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Asus PG348Q: Second Coming Of The Monitor Messiah?

Pity about the price...

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OK, this is a little embarrassing. Last July I hailed, albeit with the usual journalistic qualifications, the Asus MG279Q as the Messiah of Monitors. Now I’m doing it again. And it’s another ruddy Asus monitor. But there’s nothing to be done. I cannot unsee what has been seen. And what I’ve seen is the new Asus RoG Swift PG348Q in all its 34-inch, curved-screen, IPS-panel, G-Synced and 100Hz glory. Nurse!

By way of premable, it’s ironic that the better LCD monitors get, the more it strikes me just how unsuitable the underlying technology is for full-colour screens. I’ve mentioned this before, but LCD is a dumb idea.

Made up of a grid of tiny shutters, it attempts, imperfectly, to control the transmission of light from a rear-firing backlight. But there is always some leakage. And that not only means you can never have perfect control of contrast and colours. It’s also the source of viewing-angle related issues.

The fact that the liquid crystals are, ultimately, moving objects and take time to respond only makes matters worse. It’s why early LCDs were chronically blurry when showing moving images. The response problem still hasn’t been entirely solved and some of the technologies designed to accelerate response can themselves be problematical.

Of course, with the backlight plus the LCD panel itself, the whole affair is relatively bulky and complex. In other words, LCD tech is one big overcomplicated kludge. All of which only makes the new Asus RoG Swift PG348Q all the more impressive. Because the last thing you’re thinking as you soak up the visual splendour is, “this LCD stuff. It’s a bit crap, isn’t ?”

Instead, it has me marvelling at human ingenuity. This thing does things that you feel oughtn’t be possible with LCD tech. There’s the curved panel for starters. I blow a bit hot and cold regarding this aspect. But at its best, the wrap-around ambience definitely adds to the sense of gaming immersion.

That said, it’s a little difficult to unpick that from the sheer scale of the 34-inch super-wide 21:9 aspect LCD panel. I use a 40-inch 4K monitor as my daily, but the extreme aspect of this thing means it still feels dramatic. In terms of the size and format, there’s no question I’d rather game on this than a 40-inch 16:9.

Of course, all of that has been available before. It’s from here that the new PG348Q begins to diverge from the norm. The quality of the IPS LCD panel is part of it. I’m not sure if it’s the best all-round monitor panel I’ve seen. But I don’t recall better and it certainly scores in a lot of areas.

The colours seriously pop and the contrast is excellent. Actually, the latter proves just how pointless monitor specifications have become of late. The RoG is quoted at 1,000:1 for contrast (that’s the inherent contrast achieved by the panel without using tricks like dynamically adjusting the backlight). As is most of the market.

There are a few 3,000:1 screens around based on VA panel technology, of course. But you’d be very hard pressed to pick the difference subjectively. Which is odd, because older LCD monitors with 700:1 contrast ratios are very obviously bad. Whatever.

The viewing angles are fantastic, too. Like a lot of the most recent good-quality IPS screens, the extent to which colour control is maintained off centre, along with the near total banishment of that annoying IPS-glow problem, means it’s just no longer an issue.

If there is an area where the underlying LCD technology announces itself, however, it’s pixel response. It’s very good for an IPS screen, make no mistake. But as with virtually any LCD screen, a little residual blur is visible.

On a related note, the other items that set the RoG apart are of course support for both 100Hz refresh and Nvidia’s G-Sync adaptive-sync tech. In regards to the former, high refresh basically rocks and 100Hz is enough to get most if not all the benefits. Yes, there are faster screens with support for 120Hz and 144Hz. But I would be very impressed if you put a screen running at 100Hz next to one running at 120Hz and could tell which is which.

Also, as I’ve said before high refresh is great on the desktop. It’s great in games. It’s great nearly everywhere. It just makes everything feel more slick and responsive. The one snag is generating enough frames in-game to make the most of that 100Hz ceiling.

With a pixel grid measuring 3,440 by 1,440, that’s no mean feat. Which in turn is where Nvidia’s G-Sync comes in. It’s also where I think the diminishing returns kick in. Let me explain.

G-Sync really works. There are demo applications that make that abundantly clear. But that’s the problem. Outside of demo applications, it’s often hard to tell if it’s on.

I confidently predict that someone will comment below how life changing G-Sync has been for their gaming. Or quote me saying positive things about it in the past. But with time and experience, my attitude to it has cooled.

Put it this way. I’ve simply spent too much time looking at various PC setups and screens wondering if it’s been properly enabled. Not so high refresh. Give me about three seconds and I’ll tell you if a screen is running significantly above 60Hz. So G-Sync is one of those features that I’d rate as nice to have but not worth a huge premium. Unfortunately, it not only adds a hefty premium to what would already have been a pretty pricey monitor. It requires you use an Nvidia GPU, too.

You could split a few hairs elsewhere with the RoG, too. The chassis and stand design is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s very flamboyant and in places feels pleasingly expensive. But elsewhere, there’s some cheap plastic.

Likewise, the so-called ‘frameless, edge-to-edge’ design translates into a fair amount of bezel in reality, and the LED mood lighting that projects a coloured logo onto the surface below the stand is at best a bit of fun and at worst just adds unwanted cost.

At which point I feel like I’ve gotten a little grumpy. So, let’s redress the balance. I’m reluctant to draw too many sweeping conclusions – a third coming of the monitor messiah would be impolitic, after all. And in the back of my mind, the coming OLED revolution looms. But this is, very likely, the most desirable monitor for PC gaming I have ever seen. It’s a gorgeous display.

It’s just a pity it has to cost £1,000 / $1,400, or thereabouts.

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