Ultra HD – Still A High-End Proposition
After more than a year, can we say that Ultra HD has progressed towards becoming a desktop standard? At this point in time, the answer is no. With most users looking to spend under $400 for a monitor, even the least-expensive 4K models won’t fit the average budget.
At the high end, we still have the IGZO triplets from Asus, Dell and Sharp. They are unchanged from a year ago, which is why today’s review of the PN-K321 is still relevant. Measuring 31.5 inches diagonal, their screen size is the ideal one given the current state of Windows font and icon scaling.
Moving to the opposite end of the pricing spectrum, we have the 28-inch models all based on the same TN panel from Chi Mei Optoelectronics. While their price point is under $500, you give up some off-axis image quality and a precious four inches of diagonal screen size.
In the middle are the 24-inch IPS screens. We’ve seen one from Dell, the UP2414Q, and another is currently in our labs, NEC’s EA244UHD. Both are wide-gamut displays aimed at professional users and cost at least $1000. While they offer great performance, their small size makes Windows a challenge to use.
So even though a little progress has been made with the introduction of $500 28-inch UHD monitors, the ideal product has yet to materialize. If you simply must have a 4K screen, you have two major considerations: screen size and color gamut.
To make the best use of an eight-megapixel display, the 32-inch format is a must. If you also need the wide gamut, your search begins and ends with Dell's UP3214Q. For those satisfied with sRGB, it comes down to Asus and Sharp.
As we’ve discovered, the two monitors are physically identical right down to their OSDs. Performance-wise, they are neck-and-neck in almost every test. Notable differences are that the Sharp has the upper hand in uncalibrated contrast and 10-percent-greater brightness. That could be a deciding factor for users needing to use the monitor outdoors on location. Asus wins the input lag test by a nose and that could be a deciding factor for gamers looking to play at 4K resolution.
The final comparison is, of course, price. All three IGZO monitors started their lives selling for around $3500. The Asus and Dell screens have dropped to less than $2400, while Sharp maintains a price point just over $3000. That’s a tough variable to overlook, especially when Dell offers the additional attraction of a wide-gamut option.
At this point, we can only speculate that Sharp and its competitors are working on the next-generation Ultra HD displays. They know that market acceptance will only happen when the price comes down. With the steadily dropping cost of high-performance graphics boards, it’s becoming easier to put enough horsepower in a mid-priced gaming rig to drive eight megapixels at decent frame rates.
There’s no question that we like the PN-K321. It performs well and its image is stunning. The jumbo screen makes Windows perfectly usable and we’d have no problem working with it on a daily basis. Our biggest beef is the price. Whether that will fall for this model or a future one remains to be seen. Other than that, we have no reservations about putting this Sharp on our recommended list.