Asus PQ321QE review

Asus' 4K PC monitor conjures stunning image clarity, but its performance doesn’t justify the huge price

3
Price when reviewed 
2,999

If you’re in the market for an affordable monitor upgrade, the Asus PQ321QE definitely isn’t it – this is the first “consumer” 4K monitor to hit the market. With a hulking 31.5in panel, the PQ321QE packs as many pixels as four Full HD screens strapped together and costs almost twice as much as the most expensive display on the A-List.

Just reading through the specifications is enough to get any self-respecting monitor enthusiast frothing. The 31.5in, 3,840 x 2,160 panel supports a ten-bit colour input and delivers a pixel density of 140ppi – that’s 28% higher than our current A-List choice, the 27in, 2,560 x 1,440 Eizo ColorEdge CG276.

Asus PQ321QE

To put that in perspective, the Asus has more than double the pixels of even high-end 2,560 x 1,440 monitors, and offers a sufficiently high resolution to view an 8-megapixel photo in its pixel-perfect entirety.

Asus has selected a Sharp-branded IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) TFT panel – a semiconductor technology that shrinks the transistor size, allows for higher pixel densities and promises lower power consumption. Asus doesn’t state the type of panel technology employed by the PQ321QE, but given the specifications – a claimed maximum brightness of 350cd/m[sup]2[/sup], 800:1 contrast ratio and 178-degree vertical and horizontal viewing angles – it’s almost certainly using an IPS or PLS panel.

Despite its single DisplayPort input, getting the PQ321QE up and running isn’t straightforward. Straight out of the box, the DisplayPort input accepts only a 3,840 x 2,160 signal at 30Hz – in this mode both games and videos are limited to a stuttery 30fps.

To get a 60Hz signal, you must enable the multistream transport mode in the Asus’ onscreen display. With that done, the monitor appears in Windows as two separate 1,920 x 2,160 screens, which must be joined together to form one desktop. This worked well on the integrated graphics in our Haswell test PC – we enabled the Collage mode in the Intel control panel – but getting it up and running with AMD and Nvidia graphics cards required a fair amount of faffing with beta driver releases. Hopefully, such issues will be resolved in future driver updates.

Asus PQ321QE

Viewing the Windows desktop at 3,840 x 2,160 is an initially disconcerting experience. It’s necessary to crank Windows’ scaling settings right up to keep text legible, and applications that don’t have DPI-aware interfaces produce menus and text so tiny you’ll be left reaching for a magnifying glass.

Play to the PQ321QE’s strengths, however, and it’s hard not to be impressed. 4K video clips on YouTube and upscaled 1080p content exhibit a staggering amount of detail, and games run at native resolution have to be seen to be believed. Of course, the only downside here is the sheer power required to shunt all those pixels to and fro.

We experienced stuttery mouse movement and video playback while running on integrated graphics, and even the fastest Nvidia and AMD graphics cards in our Labs struggled to produce playable native-resolution frame rates in Crysis. If you’re planning on building a gaming PC around this, you’ll need top-flight hardware and a powerful pair of graphics cards at your disposal.

Image quality is more of a mixed bag. With wide viewing angles, a measured maximum brightness of 428cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 765:1, the PQ321QE delivers on Asus’ claims. Colour accuracy is wayward compared to the finest professional displays, though, and while the sRGB mode gave the best results, it was by no means perfect. Our X-Rite colorimeter measured an average Delta E of 3.2 and a maximum deviation of 10.4, where Eizo’s ColorEdge CG276 managed a far superior average of 1.3 and a maximum of only 3.9. For colour-critical photo or video editing, the Asus simply isn’t up to snuff.

Asus PQ321QE

Given its professional aspirations, the PQ321QE is light on features. The stand provides 150mm of height adjustment, as well as tilt and swivel, but there’s no portrait mode and it’s wobblier than we’d like – it’s nowhere near as solid as Eizo’s ColorEdge CG276. Hardware calibration isn’t on the cards, either – which we’d expect at the price – and while the fiddly onscreen display provides some manual white-point adjustment, there’s nowhere near the depth of adjustability of professional rivals.

Connectivity is limited, too. In addition to the single DisplayPort input on the left-hand side, the only other connectivity is a 3.5mm audio input, and the Asus’ internal stereo speakers aren’t anything special. With only 2W of amplifier power behind them, they’re incapable of mustering the vigour to match the pixel-sharp visuals, and are best kept for emergencies.

Remaining at the cutting edge of technology is a costly pursuit, but, ultimately, the Asus fails to justify its price. It doesn’t provide the image quality or features we’d expect from a professional monitor, and while affluent gamers might be tempted just to say they have a 4K gaming PC setup, the hardware costs will prove prohibitive and offer little benefit over cheaper 2,560 x 1,440 monitors. If you’re desperate to spend £3,000, our advice is simple: buy a pair of ColorEdge CG276 monitors instead.

Details

Image quality4

Main specifications

Screen size31.5in
Aspect ratio16:9
Resolution3840 x 2160
Screen brightness428cd/m2
Contrast ratio765:1

Connections

DisplayPort inputs1
HDCP supportyes
3.5mm audio input jacks1
Headphone outputyes

Accessories supplied

Other cables suppliedDisplayPort
Internal power supplyyes

Image adjustments

Brightness control?yes
Contrast control?yes

Ergonomics

Pivot (portrait) mode?no

Dimensions

Dimensions750 x 256 x 489mm (WDH)

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