Regular readers here know that I have been on a crusade for the ultimate (or at least an excellent) display for my 2013 Mac Pro. My quest started when I left my 2010 27-inch iMac behind. The new Mac Pro acquired in the summer of 2014 needed a proper display or pair of displays to accommodate my writing workflow. The beginning of that journey started here:
My Search: a New Display for a Mac Pro, Part I (December 2014)
The interim result was this Hewlett Packard Z27i display, (27-inch, 2560 x 1440) which I paired with my (2009) Apple 24-inch Cinema display:
My Search: a New Display for a Mac Pro, Part II (January 2015)
I thought I was done. But then Hewlett-Packard announced some new displays in 2015 that really turned my head. The first was the Z27s, a 27-inch 4K (3840 x 2160) display that worked beautifully with the Mac Pro. I reviewed it here:
Hewlett-Packard’s Z27s is a 27-inch 4K Display for Your Mac Without the 4K Price (November 2015)
I liked it a lot, but I didn't buy it after the review because what I really wanted was the subject of this review, the object of my affection, a drop-dead gorgeous 34-inch curved display that's a bit short of 4K: 3440 x 1440.
The HP Z27i was handed down to my wife as a second display for her PC notebook. It remains an excellent choice to use as a second display for any notebook or desktop computer, Mac or PC.
A final caveat. I am writing this from the perspective of an experienced Mac user, but not as a video professional or a color/display professional. Instead, the questions I will try to answer are:
- Why is the display curved the way it is?
- Is it worth the money?
- Is it easy to connect and operate?
- What's life like as a Mac user with this display?
2. Executive Summary
The HP Z34c is a 34-inch (86 cm) diagonal display that uses LCD Vertical Alignment (VA) technology instead of In-plane Switching (IPS). More on VA later. It is LED backlit. The resolution is 3440 x 1440 at 60 Hz with an aspect ratio well beyond HDTV of about 2.39:1 (21:9). The face of the frame is black and the back is beige.
The display itself, excluding the stand, weighs 17.6 pounds (8 kg), and despite its bulk, it was relatively easy to handle while attaching the base stand. (Note: it cannot be laid face down; that puts too much mechanical strain on the curved display.) It takes up enough room on the desktop that, except for a Tony Stark lab, there isn't really any room for a second display. No worries. You won't need one.
A single DisplayPort cable connects to the Mac and no drivers are needed. It's plug-n-play. All I had to do was double check the Mac's display settings to make sure I was in the full 3440 x 1440 setting, which is the "Default for display."
Available resolutions shown.
The display has a slight curvature with a radius of 118 inches (3.0 meters). I'll get into the technical specifications and observations about the curved display later in this review.
Unlike the Z27i and Z27s displays I"ve reviewed, the connectors on the back are straight out (as they should be), like an iMac, and not on the bottom of the display's frame. Connectors underneath are hard to get to, and gravity is not their friend.
This may be all you need to know about this display to make a purchase decision. However, for completeness, I'll go into much more detail in the five pages that follow. Plus, our managing editor, Jeff Gamet, has also done a great video review that complements this written review. Okay, on we go.
Page 2: How it Was Tested and The Out of Box Experience
Page 2 - How it Was Tested and The Out of Box Experience
3. How it Was Tested
The Mac used for testing was a 2013 Mac Pro with 16 GB RAM and 2 x AMD FirePro D300s with 2 GB VRAM each. This Mac has OS X El Capitan, and always had the latest version installed since the display arrived in February. Even though this display has lots display real estate, I still need to use OS X Spaces because my workflow involves so many apps. Switching between Spaces on this display with nearly 5 million pixels is fast and smooth and takes about 0.3 second.
The Z34c has been in continuous operation, 24 x 7, since February and has been perfect in every respect. (It sleeps when I do.) Even in my brightly lit office during the day, I've run it at just 55 percent brightness, and that looks great. Full luminance is 350 candelas per square metter (cd/m2) or nits. That's blindingly bright even in a daylight office with a window behind it. So far, according to the display, I"ve looged over 1,750 LED backlight hours.
4. Out of Box Experience
The box arrived in great shape, and the firm styrofoam packing is cleverly designed to support the curved display and avoid shipping stress. The box is rather large, 42 x 11 x 20 inches and weighs 33 pounds. As always, I recommend taking sequential photos of your unboxing so, in the event of a problem, you can put everything back together correctly.
How do you pack a curved display? Like this.
The display mounts on a sturdy metal stand. The first thing you'll see when opening the box is a large sheet of paper with a diagram that shows how to protect the curved display while attaching the stand. It was a tight fit, but after some pushing and prodding, I got the stand mounted into the frame. This stand is extraordinarily stable, and when I grasp the edges of the display to change the tilt, I can feel the stability. This display has no chance of tipping over.
When I first got the Z27i last year, it took me about 30 minutes to clear my desk, assemble it, and connect to power and the Mac. That time has since dropped dramatically, now that I'm accustomed to these HP displays. Unlike the Z27i and Z27s, this Z34c does require a power brick. It's fairly large and heavy, so I keep it on the desk behind the display. The Z34c pulls, typically, 75 watts with a sleep power of 0.7 watts. The maximum is 120 watts.
The power brick is hefty.
The display does not have a vertical adjustment, but it does tilt. (-2 degrees forward to +25 degrees back) Unlike other smaller displays, vertical rotation to portrait mode is not possible. Because this is the only display one would likely use, I didn't see the lack of a height adjustment, to match a sister display, as a problem. On my desk, the top edge of the display is at 19 inches (48 cm), and that was perfect for me. The bottom of the display is 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) abobe the desk, so there's plenty of room there for my Thunderbolt hub.
Once I had the power connected, the power button toggled on the back and connected via DisplayPort to the Mac, I was in business. As we often say in the Apple world, it just worked.
Page 3: Accessories and Connectors
Page 3 - Accessories and Connectors
Included in the box was:
- AC power cord for brick.
- Power brick/adapter with its own power cable connecting to the display.
- 5.9 ft (1.8 m) DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable.
- 5.9 ft (1.8 m) HDMI cable.
- Remote control.
- Quick Reference Sheet.
- CD with User Guide, warranty (3 years), software drivers (if needed) & docs, EULA . See the support info at the end of this review.
I keep bugging HP about the DisplayPort cable included with its displays. If the order center knows it's going to a Mac user, a DisplayPort to mini DisplayPort cable should be substituted. Or just included, routinely. Or mailed separately. As it was, I had an extra DisplayPort to mini DisplayPort cable, so I didn't need to order one from Monoprice and wait a day or two to get going.
This display has the following ports and controls.
There is a security lock port, like the ones we used to have on MacBook Pros. HDCP is supported on all inputs.
Page 4: Technical Specifications
Page 4 - Technical Specifications of Interest
7. Technical Specifications of Interest
- 34-inch (86 cm) VA LCD (WQHD) display with LED backlighting.
- Native, maximum resolution of 3440 x 1440 (21:9) at 60 Hz.
- Pixels per inch: 110.
- Max. luminance: 350 cd/m2
- Static contrast ratio: 3000:1
- Response time: 14 ms gray to gray (Without overdrive); 8 ms gray to gray (With overdrive, enabled in the On-screen Display controls).
- Color depth: 8 bits, true 16.7 million colors.
- Color gamut: 98.8 percent sRGB (sRGB color space is factory calibrated).
- Weight without stand: 17.6 pounds (8 kg).
- Tilt: -2 to +25 (lean back) degrees.
- Backlight life to half brightness: 30,000 hours.
- Anti-glare display. (2.3 percent reflection.)
- 2 speakers, 6 watts per channel, DTS certified.
- Headphone jack.
- Integrated 2-port USB 3.0 hub.
- U.S. Energy Star and EPEAT Gold certified.
Page 5: Discussion of Features
Page 5 - Discussion of Features
8. Discussion of Features
No Video Camera. There is no built-in what Apple calls FaceTime camera. HP told me:
In essence we don’t have enough customers wanting this feature to justify including it on this specific display (or to do another variation with the camera). The main issue is definitely around security for the customers that would buy this type of display, such as those in the enterprise and public sector. We are seeing that more customers wanting conferencing features on displays—but they tend to be in more mainstream office environments and display sizes where the users are knowledge workers vs. a more workflow productivity environment like in CAD/CAM, etc.
These are security and technology upgrade issues that Apple chooses to ignore. When the security department has to pry open a beautiful display (or a MacBook) to snip camera wires, it's no fun for anyone.
Instead, I am using a Logitech C920, 1080p camera that cost less than $70. It's a very good video camera that works with OS X without any setup at all. Just plug it in, and the Mac will detect it. It may be necessary to point Skype prefs to it.
Display Coating. Unlike the Apple displays, this Z34c has an anti-reflection coating rather than a glossy coating. It doesn't look as sexy, but most professionals will agree that a glossy coating is just not the modern answer for professional work. Personally, I hate glossy coatings, and this HP display pleased me greatly in that regard.
Tech Specs. In comparing some of these specs to the Z27s previously reviewed, one can see a numeric advantage in a few areas for the IPS-based Z27s display. However, in everyday use by an average Mac user (and to me), the displays are indistinguishable.
VA Technology. As for the choice of VA technology, I found this discussion helpful.
VA (Vertical Alignment) technology such as S-PVA/MVA are middle of the road LCD panels. They offer better color reproduction and wider viewing angles than TN panels, but have slower response times. They are very similar to S-IPS on paper. They also offer large viewing angles and good color reproduction, though not as good as IPS panels. The response times are generally worse than TN or IPS panels and there have been reports of a few VA panels that suffer from input lag, so VA technology is not be the best choice for fast paced gaming.
VA panels have the advantage of higher contrast ratios compared to other panel types, which leads to better black levels. The biggest disadvantage of VA based panels is color shifting. Color shifting is when the image viewed from one angle changes or "shifts" when viewed from a slightly different angle, making various uneven brightness levels across the display. This bothers many users to the point they will not even consider buying a VA based panel, while other users don't notice or aren't bothered by the color shifting. Color shifts also cause a loss of shadow detail in dark scenes when viewed directly from the center.
In practice, I noticed no such color shifting. Nor did I have a problem with any video I watched, including the latest Star Trek: Beyond trailer. It looked great, with no visible artifacts, effects or lag, even at full screen. Watching trailers on this display in full screen mode is an amazing experience.
Star Trek Beyond trailer was amazing in full screen mode. Image credit: Paramount Pictures.
Display Curvature. The first thing I wondered about (it's just me) is how the radius of curvature relates to the viewing distance. It turns out that it doesn't. A mildly curved display of this kind is not intended to keep every part of the display equi-distance from one's eyes. Rather, it turns out to be, in my experience, simply a visually pleasing effect. The edge of the display is about 1.5 inches (3.6 cm) closer to the eye than a flat display would be, and given the limits of manufacturing, that's just enough for a nice effect.
Indeed, if one went to extremes and made the radius of curvature equal to the viewing distance of 60 cm, I think the display would be unusable. And ugly. And no supplier could make it anyway. I asked HP about all this.
For the initial phase of curved displays HP's panel suppliers tried pushing the limits of their manufacturing process. A 3 meter radius was the most aggressive at the time. Curving an LCD panel is not an easy thing to do given the number of layers inside which require precision alignment.
Now in theory, if you had two panels (one curved, one flat) and the viewer was the same viewing distance, the edges of the curved panel would allow for viewing distance from edge to center-to edge to become closer to equidistant to one another. With the flat panel the edges remain a little further away. This can be key, because the corners of most Windows UI is where notifications or the Start menu may appear.
DPI. Because the user sits farther away (perhaps 2x) from the display than one does from, say, an iPad, the 110 dpi has the roughly same effective appearance as 220 dpi on an iPad. An old iPad 2 is 264 dpi, and that's considered "Retina."
Speakers. I compared the built-in speakers to my Logitech X-140 speakers, and there really was no comparison. The Logitechs, at about $80/pair, far, far out performed the built-in speakers. That's expected. These built-in speakers are for sounds, not music, even though the remote can double as audio control.
Page 6: The On-screen Controls, Everyday Use and Final Words
Page 6 - The On-screen Controls, Everyday Use and Final Words
9. The On Screen Controls
This display comes with a remote control in addition to the menu controls on the back of the display. I don't use it very much, and I really didn't like it because the markings are hard to read. Plus it takes a bit of practice to decipher the meaning of the buttons—if you can even read them in dim light. I could not. HP could just as well dispense with this accessory.
As for the buttons on the display itself, they're nicely marked, but they're on the back. With some practice, I suppose one could operate by memory and touch. I think this whole control button thing needs to be rethought by HP.
WIth these controls, you can adjust the settings for this display, video input, brightness, color temperature, audio, PIP, Language, text optimization (Gaming/Photos/Movies/Text etc.) It even logs the LED backlight display hours. I found the remote's navigation controls to be rather non-intuitive at first, and it takes some getting used to. This was also a problem with the Z27s. I recommend patience and practice, especially when you press the wrong button and the display goes blank.
This is an issue because this display has multiple input ports (1 x DisplayPort, 2 x HDMI), and one may have multiple computers connected. One might want to often switch inputs, and it's not really very easy to do.
The markings on the remote are essentially invisible.
10. Everyday Use and Final Words
When I reviewed the Z27s, I tried to use a 4K resolution on a 27-inch display. Everything was just too small. Even though I sit 24 inches (60 cm) from the display, with 20/20 vision, every bit of text and image was just too tiny for my liking. I ended up using it at 2560 x 1440, which is where I was with the Z27i. That's back where I started, and that's one reason I didn't buy the Z27s.
However, with the Z34c, the size of the USS Nimitz flight deck (37.5 inches wide, 0.95 meters) and 3440 pixels across, the trade between physical size and pixel density is perfect. HP has done a great job here. A gently curved display with this size and 110 dpi is amazing, pleasing, and extraordinarily beautiful.
I should also add that while this display is never turned off, there is never any perceptible heat coming from the vents on the back.
I surmise that some technical professionals will quibble with the specs. It's not a true 4K display. It's not IPS. It's only 8 bit color. In principle, the VA display has a slower response time. On the other hand, it has a much higher contrast ratio, better black levels and the viewing angle is very good (178° horizontal; 178° vertical).
My sense is that the everyday Mac user, whether a consumer or someone in routine productivity operations in business or government will find this display to be splendid. More demanding professionals will, perhaps, seek out a more expensive display with stronger technical specs. And true 4K or 5K if needed. Personally, as a writer and viewer of all kinds of content, including video, I couldn't be happier.
At $778 from Amazon, it's an amazing product, especially when compared to the much more expensive, obsolete Apple 27-inch Thunderbolt display.
The TMO Video Review