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Week in Tech: Random Screen Round Up

It's a smorgasbord of screens

Never before in the history of mankind have so many PC display options emerged in such a short space of time. At least, that's the way it feels right now and in the time-honoured journalistic tradition I'm certainly not going to let fact checking get in the way of a mediocre narrative. It's, er, monitormageddon people! In all seriousness, it's enough to keep up with all the 120Hz, G-Sync, FreeSync and 4K nonsense. But now the mix of panel sizes, types and resolutions is beginning to spin out of control. I'm rapidly approaching the point where I haven't a clue what I would personally plump for. Things will settle down in the next 18 months or so as the sweet spot emerges, no doubt. But that's no help in the here and now. If you're in the monitor market today, what the devil are you supposed to do?

This year, we've already had 32-inch, 28-inch and 24-inch 4K panels with 3,840 by 2,160 pixel grids. Right now, it's the 28-inch brigade based on TN panels and yours for circa £500 that are the pick, albeit it with the caveat that your current video card probably lacks the pixel-pushing gumption to drive them properly in games.

Last week, of course, I mentioned the new super-wide 34-inch, 21:9 format 1440p panels. I'm expecting to lay eyes on AOC's effort in that area soon but the prospect of 3,440 by 1,440 pixels painted across a super-wide 34-inch panel sounds pretty drool worthy.

It also sounds a bit more plausible than full 4K given the capabilities of current GPUs and the increasing sense that chip development cycles have slowed. But more on that later.

Anyway, what's actually new? First up, a new generation of 32-inch 1440p monitors is appearing, including the Acer B326HUL and BenQ BL3200PT. Actually, the latter (pictured above) popped up a few months ago, but somehow came in under my radar.

Acer B326HUL: 32 inches + 1440p could = gaming greatness. The again, VA. Whoops

Anyway, the bottom line here is the 2,560 by 1,440 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio that's hitherto been familiar in the 27-inch form factor now expanded to 32 inches. Personally, I've always felt that 27 inches lack a little in terms of big screen drama, so I like the idea of a larger panel that doesn't add any GPU load.

The pixel pitch will be more than sufficient in-game at 32 inches, I reckon. For broader desktop duties, it's not such an obvious win. But I'd have to see one before drawing any final conclusions. Having said that, the fact that these new 32 inchers are based on VA rather than IPS or TN panel tech is a bit of a worry for gaming.

VA panels typically have great contrast and good viewing angles. But pixel response can be a problem. Early reviews of the BenQ suggest adequate rather than excellent response rates with input lag looking moderate. I'm therefore thinking that this new 32-inch 1440p sector isn't an obvious choice for gamers. At least, not while it's based on VA panel tech.

Next up is a new relatively affordable 27-inch 4K monitor from Asus, the PB279Q. Yup, that's 27 inches rather than 28 inches. It's the same 3,840 by 2,160 pixel grid but the key differentiator with the PB279Q is a wide-viewing-angle AHVA (more-or-less IPS) panel.

As for pricing, I don't believe it's been fully firmed up. But Asus is pitching the PB279Q as stage two of its '4K for the masses' and sub-$1,000 is mooted. Not cheap, then, but none of this multi-thousand dollar / pound nonsense.

27-inch 4K with an IPS panel at a tolerable price? Interesting

That said, for me the 28-inch 4K masses are marginal in terms of pixel pitch in Windows. And as ever, the very suitability of 4K with current GPUs is a tricky question. Chalk the Asus PB279Q down as another interesting option that probably won't prove the new weapon of choice for gamers.

Finally, despite my reservations re 4K gaming both Nvidia and AMD are tooling up for new GPUs later this year, even if it looks likely they'll be stuck on 28nm production and therefore the performance leap may turn out to be modest. What's more, much faster 16nm GPUs are due in 2015. And I've always seen screens as a long term investment, so...

Enter the idea of a the 4K TV as PC monitor. In the 1080p era, using a big TV as monitor made for a hideous pixel pitch. But a 4K 40-inch TV has a pixel pitch that's only a little finer (110 PPI vs 101PPI) than my current favourite, the 2,560 by 1,600 pixel 30-inch monitor.

Cheapo 4K HDTVs like those from Seiki have so far been hobbled by 30Hz refresh

The problem with cheap 4K TVs to date, of course, has been the ghastly 30Hz limitation. It's a total deal breaker. But it looks like a new generation of cheap 4K TVs is coming complete with HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3 support and thus 60Hz capability. Interesting.

In fact, one cheap 4K HDTV maker, Seiki, has announced actual 4K PC monitors in 28, 32 and 40-inch sizes (the 28U4SEP-G02, 32U4SEP-G02 and 40U4SEP-G02 respectively. There's no word on pricing yet and availability may be as late as early next year. But for context, Seiki's current 30Hz 39-inch 4K TV can be had for less than $500. Yikes!

Of course, if you chuck in complicating factors like 120Hz support, G-Sync and FreeSync, it's pretty obvious that the odds of a single monitor that absolutely nails all your gaming and broader PC needs any time soon are slim.

Personally, it's 34-inch, 21:9 1440p and 40-inch 4K that's got me checking my bank balance. Then again, if someone could come up with a 32-inch 1440p panel with 120Hz refresh and some kind of 'syncing support for a pure gaming, that would be bloody tempting, too. All of which means I can't actually tell you what to buy. First-world problems, eh?

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Jeremy Laird