Closing Thoughts and more to come
This article and review of the ASUS PQ321Q is really just the beginning for us – our dive into the world of complications and beauty that is 4K displays for PCs is still on the rise. We have looked at a SEIKI 50-in TV (with a 39-in model incoming) and now a single tiled display option from ASUS. More screens are planned from other vendors in 2013 and early 2014 to be sure, but whether or not they will compete with ASUS on the price tag will be a bigger question.
I also realize that our review of this monitor didn't really dive into the color quality, etc that some other display reviews will do. I have plans to get into that aspect of the monitor after doing some performance testing with 4K gaming but honestly that was not the point of this particular article. I wanted to give an account of our experiences using the PQ321Q, what worked, what didn't and how we felt with it on our desk.
Being on the bleeding edge
As is usually the case for users that are on the bleeding edge of technology, whether that be with overclocking, new input methods, storage devices or even high resolution displays, you need to have a bit more patience. Connecting and setting up the ASUS PQ321Q was not as basic and mindless a task as you would see on any other monitor on the market and as a result users that aren't expecting these issues could be permanently turned off by the experience. I attempted to document all of our problems here with AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards and while the AMD setup was by far the most simple, it still required knowledge about Eyefinity and needing to create a display group.
The NVIDIA issues were much worse though the company is working closely with ASUS and STMicro (the manufacturer of the SoC powering the PQ321Q) to get things ironed out. Unfortunately for NVIDIA though, many of the initial headaches can only be fixed by either a graphics card BIOS change or a firmware update on the display itself. Attempting to get each and every partner to issue a VBIOS update for GTX 700-series graphics cards would be a nightmare so NVIDIA is pushing STMicro and ASUS (and Sharp I assume) to get a firmware out the door to address the cold boot and POST screen problems.
Many readers and commenters have expressed sentiment that they are "going to wait for a native 4K @ 60 Hz" display rather than worry about the tiled display option we are seeing here. While that is obviously up to the consumer, the fact is that the SoCs to handle that kind of signal processing are just not ready yet and likely won't be until the middle of 2014 in mass quantities. Until then, users that want to jump into the world of 4K without the 30 Hz limitation will find tiled options to be the best and most price efficient. Also, considering that tiled configurations are actually a part of the latest VESA standard, once these issues get ironed out you can expect future firmware updates and all upcoming 4K displays using this implementation to be a much easier experience.
Using the ASUS PQ321Q as a Windows desktop display was a great experience. If you are are using Windows 7 though (or base Windows 8) I would recommend making the leap over to Windows 8.1 in order to get the improved DPI scaling capability that Microsoft put into that update. At the standard 100% DPI level, the pixel density of the display keeps the images sharp and usable but obviously noticeably smaller than you might be comfortable with. Bumping that up to 150% or 200% will result in larger icons and interface elements but they will remain sharp.
Having the extra real estate is a wonderful addition to your computing workflow though and users that are often found in programs like Photoshop, Illustrator or After Effects will see the increased image quality immediately. Using the web though will differ based on your particular browser – Chrome doesn't scale fonts in the correct way yet so only Internet Explorer and FireFox will offer up the improved experience there. I'm assume Google will get on the ball and fix that soon though.
Moving from a 22-in or smaller monitor to the ASUS PQ321Q will be an earth shattering event for you, but users of a 27-in or 30-in high resolution display will not see increases in usable real estate. Instead, much like we saw with the move to retina-style displays from Apple on the iPhone and iPad, the monitor will provide a much sharper image.
We still have a lot more work to do on the gaming side with the ASUS PQ321Q but I can assure you we will be on top of it. Due to the added complication of a dual-head / dual-monitor configuration required by the move to 60 Hz tiled configurations, you can expect there to be some changes to the results from our FIRST round of GPU testing at 4K resolutions. Because gaming at 3840×2160 will require a significant amount of GPU horsepower multi-GPU configurations are going to be very common and we have already seen what kinds effects that can have on AMD Eyefinity. AMD has promised a driver to fix frame pacing issues on July 31st so I am curious to see if that will improve anything in our 4K testing going forward as well.
Click to Enlarge – 3MB 3840×2160 JPEG
The only other major complication for gaming on the PQ321Q is that users that do not have the necessary GPU horsepower to hit 3840×2160 resolutions but might be willing to invest in the display for desktop usage (and future expansion) will not be able to simply run games at 1920×1080. The tiled display technology prevents a user from simply running a monitor that is setup and configured for MST mode at anything lower than 3840×2160 – instead you will find your image squished to one side or taking up a much smaller area of the screen. It's not ideal and ASUS says they are working with STMicro on a fix.
The ASUS PQ321Q isn't perfect by any stretch but it is easily the best display for a PC that I have ever used. Problems with initial setup are abound but it would appear that "top men" are on it so I expect by the end of the summer everything will be worked out and user-friendly. The price is definitely going to be the limiting factor for users I'm sure, as a $3499 price tag at Newegg.com and $3200 at Amazon.com will take some breath away. Considering that you can get 2560×1440 displays from Monoprice for $390, you need to be committed to the 4K lifestyle to make that kind of purchase.
My Windows experience was great, my gaming experience was even better and I can't say enough how impressed and surprised I was by the effect a move to a 60 Hz 4K panel had on me coming from the 30 Hz SEIKI TVs. Though there is work to be done by all parties, I don't think you'll find a better overall display for your PC than the PQ321Q today.