ASUS PQ321Q UltraHD Monitor Review: Living with a 31.5-inch 4K Desktop Displayby Chris Heinonen on July 23, 2013 9:01 AM EST
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.
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NLPsajeeth - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkGreat review.
While dual HDMI 4k doesn't work at the moment, NVIDIA are working on hacks to their driver (pcper has a beta copy for testing) so you should see this functionality soon.
If NVIDIA actually supported 2x1 and 2x2 Surround with any monitor, they wouldn't have to resort to such hacks but apparently artificially crippling their Windows driver to preserve Quadro revenue is more important.
Tiled 4K displays are going to be more common with all the delays HDMI 2 is facing. 10-bit color is also going to be standard with all these displays. So I have to wonder how long they can keep crippling their windows driver and how scalable is having EDID whitelist for these types of monitors.
On the plus side, at least the GeForce Linux drivers aren't crippled like this.
Steveymoo - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkGreat, finally. I also find it irritating that tech built for disposible, none productive consumers is being given priority for improvements over professional desktop hardware (which would give tangible benefits to people doing actual work.)
You mention the new tech uses a more responsive chemical composition, and I can't see a refresh rate in your spec list. Are we likely to ever see these screens run above 60hz? Probably not.
cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkRight now I'm not sure that DisplayPort can handle this resolution at refresh rates above 60 Hz. HDMI 2.0 should allow for up to 120 Hz at that resolution, at least if they follow the full Rec. 2020 UHD spec, but that keeps getting delayed.
DanNeely - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkIs HDMI2.0 4k@120hz a dual cable solution? I looked at what's written up in Wikipedia and it's listed as maxing out at 4k@60hz; the same limit as DP 1.2.
cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkHDMI 2.0 isn't final or announced yet. Any specs that are out there for it are rumors right now. The UHD spec, Rec. 2020, calls for up to 120Hz at 8K resolutions. I don't think we'll see that, but I'd think we see 120Hz at 4K because you need at least 96 Hz to support high frame rate 3D, like The Hobbit, if that ever comes to the home.
DanNeely - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link4k@120hz would be nice; but even at only 24bit color that's a 24 gigabit datastream. Short of going stealth-dual cable by adding additional data lines I don't think the technology is here to do that at an affordable cost in the near future.
madmilk - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkThunderbolt shows that it is possible to have 40Gbps in a DisplayPort socket. Certainly not cheap though. I don't see the active cables being a necessity though, so long as fiber is not required.
sheh - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkWould be nice if it supported 120Hz at least at 1920x1080. It certainly supports the bandwidth already.
dishayu - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkI think 31.5 inches is slightly too big and 30Hz WAY too low. Just like Chris says it's hard to go to a lower resolution display. I think, for me it is hard to give up the amazing IPS colors and 120Hz refresh rate. And I don't think there are any 27 inch 4K, 120Hz monitors in the pipeline for the next 5 years. (And we're not even talking affordle yet). Looks like i'm going to be stuck at 27 inch 1440p, 120Hz for some time to come.
cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - linkThe ASUS runs at 60Hz with either a DisplayPort 1.2 connection using MST (how I tested) or dual HDMI 1.4 outputs, which I don't have on my graphics card and couldn't test.