better, more comfortable working height. Apple can take the ‘L’ on that one – £400 extra you’d have to hand over for the luxury of height adjustment!

The overall look and feel is more ‘Apple-esque’ with the Studio Display, but the claims of the LG being plasticky, are misleading. It’s a quality monitor, just without that Apple kudos about it.

The panel & connectivity

Allegedly, it’s the same panel, but there is a real noticeable visual improvement with Apple’s. Both boast a resolution of 5120×2880 and P3 colour, but the 100 extra nits of brightness makes an impactful difference to viewing conditions for the Californian. Looking at the same video (one from Apple’s site), it was sharper and more vibrant on the Apple option. With my display being so new, clearly, there are no dead cells or flat spots. The LG’s I saw today are around 18 months old, and again, are free of any such defects. The viewing angle on both is identical at 178/178 degrees. Somehow, we all felt that the Studio Display just felt a bigger display overall.

The port selection offers the same Thunderbolt 3 connector to your MacBook, which will also charge it. You also have three other USB-C ports too for peripherals. The screen surface of the LG, comes with a low reflective treatment, which was a joy. In the environment I was viewing this panel in, it made for a more comfortable user experience. I could, of course, enjoy the benefits of a Nano-texture glass on my display….but the credit card would’ve had to come out again! Just another £300 this time!

Audio

A big win for The Studio Display on this front. Apple have been making a big play about their speakers on recent Macs, and fairly so. The speakers on my 16-inch MacBook are more than adequate for general listening. Those of the 27-inch display are even better. With more space, and air, the sound is an improvement over the laptop. The display offers a richer, fuller sound and, quite honestly leaves the LG falling behind in its wake. I don’t think I’d want to be listening to those LG speakers for very long, and would look to be buying some desk monitors pretty pronto. They were thin, and flat with below average ‘mids’. Of course, you also get Siri support and Spatial Audio on the Studio Display, when playing music or video with Dolby Atmos. You’ll also get a three-way mic arrangement too, with some level of noise compression.

Camera

Apple’s release yesterday, of the latest firmware update for their display, has sure helped. The colour cast is less orange, and the skin tone, generally, more realistic. The framing is improved also. Centre Stage is clever, but largely not something I’ll have much use for. Today, when I was the Halo guys, I saw it working for the first time with more than just me in frame. The width of the wide-angle lens is staggering. But, the camera, overall, remains weak, and the LG’s, way better. It was more to my liking in both colour and definition. The firmware update has improved a woeful camera on my display, but it still has quite a lot of image noise to it. My 1080p C920 Logitech still wins out, over both of these, though.

Conclusion

Both screens are as rare as a hens tooth right now. The LG, I think, may even be discontinued. To say which is better, is a hard shout. The overall visual element of the Studio Display is better, with that extra 100 nits of brightness helping out. The speakers are better on the Apple monitor, but the camera superior on the LG and it has that inclusive height adjustable stand. Purely as displays, they are fairly evenly matched. The Apple Display wins out, but only just.

There have been rumours and stories about unreliability of the LG display, but again, speaking with Halo today, who have three, they have had no problems at all, and they get a proper 12 hour-a-day workout!

Apple’s lust for profit in making the height stand and anti-reflective coating both extras, is hard to excuse, but typical of the Cupertino behemoth. The LG is, on list price at least, £400 cheaper, and that is a fair chunk of cash. Is the new kid on the block worth that extra money? Hard to say. I am not dissatisfied with my choice, but, there again, I am a sitting target!

If your budget runs the extra £400, and you can justify it, then buy the Apple screen. But, if you find an LG, particularly discounted, snap it up. It’s a great panel.

All of that said, the best panel on show today, was the mini LED XDR display on my 16-inch MacBook. Heaven!

With special thanks to Halo Architects for access to the LG Ultrafine monitors.

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