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ASUS VG278HE 27” 144Hz Gaming Monitor Review

AkG

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With its buttery smooth, ultra fast response rate ASUS’ original VG278H was built from the ground up to provide the best 3D gaming experience possible. However, while the VG278H is indeed a great turn key solution for consumers interested in 3D gaming through NVIDIA’s 3D Vision technology, it isn’t a great general purpose monitor. For numerous reasons, not everyone likes 3D and even gamers don’t necessarily consider this technology important enough to overlook some of the rather glaring shortcomings it possesses. Unfortunately, every 3D Vision certified monitor has –up to this point at least- boasted relatively low resolution and a fairly narrow color gamut due to the use of TN panels. This and an asking price higher than some 27” IPS-equipped monitors tended to limit the VG278H’s appeal.

It may have taken nearly a year, but ASUS have taken steps to correct these perceived shortcomings. Instead of upgrading the original VG278H, ASUS has instead opted to add a second VG278 model: the VG278HE. Much like with Dell’s U2713 and U2711 monitors, the 27”, 1080P VG27HE is not a direct replacement for the VG278H. Rather, it is meant to coexist alongside its older sibling, with each monitor focusing in on a slightly different consumer niche. The original VG278H is geared towards satisfying the needs of the highly discerning 3D PC gaming enthusiast and comes equipped with an NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 kit. Meanwhile the new VG278HE model has been designed to meet the needs of the 2D PC gaming enthusiast. To do this ASUS has improved upon the VG278’s 2D PC gaming abilities by giving this new version an impressive 144Hz refresh rate.

Further helping to distinguish the two models is the asking price of the new VG278HE. Instead of having an online average cost higher than some 2560x1440 IPS based 27” monitors, the VG278HE goes for $500, or about 20% less than the VG278H. However, the enhanced refresh rate and value does come at a price: the removal of the integrated 3D emitter and the omission of 3D Vision shutter glasses. This new monitor is still technically 3D capable, a stand-alone kit needs to be utilized in order to for gamers to use its stereoscopic capabilities. Hopefully this unique blend of attributes will allow the VG278HE to appeal to a wider audience and keep it from being as narrowly focused as the original VG278H.

 
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AkG

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Specificactions

Specifications


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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/VG278HE/spec1.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/VG278HE/spec3.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/VG278HE/spec4.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Asus VG278HE

A Closer Look at the Asus VG278HE


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While there are some minor physical differences between ASUS’ new VG278HE and the older VG278H, the only noticeable area of differentiation is the lack of a front 3D signal emitter. As a result, the VG278HE’s bezel has a more streamlined appearance. Nonetheless, this monitor still boasts a rather utilitarian look when viewed from afar and it will never pass as a piece of artwork like some of the ProArt series will. However, much like the VG278H, ASUS designers have done everything in their power to make the design as appealing to PC gaming enthusiasts as possible. With its glossy black finishes and curving lines the VG278HE looks good without making any overly bold statement.



As we have stated many times in the past, in an industry that is almost manically fixated on equating TN panels with “thin” it is always refreshing to come across a design which bucks the trend. The Asus VG278H does just that since the overall dimensions of this monitor are downright bulky by LED backlit totting monitor standards. Do gamers really care about something as trivial as panel thickness? We don’t think so. They will however care about the 144Hz refresh rate this panel boasts.


The front bezel may not have been upgraded from the VG278H but it still houses those excellent buttons located in the bottom right corner. Most manufactures are obsessed with great looking but buggy, clumsy and annoying “touch sensitive” buttons but ASUS once again bucked this trend by including a true interface. This means that even in a darkened environment, a gaming enthusiast will be able to tell by touch alone which button they are about to press or have pressed.


As expected, VG278HE’s stand is the same unit which accompanies ASUS’ VG278H. On the one hand it uses an extremely sturdy design that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is strong. It also has fairly good range of movement. The swivel goes for a full 300° (150° left and right), the tilt varies from +15° to -5° and the upright pole allows for about 100mm of height adjustment. Unfortunately, it still lacks any ability to rotate the screen from landscape to portrait mode.


While the VG278H could afford to have a merely decent selection of input options – by today’s standards – the VG278HE’s broader market focus but limited I/O connector selection could hinder its appeal. Unfortunately, neither USB 3.0 ports nor a DisplayPort input have been provided, which is disappointing for a $500 1080P monitor.

In grand total ASUS have included a 3.5mm stereo in and out jacks for getting sound out of the included pair of 3 watt speakers or to your headphones. A Dual-link DVI-D connector is also included alongside a HDMI 1.4 input and an analog D-Sub port.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations



As with the physical design, the VG278HE’s On Screen Display is not that much different that that of that of the new VG278H’s. This is one area ASUS has nailed on the head as controlling this monitor’s functions is extremely easy while the menu layout is quite intuitive. Everything is laid out in a simple and straightforward manner with all but a few advanced features within a single button press away. The only minor issue is the dedicated ‘Splendid’ shortcut button only allows you to choose between the various preset modes. To change something as basic as the brightness/contrast levels you will need to use the main menu as –unlike Dell’s monitors- no true quick access option is included.


The most noticeable feature is the included 3D adjustment options. While you will be unable to take advantage of any of the 3D centric settings they are present and accounted for but simply greyed out unless the optimal 3D sensor bar is attached.


Sadly, while there is fine grain control over 3D abilities most consumers will ever use, there aren’t any options for the more mundane, yet actually useful features most consumer want. 6 axis color correction wasn’t expected but more attention should have been paid to 2D image correction options. For example there is absolutely no control over gamma. Thankfully ASUS has given complete and independent control over Red, Green, and Blue as well as sharpness, contrast, saturation and even skin tone.


To help maximize the rather mediocre abilities in non-game related areas, ASUS includes six preset modes to choose from including Theatre, Game, sRGB, Scenery, Night and the typical Standard mode. This should give most consumers more than enough options but it doesn't completely make up for the near lack of fine grain controls you would expect in a monitor in this price range. To be fair, each mode does give end users 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 adequately.
 
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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: Standard
Brightness: 11%

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 the ASUS VG278H, we didn’t have high expectations for this new models’ overall performance. The reason for this is quite simple: due to the close proximity of the viewer in relation to the screen, the larger pixels of this panel result in less than crisp viewing experience compared to that of 2560x1440 monitors. The fact this is a TN based monitor and doesn’t use PLS or even e-IPS technology further hinders the VG278HE.

This monitor is also nowhere near as bright as the VG278H is. At maximum output it is only capable of 320cm/m2 or only about 2/3rds of what its sibling can push out. On the positive side our readings were slightly higher than its rating of 300cd/m2 but this reduction could limit the appeal of upgrading the VG278HE for stereoscopic 3D gaming. With polarized shutter glasses on, the panel looked washed out and murky.


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.


The original VG278H was not precisely 'uniform' by any stretch of the imagination and ASUS’ VG278HE certainly doesn’t do any better. Granted, a 22% variance across an admittedly large screen fits within our tolerances but there are much better panels out there for the money. We are unsure which is worse; the blatant dark spot or the obvious bright spot but both are noticeable, annoying and certainly doesn’t befit a $500 product.


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.



As with the uniformity test, the VG278HE is inferior to the original here as well. Interestingly enough, while the VG278H was slightly too low, this monitor was slightly too high. In either case, these results are much more tolerable and we truly doubt that most viewers – especially those in the intended gaming niche – will notice such a small variance of 0.09.
 
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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.



For a TN panel, the VG278HE's out of box color gamut isn't wide, but it should be more than adequate for its intended market niche. However, like many screens in this price range it can't hit all three corners and there is a slight blue shift cause by the LED backlight configuration.



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.



While the default colors are ever so slightly off, the results are still absolutely excellent. Granted, the factory default is not up to the level of some IPS based monitors, this is an area ASUS has obviously taken seriously. This actually puts most other TN panels to shame.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles /Maximum 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.



Much like the VG278H before it, ASUS’ VG278HE did surprise us with its above average off-viewing angle results. TN-based panels have never been known for their expansive viewing angles but this monitor does boast some of the best results we have seen from a TN based screen to date. It may not be able to compete against IPS panels – let alone PLS monitors – but the results are still very good. You will still experience some of the off-angle colour shift and contrast loss that’s normally associated with TN technology but the amount is rather minor compared to most.

For most scenarios PC gaming enthusiasts encounter there should be none of the perceptible image quality reduction that plagues most TN monitors. If you are the kind PC gaming enthusiast that dodges bullets in FPS games and “leans” into the corners when racing against competitors, this monitor is sure to please.


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.


For a TN based monitor these results are decent but not necessarily great. Once again we are not seeing much difference between the VG278H and the new VG278HE. This is impressive considering the VG278HE is quite a bit less expensive but we have a feeling that’s due to the lack of a complete 3D Vision kit. It does appear that in many regards ASUS upgraded this panel to make it the best 2D gaming monitor possible.

Unfortunately, if maximum contrast ratio in non-gaming scenarios is important, this may not be an optimal choice for you. Even a more frugally priced e-IPS based monitor will outperform the VG278HE in this regard.



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.


Since the VG278HE isn’t quite as bright as its predecessor, there should be no surprise here. When compared against CCFL backlit displays, this LED-based screen tends to shine but it also consumes more power than other TN-based alternatives.
 
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AkG

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Gaming & Movie Perforamnce

Gaming Performance



Providing an optimal gaming experience is entire raison d’être of ASUS’ VG278 line and we were simultaneously blown away and disappointed by the VG278HE in this area. On the one hand the amazing 144Hz refresh rate does result in an onscreen experience that’s smooth as silk. Ghosting and other negative issues associated with LCD gaming are simply a non-issue. The 1080P resolution also made it a lot easier to consistently hit 144 frames per second, something which would have been a lot harder with a higher resolution panel.


There are indeed many reasons to like the VG278HE in gaming scenarios. Under normal circumstances without any comparative testing, most gamers will absolutely love this monitor but when placed toe to toe against the competition, we found it lacking in several respects, even against the VG278H.


Both VG278 monitors use that easy to drive 1080P resolution and for 2D gaming scenarios this presents an Achilles heel for both monitors. Without 3D to wow us, the more we used the VG278HE in gaming scenarios the more it left us disappointed with its overall image quality. Even with Anti-Aliasing enabled and every other trick a GPU can throw at an image to make it more realistic, the fact still remains that this large 27” monitor has a rather low number of pixels for its size. 1080P is just not sufficient for a 27” monitor and the resulting dot-pitch ratio will make most onscreen images look unfocused and anything but crisp.


Refresh rate also needs to be discussed. While there is a noticeable difference in onscreen response times when comparing 60Hz to 120Hz, the same can’t be said about the move from 120Hz to the VG278HE’s stated 144Hz. While there may be an on-paper difference, 144Hz seems to be nothing but a fancy marketing bullet point. Plus, you’ll need one hell of a graphics card to keep up with these ultra high refresh rates.


On the positive side of things, the bright bottom corner and dark upper corner shown in the Uniformity tests were all but unnoticeable in most in-game scenarios. In dark or brightly lit portions of a game – especially cut scenes- these spots were slightly visible but the lack of panel uniformity is not as bad as it could have been.


Movie Performance



Like gaming scenarios, watching movies on the VG278HE display is a bit of a mixed bag. To its credit, a buttery smooth refresh rate makes for blur free images in even the most fast paced scenarios. Even sporting events are very enjoyable as the action and quick camera pans don’t feature any telltale ghosting which other monitors exhibit.


Unfortunately, once again the loss of 3D abilities is not made up for by a slightly faster panel. Good stereoscopic movies may be few and far between but in this respect, the VG278HE doesn’t distinguish itself from other 120Hz monitors on the market. Granted, it may show “144Hz” on its packaging but it will be impossible to tell the difference those 24 extra hertz make.


Without 3D to help distract viewers we’re once again left with decidedly sub-par resolution quality. While this panel is able to handle high definition movies in their native format without any up-converting, the rather large dot pitch can be annoying from time to time. This issue is easily resolved by simply sitting a few feet further away from the monitor but at normal viewing distances the blur free image has a tendency to actually highlight the rather grainy image the this monitor creates.
 
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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 13 (which resulted in a 128.3cd/m2)
- All other settings left to default levels




Much like the ASUS VG278H and Dell U2713HM, this monitor comes with a default color profile which is quite good to begin with. In all likelihood you will not need to adjust anything besides the brightness setting and the gamma levels.

Adjusting the monitor's brightness doesn't take long and the final result really will be a matter of personal preference. While we usually prefer a 120cd/m2 we found that having it slightly brighter made for a much better image in this case. Overall this portion took about 5 minutes. Adjusting the gamma did take slightly longer as it is not a feature built into the OSD, but within 10-12 minutes we did have a good looking –for a TN monitor – image.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


With its reasonable price, impressive response rate and easy to drive resolution there certainly is a lot to like about the new ASUS VG278HE. ASUS makes no apologies for its gamer-focused pedigree but there are some noteworthy speed bumps on its journey to become the monitor of choice for enthusiasts. Ultimately, its value for ASUS’ intended market niche will come down to priorities, what’s expected from a new $500 27” monitor and which sacrifices are acceptable to attain certain features.

In many ways, the VG278HE sets the stage perfectly for future generations of gaming monitors. Its 144Hz refresh rate delivers incredibly smooth motion performance in every conceivable scenario and its out-of-box color profile was surprisingly accurate for a TN-based monitor. ASUS is offering their customers high end refresh rate capabilities without tying them at the hip to an expensive and (for some users at least) unnecessary 3D Vision kit. We also appreciated the blissfully simple menu layout and the housing’s understated industrial design elements. For gamers that truly care about getting the best situational response times possible, this is the way to go.

Unfortunately, in order to keep pricing at palatable levels while living within the bounds of what is possible with today’s technology, ASUS had to stick with a 1080P panel that’s stretched over 27 diagonal inches. In most viewing scenarios this leads to an image which is anything but crisp unless the user is more than five feet away. That just doesn’t happen in PC gaming. There is simply no hiding the fact that ASUS’ monitor uses 44% less pixels than several similarly priced 27” 2560x1440 competitors. Granted, that ungodly high refresh rate is the main selling point here but the VG278HE may be a perfect example of why bigger isn’t always better.

The lower resolution screen actually serves as a double edged sword since it can be a great benefit to consumers looking for the smoothest PC gaming experience possible. If the resolution had been improved above the rather “easy” 1080P mark, ASUS would have been left with a monitor which few consumers could ever afford to properly run or even buy. Anyone interested in a sub $500 monitor simply doesn’t have the resources for the GPU setup needed to power a 2560x1440 monitor to even 120HZ, let alone 144Hz.

While a 3D Vision emitter can be added to the VG278HE, the loss of out of box stereoscopic capabilities does put a damper on some of our enthusiasm. Simply put, 3D gaming was what allowed us to overlook the image quality issue on the VG278H and a refresh rate of 144Hz is not enough of a replacement. Although the difference between 60 and 120 is noticeable, it seems 120Hz is the point of diminishing returns. Unless you have enough graphics horsepower to keep the average frame rate above 120 fps we truly doubt you will ever notice the difference between a refresh rate of 120 and 144.

If you are interested in a 3D capable, high resolution or even general purpose monitor the VG278HE will not be right for you. Its appeal all comes down to the sacrifices one is willing to make in order to get the best gaming experience available. Are you willing to put aside an integrated 3D emitter and compatible glasses for a monitor that’s less expensive than the VG278H but retains its core capabilities? If comments online are any indication, many are willing to do just that.

ASUS has built the VG278HE from the ground up to be the best budget orientated 27” 2D gaming monitor possible. In that regard, it is arguably a great success. Even if 1080P is an awfully low resolution for a 27” monitor and a 144Hz refresh rate is past the point of diminishing returns, the gaming experience is still top notch. As long as you understand the limitations and are comfortable with purchasing a rather narrowly focused monitor, the VG278HE will serve you well for years to come.


Pros:
- More reasonable price
- 144Hz refresh rate
- 3D options still available via optional upgrade kit
- Good sturdy stand
- Good default color profile


Cons:
- 1080p resolution
- Not precisely a uniform panel
- Not really a general purpose display
- Few will notice the difference between 120Hz and 144Hz refresh rate
 
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