When we heard Asus was coming out with a P-IPS display, we were a bit taken aback at the thought of Asus getting into the high end monitor game. But as the old cliche goes, there's a first time for everything, and the PA246Q ProArt 24-inch LCD monitor is Asus' first foray into the professional display market.
Every other monitor Asus has come out with has been of the TN variety, some of them very good, but there's a clear divide between what you get with an IPS panel and a TN display. The former boasts better viewing angles, much improved color accuracy, and in recent times have even proved up to the task of gaming. The latter is usually lighter on the wallet, though.
There are many kinds of In-Plane Switching panels on the market, one of the newer ones being Professional IPS (or P-IPS), as found on Asus' PA246Q. P-IPS is really a marketing derivative of H-IPS (Horizontal IPS) now commonly used to denote a 10-bit panel capable of reproducing 1.07 billion colors. Wading through all the nomenclature can be a dizzying task, but what you should take away from all this is that Asus is going for gold by using a top-of-the-line panel.
As such, the PA246Q commands a premium price, going for about $500 on the street. That's a bit on the high side even for an IPS display, though there's plenty of marketing bullets Asus hopes will help convince you to loosen your money clip. The PA246Q provides 98 percent of Adobe RGB, boasts a wide 178-degree viewing angle, a built-in 12-bit Look-Up Table (LUT), Picture-in-Picture, portrait and landscape rotation, and a QuickFit Virtual Scale so you can fit photos and documents to the exact size you need printed.
Each PA246Q comes pre-calibrated out of the box so you can plug it in, turn it on, and start using it right away without futzing around with trying to fix color or geometry issues. What's more, Asus even includes a unique color calibration testing report showing sRGB, Adobe RGB, gray-scale tracking, and gamma value measurements. It's akin to receiving a custom benchmark report with an OEM system and gives you warm fuzzies that your unit's not a dud.
If this all sounds like gibberish to you, then welcome to the world of professional monitors. Whereas TN panels are typically judged by their brightness, contrast ratio, and response time, there's quite a bit more to consider with a high end display like the PA246Q. Gamers are welcome to dive in, and so are enthusiasts who demand the best hardware, but unlike TN panels, professionals such as graphic designers and those who are knee deep in CAD work stand to benefit the most from all the advanced features that sound like gobbledygook to the average Joe.
The PA246Q is not only Asus' only professional series monitor, it's also one of the company's largest panels. That sounds funny to say given that this isn't a 30-inch, 28-inch, or even a 27-inch panel (of which, Asus sells one), though at 24-inches, Asus hit what's traditionally been the sweet spot for plentiful real estate without putting the squeeze on your PayPal account.
Another benefit to owning a 24-inch monitor is that you can typically lug it around without throwing out your back. The PA246Q weighs just over 16 pounds, which isn't LAN-party light, but you won't be out of breath moving it from one room to another or positioning it on a desk. Once you have it where you want it, you can then align the panel to your optimal viewing angle with tilt (+20 degrees to around 5 degrees), swivel, pivot, and height adjustment.
Even though it's light, the PA246Q is also thick with a depth measuring 1.87 inches to 2.25 inches around the frame, and up to just under 3 inches if you include the backside protrusion. Around the actual display, the bezel measures 0.75 inches on the sides and top, and around 1.38 inches on the bottom, leaving a little extra room for the onscreen controls and racing stripe.
Critical to any professional series monitor is the ability to view documents, webpages, and photos in both portrait and landscape mode. The PA246Q rotates effortlessly between these two orientations. This can be especially useful when combined with the display's Picture-in-Picture functionality, which allows you to view images from two different signals/sources.
We don't recommend laying your monitor face down like this, not unless it leaked fluid on the floor and you're trying to rub its nose in it. For our purposes, putting the PA246Q in a face-plant position gives a great view of the connectivity ports, which includes HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI-D, D-Sub, and Kensington lock. This angle also shows how thick the monitor is, though it's not as bulky as some other IPS displays we've seen.
Asus doesn't just provide all the connections you might need, but throws in the appropriate cables, too. The PA246Q comes with a DVI cable, USB cable, D-Sub cable, and DisplayPort cable, saving you more than a few bucks if you don't already own whichever one you plan to use. And if you do, toss them into your spare parts tackle box.
Getting back to the Picture-in-Picture functionality, the various display ports provide plenty of flexibility in how you choose to use the PA246Q. You could, for example, mix work and play by hooking up a Blu-ray player or game console via HDMI and have it run in a window when you need a quick break from all that CAD work.
Asus includes a pair of USB ports located conveniently on the left side, along with an upstream USB port on the panel's underbelly. But that isn't all. There's also a memory card reader located on the side, which means you can jam your digital/video camera's memory card right into the PA246Q's kidney area and shuttle those awesome photos and videos to your PC with little fuss. This is a feature that's not found on many monitors, but should be on every one of them, especially professional grade panels.
|Calibration & Controls|
We should reiterate here that Asus pre-calibrates each PA246Q monitor at the factory, which is great if you just want to fire it up and be ready to go. At the same time, if you're working on a mission critical project, you may have no choice but to tinker with the color settings. We've learned never to take on-screen display (OSD) controls for granted (we're looking at you, HP ZR30w), and whether you plan to use them or not, Asus includes them.
At a time when touch-sensitive buttons are all the rage, Asus played it smart and stuck with good old-fashioned buttons. What's our beef with touch-sensitive controls? Put simply, they're often janky. It's frustrating to mash a button two or three times only to have it finally register on the fourth attempt.
The OSD on the PA246Q isn't completely intuitive, but for the most part, you'll be jumping through the menus like a pro after you spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the layout. Depending on which input you're using, there's a fair amount to play with, such as brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, color temperature, gamma, sharpness, focus, and more. Asus also includes a handful of image quality presets: Standard Mode, sRGB Mode, Adobe RGB Mode, Scenery Mode, Theater Mode, and User Mode. One of the buttons serves as a hotkey that cycles through these modes.
Perhaps one of the most useful features is another hotkey that brings up what Asus calls the "QuickFit Virtual Scale" (see video above). You use this hotkey to cycle through an alignment grid; a pair grids in inches and centimeters so you know exactly how big the picture or document on screen will print out; and letter (A4), document, and photo outlines of various sizes to help you resize images exactly as you need them printed. When all else fails, the PA246Q's bezel comes notched with both centimeters and inches, so you'll never need to go sticking your hand in the kitchen junk drawer looking for that ruler you know you have somewhere.
We're now using DisplayMate for Windows (www.displaymate.com) as part of our monitor evaluation process. DisplayMate's smorgasbord of tests allow us to root out potential problems areas, such as geometry distortion and color inaccuracies, to name just two.
One thing that really stood out to us with the PA246Q was the brightness. Out of the box, the monitor's picture was gorgeous and vibrant, but not washed out. Compared to one of Asus' lower-end TN panels we had a bad experience with in the past, where the picture was tinted blue and required lots of fiddling to correct, the PA246Q stood head and shoulders above.
Color reproduction was excellent, we didn't notice any backlight bleeding, and the gray scale test was visible down to level 2, which is fantastic. And this was without any tinkering. Overall, performance was akin to NEC's PA271W.
Photos look incredible on the PA246Q, so long as you don't use the Scenery or Theater Mode presets. Standard, sRGB, and Adobe RGB produced the best looking images (no big surprise there), with the latter two displaying slightly more accurate colors.
The viewing angle was also superb. Granted you're not going to be doing a lot of serious work at extreme angles, but the PA246Q allows you to move around without worrying about having to remained fixed front and center.
While DisplayMate lays out a monitor's performance in black and white (and blue and green and red and...), we also take into consideration a subjective analysis. After all, you're not purchasing a monitor to view test patterns for hours on end. To see how the PA246Q performs in the real world, we viewed a series of high definition movies and fired up a few games. Torturous, we know, but hey, you guys are worth every minute of our entertainment.
As always, we loaded up a mix of high definition movies for our subjective analysis, which relies more on our eyes than benchmarks. Of particular interest is how a panel handles both dark and light scenes, and PA246Q performed well. Without any backlight bleeding, darks remained dark, and as we touched on earlier, the PA246Q is able to run bright without washing out the colors. Credit the 10-bit panel here.
We always talk about how IPS panels have a poor reputation for gaming performance, namely ghosting. Perhaps it's time to put that notion to rest. Like NEC's PA271W, the Asus PA246Q handled our gaming 'chores' with aplomb. We're not saying there's no ghosting whatsoever, we're saying we have a tough time spotting it.
Do note that the PA246Q sports a 1920x1200 native resolution. On the plus side, that means you can get away with a mid-range videocard, but regardless of the 10-bit panel, it doesn't offer the same level of detail as a 2560x1600 panel, which are typically found on 30-inch monitors. Still, like everything else we threw at this monitor, gaming looked great.