Specifications and Overview

We have spent some time with the ASUS PQ321Q 4K display and are ready to talk about our experiences thus far.

Talk to most PC enthusiasts today, be they gamers or developers, and ask them what technology they are most interested in for the next year or so and you will most likely hear about 4K somewhere in the discussion.  While the world of consumer electronics and HDTV has been stuck in the rut of 1080p for quite some time now, computers, smartphones and tablets are racing in the direction of higher resolutions and higher pixel densities.  4K is a developing standard that pushes screen resolutions to 4K x 2K pixels and if you remove the competing options discussion (3840×2160 versus 4096×2160 are the most prominent) this move is all good news for the industry.

I first dove into the area of 4K displays when I purchased the SEIKI SE50UY04 50-in 4K TV in April for $1300 when it popped up online.  The TV showed up days later and we did an unboxing and preview of the experience and I was blown away by the quality difference by moving to a 3840×2160 screen, even with other caveats to be had.  It was a 30 Hz panel, half a typical LCD computer display today, it had limited functionality and it honestly wasn't the best quality TV I had ever used.  But it was 4K, it was inexpensive and it was available. 

It was hard to beat at the time but the biggest drawback was the lack of 60 Hz support, the ability for the screen to truly push 60 frames per second to the panel.  This caused some less than desirable results with Windows usage and even in gaming where visual tearing was more prominent when Vsync was disabled.  But a strength of this design was that it only required a single HDMI connection and would work with basically any current graphics systems.  I did some Frame Rating game performance testing at 4K and found that GPU horsepower was definitely a limiting factor. 

Today I follow up our initial unboxing and preview of the ASUS PQ321Q 4K monitor with a more thorough review and summary of our usage results.  There is quite a bit that differs between our experience with the SEIKI and the ASUS panels and it is more than just the screen sizes.

The ASUS PQ321Q 4K Monitor

The ASUS PQ321Q is a 31.5-in edge-lit LCD tiled monitor that has a native resolution of 3840×2160.  It has a retail price or $3499 and went on sale earlier this week.  There is a lot to this panel, but let's take a quick look at the most important specs:

The PQ321Q shares basically the same platform as the Sharp PN-K321 4K display so if you are familiar with that, nothing has really changed here.  The panel is an IGZO based design (indium gallium zinc oxide) that was actually developed by Sharp to replace the active layer silicon of an LCD screen, allowing for smaller pixels or higher reaction speed.  For this implementation they were able to get 4K resolution in a 31.5-in design using IGZO technology but Sharp has also built 2560×1600 10-in and 1280×800 7-in screens with it.

With a dot pitch (pixel pitch) of 0.182 mm the ASUS PQ321Q has some incredibly dense pixels and that results in a much smoother and less aliased image on the screen at standard usage distances.  For comparison, a typical dot pitch for a 1080p 23-in monitor will be more along the lines of 0.265 mm.  As we'll see in our desktop usage patterns this move to a higher pixel density changes how you need to use your operating system and some software will need to be written to take advantage of it properly. 

The maximum brightness, contrast ratios and response times for the panel are pretty standard and don't stand out from other high end offerings in the market but are all reasonable specifications for gaming and desktop usage models.  The panel is capable of 10-bit color though so professional users will find the PQ321Q to fit nicely in their workflows.

You might also notice that the inputs are pretty limited: DisplayPort and a pair of HDMI ports. I will discuss more about that on a later page but the move to DisplayPort 1.2 MST (multi-stream transport) is really what makes this panel feasible. 

Despite being one the first monitors to support 60 Hz signals at 4K resolutions, the ASUS PQ321Q is quite thin, measuring just 1.375-in thick without the stand. 

By far the worst part about this monitor is the button panel along the right hand side.  It is the mushiest, least user-friendly array of buttons I have ever used, and I don't say that lightly.  ASUS does include a sticker that you can put on the front bezel so you can at least SEE what you are doing, but that doesn't stop the fact that pushing them feels like pressing a breath mint into warm playdough. 

On the back of the monitor you'll find the input for the power connection and the physical power switch.

One way ASUS was able to keep the monitor so thin was that the power converter is kept outside the housing of the display and as a result we get a big, ugly power brick to store somewhere around your PC.

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