Ultrawide Monitors have been around for a few years now, and while they’re not quite in the impulse buy price category yet, they’ve been steadily coming down in price. One of the companies who haven’t been spotted all that much is Philips. Philips have been in the monitor space for a long time, but they’re not usually a headline grabbing company, Instead they just make great stuff, without any real flare, and in this case, that’s a shame, because the BDM3490UC is awesome.
Disclaimer: Philips sent us the BDM3490UC Sample to review, but they have no control over the editorial outcome of this review. We (Dom) have used the BDM3490UC as our primary monitor for the last 9 days, And oh boy, has it been fun.
Speeds and Feeds (Specs)
34” AH-IPS Screen
3440×1440 resolution at 60Hz
178° Vertical viewing angle
172° Horizontal viewing angle
21:9 Ultrawide aspect ratio
5ms Grey to Grey response time
1x DisplayPort 1.2 Port
1x HDMI 2.0 port
1x HDMI 1.4a Port
1x HDMI 1.4a Port with MHL Support
4 Port USB3.0 hub
For more in-depth specifications, check here for the Philips website.
Philips has a stunner here. It was always going to be interesting trying to stuff a 34” monitor on my desk, but I managed (just) and oh my, This is just gorgeous. When first getting the monitor out of the box, the Curve looked radical and insane, but after about 5 minutes of using it, I quickly forgot about the curve and just enjoyed looking at the screen.
Let’s start with some less than stellar stuff, seeing as there isn’t very much. Philips likes to tout the narrow bezel and edge to edge glass, and while I can’t really disagree with the second claim, the first one is just preposterous. When the screen is off, yes, it does appear as if there is an incredibly small bezel, but turn the thing on and it is a very different story. The glass does go nearly edge to edge, there is a small 3mm bezel where it doesn’t, but turn the screen on and there is a hefty 15mm, or 1.5cm bezel around everything but the bottom part of the screen. Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually not too peeved that it is here, just that Philips are trying to position this as an almost bezel-less monitor and sadly it’s nowhere close.
Now that I’ve got than off my chest, let’s start speaking about the mounds of great things on offer here, starting with the obvious, the screen. A 34” canvas is huge. Please consider that before even considering buying one of these. I own a 29” Ultrawide and this is huge compared to that (though I wall mounted my personal one and not this). Once you’re okay with the size issues, this thing is insanely awesome. You have a very large canvas to work on, I can have 3 full-width websites snapped and not have to horizontally scroll on any of them, I can open up a blank document in Google docs and not zoom in or out, and I can see the entire A4 document without scrolling. For productivity, this thing is insane, and it works out for video as well. You can have an unscaled 1080p window for footage, and because of the unusual width, the timeline is a lot longer as well. I can’t get over how wide this monitor is. Oh and Chrome tabs? Have as many as you want, this thing doesn’t care.
Being an AH-IPS panel, the colours are fantastic, viewing angles are great and power draw is quite low. Philips say the BDM3490UC can reproduce 99% of sRGB colour space, and whilst I don’t have the equipment to actually test those claims, I’d be quite surprised to find out if the reality is far from their claim. Everything on the BDM3490UC (which I’m going to call Betty from now on) Looks either quite true to life, or at the very least, not incredibly over saturated.
Whilst I don’t make it a habit to look at monitors from extreme angles, it does help on a monitor of this size, and also one with a curve to have great viewing angles. Betty manages to not have any noticeable colour shifting across the entirety of the panel. There doesn’t seem to be any backlight bleed in normal use, but when you place a black background on the screen, there is a fair bit on the top edges. Again, that isn’t something I noticed until I started to take photos for the review. In the near two weeks I have been using it, I hadn’t noticed a single bit of backlight bleed, which is impressive. One of the benefits of these monitors being so large is PBP, or Picture By Picture, so having two 1720×1440 pictures from two different inputs, like my Raspberry Pi if I was testing it out whilst still wanting to use my computer, Instead of having to grab my Chromebook like I usually do. I used PbP or PiP (a small window in the corner of the screen) to continue using the Pi and the computer making my life a lot easier.
Getting to those modes though is a little bit of a pain. Like most modern monitors, Betty eschews a plethora of buttons instead opting for a small joystick you operate from under the Philips logo. This “joy” stick is, in theory, awesome. It allows for a streamlined on-screen display, and my LG 29” Ultrawide does the same thing, but if we are going to go from clearly defined buttons to a joystick operating an On screen display, can the industry please settle on an OSD UI pleas? I get that most people buy one monitor, keep it for a half decade or more and that’s it, but come on! In the two weeks I’ve been using this I’ve not once got from standard to PBP on the first try. I’m sure I might get used to it, but come on, that’s a bit of a cop-out.
Philips has put a pair of 7w speakers in Betty, and at first I didn’t even realise. I had plugged Betty into my computer, and since I had recently had my office renovated, I hadn’t plugged my desktop speakers back in. Betty set everything up, so once Windows has booted up, Betty said to my PC “Hey I’ve got audio equipment, and you’re using HDMI – send me the sounds!” I didn’t notice that I wasn’t using my speakers until later that night when I went to turn everything in the office off, only to realise my speakers weren’t even plugged in to anything. Are the DTS tuned speakers in Betty phenomenal? No, of course not, but are the better than most? Yes, and I’d also say they’re better than most sub £30 desktop speakers as well. It also means you get a much cleaner desk, which is a benefit.
Now, you don’t have to use HDMI, and in fact if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t be using it, but the computer I’m using at the moment doesn’t have a discrete graphics card in it, and the motherboard doesn’t have a DisplayPort port on the rear I/O. So out of necessity I’m using the HDMI port on my motherboard, which is an HDMI 1.4b, so I’m limited to 3440×1440 at 30Hz, which is somewhat painful, but if you have even a moderately powerful GPU (any graphics card with a DisplayPort 1.2 output really) you can run Betty at the full 60Hz and feel better for it. Also, if you have a newer graphics card (Maxwell or Pascal from Nvidia, or Polaris from AMD) You can use the HDMI 2.0a ports on them to run the full resolution at 60Hz through the HDMI 2.0 port on the back. Whilst 30Hz is okay for video work, even mousing around windows was noticeably choppier than on my monitor, which runs at 2560×1080 because of this. Sadly I wasn’t able to test the MHL support of Betty, which lets me do Video out from certain smartphones that support MHL, but as I don’t have any devices that support MHL, I couldn’t test it; sad trombone.
The next thing is a dealbreaker for me, but something I have found is not for others. Betty doesn’t have a VESA mount meaning that you cannot swap out Betty’s stand for a third-party one, nor can I wall mount her, which is where my issue comes in. I have a relatively large desk; it’s 1.4m wide and 60cm deep, yet Betty is about 83cm wide, and about 20cm deep once you consider all the cables behind her. That’s a lot of space and whilst there isn’t a lot I can do about the width, if I can wall mount a monitor, that removes the stand ,which gives me back the full depth of my desk, depending on how high the mount is. VESA compatibility was actually one of the deciding factors for me buying my most recent monitor, because I wanted to have it on the wall and gain back some precious desk space, and Betty not having a VESA mount, of any kind, Is a serious black mark for me.
That is for me though, and as I stated a moment ago, a lot of other people I spoke to said that it not having a wall mount wasn’t a problem for them, as long as the stand was not obtrusive, which, luckily Betty’s is not. It’s very well designed, it just so happens to be holding up a 34” monitor, meaning it, by extension, is quite large. Betty’s stand does not offer any horizontal adjustment, nor vertical adjustment, nor pivot. All you can do is change the angle of the monitor. You can decide if the stand has enough adjustment for you, but for me, no VESA mount was a dealbreaker.
If it wasn’t already blatantly obvious, I’m in love with what Philips has produced here, It’s an awesome monitor, with really great colours, is nice and bright, has a plethora of inputs. It also has a great USB 3.0 hub, some fantastic built-in speakers and much more. It’s only real overall negative is that the claim of it being a narrow bezel are pure codswallop. The lac of a VESA mount is a personal issue.
The final point is whether or not you can afford it, and I purposefully left the price out of this review because it isn’t particularly cheap. At just under £650, Betty is far from inexpensive, but you have to think of a monitor purchase as an investment. Something you will use for years, especially if you do a lot of work on the monitor. Monitors don’t age the way other electronics do, a great monitor in 2016 will still look awesome in 5 years. The technology will also have gotten better, but colours won’t look worse 5 years on than they do now. The 5ms response time won’t increase over time either. The more you spend now, the longer the investment will last, which Is why I’m not going to lambast Philips for charging what they do for Betty. A premium product deserves a price to match, and when you see the prices of other 34” 3440×1440 curved monitors, £650~ for the Phillips BDM3490UC starts looking mighty inexpensive.