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Hard Choices: The £200/$300 2560x1440 27" Monitor

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It’s true! Top-end monitors for the same price as any old stinky crap in PC World. Read on for details of what/where/how, but please keep in mind even as you tremble in raw excitement that there is A BIG RISK FACTOR.

In a change from your irregularly-scheduled Guy Who Knows A Ton About Hardware, I’m afraid it’s me. But I bring glad, intriguing tidings from the silicon mines. If you cast your minds, or at least your browsers, back a few months, you may recall our recommendation of 27″, 2560×1440 monitors as your point of eyeball-based connection to your beloved gaming PC. Specifically, a 27″, 2560×1440 Hazro monitor for approximately £400, and which used the same LG LM270WQ1 IPS panel as those in Apple’s top of the range 27″ Cinema Displays/iMacs, amongst other £800+ 27 inchers. That was already half the price of its similarly-specced contemporaries, albeit housed within a less gorgeous casing and with but one input. It still, quite understandably, remains prohibitively expensive for a great many people.
Myself included, to be honest, to the point that when I did order one a couple of months back and, quite by chance (I’ve learned many times over the years that this just happens with hardware, it doesn’t necessarily imply something about a particular model), it died three days later, I opted for a refund rather than a replacement in the hope of assuaging my enormous guilt. Then I moaned incessantly about the old, 1920×1200 monitor I had to revert to, how it chucked out enough heat to boil a bear and how it had a growing number of funny-coloured vertical lines on the right-hand side. Specifically, I moaned at Jeremy in the vain hope he might be able to spare one of the approximately twelve thousand 27 and 30″ monitors he keeps alongside all the bits of chopped-up cat in his basement. Then, initially on The Tech Report but later following the discussion trail across all sorts of frightening forums to establish which of several models was the one to get, I found a solution.

Models of what? Models of 27″, 2560×1440 IPS monitors available for approximately £200/$300 from Korean resellers on eBay, using exactly the same panel as in the Hazro and Apple models. It sounds dodgy. It is a bit dodgy, because as far as I can establish many if not all of these monitors are built around the panels that have for one reason or another been rejected or returned by the big-name companies that buy them in bulk for their branded, high-end screens.

In practice, this means there is a moderate risk of dead/stuck pixels, although it is a total lottery (mine has none), many of the sellers will guarantee no problems if you pay a little extra and, my enquires suggest, the total pixel count of these panels is so high that you are extremely unlikely to notice if a couple don’t work. We’re talking 3,686,400 pixels in total – it’s like finding one grain on white sand on a brown beach, but I do understand the principle of not wanting something imperfect.

First I, and then later John after hearing my excited noises, have bought such a panel. Neither of us can find any dead pixels in ours. The fusspot in me has noticed that there’s a bit of backlight bleed on the corners, but this only shows when the image/scene is predominantly black, and even then on slightly. I am, I assure you, very happy with it, and happy to have spent £206 of my own money on it. The image it offers is glorious – sharp and vibrant (without being over-saturated), and there’s oh-so-much screen real estate. The only problem I face is that using a smaller/low-res monitor ever again will likely prove extremely frustrating after such glory.

There are certain things to bear in mind, however – both regarding the source of the screens and how you can use them. Firstly, if you’re ordering from the UK be aware that you will most likely be subject to a customs charge as the screen’s coming from abroad. Allegedly you could ask the seller (they have a decent grasp of English, it appears) to mark down the value of the screen to, say, $200 rather than $300 when filling out the delivery form, allegedly. If such thing was as possible as alleged, I might wildly guess to be charged around £35 by Fedex, who by default put everything they carry through a customs inspection. Of course I would never so brazenly flout the rules of Her Majesty’s empire, so I am of course only guessing. Allegedly.

Secondly, going on my experience the seller might attempt to wheedle some extra cash out of you. Mine told me that he was out of stock of the ‘standard’ screen until the next week, but if I paid $30 extra he could send me one that definitely had no dead pixels right away. Being a tight-fisted SOB as I am, I decided not, though immediately regretted it when considering that perhaps £220ish on a more sure thing was better than £200 on one more likely to have issues. A mere five days later, my screen arrived anyway, and was as I say dead pixel-free. John’s arrived similarly quickly, but he does have one problem with his that I don’t. I shall quote him directly: “It’s not very good at going on standby. Sometimes it flashes madly, and other times the screen gets filled with the most extraordinarily colourful lines. Other times it goes black like it should.” I suppose there could be a risk that this becomes a permanent condition, but it’s only guesswork either way at present.

Thirdly, the housing for these panels is very cheap, and there are no menus or on-screen displays. It’s certainly not unattractive, being as it is a very slim black bezel (and LED backlighting makes it incredibly thin and heat-free), but due to its fixed base simple if you like to swivel, rotate, pivot or other such geometry, you will need to invest a VESA mount. These are about £30. I’m just fine with only being able to tilt it forwards or backwards a bit. As for menus and controls, all you can do is alter the backlight brightness and the volume of the nasty, best-ignored built-in speakers with some rear-mounted physical buttons. I haven’t needed to alter anything, so that’s academic to me, but fiddlers and calibrators will have to rely on the options in their graphics card drivers.

Fourthly – nearly there, honest – and not specific to this monitor, bear in mind that you need a reasonably beefy graphics card to drive games running at 2560×1440, at least if you want high settings, anti-aliasing and all that jazz. You can always set the resolution lower for games if your main interest is desktop programs, of course, but it’s a shame to miss out on how gloriously crisp they look at 1440p. I’ve got a GeForce GTX 670, which aside from running hotter than the rage of Metal Gear Solid fans reading an 8/10 review is more than up to the task. Obviously if your preference is for older or low-spec games an older or lower-spec card is going to be just fine – keep it in mind, is all.

Fifthly – one more to go! – and relatedly, your graphics card must be capable of dual-link DVI display output to even manage the 2560×1440 output. This has been available on most mid and high-end cards for quite a few years now, but you’re gambling if you try to do it on a low-end one or especially integrated graphics. You will need to use the dual-link DVI cable supplied with the monitor, not a standard one, otherwise you’ll get a black screen. Unless of course you already own a cable you know to be dual-link, and replacements are widely available.

Sixthly- finally, and most importantly – there are a whole bunch of different models to choose from. There isn’t too much in it in terms of the out-of-the-box experience as far as I can ascertain, but there are different housings and bells and whistles to choose from, such as inputs and poseable stands. There’s also the fact that some models can be ‘overclocked’ to enable higher refresh rates, reportedly even as high as the fabled 120Hz in some cases.

Personally, I went for the safest and cheapest bet – the Achieva Shimian QH270-IPSBS. It only has the one input, it can’t be overclocked (well, I got it up from 60hz to 65hz, which is an entirely invisible difference) but it doesn’t have the pretty but glare-inducing, dust-trapping glass cover that other models do. It has exactly the same housing as that Hazro 27″ Jeremy recommended, which means it looks quite nice but it’s very basic and the buttons are a little hard to access – manually switching it to standby involves reaching around the back.
Like I say though, I’m very happy with it, and if I have a bigger PC room come the next time I get a windfall, I would seriously consider getting an additional one as a secondary monitor.

The one to avoid, I think, is the Achieva Shimian QH270-IPSB (note no S at the end), because it does have one of those glass panels, and you’ll quickly wish it didn’t even though it looks posher for it. If you want a greater chance of overclocking the refresh rate – i.e. if you’re a framerate junkie who wants his games to run at higher than 60FPS with vysnc on – you should investigate the range called ‘Catleap’ further. Do research beyond this post if you’re seriously considering buying, as I cannot overstate enough that THIS IS A GAMBLE.

Anything could happen in terms of postage/customs, in terms of faults, and in terms of random eBay folk trying to rip you off. Here are some links to start with, but basically what you want to do is type ‘QH270’ into eBay, find the cheapest hit and then Google for its model name to see what you find. ‘Shimian’ and ‘Catleap’ will also yield tons of results. For reference’s sake , I (and John) purchased ours from this fellow, and the only issue was his attempt to have me pay more for no dead pixels, which worked out fine in the end.

Here’s some further reading about these screens to start you off:

One
Two
Three

OK? Good luck. I mean it. If it all works out as well as mine did, you’ll be very happy – but again HUGE RISK FACTOR, for the love of Jesus, Buddah, Mohammed, Yahweh and all those guys PLEASE don’t do it just because I mentioned it and please, please, please do further, careful research before you splash out.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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