Some people may not like this, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that in terms of product stack, market perception, user interaction and overall experience, ASUS (and in particular ROG) is second-to-none in the component side of the DIY PC business. From notebooks to motherboards, audio solutions to monitors – if there’s any one brand that could be said to be nailing the business of catering to the elusive “gamer”, it would have to be ROG and ASUS.
Here’s the thing though: every once in a while, the product you should really be looking for isn’t in the ROG family, but instead is in their designer or “Designo” range of products. This is most often especially true for monitors, smart devices and other, less overtly nerdy items. That’s not to say there aren’t ROG equivalent (or even superior) offerings, but that they sometimes offer a particular function and sensitivity for the target audience which isn’t as articulated in the ROG range.
An active example of this is the ASUS Designo Curve MX34VQ display. This isn’t going to be a super technical review as I don’t have access to the extensive equipment (scopes, colorimeters, etc.) that’re required to test such a monitor, but we’ll give it a go anyway. What you’re getting here is more of a look at the user experience, and you should view this editorial as such. If you want a more technical analysis, you should probably check out some other reviews.
After a week spent with this monitor, it’s helped me re-evaluate what I used to think would be the ideal display for me. For instance, I had no confidence in the notion of curved displays lending themselves to a more “immersive” experience, as they so often claim. ASUS and others who offer 1800R curvature monitors promise reduced image distortion (because light travelling from the edges and centre of the monitor to your eyes is kept relatively constant), but that isn’t what’s swayed me. It’s simply due to how the curve (and in particular the 1800R curve) draws you into whatever’s happening on-screen. This is especially true of first-person games. The worlds and spaces seem a lot larger, and as a result you’re drawn into the experience in a way that standard flat panels don’t do.
Of course, this isn’t unique to the MX34VQ and mostly holds true for competing monitors as well. However, combine that with the 21:9 aspect ratio and a high 100Hz signal frequency, and your view of the game world is transformed. I doubt it offers any advantage for competitive gamers (and if it did, it’d be blocked), but for people who game away from the competition space, it’s a brilliant display format.
Format alone wouldn’t make it a great monitor, and despite my newfound advocacy for this form factor, I believe that the lower resolution 2560×1080 displays are a waste of time. What you gain in terms of additional viewing space, you lose out on pixel density. So just because this particular configuration makes sense, don’t assume it’ll also be the case on another monitor with the same curvature and aspect ratio.
That aside, a large part (if not the most important part) of a display’s allure is in the actual image quality, and it’s obviously a huge draw for me, especially because I’m opposed to TN panels. Since this is an SVA (Super Vertical Alignment, with its origins in PVA technology) panel, you’ll get a little colour and contrast shifting, but it’s certainly something you can live with (I can, at least). That may not tell you much, but unless you’re specifically looking for it (i.e. if you move away from the normal angle range with which you use a monitor, into extreme angles), it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever notice it.
Compared to the VX24AH (another ASUS monitor I used, which is a budget IPS display in all aspects), the MX34VQ comes within striking range. The MX34VQ offers near-comparable colour reproduction, but better contrast. It’s perhaps testament to the tuning ASUS has performed on the monitor since the advent of these panels. It’s a difficult comparison to make, if only because of the high pixel density and the vivid nature of the colours on the VX24AH, but I’d say it’s close enough – and in fact, compared to an IPS panel of that class, the MX34VQ is a match and in some cases (it’s got deeper blacks, for instance), it’s actually more to my liking.
Compared to high-end “gaming” monitors, the MX34VQ’s colour reproduction is superior. It’s better than any TN panel I’ve seen, but I’d imagine proponents of gaming monitors will take exception to the higher pixel response times that’re typical of VA panels. To me, however, the claimed 4ms (gray to gray) is more than enough, and I’m sure that’ll be true for many others as well. I obviously can’t empirically test this response time, but I experienced minimal pixel trailing, far less than I’ve seen on all other panels I’ve used. For those who are adept competitive gamers or those with better eyes than mine, this 4ms response time (as opposed to the 1ms of high-end TN panels) could be an issue, but from where I’m sitting the 4ms is perfectly fine for gaming.
Of course, this ties into input lag, but again this will only matter to those who have the eyesight to notice – again, likely in the competitive space, where this aspect ratio and form factor is unlikely to do anything for them anyway. From my perspective, I’m happy with whatever input lag the MX34VQ may or may not have. From racing simulations to FPS games, the MX34VQ delivers, and is as fast as any monitor I’ve used – including those 1ms 1080p TN models.
The MX34VQ is, in many ways, a gaming monitor dressed in more casual, sensible clothing. There’s a similar ROG model with roughly the same specifications and G-SYNC functionality, but it isn’t the kind of monitor which has a design that will readily resonate with anyone over the age of 30.
By comparison, the MX34VQ is a toned-down display, which makes it both elegant and perhaps limiting as well. It’s elegant in that it’s a monitor you’d certainly not mind having in your living room, free from all sorts of pubescent LEDs, but its design is subsequently limited in terms of mounting and adjustment options. You can only tilt this monitor up and down. There’s no rotation, no height adjustment, and no VESA mounting options. It’s literally locked to its base which, while functional (in more ways than one), isn’t something others may want at the expense of height adjustment (for example).
In the monitor’s defence, this lack of adjustment options allows the base to work as a Qi wireless charger. Simply plop your phone in the centre and it’ll start charging. You’ll know your phone is charging at a glance via the built-in soft LED, which glows during charging. This light can be toggled on and off via the OSD menu.
Speaking of the OSD, most monitor menus are rubbish, but the interface on this model is intuitive and easy to navigate. Three buttons on the underside of the monitor are used for navigation. The button in the middle is essentially a small analogue stick, letting you enter and exit all the menus and sub-menus. You confirm all selections by pressing up on this button, and use the button on the right to cancel. On the left of these two is the power button. You’ll be configuring virtually everything using this OSD menu as there’s effectively no software for this monitor. It’s not an issue though, as there’s nothing that can’t be configured from within these menus.
These menus are where all the various ASUS technologies can be toggled, such as Trace Free, VividPIxel, SplendidPlus image profiles, and a heap of other tricks you can use to achieve your ideal picture quality. Of course, you can save a custom configuration as well.
A puzzling feature (and perhaps not a highlight feature for ASUS) is the fact that this monitor is FreeSync compatible. If you’re an AMD GPU user, this is a big plus and its support covers a wide scan frequency from 48Hz to 100Hz. That alone is worthy of an entire article, but suffice it to say the MX34VQ has so much going for it that adaptive sync doesn’t seem to be the most important selling point. You’d literally not know it’s even a feature unless you checked the bottom of the specs sheet, or found it coincidentally in your Radeon software.
Regardless of the GPU you connect to it, being able to use a 100Hz scan rate is enticing. Insofar as VA panels are concerned, around 100Hz seems to be the sweet-spot in terms of managing overdrive artifacts and getting a sufficiently updated display, which can reduce eye strain while offering smoother, more natural motion. I have to admit that I’m not one who’s moved by high-scan-rate monitors in the region of 144Hz and higher. The fact that the MX34VQ can offer me superior pixel quality is more important to me than pure pixel “speed”. That said, the 100Hz is a bonus and I do appreciate its inclusion. Motion on-screen is incredibly smooth, and playing games with sweeping vistas (especially the more artistically-inspired FPS games) is something to marvel at on the MX34VQ.
The entire package works exceptionally well. So much so that I might forgo a large UHD/4K monitor in favour of this one. Yes, not all content is 21:9 friendly, but when you do find the appropriate series, movies and games, it makes for a true cinematic experience, more so than a large 16:9 monitor would. Deadpool 2 on Blu-ray is one such movie.
If all the above isn’t enough, the MX34VQ happens to have a set of stereo speakers that go above and beyond what any other monitor I’ve come across can produce. Yes, there are some monitors with built-in subwoofers and the like (even ASUS offers these), but the sonic experience from these built-in speakers is surprisingly good. Not once did I imagine that monitor speakers would be capable of delivering such a usable sound, with distinct highs and a functional mid to low end. Usually these sorts of speakers are barely usable for anything beyond listening to speech, but with the MX34VQ, I ended up watching a few movies using just these speakers. This is on a PC with not only one or two, but three audio controllers, including a wonderful DAC (SupremeFX USB DAC from ROG Rampage V Extreme), a dedicated Creative Labs audio card, and on-board audio built around the Realtek S1220. I mention this because despite all these options at my disposal, the dual 8W speakers with Harman Kardon technology (it isn’t clear exactly what level of involvement they had with the eventual audio characteristics of this monitor) still delivers audio that’s actually usable – and that’s a first for me.
Overall, this may not be 2018’s quintessential monitor, but if you consider all the features along with the form factor, image quality and a host of other properties, it’s hard to beat.
For the most part, or at least for these ultra-wide monitors, the MX34VQ may be as good as it gets for now. It isn’t cheap by any measure, but it’s an amazing offering. It’s certainly a monitor to look into for those with a more refined taste and deep pockets. As far as I’m concerned, the ASUS MX34VQ deserves top honours, and gets a perfect score from me.