If you’re looking for a 4K display that can be paired with your 12″ MacBook via a single USB-C cable, then your options are fairly limited. It seems that LG is one of the few display makers that has such a monitor available for sale.
LG’s 27UD88-W is a 27″ USB-C-enabled display. Its USB-C port allows MacBook owners to connect a single cable to drive the display, charge the machine, and facilitate data transfer.
As I alluded to in my recent 2016 MacBook post, the 27UD88-W isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the only games in town if you desire a 4K monitor with USB-C connectivity in tow.
If you’re a MacBook owner, should you consider purchasing one? Have a look inside for the details.
- Screen Size Class (diagonal) 27″
- Panel Type IPS
- Color Gamut SRGB 99%
- Color Depth 10bit (8bit + A-FRC)
- Pixel Pitch (mm) 0.1554mm x 0.1554mm
- Response Time 5ms GTG
- Refresh Rate 60 Hz
- Aspect Ratio 16:9
- Resolution 3840 x 2160
- Brightness (cd/m2) 350 cd/m2
- Contrast Ratio 5M:1
- Viewing Angle 178 / 178
- FreeSync Support (for AMD GPUs)
LG’s 27″ monitor is capable of displaying 4K (3840-by-2160) at 60 Hz. As a MacBook owner, the best you’re going to be able to experience is 4K at 30 Hz, unless you take advantage of the 4K 60 Hz patch.
In a past post, I highlighted the benefits of using a 4K monitor, especially for those of you who are used to working on Retina displays. 4K monitors provide users with additional screen real estate while maintaining the sharpness of a Retina display.
The LG 27UD88-W’s main selling point for MacBook owners is its USB-C port, but there are several other ports to be found here. There’s two HDMI inputs, a single DisplayPort, a traditional 3.5mm headphone jack, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports — one with the ability to employ Quick Charge rapid charging for compatible devices connected.
This monitor serves as a USB hub, meaning that when you connect to it via USB-C, your MacBook gains access to whatever peripherals are connected to the two USB ports.
When connecting an external drive to either USB port, the read and write speeds seemed to be capped at around ~312Mbps. That’s a far cry from SuperSpeed USB speeds, but as it turns out, there’s a reason for that.
Although it seems simple on the surface, there’s a lot more to USB-C than one may think. Display output is accomplished via DisplayPort Alternate Mode through USB-C. Alternate Mode lets a USB-C connector carry native DisplayPort 1.2 signals across the cable.
USB 3 utilizes 4 lanes in pairs (2up/2down), and the DisplayPort connection can assume operation of some or all of these lanes. The MacBook connection, as it turns out, utilizes all four lanes, causing data connectivity to fall back to USB 2.0 speeds.
Regardless of the amount of lanes used, USB 2.0 and power are always available, which is obviously a good thing. It’s nice to be able to retain some form of data transfer and power connectivity, but it results in a less than ideal data transfer experience due to the usage of the slower USB 2.0.
Read and write speeds aren’t the best…
The limitation on data transfer wasn’t a huge problem for me in most circumstances, but if you need constant access to an external drive via the monitor’s USB hub, it’s something that you’ll want to seriously think about.
Similar to LG’s 34″ 21:9 monitor that I reviewed last month, LG’s 27″ 4K effort looks good to the eyes. It features a modern design with a stellar looking ArcLine curved stand that doesn’t just look nice, but serves to add additional stability as well.
That said, this display is primarily built with plastic. Everything, from the bezel, to the stand, to the rear of the display, is plastic. In other words, don’t expect a ThunderBolt display-level of build quality to be found here.
The bezel is about 3/8 of an inch on three sides, but features a bottom chin that’s much closer to an inch in size. The outside of the bezel is trimmed in an faux-aluminum plastic that does a good job of matching the display’s stand.
The panel can be tilted forward and backward -3º to 20º, and the height of the monitor can be raised up to 110mm. Like LG’s UltraWide monitor, this display does not swivel at all horizontally, so if you wish to move it in this manner, you’ll have to move its entire base.
By taking advantage of the monitor’s pivot feature, you can raise the display height and rotate the display 90º clockwise to view the monitor in portrait mode. This mode is good for certain types of games, publishing, and other specialty applications. It’s not a feature that found myself using regularly, but it does lend you with a ton of vertical real estate when needed.
Display and sound
With an IPS display, you should expect good viewing angles, and LG’s monitor doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It features a 178º wide viewing angle for good image fidelity even when viewed off axis. When running at 4K resolution, text is sharp and colors are vibrant.
Weirdly, the 27UD88-W doesn’t appear to have speakers, this is despite having volume controls on its joystick and what appear to be speaker ports. Instead, the volume controls can be used to control the sound output from the 3.5mm headphone jack. You can use this jack to connect to headphones or to the auxiliary input on an external speaker. Considering that monitor speakers are fairly terrible across the board, this isn’t a big loss. It’s more confusing than anything, and I think that LG should have done a better job of clarifying the lack of onboard speaker output.
When using the headphone output on the monitor, I noticed that the sound would sometimes hiccup and stop playing for 2-3 seconds before automatically resuming. This didn’t happen often, maybe once or twice a day, but I felt that I should mention it. The same thing seemed to happen with the display itself; the screen would randomly go dark and disconnect from my MacBook for a few seconds before automatically coming back on again. It seems to be an issue with LG’s supplied USB-C cable.
Speaking of the USB-C Cable, you’re not going to be able to use the cable that Apple supplies with your MacBook, as this is for charging only. You’ll need to use the USB-C cable that LG bundles with its display. This cable features support for Alt. DisplayPort Mode and data transfer along with charging.
Since I experienced connectivity issues with LG’s cable, I decided to swap it out for a USB-C cable supplied by Monoprice. After swapping out the cable, I no longer experienced any of the connectivity issues that I described above. It looks like LG’s supplied cable was faulty in this instance.
The on screen control interface is the typical LG interface that’s controllable via a single joystick control on the bottom of the display. The menu system features the standard brightness and contrast controls, along with a helping of custom display modes.
PBP mode, which allows you to display two input sources side-by-side, is available as well. This probably won’t be a feature that you’ll wish to use on a regular basis, but I find that’s it’s useful for testing and doing reviews on products that feature HDMI output.
If you don’t need to run two different input sources simultaneously, you may be interested in taking advantage of LG’s Split Screen 2.0 feature, which is a part of its OnScreen Control software suite. Split Screen 2.0 allows users to divvy up the screen to display multiple apps on screen at once. In all, there are 14 different display options, including a picture-in-picture mode. I wasn’t able to get PIP working with version 1.3.6 of the Mac’s OnScreen Control software, but perhaps version 1.3.9 for Windows includes the feature. I’ve reached out to LG about this and am awaiting a response.
Besides split screen features, OnScreen Control brings another benefit to the table — it allows you to adjust many of of the monitor’s OSD settings via an app that runs on your Mac. This lets you avoid interfacing with the hardware joystick when changing common features like screen brightness or contrast.
If you’re a 12″ MacBook owner, this display is quite the intriguing option. It offers true single cable connectivity that provides display, charging and data transfer functionality.
The primary downside is that the display’s USB hub is “downgraded” to a USB 2.0 hub when connecting to a 12″ MacBook via USB-C. The fact that it only does 30 Hz out of the box, which is a limitation on Apple’s end, can present a significant issue as well. Thankfully, you can achieve 4K at 60 Hz on the 2016 MacBook by using a handy workaround.
All of that said, I am very fond of the functionality brought to the table by this display. I’m currently using it as a second monitor, sort of a like a HUD for my social media apps, and when editing videos with Final Cut Pro X. Being able to connect to all of my devices — my mixer, microphone, speakers and display — with a single USB-C cable is a wonderful thing. Not only do you benefit from the quick connectivity, but your MacBook charges in the process.
Despite how awesome it is, I have to be honest and admit that the MacBook mated with this display feels more like a stopgap solution. This is the direction that Apple and the rest of the tech industry appear to be headed in, but it’s not the final destination.
That’s not to say that this display cannot work for you, because it can if you can live with its limitations. The one cable solution is amazing, but until high-bandwidth technology like ThunderBolt 3 gains more widespread adoption, its usefulness is going to be limited.