Review: HP z38c ultra-wide curved display

By Dariush Derakhshani

Dude, seriously, who needs a 38-inch display? The obvious answer is me. HP’s z38c is a 38-inch ultra-wide curved professional monitor sporting good color accuracy and an effortless display. But ultra-wide? Isn’t that better for gaming? At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this new form factor on my desk. I’m used to two screens, a large 32-inch 4K and a color-accurate 27-inch at 1440p, side by side. That’s a lot of screen space to be sure, so changing it up for me to a single ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

You might be asking yourself, “Didn’t that display premiere months and months ago?” Well, it did. Yes. Instead of rushing a review, I decided to live with this monitor for a while to get an even better feel for how it would fit in with my graphics work.

I knew this display was quite different to how I have worked for many years now, so I felt it was really important to be comfortable with this new idea: a single, ultra-wide curved display. Ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

The first thing I noticed is the fact that my desktop is practically as wide as my dual-screen setup, but there is no gap, no air, in between. Seamless and unbroken, I can easily stretch a single window out and not worry that it kinks in the middle where the bezels rub up against each other on my desk. This is supremely satisfying!

With an aspect ratio of 21:9, as opposed to the 16:9 we are used to with HD displays, the ultra-wide real estate gives me a comfortable workspace to stack apps side by side. With a 4K resolution horizontally (3840×1600), you could get 4k (UHD) content on the screen, though it would crop about 500 pixels off the top and bottom (full UHD is 3840×2160). So, for editing 4K content, you’d be looking at your footage scaled down, unless you cast it to another screen entirely.

One of my professional responsibilities is to read and cross-compare several technical documents to assess accurate content and suggest improvements, as well as write new content to increase educational reach. I used to just hang a couple windows on my main screen and a third window on my side monitor, and I never thought twice about looking back and forth between the screens.

But something psychologically makes this workflow easier when I have all three docs on the same screen; it is less fatiguing to read and go back and forth writing, highlighting and editing. This is the first workflow improvement I noticed, and quite likely what HP means when they proudly declare that their goal is to immerse the user.

When I fire up Autodesk Maya for some CG work, it’s nice having a little more horizontal elbow room in my view panels. My shelves display more tool icons, and I can fatten up the Attribute Editor on the side of the UI to see more information in one sitting. This becomes even more helpful when I jump in After Effects for compositing work. This is where the z38c’s aspect ratio really shines for me: my timeline/comp view makes it much easier to see what’s going on.

As a matter of fact, hopping into Adobe Premiere to cut some sequences together, which I do for educational videos on CG, is a joy! Seriously, this is an instant winner. I always tore off panels in Premiere to my side screen to work my edits, but with this ultra-wide view the timeline feels free and unfettered in 21:9. That is for sure my number one workflow improvement, and undoubtedly will be for anyone needing to edit or composite using timelines.

I have to admit, I had to fight back the urge to install Rainbow Six Siege on my workstation and play it with this wide aspect ratio. It was practically begging me to, and who am I to ignore my basest instincts? So I did! Playing a first-person shooter in this aspect ratio is pretty awesome, though I still suck at the game, and my 11-year-old easily trounces me every round.

Having said that, this is a professional-minded screen. It’s response time of 5ms is actually not too bad, but hard-core gamers want faster and the ability to sync, which is fine as I’m not a gamer per se. Only when I’m rendering and have nothing better to do. As a graphics professional, what interests me is in color accuracy first and foremost.

To that end, the z38c sports 10-bit color using frame rate control (FRC), which is basically a dithered 10-bit color — not quite as hardcore as a non-dithered, full 10-bit DreamColor, but pretty excellent for color-accurate work, though perhaps not color-critical work. Either way, it displays color much better than typical 8-bit displays to be sure, giving you far more than the typical 16.7 million colors in 8-bit. This makes color banding a thing of the past, allowing you to push your colors more comfortably.

Tuned to sRGB by default, the IPS screen is really beautiful to look at, and represents imagery extremely well without being overly saturated or too bright. The screen is eminently comfortable to look at, and I feel comfortable that I am looking at accurate colors, even when comparing it side by side to my full 10-bit screen. Though I admit it does have ever-so-slightly better contrast than the z38c.

The unit has a DisplayPort, HDMI and USB-C connectivity, as well as a headphone audio jack and three regular USB ports and one USB-C port for peripherals. The bezel is pleasingly thin around the top and sides, and a bit thicker along the bottom, giving it an elegant overall look. Don’t forget, this is 38-inch diagonal: this is a large screen. But the thin bezels keep it all about the images on the screen, so the unit doesn’t feel heavy on my desk, despite the 30 pounds weight and its solid build-quality. Adjustments to angle and height are easy with the sturdy base that is over 10 pounds, and I’m sure I could eventually mount this to a monitor arm without much trouble.

Summing Up
I really enjoy the minimalist look; not having to stare at a slew of buttons and LED lights and dials. For control, the on-screen menus are easy to operate with nested menus, and get you to switch between sRGB and Rec709 presets easily enough, as well as switching inputs between multiple sources. You’ll also be able to calibrate the screen as you need, making it all the more valuable to professional users.

Now, did I mention the screen is curved? Yup, there is a nice curve to the screen that is meant to immerse the user in their work, which I can certainly appreciate. I was skeptical of the curve at first, prejudging that it would distort the image, which would be very unsightly in wireframe views of CG models. But I am pleasantly surprised to say that is not the case. It does limit undistorted viewing angles a little bit when off-axis, but it’s really meant for someone burying their head into their work. As it is now, my dual-screen setup is in a V shape, angled around my head anyway, trying to make an immersive curve of sorts to make viewing back and forth easier.

The curve of the z38c makes that side-to-side viewing and working, honestly, effortless. Working in Maya in wireframe feels a bit odd to be blunt; I need more time to get used to working with a curve with CG. But with stretched-out timelines and multiple side-by-side windows for my writing and editing duties, I have to hand it to the z38c. The curved ultra-wide screen doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the way I work at my desk, but it does make it effortless and seamless to have a lot on my screen, and that is something I got used to pretty quick.


 


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