|Introduction & Specifications|
A growing number of graphics professionals, gamers, and all-around power users are turning to WQHD (Wide Quad High-Definition) monitors as cost-conscious alternatives to pricey 30-inch panels, and ASUS is all too happy to oblige. The PB278Q we're looking at here slips into ASUS' Professional lineup and brings with it a 27-inch PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching) panel with a 2560x1440 display and LED backlighting. At around $700 street, it's one of the least expensive 27-inch WQHD monitors available, yet it boasts some posh features, like swivel support, the ability to rotate into portrait mode, and 100 percent sRGB gamut fidelity
One thing to keep in mind with a monitor this size is that if you plan on gaming, you'll need a relatively powerful graphics card to drive the display's pixels at the panel's native resolution. That's not something the CAD crowd necessarily has to worry about, but if your primary objective is to blow up bad guys in virtual worlds in full graphical splendor, be mindful of the 2650x1440 resolution for optimal image quality. Though any LCD can scale down to lower resolutions, things just won't look as sharp as native res.
ASUS PB278Q - 27 inches of PLS sex appeal.
As luck would have it, there's a bit of an arms race going on between AMD and NVIDIA, so even if you don't own graphics card capable of pushing a WQHD display, you can upgrade to one without having without putting yourself in the poor house. Either way, the Samsung-built PLS panel on board the PB278Q is precisely the main attraction here. It packs four times the number of pixels as 720p HD, and it's supposed to be on par with those coveted IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels that typically carry a price premium. For the sake of comparison, at the time of this writing, the least expensive 30-inch IPS monitor on Newegg sells for nearly $500 more, while the most expensive one runs nearly three times as much as the PB278Q.
Paper specs and pricing advantages are both fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, image quality and performance plays the biggest role in determining a monitor's worth. Can the PB278Q stand up to our battery of visual quality tests? It's time to find out.
The PB278Q is kind of an odd mix of feature additions and subtractions. It has built in stereo speakers, plenty of ports, and a flexible stand that supports rotate, tilt, pivot, and height adjustments, but there's no USB hub or media card reader built into the panel. Perhaps they were sacrificed for a lower price tag, though we'd argue a graphics professional would likely benefit more from those items than the pair of speakers jammed inside, and gamers are likely to wield a high quality headset or a bookshelf system anyway.
One other thing to note is the weight. Even though the PB278Q is not much smaller than a 30-inch panel, it's significantly lighter than the larger monitors we've played with.
The PB278Q is the inaugural model in ASUS' new PB Series, though you may recognized it as the VA278Q. According to ASUS, the PB278Q isn't a simple rebranding, it's an upgraded panel with "professional-quality enhancements" and pre-calibration at the factory.
One of the first things we noticed about the PB278Q is that it's big without the bulk. By that we mean it's a sizable monitor, and definitely eye-catching, but it doesn't necessarily dominate the desktop the way most 30-inch panels do, and considerably lighter. In terms of hard numbers, it measures 25.3 inches (W) by 21.7 inches (H) by 8.6 inches (D) and weighs 19.4 pounds. To put that in perspective, HP's ZR30w weights 28.6 pounds.
ASUS chose not to surround the PB278Q with a glossy bezel, a wise decision considering the target audience includes graphics professionals who are likely to frequently tinker with the onscreen controls. It's a rather attractive, if not understated monitor with a fairly thin bezel measuring about three-fourths of an inch thick on the top and sides, and a full inch along the bottom. A silver "ASUS" logo adorns the bottom bezel in the middle.
Behind it all is an 8-bit PLS panel built by Samsung. It has a native resolution of 2560x1440 with a 5ms response time (gray-to-gray), 80,000,000:1 "Smart" contrast ratio, 300 cd/m2 brightness rating.
Even professional (or semi-professional) grade monitors are featuring thinner profiles these days, though they're not on par with some of the super skinny LED displays out there. The frame on the PB278Q is about an inch wide along the edge, and up to around 2 inches deep in the middle where it bows out the most.
A semi-glossy strip of plastic surrounds the back of the bezel all the way around the monitor, giving it an attractive two-tone finish. And though it's glossy, it's thin enough not to pose a problem with fingerprints.
The slightly rectangular base pivots 360 degrees, a welcome feature when you need to twist and turn the monitor to show a co-worker or roommate what's on the screen. It's made of plastic, and so is the thick and sturdy neck, which feels like a brick. It all adds up to an able-bodied foundation that feels anything but flimsy.
You can tilt the monitor from +20 degrees to around -5 degrees and, as we'll show in a moment, swivel/rotate into landscape or portrait mode. All told, this is one of the more flexible monitors out there.
One thing the stand is missing, however, is any type of cable management scheme, if that's of any importance to you.
One of the major knocks against the PB278Q is that it doesn't have a built-in USB hub or, perhaps more importantly for graphics professionals and digital media enthusiasts, a media card reader. The most important part of a monitor is, of course, the actual display, but these types of missing conveniences can tip the scales in a crowded market.
While the PB278Q lacks the above amenities, it does come equipped with nice selection of ports. From left to right, they include:
Gamers have little use for rotating a monitor into Portrait mode, but it can an uber useful function for graphics professionals, productivity gurus, and power surfers alike. The PB278Q accommodates such users by being able to pivot/rotate 180 degrees. In Landscape mode, the ability to pivot is slightly rigid at first, a feature that prevents you from accidentally rotating the monitor all the time.
|Calibration & Controls|
ASUS claims each PB278Q comes pre-calibrated at the factory, which means you should be able to turn it on and get straight to work without worrying about fine tuning the settings. Should you still decide to tweak the settings, ASUS includes of a set On-Screen Controls (OSD).
The OSD controls are labeled on the bottom right corner of the monitor, with the actual buttons hidden underneath the bezel. These are large, physical buttons that are easy to find in the dark, though they're not visible unless you poke your head under the monitor. The labels, however, do not light up, so fiddling with the controls in the dark can be an exercise in frustration.
Like most monitors, there are several presets profiles to choose from. These include Scenery, Theater, sRGB, Standard, and two user-customizable modes. The mode you choose determines which of the OSD settings you can adjust.
Once you're inside the settings, you're able to adjust things like the brightness, contrast, sharpness, "Trace Free" (speed up the response time by Over Drive technology), aspect ratio, over scan (only available for HDMI input), saturation, hue, and more.
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.
As we're mostly accustomed to IPS panels in high-end displays, we didn't know quite what to expect from the PLS screen. For the most part, we were pleasantly surprised. For as bright and vibrant as the PB278Q is capable of getting, we were happy to see that backlight bleeding was a non-factor. We were also impressed with its black level performance in sRGB mode (black level performance suffered slightly in Standard mode, and significantly in all the other modes). White and gray levels were also very good on the PB278Q.
We did notice a small amount of overshooting in the video bandwidth test. A perfect video bandwidth score in DisplayMate is 100; the PB278Q scored a 110. According to DisplayMate, a high video bandwidth score can result in ringing and overshooting of images, though the PB278Q scored close enough to 100 that we were unable to detect these anomalies in real world testing. Another issue that came up was a bit of flickering in the Moire interference test pattern, an effect that has a tendency to crop up in high resolution displays with finely focused beams. Finally, text lost some of its sharpness at small font sizes, though otherwise was easy on the eyes.
The few issues notwithstanding, the PB278Q is capable of displaying bright, crisp, and vivid photos with relative ease. However, we noticed that images and colors weren't as deep and didn't pop the way they do on some other professional grade monitors we've tested, like Dell's U3011. You can tweak the settings to come close to the same performance, but it will still fall a little short in a head-to-head comparison.
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 PB278Q 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.
Movie buffs are in for a treat with the PB278Q, both because of the HDMI connectivity (makes it easy to hook up a Blu-ray player) and due to 27 inches of screen real estate. Movies looked crisp during out testing, and we saw no abnormal effects in dark or brightly lit scenes.
On the flip side, visuals lacked the pop (for lack of a better term) than we've seen from some higher quality 30-inch panels. It's not that movies ever looked bad -- they didn't -- the panel just didn't sock us in the face with dazzling color reproduction. Unless you've spent some time testing a higher end monitor, it's not something you're likely to notice, and the PB278Q certainly looks better than your average TN panel.
We never know what to expect from a monitor when it comes to gaming. Sure, we can look at the spec sheet and, in this case, see that it boasts a 5ms response time (gray to gray), but it's all too easy to fudge the numbers. Therefore, we put very little stock into rated specs and make our determination on what our eyeballs have to communicate.
Well, our eyeballs loved the PB278Q for game playing. Again, a higher end 30-inch panel might look a little better overall, graphics came alive during our game tests. More importantly, fast moving scenes showed absolutely no ill effects. The slight bit of blur you see above is from our camera, not the game play.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
We came away mostly impressed with the ASUS PB278Q. The 27-inch panel proved especially adept at handling game play, where it delivered fast moving visuals free from artifacts like ghosting or motion blur. Backlight bleeding was non-existent, and black level performance was superb in sRGB mode. There were some minor trouble areas, including some overshooting in the video bandwidth test. Colors weren't as deep and rich as we've seen on some higher quality displays, and we also detected a bit of flicker in DisplayMate's Moire interference test pattern. None of these issue were particularly severe, especially considering this is one of the least expensive 27-inch monitors on the market.