The ASUS ProArt PA329Q – a beautiful weapon targeted at the high-end professional market

by on 12/05/2016

For the past few weeks we’ve had the opportunity to spend time with one of the latest professional screens from ASUS, the ProArt PA329Q model.

ASUS seem to be trying to corner the high-end monitor market, their product lines for the past two years clearly designed for top-end specs and design, and receiving excellent reviews, while the display market as a whole has tended to to only provide high-end specifications with caveats, or prohibitive prices.

If technical jargon tends to make you cross-eyed and you struggle to understand what certain monitor attributes even mean, let alone what their implications are in the market, you’re in luck. We’ll be detailing individual specifications and explaining what they are, and why they may (or may not) be relevant.

Let’s start with the specifications.

The display type is wide, with a diagonal of 32″ (81.28cm) and a horizontal-vertical ratio of 16: 9. An IPS panel is used featuring a 3840 × 2160 pixel resolution, also known as 4K or UHD.

These figures translate into a distance between pixels only 0.1845mm, which for an enthusiast may be a cause for extreme joy. Since we’re reviewing a PC monitor, the actual distance from which a user will use this screen is – say – 1 meter, at most 1.5m. If you want to get an idea of how clearly you can see the screen, imagine a 15.6″ laptop screen with a 1080p resolution, which would feature about the same pixel density.

Over the years I have been extremely frustrated by low resolution screens, not only because the virtual real estate on offer requires that you usually make use of only one window (oftentimes even in FullHD), but especially because anyone with decent vision can see the individual pixels. You know those ad prints of the sides of buses and coaches? The ones printed at a gauze-like resolution? Imagine working 8 hours a day or more looking at something like that.

If your colleague or manager wearing glasses featuring two diopters or more looked at you like a fool because they couldn’t understand what your problem was with a perfectly decent 24″ FHD screen is, the PA329Q might just save you.

Cyberspace's PA329Q

The virtual real estate offered by PA329Q allows real work in multiple windows simultaneously.

Such a size-to-resolution ratio results in plenty of on-screen space.

It allowed us to split the screen into four equal segments, greatly streamlining our work, because it eliminated the need to use multiple monitors in order to keep attention on information from multiple sources.

In photo editing, the advantage of being able to work on a large canvas without needing to zoom in and out is obvious; In 3D modeling, this offers a much enhanced level of precision. Another important thing to note is the extra space isn’t always only four times as much. 3D Studio Max, Photoshop, Maya or other professional tools tend to have very crowded UI’s, which add up to a large amount of pixel overhead in lower resolutions, leaving little space for the actual viewport – and if you’re working with multiple viewports, may God have mercy.

The color coverage of various popular market standards is, on paper, very impressive.

Masuratoarea acuratetii de culoare cu Spyder5Elite

The screen features a 10-bit IPS panel offering 1024 individual shades for each primary color represented by each pixel. When these primary colors combine, we get about 1 billion real different colors (or more precisely 1.0737 billion colors).

Why would we need such complexity? One of the simplest examples is grayscale color reproduction, for which all three primary color pixels must offer the same brightness value. An 8-bit panel can store 28th values and would therefore provide only 256 shades of gray in total, not enough to show a smooth gradient visibly breaking transitions, a phenomenon known simply as the banding.

The screen provides 100% coverage of the Rec. 709 color standard used in HD television, 100% of sRGB – the most popular color standard globally – used in photography, print, games, video and the Internet, 90% of DCI-P3 – the standard used in film, especially in the US and, incidentally, the second color standard adopted by Apple in their iPad Pro series of tablets.

PA329Q also supports the Rec. 2020 UHDTV industry standard, which is still in infancy but will replace FHD and HD TV in the coming years.

Finally, for the masochists who still prefer or are forced to use AdobeRGB, PA329Q offers 99.5% spectrum coverage as defined by this standard, according to specs.

GammaCorrection_demoThe ProArt PA329Q uses a 14-bit LUT (a.k.a. lookup table) for color information recalculation, compared to the 10 or 12 bits usually used by lower quality monitors.

It’s ok, I’ll tell you what it means, too. Even if the monitor is physically capable of displaying just a billion-something colors using 1024 individual shades of each primary color, that’s not the most effective way to display an optimal image, especially when you start dissecting that figure as we did in the grayscale gradient example above.

Here’s where we start mentioning Gamma and Gamma Correction – an important image encoding technique which makes sure that color selection and allocation is done based on the humans see light and color – not as computers do. This is because under normal light conditions, the human eye doesn’t see color differences linearly, but with a higher sensitivity towards the relative differences between dark and light shades – in other words, we are more sensitive to light than darkness.

If image reproduction fails to take Gamma into account, it is perfectly possible for an image to be assigned color coordinates that are imperceptible to the human eye, displaying an image that’s too dark or too bright. An easy to find example of this problem is often found on the Internet by those who watch pirated movies. The one who distributed the film often lacks the knowledge or equipment required in order to preserve the color characteristics of the source so as to encode the file in a way that compensates for Gamma properly – resulting in excessively dark scenes or light-less catacombs that are nonetheless as bright as if they were well illuminated. Check the attached picture for an example of the effect that Gamma correction has on a movie scene.

To get that Gamma correction, the monitor not only needs to be programmed right, it must be able to calculate optimal color selections across a spectrum human eyes are sensitive to. In order to do that, it’s rather important that it has a wide enough palette to choose from, and a wide enough range of shades it is capable of physically reproducing. That wide enough palette is achieved by use of the 14 bit Look-Up-Table, which offers 16,384 „virtual” color shades.

Not all these colors can actually be displayed by the monitor, but what this table allows the PA329Q to do, is calculate the color information in order to find an optimal selection of colors that adheres to the Gamma correction factor, and which is as near as possible to the shades that the monitor is physically capable of rendering. That final selection is picked out of a total of about 4.4 trillion colors. 

The PA329Q’s panel surface is non-glare (matte), so if extreme color is not an immediate need, you won’t need to ruin your eyes by shutting all the windows.

Coupled with a brightness of 350 nits, the screen should be able to be used easily on sunny days with open windows. I tell you from experience, that several years of work in dark environments are detrimental not only to one’s eye health, but emotional and physical health as well.

Working and living with plenty of natural light is very important for retaining healthy, powerful vision. I personally like being able to use 4K displays without scaling up images, without needing glasses after over two decades of near-constant computer use, and I don’t intend to lose this joy.

It’s a shame that the specifications provided by ASUS on the product page were clearly influenced by the marketing department – hopefully someday in the future engineers in the IT industry will learn to explain what makes their products great in ways that are suitable for marketing purposes as well. For example, it’s rather disconcerting that the Contrast specification only provides the 10,000,000:1 value of the ASUS Smart Contrast „feature”.

No, the 10,000,000:1 value is not real, but a marketing gimmick. The idea of using dynamic contrast for professional work is ridiculous, but just about everybody else in the industry started doing stupid things like this because there was a time when consumers chose screens based on their listed contrast value.

Because we are interested in real performance, we’ll actually test the contrast at different display settings (yes, providing just one number for contrast is so wildly insufficient you may as well ignore it entirely). We assume that the value is somewhere around 1000: 1 and will test the actual performance using a colorimeter.

Among the less important specs for this kind of monitor we can mention the 5 ms gray-to-gray response time (which is another horrible marketing strategy) and viewing angles of 178 degrees. These are less important because they are equally representative of actual performance as the ASCR feature is.

The monitor offers a lot of video options – some of which are more or less useful.

Optiunile SPLENDID

The OSD offers 8 video modes, under the title of SPLENDID Video Preset Modes – such as AdobeRGB, sRGB, Scenery, Reading, Darkroom etc.

There are also four color temperature selections, an adjustable Gamma feature with 4 steps (2.0 / 2.2 / 2.4 / 1.8) for different situations and a color adjustment feature using six axes (Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow – a.k.a R, G, B, C, M, Y).

The QuickFit modes are essentially a selection of real-life standard shapes – such as A4, B5, etc. – and offer a quck way to fit and picture an image, a function that we find very relevant and useful for print work.

QuickFit pentru A4

Finally, we find the Picture-in-Picture and VividPixel modes. VividPixel seems to be an interesting technology which „enhances” images that suffer from lack of detail – while I can’t think of an immediate application for this technology other than monitoring, I do suspect it might me helpful to someone out there, else it wouldn’t be offered.

I’ll also mention that the display’s frequency response is from 30 to 135 KHz horizontal and from 24 to 76Hz vertical, information which is of use in case you might need to work with custom resolutions and refresh rates.

The connectivity features on offer by the ProArt PA329Q are another aspect that really make this screen stand out as a professional display.

Asus ProArt PA329Q Porturi

4 HDMI 2.0, one DisplayPort and one mini-DisplayPort 1.2 ports handle the video input. There are also a 3.5″ input jack, a headphone output, a 9-in-1 card reader and a 5-port USB hub with USB 3.0 connectivity. Yes, five ports.

Asus ProArt PA329Q laterala

Regarding the card reader, it’s capable of reading SD cards up to 2TB in a variety of standards, including the new SD UHS-I v3.0. It is compatible with MMC and Memory Stick as well, (though the latter requires an additional adapter).

In all honesty, I have never in my life seen so many ports – in fact the display has more USB ports than almost all laptops I’ve used so far, which can only make me happy.

This monitor, coupled with a portable workstation such as a HP EliteBook or Dell Precision, or a discreet desktop PC can go a long way towards getting rid of the tangle of cables in a business office.

The PSU is inside the monitor and the power button is a hardware one. I’ll suppose I might as well briefly mention some unimportant details, such that the screen also offers two 3W speakers, that the weight is about 12.5Kg, and that it offers a Kensington lock.

The sound quality offered by the built-in speakers is pretty good – generally sounds are clear, although we can say that the volume is not great.

Mechanically, the screen may be tilted 5 degrees forward and 20 degrees back, it can be rotated 60 degrees in either direction and is able to pivot 90 degrees vertically. The display can be raised or lowered 13cm.

PA329Q este capabil sa pivoteze la 90 de grade

Power consumption is somewhat high but not overly so – over 60w at 100% brightness, around 40W at 50% brightness, and in working conditions customary for professional work (brightness of 120 nits), the average draw was around 30W.

Regarding the package, ProArt PA329Q comes prepared.

Accesoriile incluse in pachetul lui PA329Q

The monitor comes with a miniDP-to-DisplayPort cable, a cable for the USB hub, an HDMI cable, a manual, support CD and a pre-calibrated color report.

The stand comes already assembled as a single piece, eliminating the need to work with screws. The leg itself features a triangular hole in the middle – a familiar ASUS design element for easier cable management.

The screen connects to the stand in the most intuitive way imaginable – a VESA 100x100mm mount with an „eject” button for later disassembly. The hardware setup is one of the easiest we’ve encountered so far, and well appreciated given the weight. In case moving the screen from the stand to a wall is ever required, the process would only take a few seconds.

Butonul de eject al PA329Q

So I’ve talked about a lot of theory so far – it is time to do some actual testing. How much of the promotional material of the ProArt PA329Q is for real?

I used a colorimeter to test the factory settings, and see how good the color coverage is.

I was pleased to discover that, out-of-box, the display does indeed cover 100% of the sRGB and AdobeRGB spectrums. It is quite rare that a screen, even a dedicated professional high-end one, comes pre-calibrated to optimal performance. It is a very good sign – though not unique. In this price range there are some competitors featuring similar coverage.

The NTSC color spectrum is just a bit under perfect, covering 99% of the standard.

Fidelitatea de culoare fata de standardul NTSC

The brightness measured is extraordinary in the true notion of the word, recording 421 nits at 100%. At the default value of 50%, we recorded an actual brightness of almost 225 nits.

Do you remember I mentioned marketing-contrast? The Spyder5 tells the real story, showing values between 650: 1 and 780: 1 using the Standard preset, which is still generally better than most screens, and a perfectly reasonable value. But I suspect that everything below 1000: 1 is too low for marketing to feature, and therefore the actual figure is not provided on the official product . It does not matter, because only amateurs will use such a screen at the Standard preset.

Masuratori ale intensitatii de lumina, nivelelor de negru si implicit contrastului lui PA329Q la diferite trepte de lumina

A more useful measurement is made on the predefined SPLENDID modes – and this tells a very different story.

If you want or need high contrast, the Darkroom preset is capable of displaying images at a truly impressive contrast ratio of 2790:1.

ASUS PA329Q - Luminozitatea, nivelul de negru si contrastul masurate sub diferite preseturi

The Delta-E value – the difference between colors – is an important consideration when working with graphics and in this environment a value of 1 or less is ideal. With a measurement of 0.75, ProArt PA329Q is a leader in the field.

ASUS PA329Q - Acuratetea culorii

The recorded value for gamma is a bit imprecise at all predefined selections, recording a +0.1 deviation for all four presets.

Last last measurement – and a very important one – is about brightness uniformity. In general this is a weakness of ASUS monitors and PA329Q ProArt no exception.

ASUS PA329Q - Uniformitatea luminii la 100% inainte de ajustare

With a 17% drop in one corner and another 14% in the other, the brightness distribution is terribly bad. In gaming monitors this variation is not very important, but this is not a gaming monitor.

Brightness uniformity is very important for precise color work, because adjustments made to an image are made based on what the actual user sees, and with such variations in uniformity, it is possible that an image created on this monitor will look different in terms of color (especially around the corners) on another display.

If the story stopped here, it would have been sufficient reason to not recommend this display – fortunately ASUS engineers know what they’re doing and what the weakness of the PA329Q are, so they took this into account. The OSD features an option titled „Uniformity Compensation”. I enabled it and we measured again.

ASUS PA329Q - Uniformitatea luminii la 100% dupa ajustare

100% brightness now offered a much better result, with the greatest variation registering only 2.3% difference from the middle in the upper right corner, a level of so far seen only in even more expensive displays.

The 50% result is not quite as impressive, offering a variation of up to 6.3% in the upper left corner, but between 2% and 3% otherwise. Still a good value. So we can forgive ASUS that initial hiccup – keep in mind however that manual brightness control is disabled while the compensation feature is active.

ASUS PA329Q - Uniformitatea luminii masurata dupa activarea compensarii stralucirii, la 50% luminozitate

After those measurements I the calibrated display to see if the ProArt PA329Q has any other surprises to to show. In the last part of this review we’ll take a look at the post-calibration performance and offer our conclusion.

Post-calibration results were a bit interesting (just a little).

First of all, the color coverage remained unchanged. However, the calibration process resulted in lowering color accuracy, increasing the Delta-E to 1.12 – still low enough to be perfectly usable in graphics work though much less impressive than the default.

On the other hand, Gamma correction values after calibration are now perfect.

In conclusion, the ProArt PA329Q is another product ASUS have released to take over the high-end display market, this time in the professional niche.

That the display comes pre-calibrated is one point in favor. Another point in favor is represented by the excellent values delivered for critical specifications, such as color coverage, brightness and uniformity, contrast, and all those connectivity options.

Who am I kidding? The above features, along with the detailed menu settings, the ease of use and especially the truly useful functions make the ASUS ProArt PA329Q is a must buy in its niche and for its price, .

I’ve not talked much about Picture-in-Picture, but it is a useful feature, especially at 32″, the screen provides the ability to break the screen into four segments, supporting four simultaneous 1080P sources.

In any case, it is the best display I’ve yet had the pleasure of testing – hopefully ASUS won’t stop here.

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