If you are going to use the ASUS PQ321Q, you’re going to want DisplayPort 1.2 support. HDMI will work, but it’ll be choppy with its 30Hz refresh rate. If you have a video card with dual HDMI 1.4 outputs, you can use both of them to drive it at 60Hz if your video driver supports it. DisplayPort 1.2 allows for Multi-Stream Transport (MST) support, letting you drive two displays with a single DP cable. But why does that matter if the ASUS is your only monitor? Because to get the full 60Hz refresh rate out of it, DisplayPort needs to see it as a pair of 1920x2160 monitors that each get their own signal.

The ASUS has MST mode disabled by default. With my NVIDIA GTX 660 Ti I had to manually enable it in the monitor for it to turn on. I’ve been told that with ATI or Intel GPUs over DisplayPort 1.2 it is automatic, but I don’t have those to test with. Once enabled, it quickly went from 30 Hz to 60 Hz while staying at 3840x2160 resolution.

Since I run multiple displays like most people, this seemed to be an ideal time to test out Windows 8.1 and its ability to offer individual DPI scaling on monitors. For this test I used the ASUS PQ321Q, connected over DispayPort, and a Nixeus VUE 30 (review forthcoming) connected over DVI running at 2560x1600. With a single universal setting, you use a percentage setting for scaling in Windows 8.1. With individual control, you use a slider more like on a Retina MacBook Pro. The percentage is hidden, which I dislike. I don’t understand why we have a different way to select the scaling level if you have two monitors versus one. Perhaps it is a beta issue, but I think they should be uniform.

Moving beyond that, when I attempted to scale the PQ321Q, I had an image that was still fuzzy instead of sharp. Thankfully a driver update (as 4K MST panels are new) fixed this issue quickly. The independent display scaling in Windows 8.1 still didn’t work the way I wanted it to. The choices are unclear, including which monitor you are adjusting, and I never could get it setup exactly how I wanted it. I wound up setting it to 150% for both displays and dealing with my 27” running with larger icons than I prefer.

Now I have an effective 2560x1440 desktop, only everything is sharp. Amazingly sharp. It is like moving from my iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4 and its retina screen. The text as I write this in Word is crisp and clear, and editing gigantic spreadsheet in Excel is much easier when the cells are so easy to read. Unfortunately not every application in Windows plays well with DPI scaling.

Chrome is scaled 150% as Windows asked, but it is hazy and blurry. Disabling DPI scaling for the application and then scaling to 150% inside Chrome produces crisp, clear text. Firefox also didn’t scale automatically, but it has a setting to adjust to make it follow the Windows DPI scaling rules. Once set, Firefox looks very nice and crisp. For most people, that setting should already be set to follow DPI scaling.

Finding a chat client that works well is a challenge. Both Pidgin and Trillian don’t do DPI scaling and are fuzzy by default. Another app that had issues is Steam. Right-clicking in the System Tray icon brought up a menu in the middle of the screen, where it would be without DPI scaling. The reality is that some apps are great and support DPI scaling, and some need work, just like when the retina MacBook Pro was released. Evernote looks great, but Acrobat is a fuzzy mess. This is all a bit of growing pains, but I find myself disabling DPI scaling on applications that don’t support it because I prefer tiny and sharp to fuzzy and large.

Because the 2560x1440 resolution is what I’m used to with my usual 27” monitor, I found there to be no real difference in how I used the ASUS monitor. I typically split items to different sides of the screen, with Word on the right and Evernote on the left as I type this. The application that benefitted for me was image editing. Being able to fit more on the screen, or zoom in to higher levels, made working with images on the ASUS better than on a 27” of the same effective resolution. I don’t do that much image editing, but for the work I have done it has been wonderful.

You’ll also quickly find out how much people need to go back and fix up programs or websites to use images and text separately. Text combined in an image scales very poorly, but is often easier than doing proper layout for two separate elements. I feel a bit bad for all the developers that need to go back to fix everything to work with high-DPI screens, but that time has come.

The only way to sum up daily use of the ASUS PQ321Q is “awesome”. It’s not perfect, but much of that is the fault of Windows or other programs and websites. When you have something that can scale and look correct, it is amazing how much the extra pixel density and sharpness helps. Yes, this is the future for displays, and we are entering the transition period to get there.

Introduction, Design and Specs Internal Scaling, Brightness and Contrast
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  • chewbyJ - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    this is great news! i've been wanting to replace my ancient Dell 2009WFP's with something larger, feel like experimenting with that Seiki SE39UY04 for $700 that got announced last month. hopefully you guys can get your hands on one of those soon and have something to compare with this ASUS model.

    can't wait to do Photoshop and Lightroom work on a giant 4k display and use a more expensive/high quality uniformity display for color accuracy of prints and media.
  • Panzerknacker - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    btw, why is everybody worrying so much about gaming and graphics cards not handling 4k? I mean when you have that many pixels available it should be no problem to upscale, run the game at 1080p and simply upscale to 4k. I doubt there will be quality loss due to this and it will probably still look better than on a native 1080p screen.

    How does this work btw? Is it possible to let the screen do this by itself like with a TV? So you input 1080p, 1024 x 768, whatever ress, will it be upscaled by the screen to 4k and display fullscreen? This is really important for me because I would use the screen for everything, also playing older games that do not support 4k.
  • sheh - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Of course, like any current monitor, monitors do scaling. Some do it better, some worse, some let you configure more scaling options, some don't. It's probably best to handle scaling with the graphics card (/drivers), because that gives you, at least potentially, the most control.
  • pattycake0147 - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    The paragraph describing the black levels is missing a zero after the decimal and before the seven. Confused me until I looked at the graph.
  • pandemonium - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Nice spreadsheet you got there. Clearly shows the necessary amounts per distance and size of display. More people need to be aware of such things!
  • LordSegan - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    "The ASUS PQ321Q is pricey, and I can’t say that getting three or four 30” 2560x1600 panels isn’t a better deal, but it’s not the same as having one display that looks like this. "

    I don't mean to be harsh, but this story needs more careful copy editing. There are run on sentences and other pretty amateurish errors.
  • Mondozai - Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - link

    I don't mean to be harsh, but your comment needs more careful copy editing. You should spell it run-on sentences, not run on sentences.

    It helps having correct grammar when trying to correct others.

    Just a tip.
  • bill5 - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    Heh, what a surprise the reviewer loved a $3,500 monitor...

    It's almost like you get what you pay for
  • Confusador - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    So when can I get a 23" 2560x1600 display? 32 is a bit much for me, but I'd love the dpi.
  • sheh - Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - link

    2014, probably.

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