Get the bigger picture: multi-tasking monitors for power users
It's a common sight in many offices to see employees with two monitors sitting side-by-side on their desk. This can be useful for keeping up to date with financial information that's displayed -- often in real time -- on one screen, while a second display is used for more routine tasks such as email and word processing. Creative users often like to view video and graphics files at full size on a dedicated display, while their editing apps and other tools are shunted away onto a neighbour. And some people just need two monitors for two computers, perhaps using a laptop and a desktop PC side-by-side.
But, to paraphrase an old advert: why have two monitors on your desk, when you can just have one? The latest trend in business monitors is for 'multi-tasking' monitors -- large displays that provide enough room to fit several applications or windows on-screen at the same time. These versatile displays may also include additional features, such as the ability to create picture-in-picture (PiP) effects, where you concentrate on a primary app that's displayed in a larger window, while a smaller secondary window lets you keep an eye on your share prices or emails. Some modern monitors also offer split-screen effects -- also known as picture-by-picture (PbP) -- that allow two computers to share a single screen.
Features such as these work best on larger displays, and the new generation of multi-tasking monitors generally start at 32 inches, going all the way up to 49 inches. Even so, these large displays can still take up far less space than a pair of 27-inch screens sitting together on your desk (especially if you're working from a makeshift office at home).
Here's a guide to some of the best multi-tasking monitors for advanced knowledge workers and creative users.
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Acer is hedging its bets with its XR range of monitors, partly pitching the ultra-wide curved screens for gaming and video, but also including features such as picture-in-picture (PiP) and picture-by-picture (PbP) that will allow business users to connect two computers and view images from both at the same time. The ultra-wide 21:9 aspect ratio is also good for viewing multiple documents and windows.
Users in the US definitely get the best deal, though, as they can buy the 37.5-inch XR382CQK directly from Acer for a very competitive $900, while UK customers have to pay around £950 (ex. VAT) to order from Acer's third-party retailers. There's also a 34-inch model available in the US for just $650, but that's not currently on sale in the UK.
There are two HDMI inputs and one DisplayPort input, along with one DisplayPort output, plus two USB 3.0 ports for peripherals. It's worth noting, though, that the XR382CQK is not a true 4K display, as its unconventional aspect ratio requires a resolution of 3,840 by 1,600 (110.9dpi), rather than 3,840 by 2,160. There are also reports in Acer's support forum suggesting that Macs don't take kindly to that aspect ratio for some reason.
~£950 (ex. VAT) / $900
See it now: AOC
AOC's U3277PWQU is good value for business users who want a large, versatile display (especially people working from home, who may have to pay for it themselves). This 31.5-inch monitor provides 4K resolution (3,840x2,160, 139.9dpi) for well under £500/$500, but provides a number of useful features for multitasking with multiple apps, or two connected computers.
The monitor provides HDMI and DisplayPort interfaces, as well as DVI and VGA for older PCs and laptops. There's also a built-in USB hub that provides two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports -- although it's a shame that it doesn't support USB-C as well.
You can connect two computers and use picture-in-picture (PiP) or picture-by-picture (PbP) to display images from both computers at the same time. You can move the second 'sub-source' image around on screen, change its size, and even switch audio from the monitor's built-in speakers between the different computers. You can also pivot the screen, rotating it into the upright (portrait) position as well. There's a 28-inch version as well, which is about £200/$200 cheaper.
£375 (ex. VAT) / $430
BenQ DesignVue PD3220U
BenQ is best-known for its affordable monitors and projectors, but has recently been moving into the creative markets with its DesignVue range of monitors. It's not the cheapest 4K display around, but the 31.5-inch screen on the PD3220U provides plenty of room for graphics and video editing, and supports 100% of the sRGB colour space, and 95% of the DCI-P3 standard used in the film industry.
There are two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports, along with a USB hub that provides three USB 3.0 ports. BenQ also provides a 'puck' -- a small dial that plugs into the display and allows you to control the on-screen menu system and other functions.
If you want to multi-task, then you can connect two computers to the display and use the picture-in-picture (PiP) and picture-by-picture (PbP) features to share the screen. You can also rotate the screen by 90-degrees to switch into portrait mode. The PD3220U even includes a built-in KVM switch that allows you to share the keyboard, video and mouse between two connected computers. And, if the price or size of the PD3220U is a little over the top, then there's a 27-inch model also available, for £657.50 (ex. VAT) or $1,100 in the US.
£882.50 (ex. VAT) / $1,200
Dell UltraSharp 43 4K USB-C Monitor (U4320Q)
Dell has been taking the 'multi-tasking' approach very seriously, with an extensive range of new monitors launched at CES earlier this year. Right at the top of the range sits this imposing 43-inch 'multi-client' display, which is surprisingly affordable at £704 (ex. VAT) or $840 in the US.
Measuring 42.5 inches diagonally, and providing 4K resolution (3,840x2,160, 103.6dpi), the U4320Q includes two HDMI ports, two DisplayPort connectors, and one USB-C port that's also capable of handling video input. The USB-C port can also be used to charge a laptop, and to connect up the display's built-in four-port USB hub.
That selection of interfaces makes it possible to connect four separate computers to the U4320Q, and Dell's Display Manager software allows you to create split-screen effects and custom screen layouts, so that you can view all four simultaneously. The U4320Q is very much aimed at banks and financial institutions, where staff may need to monitor financial data and newsfeeds in real time. However, it also has an eye on CAD and other graphics applications, where it can help to have multiple views of a design on-screen simultaneously.
£704 (ex. VAT) / $840
Dell UltraSharp 49 Curved Monitor (U4919DW)
Large, curved monitors are becoming increasingly popular for gaming and video at home, but Dell believes they're a good option for office use too, as the curved screen can fill your entire field of view and eliminate distractions. Its flagship curved display is the 49-inch, ultra-wide U4919DW, which costs £965 (ex. VAT) or $1,440 in the US, although there are less expensive 34-inch and 38-inch models as well.
There's no need to have two monitors on your desk now because, as Dell points out, the U4919DW is actually "equivalent to two 27-inch monitors", with an ultra-wide 32:9 aspect ratio and 5,120 by 1,440 resolution (108.5dpi) that provides plenty of room to juggle multiple apps and windows. There are two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort, and one USB-C port that can also handle video input, as well as a built-in KVM switch that allows you to connect two computers to the display and share the keyboard, video and mouse. It's worth checking, though, that your PC or Mac can support that ultra-wide aspect ratio, as many computers that rely on integrated graphics may be limited to the more conventional 16:9 format.
£965 (ex. VAT) / $1,440
HP Z38c Curved Display
Like Dell's 49-inch colossus, the Z38c from HP is designed to replace an existing twin-monitor setup, although its 37.5-inch screen will be a bit more manageable and affordable for those of us that don't have the luxury of a CEO-sized desk (or salary).
It's competitively priced for such a large display, but does cut a couple of corners here and there. HP refers to the display as "4K wide", but it's actually slightly below true 4K, with a resolution of 3,840 by 1,600 (110.9dpi), and only supports 98% of the sRGB colour space. This means that it's probably more suited to general productivity software, presentations and financial work, rather than high-end graphics or video.
Even so, that size and resolution will be ideal for people who need to juggle multiple apps and windows on-screen all at once. There are single HDMI, DisplayPort and USB-C ports, with the ability to switch between different computers, although the Z38c is primarily designed for working on one computer at a time, rather than sharing the screen between two systems. It's also worth checking to make sure that your computer's graphics card can support that ultra-wide 3,840-by-1,600 resolution and 21:9 aspect ratio.
£835 (ex. VAT) / $999
See it now: LG (UK)
LG's description of the 49WL95C is somewhat clumsy, labelling it as an "ultra-wide dual-quad-HD display", but there's no denying that it's an impressive and versatile multi-tasking display.
Like Dell's 49-inch rival, the 49WL95C boasts a full 49-inch display with 5,120 by 1,440 resolution (108.5dpi) and a 32:9 aspect ratio that's ideal for displaying multiple applications and windows side by side. The display includes two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort and a USB-C port that can handle both video and data, and also charge a laptop at the same time. There's a 'dual-controller' (KVM switch) that allows you to control two computers with a single keyboard and mouse connected to the display, and LG's OnScreen software can be used to share the screen between two computers at the same time, and select a variety of different layouts for your devices and windows.
The 49WL95C is slightly more expensive than its Dell rival, but it does include a number of extra features, such as support for HDR 10, and an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts brightness levels. There's also a good set of stereo speakers (2x 10W) for presentations and audio editing. But, as with the 49-inch Dell display, you should check to make sure that your computers can fully support the display's ultra-wide aspect ratio. Unfortunately, LG doesn't sell direct in the UK, so UK customers should shop around for the best price.
~£1,037.50 (ex. VAT) / $1,500
Philips Brilliance LCD Monitor With USB-C Dock (329P9H)
See it now: Amazon (US)
Philips was one of the first manufacturers to really focus on versatile, multi-tasking monitors, and was also early to adopt USB-C -- which was still something of a novelty when we first reviewed the 329P9H almost a year ago.
The 31.5-inch display provides 4K resolution (3,840x2,160, 139.9dpi), with a bright, sharp image that provides plenty of room for multiple apps and windows. But it's the versatile connectivity features that steal the show, with two HDMI inputs, DisplayPort input and output, and a USB-C port that handles video, as well as data for the built-in 4-port USB hub, plus charging for a laptop. The on-screen menu also provides picture-in-picture (PiP) and picture-by-picture (PbP) controls that allow you to view two connected computers at the same time.
Other useful features include Ethernet for a wired network -- which will be more secure and reliable than wi-fi -- a built-in webcam for your Zoom and Skype calls, and the 329P9H can also rotate into an upright, portrait orientation. You can't buy direct from Philips, though, and online prices seem to vary quite a lot, so it's worth shopping around before buying.
~£809 (ex. VAT) / $780
Philips SuperWide Curved LCD Display (499P9H)
See it now: Philips (US)
Philips makes a number of curved monitors that are designed for gaming and video, but its top-of-the-range 499P9H is very much aimed at the B2B sector, particularly financial institutions such as banks and trading floors where multi-display setups are very common.
The curved design is intended to occupy your entire field of vision, offering "optimal ocular comfort" by eliminating distractions so that you can immerse yourself in a world of data. The 48.8-inch display provides 5,120 by 1,440 resolution (108.5dpi) with the same ultra-wide 32:9 aspect ratio found in similar 49-inch displays (which can be troublesome for Mac users, unfortunately). But, like Philips' more modestly sized range of 'docking monitors', the 499P9H is packed with useful connectivity features, including two HDMI ports, and one DisplayPort, as well as a USB-C port that can handle data, video and laptop charging.
There's also a built-in KVM switch that allows you to control two computers with a single mouse and keyboard, and a 'multiview' feature that provides a split-screen option for viewing two computers on-screen at the same time.
It's even got a webcam for video conferencing, and Gigabit Ethernet for a wired office network. There is a 43-inch model available in the UK for around £765 (ex. VAT), although that model isn't currently available in the US.
£990 (ex. VAT) / $1,345
Samsung 32" Curved 4K Monitor (UR59C)
Despite what its model number suggests, Samsung's UR59C is not a 59-inch monitor, but a more humble 32-inch screen instead. It is, however, an affordable option for smaller offices or people who are working from home.
Priced at just £340.83 (ex. VAT; £409 inc. VAT) or $500, the UR59C provides an attractive curved screen with 4K resolution (3,840x2,160, 137.7dpi). It only has one HDMI and one DisplayPort input, but there's a split-screen picture-by-picture (PbP) feature that allows you to connect two computers and view them at a same time. You can also use Samsung's Easy Settings software to adjust the split-screen layout to suit the way you work (although this software is currently only available for Windows PCs).
That low price does mean that the monitor has to cut a few corners, though. There are no USB ports and no KVM switch, so your desk may end up a bit cluttered if you do need to use two computers, or connect a USB printer and other office peripherals. The display doesn't have any speakers either, with just an audio output jack for headphones or an external set of speakers.
£340.83 (ex. VAT) / $500