Many consider me to be a 4K hater. The past few trade shows I’ve attended have been pushing it on consumers to replace their TVs, but I see less value in it. When it comes to a computer display, it is a different game. Unlike a 50” TV, we sit close to our monitors, even if they are 30” in size. We also have no worries about a lack of native content, since everything is rendered on the fly and native. There are no issues with the lack of HDMI 2.0, as DisplayPort 1.2 can drive a 3840x2160 screen at 60 Hz.

When it comes to 4K on the desktop, my main question is: how much difference will I see? ASUS is one of the first with a HiDPI display in the PQ321Q. While not truly 4K, it is a 3840x2160 LCD display that can accept an Ultra High Definition (UHD) signal over HDMI and DisplayPort. It also clocks in at a wallet-stretching $3,500 right now. The question is, are we seeing the future with displays here, or are we seeing a niche product?

What does 4K/UHD/HiDPI bring to the desktop? We’ve seen it for a few years now in smartphones and tablets, making their smaller screens more usable for reading and general work. My initial thought is more desktop space, as that is what it has meant before. With a 32” monitor and a pixel density this high, running it without any DPI scaling leads to a desktop where reading text is a huge pain. Instead I believe most users will opt for DPI scaling so elements are larger and easier to read. Now you have something similar to the Retina screen on the iPhone: No more desktop space compared to a 2560x1440 monitor, but one that is razor sharp and easier to look at.

To get to this pixel density, ASUS has relied upon a panel from Sharp that uses IGZO technology. IGZO (Indium gallium zinc oxide) is a material that replaces amorphous silicon for the active layer of an LCD screen. The main benefit is higher electron mobility that allows for faster reacting, smaller pixels. We have seen non-IGZO panels in smartphones with higher pixel densities, but we don’t have any other current desktop LCDs that offer a higher pixel density than this ASUS display. IGZO also allows for a wide viewing angle.

ASUS has packed this LCD into an LED edge-lit display that only extends to 35mm thick at the maximum. Getting to that thinness requires a power brick instead of an internal power supply, which is a trade-off I’d rather not see. The 35mm depth is very nice, but unlike a TV most people don’t mount a desktop LCD to the wall so I’d take the bulk to avoid the heavy power brick. It does lead to a cooler display, as even after being on for two consecutive days the PQ321Q remains relatively cool to the touch. The power brick itself is quite warm after that period.

Unlike most ASUS displays that click into their stand, the PQ321Q is screwed in with four small screws. This seems to be another attempt to cut down on the thickness of the display, as that mounting mechanism takes up space, but I like the quick release that it offers. Inputs are provided by a single DisplayPort and a pair of HDMI 1.4a inputs. In a nice touch these inputs are side mounted, instead of bottom mounted, making It easy to access them.

Be aware that HDMI 1.4a is really not designed around UHD/4K resolutions, and so your maximum frame rate is only 30p. If you’re watching a 24p film it won’t matter, but there is no real source for those right now anyway. HDMI 2.0 is supposed to resolve this issue, but that was promised at CES this year, and I think we’ll be lucky to see it at CEDIA in September.

One area that the ASUS falls a bit short in is the On Screen Display (OSD). While clear and fairly easy to work in, it takes up most of the screen and you can’t resize it or reposition it. Moving to 4K might have required a new OSD to be developed and it just isn’t totally refined yet, but it needs some work. It isn’t awful as it’s easy to work in, and offers a user mode with a two-point white balance, but it isn’t at the top of the game.

The full specs for the ASUS are listed below. Once this beast is unboxed, lets set it up.

ASUS PQ321Q
Video Inputs 2xHDMI 1.4a, 1xDisplayPort 1.2 with MST
Panel Type IGZO LCD
Pixel Pitch 0.182mm
Colors 1.07 Billion
Brightness 350 cd/m2
Contrast Ratio 800:01
Response Time 8ms GTG
Viewable Size 31.5"
Resolution 3840x2160
Viewing Angle (H/V) 176/176
Backlight LED
Power Consumption (operation) 93W
Power Consumption (standby) <1W
Screen Treatment non-glare
Height-Adjustable Yes, 150mm
Tilt Yes, -25 to 5 degrees
Pivot No
Swivel Yes, -45 to 45 degrees
VESA Wall Mounting Yes, 200mm
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 29.5" x 19.3" x 10.1"
Weight 28.7 lbs.
Additional Features 3.5mm Input and Output, 2Wx2 speakers
Limited Warranty 3 Years
Accessories DisplayPort cable, USB to RS232 adapter cable
Price $3,499

 

Setup and Daily Use
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  • NLPsajeeth - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Great review.
    While dual HDMI 4k doesn't work at the moment, NVIDIA are working on hacks to their driver (pcper has a beta copy for testing) so you should see this functionality soon.

    If NVIDIA actually supported 2x1 and 2x2 Surround with any monitor, they wouldn't have to resort to such hacks but apparently artificially crippling their Windows driver to preserve Quadro revenue is more important.

    Tiled 4K displays are going to be more common with all the delays HDMI 2 is facing. 10-bit color is also going to be standard with all these displays. So I have to wonder how long they can keep crippling their windows driver and how scalable is having EDID whitelist for these types of monitors.

    On the plus side, at least the GeForce Linux drivers aren't crippled like this.
    Reply
  • Steveymoo - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Great, finally. I also find it irritating that tech built for disposible, none productive consumers is being given priority for improvements over professional desktop hardware (which would give tangible benefits to people doing actual work.)

    You mention the new tech uses a more responsive chemical composition, and I can't see a refresh rate in your spec list. Are we likely to ever see these screens run above 60hz? Probably not.
    Reply
  • cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Right now I'm not sure that DisplayPort can handle this resolution at refresh rates above 60 Hz. HDMI 2.0 should allow for up to 120 Hz at that resolution, at least if they follow the full Rec. 2020 UHD spec, but that keeps getting delayed. Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Is HDMI2.0 4k@120hz a dual cable solution? I looked at what's written up in Wikipedia and it's listed as maxing out at 4k@60hz; the same limit as DP 1.2. Reply
  • cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    HDMI 2.0 isn't final or announced yet. Any specs that are out there for it are rumors right now. The UHD spec, Rec. 2020, calls for up to 120Hz at 8K resolutions. I don't think we'll see that, but I'd think we see 120Hz at 4K because you need at least 96 Hz to support high frame rate 3D, like The Hobbit, if that ever comes to the home. Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    4k@120hz would be nice; but even at only 24bit color that's a 24 gigabit datastream. Short of going stealth-dual cable by adding additional data lines I don't think the technology is here to do that at an affordable cost in the near future. Reply
  • madmilk - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Thunderbolt shows that it is possible to have 40Gbps in a DisplayPort socket. Certainly not cheap though. I don't see the active cables being a necessity though, so long as fiber is not required. Reply
  • sheh - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Would be nice if it supported 120Hz at least at 1920x1080. It certainly supports the bandwidth already. Reply
  • dishayu - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    I think 31.5 inches is slightly too big and 30Hz WAY too low. Just like Chris says it's hard to go to a lower resolution display. I think, for me it is hard to give up the amazing IPS colors and 120Hz refresh rate. And I don't think there are any 27 inch 4K, 120Hz monitors in the pipeline for the next 5 years. (And we're not even talking affordle yet). Looks like i'm going to be stuck at 27 inch 1440p, 120Hz for some time to come. Reply
  • cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    The ASUS runs at 60Hz with either a DisplayPort 1.2 connection using MST (how I tested) or dual HDMI 1.4 outputs, which I don't have on my graphics card and couldn't test. Reply

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