Asus PQ321 review

The Asus PG321 offers stunning 4K image detail via a massive 31.5-nch IGZO monitor.
Photo of Asus PQ321

The display of the future has arrived. The Asus PQ321, the first 4K monitor to hit PC Labs (and, according to Asus, the world’s first consumer 4K monitor), brings 3,840-by-2,160 resolution to the desktop via a humongous 31.5-inch IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) panel. Geared toward photo and video editors, gamers, or anyone requiring the pixel density and superior image detail afforded by 4K technology, this Ultra HD monitor offers four times the resolution of a 1,920-by-1,080 monitor and some nice features, including three digital inputs, a flexible stand, built-in speakers, and 10-bit color. What’s the catch? At $3,500 it’s one of the most expensive monitors out there and is even more expensive than most Full HD big-screen HDTVs. Moreover, its color accuracy and grayscale performance, while good, could be better.

A word about 4K and IGZO technology; displays that deliver a resolution of at least 3840 x 2160 pixels are referred to as 4K or Ultra High-Definition (UHD) displays. With 4K you get four times the resolution of Full HD (1,920 by 1,080), which means you get four times the amount of pixels (Full HD panels have more than 2 million pixels while 4K panels have more than 8 million pixels). The PQ321 uses Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide (IGZO) technology, which was co-developed by Sharp and announced back in 2012. In a nutshell, IGZO is a semiconductor material used on 4K LCD panels that provides around forty times the electron mobility of the amorphous silicon (a-Si) material used on most traditional LCD panels. This allows for smaller pixels (and thus, more pixels) and a much brighter picture than a panel that use amorphous silicon for its active layer.

Design and Features
A matte black cabinet measuring 29.5 by 19.3 by 1.4 inches (WHD) houses the PQ321′s enormous 31.5-inch panel, which uses a non-reflective anti-glare coating. The cabinet is supported by a stand that offers 90-degrees of swivel, 30-degrees of tilt, and more than 5-inches of height adjustability. The cabinet also has VESA compliant holes for mounting the monitor on a wall.

There are seven buttons (including the power switch) on the right side of the cabinet that can be used to navigate the OSD menus and change settings. Each button is clearly labeled but for some reason the labels face the rear of the monitor and can’t be seen from the front. A monitor of this size begs for an on-screen labeling system like the one used on the NEC MultiSync PA271W.

All of the PQ321′s ports are conveniently located on the left side of the cabinet facing outward. Here you’ll find two HDMI ports, a DisplayPort, a headphone jack, an audio input, and an RS-232C input. This model lacks USB ports and legacy video inputs but is equipped with a pair of two-watt speakers that are sufficiently loud but lack bass response.

In the Picture settings menu you can adjust brightness, contrast, black level, tint, color intensity, and sharpness levels. There are three color modes (Standard, sRGB, Vivid) and three white balance modes (Thru, Preset, User). When in User mode you can fine tune RGB contrast and offset levels. There are also PBP (picture by picture) mode and PBP source settings as well as Power Management and Standby Mode settings.

You may have to do a little finagling to get the monitor to display 3,840-by-2,160 at 60Hz using the Displayport signal. For example, I had to update the driver for my Nvidia Titan graphics card and change the monitor’s default DisplayPort STREAM setting from SST (single-stream transport) to MST (multi-stream transport). MST lets you combine multiple streams and display them as one stream. One other thing; I was unable to get the monitor to run at 60Hz, at full resolution, on a PC running the 32-bit version of Windows 8 (it ran at 30Hz though).

The PQ321 comes with a three-year warranty and ships with a DisplayPort cable, a quick start guide, and an RS-232C conversion dongle.

Performance
Unless you have access to a dedicated 4K media server there’s not a whole lot of 4K video content out there other than a handful of YouTube clips, most of which looked good but not all that much better than real HD (1080) content. There are plenty of UHD photos though, and they looked awesome on the PQ321. Image detail was incredibly sharp and colors popped from the massive screen. Viewing angles were also outstanding with no noticeable color shifting or dimming, and blacks were inky and uniform across the entire screen.

Grayscale reproduction was decent but dark grays were crushed (the two darkest shades of gray appeared black). However, the panel had no trouble displaying light shades of gray from the DisplayMate 64-Step Grayscale test.

Color accuracy was less than stellar. On the CIE chromaticity chart below none of the measured colors (represented by the dots) were inside their corresponding zones (represented by the boxes). Green was particularly skewed and red and blue were relatively close but not ideal. You won’t notice the inaccuracies while playing games, watching video, or performing everyday computing tasks but if you rely on precise color accuracy you’ll have to calibrate the panel.

Playing games on the PQ321 in UHD was incredible but you’ll need a powerful graphics card that can provide reasonable frame rates at 3840 x 2160. The card will also need either two HDMI outputs or a DisplayPort output as the PQ321 uses two streams (tiling) to display UHD content. Once the display was set up for MST I played Aliens vs. Predators with high-quality settings enabled and was treated to an awesome big screen, ultra high definition gaming experience, courtesy of my GeForce GTX Titan GPU. The difference between UHD and FHD is amazing and has to be seen to be appreciated. Scenes from the Heaven DX11 benchmark test were equally impressive; picture detail was crisp, and at 38 fps, the action was looked smooth. Hardcore gamers will not be disappointed as long as they have a powerful GPU and deep pockets.

The PQ321 used 72 watts of power during testing, which isn’t bad for a 31.5-inch screen. The slightly larger (32-inch) Touch Systems V3280I-U used 87-watts while the smaller NEC MultiSync PA301W used 98 watts.

Conclusion
If you’ve been chomping at the bit to own a 4K monitor, the Asus PQ321 delivers in a big way, and for the moment, is the only game in town. Its gargantuan 31.5-inch IGZO panel delivers razor-sharp image detail, incredible viewing angles, and dark blacks. Its color quality is generally good, but the green level on our evaluation model was a bit heavy. A professional calibration would likely resolve that issue. Granted, early adopters are used to paying premium bucks to be the first on their block to own the latest technology, but the PQ321′s $3,500 price is over the top, so if you can hold out for the competition to catch up you will probably save yourself a sizeable chunk of change.

Specifications
Native Resolution 3840 x 2160
Supported Video Formats 1080p
PC Interfaces HDMI
Video Inputs HDMI
Diagonal Screen Size 31.5 inches
Widescreen Yes
Aspect Ratio 16

Verdict
The Asus PG321 offers stunning 4K image detail via a massive 31.5-nch IGZO monitor. However, it's wildly expensive and its out of the box color accuracy could use a little tweaking.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc