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ASUS PB278Q 27” PLS Monitor Review

AkG

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Initially, an unedited version of this review was posted on Hardware Canucks. The article has since been updated. We apologize for any misunderstanding this may have caused.

ASUS has never been one to shy away from pushing the envelope when it comes to development of their monitors. No matter the target market, be it professionals, gamers or everyday home users, they have always released products which seamlessly blend performance, practicality and in many cases, an aggressive price. The end result is people sitting up to take notice whenever ASUS introduces a new monitor and that’s bound to happen once again with the enthusiast-grade PB278Q.

The PB278Q is a 27” monitor that uses a 2560 x 1440 PLS panel and has been built from the ground up with an eye towards pleasing discerning consumers and appeasing gamers that don’t necessarily have a dearth of ultra-high resolution options to choose from. While it may not be as narrowly focused as ASUS’ 120Hz, 3D certified VG278H/HE units, this new monitor has its sights firmly set on the gaming enthusiast who wants it all: great gaming potential, silky smooth performance, high resolution, good versatility and outstanding value. Based on previous experience with Samsung’s PLS technology, the PB278Q should have no problem in the gaming or performance departments. With an asking price of $700 to $750 it is actually cheaper than Samsung’s own PLS-equipped 27A850 yet has an impressive array of input options and other features. The proximity of Dell's awesome $750 to $800 U2713 could cause ASUS' newest entrant some problems but generally, the PB278Q is less expensive and its PLS panel shouldn't have any problems competing with its IPS sibling.

However, between the release of the SyncMaster 27A850 earlier this year and ASUS’ PB278Q introduction, the enthusiast marketplace has become absolutely glutted with excellent 2560x1440 27” monitors. This situation tends to make things difficult for new entrants but the PB278Q’s unique blend of attributes may allow it to be a great overall choice in a market filled with options.

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications













 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the ASUS PB278Q

A Closer Look at the Asus PB278Q



Much like ASUS’ VG278HW, the PB278Q uses a surprisingly thin yet utilitarian design. Its svelte dimensions are no doubt due to the use of an LED backlit PLS-based monitor. This combination makes for a very sleek package and many are sure to mistake it for a TN monitor. However, the PB278Q does have a more aggressive appearance when compared against the Samsung SyncMaster S27A850 or ASUS’ own ProArt series. Even when compared against the Dell U2713HM, the PB278Q’s unique appearance will either greatly appeal to your inner PC gaming enthusiast or it could be a major turn off.


Helping this monitor stand out is the unique two tone approach ASUS has taken to the bezel. While glossy black with matte black is not as bold a combination as some monitors it does make for a jarring juxtaposition with the overall design of an otherwise drab exterior.


Unfortunately, while the PB278Q certainly marches to the beat of its own drum, the its accompanying stand is rather drab and utilitarian in appearance. Everything from the uninteresting and boring square base, to the square arm looks out of place on this rather expensive monitor. This is an arm and base combination which would feel more at home on a value line of monitors and not an expensive PLS unit.


It may not look all that impressive, but the stand’s abilities are never the less decent for this price range. At first the base appears to be a touch undersized but it actually provides a very stable foundation. Unlike some 27” monitors we have looked at, a good stiff wind will not blow it over and you’ll need to make a concerted effort to tip it over. The arm is also very capable and offers the PB278Q 120mm of height adjustment, 25° of tilt (+5° to – 20°), moderate swivel positioning and even portrait mode abilities.


We usually don’t make a big deal over what anti-glare coating a screen comes equipped with, but there are a few times we feel it is worth mentioning. In the recent case of Dell’s U2713 it was because the AG coating was so impressive at dispersing distracting reflections. Sadly, in the ASUS PB278Q’s case we’re mentioning it because it stands out in stark contrast against previous matte-screen P-series products.

To be reasonable, this is considered a semi-gloss finish and comparing it to a completely matte display isn’t fair and the performance of each will largely boil down to personal preference and the environment in which the monitor is used. Both are designed with different consumers and situations in mind. However, there is semi-gloss like the Samsung SyncMaster S27A850 and then there is reflection and glare galore semi-gloss used on the ASUS PB278Q. Fair comparison or not, this level of reflection and glare is going to have a negative impact on real world performance and eye-strain, particularly if you don’t have your computer set up within a deep, dark cave in the mountains of Tora Bora.


While there seems to be a trend towards using capacitive touch ‘buttons’ on certain classes of monitors, ASUS has once again gone for tried and true physical buttons. These buttons are nicely spaced and are large enough to easily be activated. Unlike the ProArt, they are also located in a more sensible location and you need not worry about accidentally turning off the monitor while flailing around trying to navigate the intuitive menu system. The only minor issue we have is their slightly cheap feeling which certainly isn’t up to expectations for a $750 monitor.


The PB278Q’s list of input options is impressive and every bit as good as the ProArt line of monitors. It includes one dual-link DVI, one HDMI, one VGA and one DisplayPort as well as a stereo in and out ports. With every one of the main HD bases covered, we doubt all but a minority of consumers will miss the absent USB ports or alternative analog options. However, it does put the PB278H at a distinct disadvantage compared to the Dell U2713H which has every bit as good options and then some.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations


PB278Q's On Screen Display is not that much different fro others we've seen on past ASUS monitors. For anyone who has ever used a high end ASUS monitor, the OSD will make using the PB278Q feel like visiting an old friend since it is as intuitive and easy to use as they come. Everything is laid out in a simple and straightforward manner with most features being accessible within a single button press.


Unfortunately, this classic OSD is starting to show its age. It is blatantly obvious ASUS has spent very little time refining their once best in-class OSD. Even issues which were readily apparent on previous generations are still here in all their annoying glory. For example, while dedicated ‘splendid’ shortcut button is included, it only allows you to choose between the various preset modes. To change even something as basic as the brightness/contrast levels you will need to use the main menu as –unlike Dell - no true quick access option is included. This was acceptable a few years ago as the rest of the industry was even in worse shape, but most competitors have now surpassed the stationary ASUS.


As with previous examples of this OSD, the main features are easy to access but some of the more advanced functionality is buried awfully deep with sub-sections. Some options we have come to expect from higher end monitors aren't even included at all. In this regard, Dell has set the bar awfully high with real-time power consumption read-outs and quick access features.

ASUS has granted only rudimentary control over gamma levels with a choice between 1.8 and 2.2. If neither are 100% correct you will have to opt for off panel adjustment through the graphics settings in Windows. This is pretty much par for the course these days, but we very disappointed to see the color adjustment abilities of the PB278Q is rather simple. There is no 6 color axis control and the color temperature list is extremely basic with a mere four presets (5000K, 5500K, 6500K and 9300K), all of which are barely acceptable. For most consumers 6500K will be acceptable but the PB278Q's target audience expects a bit more when it comes to fine grain control over temperature correction.


Thankfully at least the Red, Green and Blue levels can be set independently, though they are hidden in a sub-menu and can only be accessed by jumping through a few hoops. It is logically placed in the “Colors” menu but it is then necessary to navigate to “Advanced Setting” and then “Offset” in order to adjust the individual RGB levels of this panel.

The very first thing we like to do with any new monitor is ensure Dynamic Contrast is off. Even in gaming orientated monitors, automatic dynamic contrast adjustment is a complete pain in the butt most of the time. It rarely allows for a consistent image from one scene to the next so we prefer to turn it off. In this regard, ASUS deserves credit for continuing to set ASCR (or ASUS Smart Contrast Ratio) to off by default.


Unfortunately, it seems that ASUS carried over some of other menu flaws which the higher end PA246Q suffered from. Even though there are five different preset modes to choose from, each of these does not allow for complete fine grain control over the panel. For example the “standard” mode does not allow the saturation levels to be changed and selecting sRGB means a lack of RGB controls.

These are minor annoyances at best and each mode does give you more than adequate levels of control for specific situations. More to the point, there should be at least one mode which will fit one’s needs.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)

Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)



Calibrated Settings

Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode: User Mode
Brightness: 23%

All other settings left at standard defaults.

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI.


Based on previous experience with PLS monitors we had extremely high expectations for this ASUS' PB278Q. Unfortunately, while the similarly spec'd Samsung SyncMaster proved itself capable in and out of gaming scenarios the same just isn't true for our PB278Q sample. To be blunt we were downright disappointed with its results in a majority of our tests and it was only after extensive tweaking that we could consider the results acceptable. The only real exception was gaming scenarios and even here the less than optimal out of the box color pallet and gamma severely handicapped performance.

On the positive side, with a maximum output of 310 cd/m2, the PB278Q can certainly be considered a bright monitor, but it was easily adjustable down to a more precise 120 cd/m2. Of course, for professionals, anything over 120 – 140 is wasted on most computer monitors and very few people will leave it set to its default (90%) 280cd/m2 level.



Panel Uniformity


In a perfect world a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.


While single digit uniformity deltas like the new Dell UltraSharp U2713 exhibited can't be expected from a PLS panel, the ASUS PB278Q was actually beaten out in this area by the Samsung SyncMaster S27A850, the only other PLS-equipped monitor we've tested. Unfortunately the panel variance is a whopping 21% or a full 7% worse than the SyncMaster’s rather decent showing of 14%. This may not be the absolute worst result we have ever seen but it is very disappointing for a premium product. Like it or not, you WILL notice these issues in real world scenarios.

Please note however that these issues may not be present in all PB278Q monitors as uniformity has been known to vary wildly from one sample to another.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.



The out of box Gamma results aren't all that great either. Once again a result of 2.09 or a full .11 off the gold standard of 2.20 is not as bad as some monitors we have tested but can't be deemed acceptable either. Most consumers will notice this discrepancy and we strongly recommend adjusting the gamma to some semblance of correctness before really starting to use your PB278Q for the first time.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see”, the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.



Finally we're seeing results that should be expected from a high end monitor with a PLS panel! Here, the PB278Q shows a color gamut that's just as wide as the SyncMaster S27A850's and while it doesn't hit all three corners of the spectrum it is almost as good as the Dell U2713. However, with that said, there is a slight push towards blue but as usual, that's likely due to the LED backlighting rather than any underlying hardware issue.


Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.



It seems the color gamut results are more of an anomaly as we are once again back to rather poor out of box color accuracy profiles. These abysmal results make it painfully obvious that ASUS is in no way factory calibrating their higher end monitors like Dell is. Considering the pre-calibrated Dell U2713 costs only slightly more than the PB278Q, ASUS may be in for an uphill fight.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.



When it comes to viewing angles, the ASUS PB278Q provides a slightly mixed bag. While moving across the horizontal plane, colors remained consistent and contrast wasn't adversely affected. The same could be said about vertical viewing, at least until extreme angles are reached. Unfortunately, in both situations, the lack of uniformity quickly becomes apparent with both halves of the panel getting darker and only a narrow slice in the center staying at a consistent brightness level.

Remember, the images you see able are best case scenario results that were taken in a completely dark environment. In a moderately bright room – let alone in direct sunlight – images on this semi-glossy panel will be a lot harder to see. The net result is rather poor real world off axis viewing abilities. PLS or not, the PB278 really is outclassed by comparably priced IPS and PLS monitors.


Maximum Contrast Ratio


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.


Due to its panel design, the ASUS PB278Q posts very respectable numbers here but once again, it is beaten by several similarly priced IPS monitors.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.


The PB278Q's calibrated power consumption is very similar to that of a SyncMaster S27A850 but it does consume noticeably less power at 100% output. Overall, both sets of numbers are fairly efficient for 27” monitors but this design is showing its age. Newer backlighting technologies are being used in monitors like the U2713 which have proven to be more efficient while providing similar -or better- performance results.
 
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AkG

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Gaming & Movie Performance

Gaming Performance



Pre-calibration


Post-calibration

As you can see the default color profile of this monitor is rather poor but through judicious use of ASUS' menu options, it can be calibrated (by eye) to near perfection. Without any adjustments, the combination of an almost purplish tinge with out-of-wack gamma settings results in a washed out image that simply looks wrong.


Once the colors and gamma are corrected we were still of two minds on this monitor. You really will want to be gaming in a darkened environment as any light source will cast a distracting reflection on the PB278Q’s panel . The amount of glare it casts in a normally lit room is nothing short of incredible depending on where the light source is placed. This could cause eye strain and can break your concentration in games but there are some seriously redeeming values lurking beneath its surface.


Most gaming enthusiasts will be using this in a dark room, making the glare a rather minor issue and once that is removed from the equation, the PB278Q's gaming abilities are indeed impressive. It displays very little ghosting, images are sharp and crisp and input lag is next to non-existent. Throughout our gaming tests, we were consistently surprised that the poor panel uniformity became a non-issue due to the amount of situational immersion ASUS' new monitor provides

While it may be a monitor that requires careful environmental planning to ensure reflections are kept to a minimum, the PB278Q has the abilities to provide an ultimately rewarding gaming experience.



Movie Performance



Pre-calibration


Post-calibration

Once again, fixing the overly purple hue and washed out images should be a top priority after unpacking this monitor. No matter how long it takes, this is time well spent. If this isn't done, movie watching will become needlessly taxing on your eyes and nerves, especially after spending $700 for the PB278Q


Thankfully, once it is properly set up the movie experience this monitor offers is very good. Like most people, we prefer to watch movies in a darkened environment so the amount of glare and reflections were minimal. The lack of panel uniformity was also not all that noticeable since we were sitting directly in front of it but moving even slightly off-angle resulted in sharply degrading image quality. This just goes to show how certain synthetic tests can only tell half the story.


Unfortunately, all is not wine and roses. Since this is a 1440P monitor, watching 1080P video source did highlight the PB278Q's rather poor up-converting and scaling abilities. This monitor is merciless when displaying any video noise and translates it directly onto the screen without any reduction.

To be fair watching 1080P was still enjoyable but we did find ourselves opting for 720P formatted videos as the resulting image was sometimes noticeably sharper. In addition, the PLS panel's laudable speed ensured a lack of ghosting in fast moving scenes, blacks levels were nearly perfect once it was calibrated and its color reproduction really helped some scenes "pop".

 
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AkG

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Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results

Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results


In a perfect world either every monitor would come factory calibrated to perfection or every single consumer would own a decent colorimeter. We don’t live in such a world and as such most consumers simply use the old Mark 1 Mod 0 eyeball to fix any imperfections with the stock colors of their new monitor.

In order to gauge how easy this is to do for a given monitor we have included a new set of tests. These tests will be carried out before any of our standard tests and will consist of us using a combination of the free online LCD Monitor Test Images (found here LCD monitor test images) and then if necessary the free Hex2Bit Monitor Calibration Wizard (found here Hex2Bit - Software by Mike Walters). The goal of these tests is to not only gauge how easy it is to accurately calibrate a given monitor using only the onboard monitor tools, but to see how closely we can come to what a Spyder3 Elite can do.


To obtain these results we did the following
- used “standard” mode
- adjusted the brightness to 24 (which resulted in a 123.3cd/m2)
- All other settings left to default levels



While the PB278Q may not start out with the most accurate color profile or contrast, the OSD can be used to tweak it towards some semblance of perfection. This is actually quite an easy process once you get a hang of the somewhat complicated menu system and with a few modifications, this monitor can really shine in every area.

In order to begin moving towards accuracy, we strongly recommend starting with the gamma. The next thing to adjust would be the brightness level since straight out of the box, ASUS' monitor outputs far too much light for most environments. Once the gamma and brightness level is close to being correct, adjusting the individual colors will be a lot easier. We found it took only about 12 minutes to mostly correct for the terrible out of the box colors.

Overall this is certainly not the fastest monitor to manually adjust take the time and you will reap the rewards. Just remember that several of the PB278Q's closest competitors have near-perfect default colors or allow for quicker access to menu items.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


In many ways the PB278Q is a perfectly capable monitor with a ton of potential should someone be willing to properly calibrate it. The effort has been made to provide enthusiasts with a drool worthy blend of performance, resolution and size but ultimately ASUS’ latest effort represents a somewhat disappointing blend of missed opportunities and unrealized potential.

The long list of input options and intuitive OSD will make connecting and using this monitor rather easy. The synthetic tests also showed that the panel itself has plenty going for it with a decent contrast ratio and good color gamut. Granted, it will take a while to dial in those visually “perfect” settings but once that is done, the PB278Q can compete with some of the best monitors currently available.

Based on some of the synthetic test results, we know that the PB278Q's panel is good in certain situations, yet it seems like ASUS made some missteps. Under no circumstance should a panel with such poor uniformity make it through the QA process for a $700 product. We normally overlook uniformity in our generalized overview since it can vary from one panel to the next (the same can be said in this situation) but reading through forums and retailer product pages reveals this issue to be quite prevalent. If ASUS had simply ensured the panel was even remotely uniform, or had taken the effort to calibrate settings like their competitors, they could have avoided this overly disappointing out-of-box experience. Luckily, fast-paced games and movies didn't highlight the uniformity issue. It will however be noticed when photo editing or using a word processing program.

Then there’s ASUS’ inclusion of a glossy screen coating. Even in a moderately lit room the amount of glare and reflections coming off the panel can be extremely annoying. From our experiences with its blown out color profile and reflective surfaces, the PB278Q initially seems to be targeted towards the Best Buy crowd rather than its intended enthusiast niche. However, as with many items, the glossy versus non-glossy argument generally boils down to personal preference.

Thankfully, the PB278Q does have an ace up its sleeve: superior gaming abilities. Not only is it less expensive than Samsung’s SyncMaster 27A850 but in darkened environments the two monitors are evenly matched in terms of latency, input lag and motion clarity. That’s high praise for ASUS since up until now we considered the 27A850 to be one of the best gaming-grade high resolution monitors available.

Unfortunately, the PB278Q is unable to compete against the slightly more expensive Dell UltraSharp U2713HM in terms of overall value. Unlike ASUS, Dell factory calibrates their monitor's colors to ensure a correct initial profile. Even the extensive input options of the PB278Q are matched by the U2713 and Dell ups the ante with USB 3.0 capabilities, an excellent anti-glare coating, better panel uniformity and a comprehensive zero bright pixel guarantee. This devastating left-right-left combination leaves the ASUS PB278Q’s status battered and bruised outside of gaming and overall cost scenarios.

Thankfully, unlike what Hollywood would lead you to believe, there can be more than one winner. The victor here is neither Samsung, Dell, ASUS nor any other manufacturer. Rather, this battle between the market’s display titans ultimately benefits the consumer. Having another good option like ASUS’ PB278Q in the $700 price range will be a boon for you and I since selection breeds competition, innovation and (hopefully) lower prices. However, the ASUS PB278Q clearly shows that manufacturers are going to have to bring their "A" game if they want to compete in this marketplace. All is not lost though. If ASUS is able the lower their price by a fraction or other competing options loose their current rebates, the PB278Q would be a great option for budget constrained consumers who aren't willing to settle for TN monitors, and can dedicate TLC and patience towards calibration.
 
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