Page 2:Packaging, Physical Layout And Accessories
Page 3:GamePlus, OSD Setup And Calibration
Page 4:Brightness And Contrast
Page 5:Grayscale Tracking And Gamma Response
Page 6:Color Gamut And Performance
Page 7:Viewing Angles, Uniformity, Response, Lag And FreeSync
Today we're reviewing Asus' MG279Q FreeSync gaming monitor, looking at how well it compares to Acer's XB270HU IPS G-Sync monitor?
For many years, manufacturers have marketed certain displays as "gaming monitors" by endowing them with features like special image modes, overdrive and slick styling. But to truly appeal to gamers, one needs a refresh rate higher than 60Hz.
While plenty of CRT displays could be driven to faster rates, LCD panels were stuck at 60Hz until just a few years ago. Asus was the first to mass-market a 144Hz panel at 1080p resolution with its VG248QE, which we reviewed almost two years ago, and the monitor is still available for sale today.
Many imitators followed, having one thing in common: TN technology. While TN's 6-bit color depth and fast panel response made for a good gaming experience, users longed for the superior image quality and viewing angles of IPS screens. Now we're happy to report that the landscape has changed with QHD (2560x1440) offerings from two mainstream companies, Acer and Asus.
We've already covered Acer's superb XB270HU G-Sync screen. Today, we have a FreeSync version from Asus based on the same panel. Introducing, the MG279Q.
The core part is the same in both products and comes from AU Optronics; internally it's known as M270DAN02.3. It was first made available in 2014 and runs at 144Hz in its stock form. No further modification is required, which means it will run reliably all day long and every sample works at the peak refresh rate.
The panel offers 8-bit color depth and a white LED arrayed at the edges. Our tests of the Acer version revealed excellent color accuracy, high contrast and superb screen uniformity. It also displays great off-axis image quality thanks to Advanced Hyper Viewing Angle (AHVA) technology, which has already proved itself in the XB270HU.
The only functional difference between the two is the Asus monitor has chosen to employ AMD's FreeSync and therein lies an issue. Because of the chosen scalar chip, the MG279Q's fps-matching range is only 35-90Hz. Now before you throw up your hands in frustration, at least read about our gaming experiences on page seven. It's actually not a big deal in practice.
The other thing left out here is any sort of blur-reduction feature. Since you can't use ULMB at the same time as FreeSync or G-Sync, we don't think it's an issue. After testing many other screens that provide smooth motion, courtesy of their high framerates, we found we didn't use ULMB much at all. Besides, it reduces light output, sometimes significantly.
Does the MG279Q live up to the high standard set by Acer's XB270HU? Let's take a look.
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Packaging, Physical Layout And Accessories
Packaging of the MG279Q is sturdy and strong and should provide plenty of protection against the rigors of shipping. The base, upright and panel require assembly, which is easily accomplished without tools. The panel snaps on and locks down with a slider switch, which is a design we haven't seen before.
Bundled cables include an IEC power cord, DisplayPort and HDMI; our sample did not include a USB cable. You also get the manual on CD and a printed quick-start guide.
Assembled, the MG279Q sports excellent build quality with firm movements and no wiggly parts or cheap plastic in evidence. The bezel is extremely narrow, which makes it a great candidate for multi-screen setups. In the lower right you'll see small icons denoting the functions of the control keys, which are around back. The icons are almost impossible to see but you'll get a feel for them quickly, like we did. The best part is the menu navigation, which is managed by a tiny joystick. Moving between screens and setting options is extremely quick and intuitive.
The anti-glare layer is similar to all the other monitors we've reviewed of late. Reflections aren't a problem in the average room and we saw no grain or other artifacts. Text and other small objects are rendered with good clarity and sharpness.
From the side, the MG279Q presents a chiseled profile consisting entirely of straight lines. Ventilation is provided around the central bulge and the monitor always ran cool in our tests. The stand is fully adjustable with 120 degrees of swivel, 25 degrees tilt and nearly six inches of height available. One unusual thing we noted is that the base moves with the upright when swiveling. A hidden disc underneath stays put to prevent marking your desktop.
On the back you can see a small snap-on cable management piece on the upright. Also pictured here are the control keys and OSD joystick. Menu operation is super-easy since the joystick is also a button. We were able to change settings in a flash.
Inputs are all-digital and include DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort and two HDMI ports with MHL. Also provided is an analog headphone jack. The USB hub is version 3.0, but there are only two downstream ports on the bottom and none on the sides. The upside is you can set an option in the OSD to keep them powered when the monitor is off.
GamePlus, OSD Setup And Calibration
GamePlus is a feature we've seen on previous Asus gaming monitors and we like it. The crosshair is especially nice for FPS newbies. Since it's hardware-rendered, it will work in any game you choose.
Pressing the GamePlus key brings up a choice of either a reticule or a timer. Unfortunately, you can't have both at once.
Here are the available reticules. Once on the screen, you can move it around with the OSD joystick to your preferred position.
The timer has five presets and once selected, displays in the top left corner of the screen. Like the reticule, you can move it around with the joystick.
Pressing the joystick brings up the main OSD. The first screen lists the picture modes; Asus calls them GameVisual. Racing is the default setting and as it turns out, the most accurate as well. The other modes make changes to gamma and color that while not to our usual spec, may be preferred by some users. You can calibrate all the modes except sRGB.
The Blur Light Filter is just another way to reduce the blue primary for a warmer white point. It can reduce eye fatigue but so can a proper calibration. To turn it off, leave it on Level 0.
The Color menu has everything you need for a calibration. The Saturation and Skin Tone controls are grayed out in Racing mode but you won't need them to dial in excellent color. The only thing missing is a gamma control, but luckily the MG279Q has good tracking already.
There are three Color Temp presets plus a User mode. Warm is pretty close to D65 if you don't calibrate, but there are gains to be had when you unlock the RGB sliders.
Sharpness and ASCR (dynamic contrast) are disabled in Racing mode. You won't need them anyway. TraceFree is Asus' term for overdrive and has five levels. 80 worked fine in our tests and provided excellent panel response and low motion blur. Speaking of, if you're looking for ULMB, it isn't here. While we don't consider that a problem, some users may prefer a screen with a backlight strobe. Of course FreeSync and high refresh rates alleviate a lot of motion artifacts without reducing light output and contrast.
VividPixel adds subtle edge enhancement to increase perceived sharpness. We suggest leaving that control alone.
The FreeSync option is grayed out here because the photo was taken using an HDMI signal; it's active for DisplayPort only. When enabled, the menu reminds you that the range is 35-90Hz. If you set a higher refresh rate in Windows, the monitor tells you that FreeSync has been disabled.
Here is the input selector. The MG279Q won't auto-sense an active signal, but you can also go straight to this menu with one of the bezel keys.
In the System Setup menu you can control the monitor's ergonomic functions like volume, GamePlus and the OSD timeout and transparency. Languages total at 21. A second screen of options is pictured below.
Key Lock disables the bezel control keys. Power Indicator refers to the front LED, which can be switched off. USB Charging lets you keep the ports powered when the monitor is off to facilitate charging of your mobile devices. And All Reset returns the MG279Q to its factory defaults.
Here is the signal info.
The final menu contains four memories for user-preferred settings configurations. This is something we'd like to see on all monitors. You can load and save your presets from here.
Calibration was straightforward once we settled on Racing as the best starting point. Most gaming monitors have a mode called Standard that unlocks all adjustments but the MG279Q doesn't. The other modes we measured were adjustable, but required too many changes to achieve accurate color. Unfortunately, the sRGB mode is not the best choice and locks out all adjustments so we were unable to make use of it. You'll see all the results on pages five and six.
All we had to do in Racing mode was select the User color temp and make a few changes to the RGB sliders. Please try our settings below to optimize your MG279Q
|Asus MG279Q Calibration Settings|
|Blue Light Filter||0|
|Color Temp User||Red 100, Green 96, Blue 93|
Brightness And Contrast
To read about our monitor tests in-depth, please check out Display Testing Explained: How We Test Monitors and TVs.Brightness and Contrast testing is covered on page two.
Uncalibrated – Maximum Backlight Level
Today's comparison group covers recently reviewed G-Sync and FreeSync monitors. The only other 144Hz IPS monitor on the list is Acer's XB270HU. Also present are BenQ's XL2730Z and XL2420G plus Acer's XG270HU and XB280HK, the only 60Hz Ultra HD monitor we know of with G-Sync.
The XB270HU uses the same AU Optronics panel as our test subject so we should see close numbers between the two. Right off the bat, the Asus is a tiny bit less bright, although 341.4015cd/m2 is more than enough output for any need we can imagine. There's no ULMB to bring the light level down so this is nowhere near a problem.
The MG279Q edges out the field in black level. We're big fans of AU Optronics' new IPS panel and hope it starts a trend towards similar products from other companies.
Asus MG279Q wins the contrast test over Acer's XB270HU by just a little bit. If this metric is important to you, the only real decision is which flavor of frame-rate-matching you prefer, G-Sync or FreeSync.
Uncalibrated – Minimum Backlight Level
The MG279Q has a useable minimum brightness of 43.8515cd/m2. Why Acer chose to go down so low is a mystery to us. Of all the panels here, the Asus MG279Q and the BenQ XL2730Z come closest to our preferred dark-room setting of 50cd/m2.
Since the XB270HU's backlight goes so low, it will win every black level contest. In reality though, the MG279Q is the winner here since it is actually usable at its minimum brightness setting.
Asus continues its winning streak in the minimum contrast test. In fact, it's one of the best IPS screens we've measured to date. Only the AMVA panels from BenQ have significantly greater dynamic range.
After Calibration to 200cd/m2
Calibration puts the MG279Q back on top in the black level test. It's turning out to be a superb panel and even though it's the same part as the XB270HU, it fares just a little better here.
Normally calibration reduces contrast when the RGB sliders start at 100 percent. With a measured drop of less than six percent, there is essentially no penalty for dialing in accurate color. Of course the XB270HU isn't far behind and in the end, we'd be equally happy to have either screen in our gaming rig. Their images are for all intents and purposes, identical in quality.
ANSI Contrast Ratio
ANSI contrast is a little more sample-dependent so the results here are skewed a bit. We consider anything over 900:1 to be acceptable. The MG279Q achieves that with ease.
Grayscale Tracking And Gamma Response
Our grayscale and gamma tests are described in detail here.
Most gaming monitors have a mode called standard that provides the best starting point for calibration. Asus named its picture modes after different gaming genres with Racing being the default setting. That turns out to be the best choice whether you choose to make adjustments or not. The white point runs a little blue as brightness rises, but the errors above 70 percent are barely visible. It's perfectly fine for a great gaming experience but there is room for improvement.
We thought sRGB would be more accurate but it's actually quite green as you can see. The error is visible from 30 percent on up. In this mode all adjustments, including Brightness and Contrast, are locked out.
After calibrating the Racing mode, we generated an almost perfect chart. This is what we'd expect from a high-end pro screen, not a gaming monitor.
Here is our comparison group.
The Racing mode, measured out of the box only has an average error of 2.51dE. That's just fine with us and it puts the MG279Q mid-pack in our comparison.
Calibration makes a significant improvement to grayscale accuracy and sends the Asus to the top of the group. It beats many pro monitors we've tested as well.
There are no gamma adjustments on the MG279Q but different picture modes change the tracking. Above, is the FPS mode, which emphasizes detail in the shadow and highlight portions of the image by increasing light output. It's not a huge difference but we prefer the gamma tracking in Racing mode shown below.
This is much better and aside from a slight dip at 90 percent, it's pretty much perfect.
Here is our comparison group again.
A 0.15 variation in values indicates fairly tight gamma tracking. The Acer XB270HU monitor is on top, but only by a small margin. None of the screens are far off the mark but the top three are in the professional category.
We calculate gamma deviation by simply expressing the difference from 2.2 as a percentage.
The MG279Q drops a tad in the results because its gamma is slightly below the 2.2 average value. Our measurement came out at 2.13. We doubt anyone will be able to tell a difference when viewing actual content.
Color Gamut And Performance
For details on our color gamut testing and volume calculations, please click here.
The color gamut and luminance values in Racing mode are pretty much on target by default. The only issues we can see is a hue error in magenta and a blue luminance result that's too high at 100 percent saturation. These are extremely minor anomalies. All the Delta E results are below three and the average is an invisible 2.06dE.
Switching to sRGB mode improves the magenta secondary and brings luminance a little more in line, but there are some slight saturation errors in red that increase the average error to 2.8dE. Color accuracy in this mode is decent but given its greenish white balance and lack of adjustability, we'd stick with the Racing mode for all applications.
A grayscale calibration in Racing mode fixes the magenta hue issue and returns the luminance values to their targets. The average error is now a low 1.33dE.
Now we return to the comparison group.
Believe it or not, this isn't the most accurate gaming monitor we've tested, although it's so close, we'll call the top four screen results a wash. It's interesting to note that the top finisher is a TN screen. IPS is reputed to have better color but our tests say otherwise.
Gamut Volume: Adobe RGB 1998 And sRGB
AU Optronics' new IPS 144Hz panel seems to come with a little bonus in the red primary. That's the main reason for its over 100 percent gamut volume result. This doesn't really matter in a gaming monitor comparison, but some photographers might benefit from the additional volume if they're willing to calibrate the rest of their production chain.
Viewing Angles, Uniformity, Response, Lag And FreeSync
To learn how we measure screen uniformity, please click here.
Here's where AHVA technology really shines. The image is virtually unchanged when viewed from 45 degrees to the side. You can see a slight blue shift but no real light falloff. It's definitely better than a typical IPS monitor, which usually goes green and drops its output by around half in this test. From the top, there's a little green tint and a definite brightness reduction.
Screen Uniformity: Luminance
We consider any monitor sample that measures under 10 percent to be excellent. At this level, we don't see any light bleed or hotspots. In a monitor with good black levels like this one, uniformity is even more important because flaws are easier to see.
Here's the white field measurement.
The white field result is equally solid at slightly over 10 percent. The spoiler is at the center, which measures about 15cd/m2 brighter than the surrounding area. It's not really visible to the naked eye though.
Screen Uniformity: Color
0.63dE is one of the best color uniformity results we've ever recorded; our sample MG279Q is essentially perfect in this test. The XB270HU isn't far behind and that speaks to AU Optronics', Acer's and Asus' excellent quality control. IPS gaming monitors may be on the expensive side but you are definitely getting what you're paying for.
Pixel Response And Input Lag
Please click here to read up on our pixel response and input lag testing procedures.
Seven or eight milliseconds is a typical and expected result for a 144Hz monitor regardless of panel type. The XB280HK has a 14ms draw time thanks to its max refresh rate of 60Hz.
Here are the lag results.
Input lag is also pretty much the same for all the screens in our group except for the 60Hz XB280HK. At least with that monitor you get Ultra HD resolution. But for those needing the absolute fastest response to input, a 144Hz display is the best you can get.
Like the other FreeSync displays we've had in the lab, setup is simply a matter of checking the Enable FreeSync box in AMD Catalyst.
The only potential obstacle is the MG279Q's 90Hz upper limit. It you're already set to a higher refresh rate, the checkbox will not appear. And if you change the refresh rate after enabling FreeSync, the monitor will remind you that it's disabled above 90Hz.
The big question is: how limiting is this? In our experience, the answer is not at all. In actual gameplay at QHD resolution, framerates rarely go above 90 and when they do, we have a tough time seeing any tearing. Of course there's another factor to consider; locking the refresh rate at 120 or 144Hz eliminates artifacts with almost the same effectiveness. If you have enough processing power to push 2560x1440 pixels consistently above 90fps, you might be better off leaving FreeSync behind and just setting your refresh as close to the average framerate as possible.
Our test system is equipped with an R9 285 so a game like Far Cry 4 settles in between 50-60fps. FreeSync works like a charm in that situation. To our eyes, there is no visual difference from a G-Sync setup at those framerates.
We also checked out the operation of TraceFree, Asus' version of overdrive. Happily, it works just fine when FreeSync is in operation. It provides the least ghosting when set to 80 so that's where we left it for all our tests.
To try and reproduce tearing, Battlefield 4 works very well with its cityscapes and lots of vertical lines like buildings and utility poles. Forcing the refresh rate to 144Hz yields around 100 to 110fps in-game. The only way to create any visible problems is to move the mouse very fast back and forth, which is something you wouldn't do when playing. Then we can see mainly motion blur but there is an occasional tear as well. This seems to solidify the premise that both G-Sync and FreeSync are at their best between 30 and 90fps.
It's not surprising that we're very pleased with the MG279Q. Since it's very similiar to Acer's XB270HU monitor, it should perform the same with regards to contrast, color accuracy, brightness and overall image quality; and it does.
AHVA represents a new crop of IPS panels that offer better viewing angles and in this case at least, 144Hz operation. Gamers have long wished for more IPS options and even though they're still scarce, you can now choose between two excellent screens from mainstream companies. The only other deciding factor is to go with G-Sync or FreeSync.
The debate about which is better rages on and even after our G-Sync vs FreeSync Reader's Choice event last month, there are still some points to argue. The only firm conclusion we can draw at this time is that G-Sync offers a more mature technology with more consistent implementation. You know that if you buy a G-Sync display it will work at up to 144Hz and when your game drops below 30fps, its frame-doubles rather than switching to V-Sync.
FreeSync is an open spec, which means each monitor can be slightly different in its implementation. Case in point is BenQ's overdrive issue with the XL2730Z, which has since been fixed through firmware. And now the MG279Q with its 90Hz upper limit. But we're satisfied that that's not really a limit after all. Our gaming experience shows that high framerates make the difference between FreeSync and non-FreeSync play to be practically non-existent.
The biggest divide between the two technologies seems to be cost. Since FreeSync is part of the DisplayPort spec it doesn't require extra hardware or licensing. G-Sync is all Nvidia and currently adds around $200 to the price of every monitor it comes with. Now that we have two nearly identical products in the MG279Q and XB270HU, that divide is clear. At the time of this writing the Acer monitor is approximately $250 more than the Asus MG279Q.
When choosing between the two, the question to ask yourself is this: which video board are you using? If the answer is Nvidia, then what are you willing to pay for a 144Hz QHD/IPS gaming monitor?
We enjoyed using both displays and given the performance test results and actual hands-on experience, there's no clear winner in our eyes. If you make frame-rate-matching your priority, G-Sync seems to have an edge in consistency right now. But from an image quality standpoint, the MG279Q and XB270HU are equals. So if price is your guide, Asus becomes the winner.
We like this new Asus gaming screen very much. For its image quality, performance and trouble-free FreeSync implementation, we're giving it the Tom's Editor Recommended Award.
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