We’ve Seen The Bleeding Edge, And We Like It
Covering the latest and greatest technology is what we do, and we enjoy most of the hardware we get our hands on. Asus' PQ321Q represents the highest of high-tech in computer monitors right now. And as we saw at CES, Ultra HD is the next big thing in displays. Despite the sub-$1000 TN solutions introduced at the show, Asus' screen remains a premium product for the most discerning enthusiasts. This monitor (and indeed 4K technology as a whole) has some growing pains to overcome. But for a first-gen manifestation, it's a fairly polished piece.
If you're considering spending $3500 on a new monitor, then you probably already understand this display's requirements. 3D performance aside, you need a graphics card that can output to 3840x2160 using DisplayPort 1.2 or a pair of HDMI interfaces. You're also going to want the latest drivers for your Nvidia or AMD graphics card with support for DisplayID 1.3. Otherwise, configuring this display can be a bit of a pain. Fortunately, our test platform worked just fine with Nvidia's most recent software and a GeForce GTX Titan.
While we applaud Asus for giving enthusiasts a way to connect the PQ321Q via HDMI, driving each 1920x2160 tile independently, it's a far less elegant solution. If you have GPUs fast enough to make gaming at Ultra HD viable, then you probably have DisplayPort 1.2 support built-in already. Believe us, you don't want to spend money on a 4K screen only to run it at 30 Hz. It won’t flicker like the under-driven CRTs of old, but just moving your mouse cursor around on the Windows desktop is a choppy experience.
You'll notice that I didn't cover gaming performance in this review. Fortunately our esteemed editorial director covered that subject thoroughly in Gaming At 3840x2160: Is Your PC Ready For A 4K Display? back in September. His conclusion was that you need quite a bit of graphics horsepower to even approach 60 FPS in fast-paced titles like BioShock Infinite and Battlefield 3. And remember, in that test, an pair of GeForce GTX Titans in SLI only managed 38 FPS or so.
In the end, you need to consider what you want a resolution of 3840x2160 for. No matter the answer, you need a deep wallet. But if your desire is gaming specifically, plan on buying at least one $500 or higher graphics card, in addition to the PQ321Q's $3500 price. Why not just grab one of the cheap 4K TVs everyone is talking about? They're inexpensive for a reason; you don't get Ultra HD resolution at 60 Hz, and must instead drop to 30. Upconverting lower-resolution signals works fine for video content, but 30 Hz, personally, is a big problem for gaming or even using the Windows desktop.
For photographers and graphics professionals, this monitor is more than a shiny new toy. It has the accuracy to match other pro monitors and only lacks the Adobe RGB 1998 gamut to make it an ideal anchor for a photo editing workstation. With its pixel density of 140 ppi, there is nothing else in this screen size that can display an image with greater clarity and smooth-toned loveliness. Since the death of the CRT, we’ve had only fixed-pixel displays and the constant battle to eliminate visible dot structure. Asus' PQ321Q gets us to a point where we cross that threshold, yielding a film-like on-screen image.
If you're shopping for the most formidable-looking monitor available, that's Asus' PQ321Q with its imposing size and amazing resolution. You'll spend a fair amount of money in the process, but all of your friends are guaranteed to be envious. Make no mistake; this is a luxury item that demands a potent complementary graphics subsystem. There are some idiosyncrasies associated with the two tiled 1920x2160 panels, which may compel some enthusiasts to wait until later this year for single-scaler monitors. But practically, there should be little difference between those screens and the PQ321Q.
Your number of Ultra HD-capable options will multiply in 2014, and we want you to know what you're getting into before you buy. Asus' PQ321Q isn't new, but it remains in the top tier of monitors able to display 3840x2160 at 60 Hz. A crop of TN-based panels were announced at CES for sub-$1000 prices, and as those become available to test, you can bet we'll review them. Just bear in mind that vendors changing display technology and maximum refresh rate alter the 4K experience significantly. For now, this is as good as 4K gets.