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.

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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  • noeldillabough - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Damn my current monitors are 1920x1200 and I was hoping "real 4K" was 2x2 of that.
  • JDG1980 - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Search around on eBay for an IBM T220 or T221. These have a 3840x2400 resolution (though only a 48 Hz refresh rate), and usually cost about $800-$1500. They aren't always there, but show up on a semi-regular basis.
  • cheinonen - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Technically it's UHD, though everyone uses 4K for 3840x2160 anyway. I'm trying to avoid it to be more accurate, but since everyone refers to their display as a 4K model, I often fall back to it. UHD would be more accurate, though.
  • Synaesthesia - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    I'd love if you could test with a Mac Pro and see how it does with the "retina" display mode, i.e. effectively the space of a 1080p display but with double the sharpness.
  • twtech - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    I think you'll see a little bit of both in terms of using scaling, and the physical size of elements onscreen. Things will have to be scaled somewhat, but text for example won't have to be just as big as it was before.
  • BubbaJoe TBoneMalone - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Unfortunately, for gamers, there isn't a video card that can handle 60fps at 4k with maximum video settings. Not even with 3 titans as shown on this video ->
  • noeldillabough - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Just think of the videocards that will sell ... the next "big thing" for AMD and nVidia; because let's face it, Intel is catching up far too quickly for their comfort at low resolutions.
  • airmantharp - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    Why would you run it at maximum settings? Gotta love the FUD peddlers.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, July 25, 2013 - link

    140DPI at desktop monitor distances isn't high enough DPI to do without AA; and if you can't run at native resolution with all the other settings maxed you'd be better off running at 2560x or 1920x on a panel that natively supports that resolution to avoid scaling artifacts and scaling lag in the panel itself.
  • Panzerknacker - Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - link

    I don't understand the people hating at 4k and saying they intend to stay with 1080p. I mean common, everybody wants something new right? I think the LCD technique and LCD displays are far from perfect yet, and despite they clearly have their advantages over CRT, they still also clearly have their disadvantages.

    I see this as one step closer to beating CRT. Now that with 4K we finally are at a higher pixel density, a level of sharpness that will be hard to improve on, I hope the focus will shift towards improving black levels, response times and overal picture 'feeling' (watching a LCD is still like staring at a LED lamp, while CRT gives the much nicer light bulb feeling), and bringing back the nice glow effects in games we enjoyed on CRT's that appear like washed out collored spots on a LCD.

    Good review btw.

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