8.3m Pixels of Goodness
HEXUS was out at CES 2013 at the turn of the year. The Consumer Electronics Show showcases new, exciting technologies, many of which are then made available later on in the year. Ultra HD TVs dominated the consumer coverage. These sets harness a 4K resolution that can deliver eye-popping detail. Samsung has already announced availability and shipping dates for 55in and 65in Ultra HD sets this month, with the duo costing £4,000 and £6,000 respectively.
Ultra HD or 4K, call it what you will, means that consumer TVs and computer monitors have a native 3,840x2,160-pixel resolution - or 4x the number present on common 1080p screens. The presence of a significantly greater number of pixels is a boon for large TVs, leading to extra detail and more life-like imagery. Just like 1080p, however, 4K needs to be fed with appropriate-resolution images or video for it to look superb.
A 4K resolution also lends itself well to larger computer monitors. Higher resolutions pave the way for greater screen real estate, handy for creative types, and genuinely high-quality gaming, assuming your graphics card is up to it. Borrowing a leaf or two from tablets and smartphones - devices that ship with incredible pixel density - the latest Windows 8.1 operating system, codenamed Blue, has support for dynamic scaling that's necessary when dealing with ultra-high-resolution displays - more on this later.
Most commentators agree that 4K is a good thing. Jumping on the bandwagon, Asus recently announced pre-ordering for the PQ321Q, touted as the world's first consumer 4K monitor. Priced at £3,000 and to be made available as a 31.5in version followed by a 39in model at a later date, we managed to snag the smaller display for review.
Design and build
The Asus PQ321Q is very much a functional-looking unit that measures 750mm across and 489mm high. The screen itself is commendably thin, bulging out to a maximum 35mm deep, and Vesa mounts on the rear enable it to be wall-mounted. The 20mm bezel isn't as intrusive as you may think; the sheer size of the screen and close-up viewing means the focus tends to be on the panel itself.
There's welcome matte coating on the screen, minimising noisome reflections, and the only interruption to the clean lines is a small status LED on the bottom-right of the panel.
Most of the monitor's 13kg weight is contained inside the extremely sturdy base, which screws into the monitor for extra rigidity. Perhaps a problem specific to our sample, the Allen-headed screws required to attach the base to the neck were too malleable; the supplied Allen key gouged out the hex pattern rather easily.
At its lowest setting, the panel remains 60mm above the desk, rising to 210mm when pushed all the way up. Panel positioning is good, enabling a +25/-5 tilt and +45/-45 swivel. It can be used in portrait mode only when mounted on a wall, the stand is fixed with respect to orientation.
The svelte profile is further managed by housing the power supply externally. Asus supplies a brick-type (fanless) adaptor that can deliver a maximum 100W. Next to the power inlet, on the left-hand side, Asus includes a useful on/off switch. The same side is home to the screen's seven control-panel buttons - standby, up, down, volume-up, volume-down, enter and return - but using the two sets of up/down buttons to navigate the on-screen display takes a little getting used to. It's a shame there are no USB 3.0 ports integrated as standard, however.
Inputs and technology
North American versions of the monitor - PQ321Q - ship with DisplayPort v1.2, two HDMI ports, audio and headphone terminals. European versions - PQ321QE - lose out on HDMI. The casing houses two speakers rated at 2W each. Sound quality is tinny and insubstantial, and we'd recommend users invest in desktop speakers for a fuller sound.
The hallmark of the PQ321Q is the ultra-high resolution. The panel inside the chassis is manufactured by Sharp using its Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide (IGZO) technology, which is used instead of traditional amorphous silicon as the active layer of the LED-backlit LCD. Technical advances in IGZO enables electrons to move about much more easily than on standard LCDs and this is the one of the reasons why Sharp has been able to cram in far more pixels for a given screen size.
And the similarity with Sharp doesn't finish there. Asus' screen is, as far as we can tell, a direct copy of the professional-grade Sharp PN-K321 model. Appreciating that there aren't a great number of 4K panels out there, Asus' decision is sensible: why reinvent the wheel?
PQ321Q uses a 4K60 panel, meaning it can drive the Ultra HD resolution at 60Hz - a must for gaming. Asus' preferred connectivity method is over DisplayPort 1.2. The monitor ships with native settings of DisplayPort SST (single-stream transport) but needs to be put to MST (multi-stream transport) mode when opting for the preferable 4K60 setting.
Power me up
One oddity that concerns us is the inability to see any of the POST sequence, including BIOS, once the monitor is set to MST mode. The first indication that the screen is actually working - it literally switches on - is at the login screen for the operating system. This isn't a problem if you rarely venture into the BIOS, but it's something we feel Asus should correct with a firmware update.
The default image setting is consistent with 'shop configurations' for TVs - the brightness and colour are raised unnecessarily high. The bright, deep picture looks good momentarily but can be configured to a more neutral setting through the on-screen display.Switched on straight out of the box, the monitor chews through 72W, dropping to 65W for our preferred settings. The power-draw figure is lower than the 83W consumed by our default high-end screen, a Dell 3007WFP.