The new Asus PA32UC-K has an average price of 2714 dollars. This 32 inch 4K monitor has this hefty price tag for a reason; it is one of the first monitors on the market with finely meshed local dimming. By being able to independently control the brightness of different zones in the backlight, the monitor promises to deliver one of the best HDR experiences to date.
A big promise for PC monitors is still high dynamic range, hdr. A wider range of colours, more colour nuances, greater maximum brightness and higher contrast should take the display to a higher level when it is combined with suitable source material. Although we have already seen a number of hdr-capable monitors this year, the colour quality of those models does not equal that of a good hdr television. A wide colour range or more shades of colour are not the problem, the required maximum peak brightness and contrast are.
Current PC monitors are all based on an LCD-panel. The inherent limitation of this technique is the lower contrast, which is a problem for achieving convincing hdr. When you place a bright backlight behind the panel, the highlights might be very bright, but this only means that the black value is too high in dark areas.
The solution, as it is implemented on the more expensive LCD television models, is a form of local dimming: dividing the backlight into several zones that can be controlled independently of each other. This means that bright objects and deep blacks can still exist side by side in one image. The more zones there are, the more convincing the effect. While cheaper LCD televisions have but a few zones that can be dimmed independently, for the most expensive devices the backlight consists of hundreds of lights.
With local dimming for hdr
A few hdr monitors that are available on the market - the ultra-wide Samsung C49HG90 is a good example - already have local dimming to improve the hdr display. It doesn't work very accurately with that monitor: there are only a few independently controllable zones. We have seen some monitors at trade fairs, often intended for gaming, which do have accurate local dimming with hundreds of zones, comparable to the most expensive LCD televisions. Despite promises that the products should soon be on the market, we have not seen any of these products. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty of implementing local dimming without producing additional input lag while doing so.
With the ProArt PA32UC-K, Asus is now the first manufacturer to take the step and release a monitor that is intended to bring hdr for PC monitors to a higher level. The 32" 4K screen has the same Ultra HD Premium certificate as the better hdr televisions. A device may only use this certificate if it can reproduce at least 90 percent of the wide DCI-P3 color range, with a peak brightness of at least 1,000 nits. This makes the PA32UC-K much brighter on paper than any other hdr monitor we have seen so far. In addition, the backlight of the PA32UC-K is divided into 384 independently dimmable zones, again something we have never seen before on a monitor. This should allow the monitor to achieve the required black value.
Unlike the gaming monitors mentioned above, the PA32UC-K is part of Asus' ProArt series, positioned for graphic professionals. Perhaps this is why this monitor has already reached the stores: a low input lag is not so important for this purpose.
As with other professional graphic design monitors, the LCD panel is an ips-model. This is striking for the monitor that must be able to display hdr-images properly: high contrast is traditionally not a strong point of the ips-technique. Lcd televisions with good hdr support generally use a more contrast rich va-panel. The test results will have to show whether local dimming of the PA32UC-K still offers convincing hdr quality.
Priced for the early adopter
With its unusual specifications and professional target audience, the Asus PA32UC-K is by no means cheap. As an early adopter of new techniques, you always pay a premium, which in the case of this new Asus model amounts to a total of about 2714 dollars. By way of comparison, the LG 32UD99, the first 4K hdr monitor on the market at the end of last year, is now two and a half times cheaper. If you make a comparison with monitors for graphic designers, the price of this Asus is comparable to brands such as Eizo and NEC, which traditionally form the top end of the monitor market. The competing products of these brands are also often less expensive.
You could ask yourself to what extent hdr is already relevant to the average image processor or video editor. If you want to see a preview of hdr material during editing, you could, for example, do so on an hdr-capable television. For more than two thousand euros, you don't have to search long to find an hdr-capable model, which you can also calibrate to a very high degree of colour fidelity. On the other hand, a television does not offer the options that we find on monitors for graphic designers. The interesting thing about the PA32UC-K is that it promises to combine both: features we expect from a screen for graphic designers, and proper hdr support as its unique selling point.
The Asus PA32UC-K offers an interesting insight into the future of PC monitors. Like more expensive televisions, the monitor has a finely meshed form of local dimming, which increases the contrast considerably. Its high brightness and wide colour range also make it one of the best hdr monitors available today. However, as an early adopter you will have to deal with a number of rough edges, and the price of the device is also considerable.
- LCD panel with moderate native contrast value
- Ugly sharpening in sRGB that cannot be turned off makes this mode unusable
- High price
- Phenomenal contrast value with local dimming
- Very high maximum brightness in hdr-mode
- Excellent uniformity of white
- Includes colorimeter and calibration software for hardware correction