The Holy Grail of gaming has (finally) arrived.
Gamers have been waiting forever for a monitor to come along that offers the Holy Grail of gaming specs and features. Those specs include 4K resolution, support for High Dynamic Range (HDR), a refresh rate over 60Hz (144Hz, to be exact), and for Nvidia GPU owners, Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to boot. With the Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ, that exact monitor has finally arrived. (Asus formally announced it almost a year ago, but a series of delays pushed it back an entire year.) Good things come to those who wait, though those who wait must still pay the early adopter tax on this amount of new technology; $2,000 to be exact. Still, the big question is whether this next-gen monitor is actually worth the wait, and the cash. The short answer? Not really – not yet, at least.
Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ – Design and Features
The PG27UQ carries many of the same design elements of other monitors in the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) line. The circular metal stand, for instance, is very similar to the one found on the ultra-wide PG348Q. The two front-facing legs are nearly as wide as the display, which seems a bit unnecessary for a 27-inch monitor, but the gear-like copper accents look great.
The lighting is awesome but perhaps a bit much, as it includes a total of three ROG logos. First off, like previous ROG monitors, the PG27UQ beams a red ROG logo from the monitor’s neck down onto your desk. This time around, however, Asus improved it by including a small bag with replacement light filters – kind of cool if you want to add your own design. I’m not exactly sure how you’d make a design on it unless you have access to a laser cutter, but it’s a cool idea.
Not satisfied with a simple logo beamed onto your desk, Asus has added a second logo, and this one is projected at an angle from the top of the stand onto your wall so that it’s visible just above the screen. I’m not too jazzed on projecting corporate logos on my walls, but the one on top of the stand has a handy roll dial to turn it off and the one beaming down can also be shut off in the on-screen display (OSD).
Finally, since two logos just don’t make it clear which company made this monitor, there’s also another Asus ROG logo on the back that can be adjusted via the OSD to cycle through certain lighting effects, or conveniently synced with the lighting of your other Asus peripherals. There are a lot of lights going on here, but I have to admit that in a dark room the effects given off by the PG27UQ look mesmerizing.
While most display manufacturers are chasing thinner and thinner bezels these days, the PG27UQ is certainly an outlier in that regard. All four edges of the screen are surrounded by thick, black plastic. Granted, very few people will be using two of these pricey monitors side by side, but it’s a jarring look for a modern display, and especially for one with that costs this much.
While most display manufacturers are chasing thinner and thinner bezels these days, the PG27UQ is certainly an outlier in that regard.
Of course, bezels be damned, what everyone really cares about is what’s between them. The PG27UQ is one of two new monitors coming to market with brand-new panel technology (the other is Acer’s X27, and yes they both use the same panel). It’s a 27″ 4K “IPS-based” panel with Nvidia’s G-Sync variable frame rate technology and support for the HDR10 standard. The monitor also features an impressive 600 nits max brightness, which is more than double what’s typical these days, and it also uses 384 local dimming zones instead of a universal backlight.
*Takes deep breath*
This is also the first consumer monitor capable of displaying 97 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut, which is a wider gamut than the sRGB profile we’re all used to at this time. What’s more, the panel allows for a refresh rate up to 120Hz by default, or 144Hz when overclocked. Up until now, these kinds of refresh rates were not available in a 4K monitor, as refresh rates topped out at 60Hz. Obviously, this is a huge deal, but as I’ll discuss further below you’ll need a monster GPU (or two) to get anywhere close to those numbers in current high-spec games anytime soon.
The I/O options on the PG27UQ are surprisingly sparse. There’s a single DisplayPort 1.4, one HDMI 2.0 port, and two USB 3.0 ports in addition to a 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB 3.0 upstream port (for connecting the internal hub to your PC). These days, and for such an expensive monitor, I expected to see more USB ports, and their down-firing position on the underside of the monitor is aggravating, to say the least because they’re difficult to reach with things like USB drives.
HDR on the PG27UQ works with either the DisplayPort or HDMI connection, although the latter will limit your refresh rate to 98Hz. But, it’s important to note, HDR turns itself off automatically above 98Hz anyway. You read that right: the PG27UQ can only handle HDR up to 98Hz, despite its overclockable refresh rate of 144Hz.
The on-screen display is controlled with a well-designed set of buttons and a five-way joystick on back of the monitor. Navigating the menus is super simple and is one area where Asus has really come out ahead in their monitor designs.
Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ – Testing
As usual, I used the Lagom LCD test pages to get a better picture of the PG27UQ with regard to things like contrast, gamma, black levels, and response times. This being an HDR monitor, there are certainly visual differences when viewing HDR content, but I turned off HDR functionality in Windows to get a more accurate baseline reading with the non-HDR test pages provided by Lagom.
To start, the 1000:1 contrast works as expected on this IPS panel. Black tones are handled well and are easy to distinguish from one another even with the darkest tone against a black background. White saturation is decent, although the lightest tone is more difficult to pick out on a pure white background. Overall though, this IPS panel performs just as it should and puts out excellent colors and contrast in sRGB mode.
Gamma levels are a bit on the low side, according to the Lagom test page, landing somewhere just under the 2.0 mark even when the monitor’s gamma settings were at the 2.2 standard. Still, this is an exceptionally bright monitor (even more so with HDR engaged), and I never noticed any discernible gamma issues while gaming or otherwise. Asus lists the response time of the PG27UQ at 4ms gray-to-gray and my testing was consistent with those figures.
Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ – Gaming
PC gaming with HDR at 4k is a whole new world in terms of colors, lighting, and shadows. To put it bluntly, it’s absolutely beautiful. Playing a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with HDR is a jaw-dropping experience that every single PC gamer should see. It’s somewhat difficult to really put into words, but HDR-compatible games just look the way your mind thinks they’re supposed to look. If you think an exploding barrel and its subsequent fire effects look cool in 3840 x 2160 resolution, you should see it when the reflections of the flames are dancing off the walls around it, with the warm glow of the flames radiating from their source accurately. It’s amazing.
To put it bluntly, it’s absolutely beautiful.
That’s the good news, but there’s some bad news, too. I spent my time with the PG27UQ using an Asus GTX 1080 Ti, which is the most powerful non-Titan GPU available. Even with this flagship card, most modern games (which are the only games capable of HDR) ran at around 60 frames per second on high settings. Destiny 2 ran beautifully, and I was able to get it up to around 70fps many times. Far Cry 5 sat somewhere right below the 60fps mark, as did Battlefield 1 with both on high settings. That’s less than half of what this monitor is capable of displaying.
Running any of those games at lower graphical settings did offer some increases in performance, but I would call them marginal improvements. Generally speaking, even with this generation’s top-of-the-line Nvidia GPUs, that gilded nirvana of 120Hz 4K just isn’t in the cards yet. And frankly, I’m not entirely sure if the next-gen GPUs will get much closer, either.
Who knows, perhaps Nvidia will pull a rabbit out of its hat with its next-gen GPUs, but for now, there’s not a single video card that can run AAA games on this monitor at high settings over 100fps. You would need at least two GTX 1080 Ti or Titan cards for that (though I didn’t have a second GPU to test this, and am not a fan of SLI anyway as it’s not compatible with all games, and doesn’t offer a big enough boost in performance for the cost).
Of course, older non-HDR and less graphic-intensive games did fare better in the performance department from a frame rate perspective. I was able to hit the overclocked 144Hz rate in Fortnite, for example, but not without scaling its resolution down to 1920 x 1080, which looks absolutely horrible on this 4K display. I was able to get Crysis 3, a graphics-intensive game from 2013, to run around 80fps on the highest settings, and it looked fairly amazing.
The panel looks incredible when it’s displaying HDR-compatible content, including the hours I spent staring in awe at HDR videos on YouTube. But HDR itself is still a longs ways off from just working in the background as an afterthought. You’ll need to tweak the way Windows shows non-HDR content when HDR is activated with a slider, then when you load an HDR game there are sliders to move around in most games’ menus. And after all that, it will still occasionally freak out and colors looked weird when I returned to the desktop. I spent days trying to figure out a curious mouse cursor issue, only to discover that when HDR is enabled in Windows some mouse pointer schemes shift their colors and in essence are indistinguishable from the background. In short, it’s new technology and there are some kinks to work out.
The Asus ROG Swift PG27UQ retails for $1,999 and since it just came out, that’s what it will cost for the foreseeable future. The monitor is also only available for pre-order at this time.