Is 1080p resolution enough for a 34inch Ultrawide monitor?
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TLDRIt depends on what you're using it for. If you plan to mainly use it for gaming and entertainment, then 1080p resolution should be good enough. However, if you plan to use it for creative/engineering work like design, software development, or writing where you are working with small text and lines, I recommend sticking with QHD (1440p) or UHD (4k).
When upgrading my old 23 inch external monitor, I first picked up the LG 34WL500-B 34" UltraWide for around $300 from Best Buy. With 4.6/5 stars and 300+ reviews, I expected to be thrilled with the purchase, but it turns out I'm pickier than most buyers of this entry-level Ultrawide.
After setting it up with my laptop at max resolution, I found the display to be too pixelated to be useful. Unlike the Macbook Pro's retina display, the ultrawide's individual pixels were obvious and the quality of details on the screen like lines and text is poor, with color bleeding and a lack of crispness.
Digging into a few reviews on Amazon and Best Buy, it was clear that other productivity users were similarly dismayed with the resolution, especially when coming from a higher pixel density display like the so-called Retina displays on newer Apple devices.
What makes a display Retina?
Retina is Apple's trademark for a display with a high enough pixel density that the human eye cannot distinguish individual pixels at a typical viewing distance. Steve Jobs once said that (paraphrasing) there's a magic number for display pixel density of around 300 pixels per inch (PPI) where the retina of a human eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels when viewed from a distance of 10-12 inches away. Thus our eye's perception of display sharpness is simply a function of display pixel density and viewing distance.
In theory, given a large enough viewing distance, all displays become Retina. This is why you may not notice the lack of sharpness when watching a large 1080p TV, however when sitting 20 inches away from a 1080p 34 inch monitor, the pixels are clearly noticeable.
Using this pixel density calculator, lets compare the PPI across some popular sizes:
34 inch 1080p (FHD) Ultrawide (2560 x 1080) : 82 PPI
34 inch 1440p (QHD) Ultrawide (3440 x 1440) : 110 PPI
32 inch 4k (UHD) 16:9 Monitor (3840 x 2160) : 138 PPI
Apple Pro Display XDR 32 inch (6016 x 3384): 216 PPI
Macbook Pro Retina 15 (2880 x 1800): 221 PPI
While at 1080p resolution may provide a high pixel density on smaller displays (like laptops and smaller monitors), when you start to stretch out the display to 34 inches, the pixel density starts to really take a hit. In general, I recommend staying above 100 PPI but the closer you can get to 200 PPI, the better. The numbers really tell the whole story here - get the highest PPI display that you can afford.
After returning the LG 34WL500-B 34 inch Ultrawide, I eventually settled on the AOC U3277PWQU 32 inch 4k monitor which at about $300 provides an excellent balance of cost and pixel density. I'm very happy with my decision to go with this monitor after using it for a few months. The 32 inch 16:9 display actually gives a greater overall display area and the additional vertical height makes it feel much roomier than an Ultrawide.