4K, gaming and a tale of two monitors

Unlike most gadgets and peripherals, our computer monitors tend to stay with us for a good chunk of time. My current 23-incher has been with me since the days of my Palm Centro. So when it comes to shopping for a new display, it certainly pays to know what you want out of it. Are you heavily into gaming and need a monitor with crazy-high refresh rates? Would you rather have as big a screen as possible for all those windows you have open every day? I recently spent a month with two of AOC's latest models: a 24-incher with NVIDIA G-Sync support for serious gaming, and a 4K 28-inch display that puts a premium on pixels. Could either one convince me to let go of my trusty Viewsonic?


AOC monitor

It's hard to get worked up about monitor design, but AOC puts some solid effort into making the 24-inch G2460PG stand out. The bright green line running along the bottom bezel, and the matching cord organizer around the monitor's neck, should tell you this is meant for rec rooms and man caves more so than conference rooms and office cubicles.

Of course, the signature feature of this 24-inch, 1080p monitor is its support for NVIDIA's G-Sync tech. In short, G-Sync's meant to smooth out performance in games by offering V-sync's signature benefit (protection against screen tearing) while minimizing its main side effect (stuttering frame rates). It basically does this by getting the video card and monitor to better coordinate between when the GPU is done drawing a frame and when the display is ready to show it.

So, does it work? Provided you have a GPU that supports G-Sync, the answer is: Yeah, pretty much. You might not notice it working in every game, but there were certainly moments where having it enabled provided a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

In Tomb Raider, frame rates with my low-end GeForce GTX 750 Ti can fluctuate between buttery smooth and a jittery mess depending on what's on the screen at the time. Enabling G-Sync made a fairly dramatic difference, especially when making sudden turns in large caverns. Simply spinning in a circle (which certainly took Lara Croft's enemies by surprise) was enough to show a difference: With G-Sync off, the dips in frame rate were more noticeable, like a carousel with a sputtering engine. When flipped on, though, the spin became more fluid and even. It can't work miracles though. Crysis 3 still taxes my lowly card on the higher settings, and G-Sync can't increase your maximum FPS; it merely evens out what your card can currently do.

As for the monitor itself, you've got onboard USB 2.0/3.0 ports and a DisplayPort (required if you're using G-Sync). We're looking at a TN (Twisted Nematic) panel with a 1ms response time and a refresh rate that goes up to 144Hz. While those speedy specs make for a compelling gaming display, the G2460PG is less adept at other tasks, where color accuracy and viewing angles are more important. I couldn't use this as the main screen on my photography workstation, nor would I take my Saturn Aura drag racing -- that's not what either product is designed for.

At around $450, the G2460PG is priced similarly to the handful of other G-Sync monitors currently on the market. When it comes to everyday work, it doesn't have the color accuracy I need from a daily driver. But if I had the room –- and the budget –- for a dedicated gaming machine alongside my main desktop, I could see adding this to my office.


AOC monitor

If you're more interested in screen real estate than frame rates, AOC also offers the 28-inch 4K U2868PQU (about $550). While it clearly shares the same basic design roots as its gaming-focused sibling, its evident this is intended for "serious" work. No bright green racing stripe here; just tons of ports, some bottom-facing speakers and a lot of pixels. At 3,840 x 2,160, simply firing the monitor up made one thing abundantly clear: I needed to change my desktop wallpaper. What once was clear and sharp at 1080p was suddenly blurred and muddy, like a YouTube video that's not quite done buffering.

Indeed, the U2868PQU is incredibly sharp and its far more understated design lets the pixels do the talking. Around back, you can connect via VGA, DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort -- and, thankfully, you get those cables in the box as well. The speakers are nice to have, but they're not going to power your next get-together. And like its stablemate, the 28-incher rotates into portrait mode, though you'll need to tilt the screen back slightly to make room when you turn it, lest you bang the corner of the display into your desk. Of note: You haven't used HipChat until you've run it full-screen on a 28-inch, 4K display in portrait mode.

In daily use, I acclimated to the new resolution quickly. The screen's size and resolution made my day-to-day work feel more efficient. It was easy to bounce among open windows (Chrome, Word, File Explorer, Lightroom, etc.). And I certainly missed that luxury once I sent back the loaner unit and returned to my "lowly" 23-inch 1080p display.

Finding video content fit for a 4K display was a bit tricky, though YouTube's 2160p option certainly came in handy. Some of the 4K videos on GoPro's channel elicited their fair share of "oohs" and "ahhs" from houseguests.


Of the two, the 4K U2868PQU came closer to what I would need out of an everyday monitor, though it's certainly not perfect. On the downside, AOC managed to hit such a low price point for a 28-inch 4K monitor in part by going with a cheaper TN panel, rather than IPS. As such, viewing angles and color accuracy took a hit, and editing photos got a bit frustrating. Such drawbacks are easier to forgive on a gaming-centric display like the G2460PG, but less so on a more "professional" monitor. What should have been subtle color gradations in fabric came out as splotchy, watercolor-like smears. In short, if you want a large monitor with 4K resolution and color accuracy suitable for photo editing, you're going to have to spend a bit more. Dell, for instance, has a slightly smaller, IPS-based 27-incher with 4K resolution at $700.

In the end, while neither monitor could quite convince me to part ways with my 23-inch Viewsonic, they both fulfill their stated missions admirably. Gamers should be pleased with the G2460PG's fast performance, especially if they have the other hardware G-Sync requires. Those wanting for lots of space and pixels at a reasonable price should give the U2868PQU a look. As with any display, though, you'd be well-served to see one in person first -- after all, you're going to be staring at it for years to come.