Review by Adam Hourigan APP MPhotogI
More than ten years ago, when I started doing more of my photo work, I decided the 19” monitor I’d had for a while wasn’t cutting it. I had also heard about colour management and thought I should start taking it seriously.
I bought a recommend 24” IPS monitor for around $1300, and when it arrived, it was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. It dominated my desktop, and it took nearly a year to truly get used to how clear everything was, and how much better I could see.
Ten years on, with much better monitors out in the market, I decided I should pull the trigger and upgrade again. So when offered the chance to try the ASUS ProArt PA329Q 32” monitor, which promised 4k resolution and total colour accuracy at an affordable price, I was keen to see how it stood up to the more demanding tasks I had.
These days, 24” is a typical size, and having worked from home for the past six months due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, I’d even brought home the two 24” monitors I had from work to give me three monitors. Overkill? Maybe, but ever since I figured out additional monitors allow you to keep your email open on a separate window, it has improved my workflow endlessly. Do I really need a 32” monitor, with all that real estate?
The box arrived, and oh my god, it was enormous. Just as when I last upgraded, I was in awe of its sheer size. Thankfully, the two-part install for the monitor was a simple snap-in job, power goes in, and the supplied mini-DisplayPort cable fit right into my old graphics card.
Sitting in between my other two calibrated monitors, it still looked big at first install, and I was keen to check on ASUS’ claim that the monitors are colour-ready out of the box. A straight comparison revealed it to be true – although, like most monitors, the ASUS is quite bright, the colours were very similar to my other two – so that was a good start.
Straight away, though, I noticed the difference. ASUS claims 99.9% coverage of Adobe RGB and 100% of SRGB, and a quick trip into Photoshop showed the first difference. Firstly, it’s a 4K monitor, and the level of detail it provides is astounding. I have always been a bit wary of 4K monitors at a 24” inch size, as I feel like it’s hard to see into the details, but this looked like where it should be. The images are richly sharp and detailed, and suddenly, there was shadow detail where it has never been before.
I grabbed a calibrator to check on its accuracy, starting with a Spyder 5 and used its software which I was familiar with. I reduced the brightness to where I like to work – at about 100 nits, and it made some very minor tweaks and set it up in software. I felt like there was even more detail. It also showed me that comparatively my old monitors were only showing around 70% of the same detail- and that was instantly apparent.
ASUS provides hardware calibration as well, and after connecting the monitor via USB cable, and installing a few drivers – some of which were a little tricky to find on the website – I gave it a go again using the Spyder 5, and it produced a very similar result. The advantage of the hardware calibration is that it can be saved to a preset within the monitor. I’ll get to why that’s a good thing shortly.
The interface of the monitor is straightforward, and hidden behind a slim bezel was a surprising find of a tiny joystick to navigate through the menus – a good idea once you get used to which way to push.
Back to the display itself, I loaded up more images, and again and again, I was impressed by the sharpness the 4K resolution shows, and some of the “errors” it really shows up. If you’re over sharpening your images, you will see it here, and the extreme resolution can exacerbate some shortcuts you may have taken in the past. Word of warning: this monitor is so crisp, it shows up the many crimes which websites commit in over-sharpening images for what they assume is still a mostly 1080p audience, and it might take you a while to get used to how bad some pages may look. This look is something they will hopefully grow out of once 4K becomes more of a standard across the board, and is not the monitor’s fault at all.
Back to work and writing, now fully calibrated and sized, the monitor was a joy to behold. There was so much room I found myself running windows not maximised, and had multiple things open without feeling like they were being restricted.
My third monitor was now almost superfluous, and I found it allowed me to be more centrally focused and not have to turn to look between different monitors. It’s a small thing, but if you do it 100 times a day, you’ll appreciate it.
The ASUS ProArt is a comfortable monitor to look at from close range. After several weeks of use, it no longer looks “big”, but feels comfortable and very easy to look at, especially when typing constant amounts of text. I don’t know how I would ever go back to 24” to be honest, without squinting for a while.
Of course, we’re not all about hard work, and while I’m not a hardcore gamer, I don’t mind blowing off some steam. A problem emerges from the fact that my graphics card is quite old, and was struggling to keep up with newer games even at the old 1080p resolution. It can’t quite cut it at 4k, and this should be a consideration for anyone looking at any monitor this big. The card also doesn’t support later HDMI standards or 10-bit colour displays, so I’m probably not even seeing the full potential of the monitor – but I’m encouraged to do so.
Thankfully, the monitor can scale the much lower resolution I can play at well, with only minimal noticeable jagging in the huge upscale it’s being forced to do. For the casual gamer, however, it would be fine.
The games I could play at 4K? Oh my goodness. They were amazing. The monitor is again clean, crisp and keeps up with the motion of a pinball simulator I have and it looks stunning and provides a precursor of what a 4K future will look like and a realisation that this monitor will make it look fine. Streaming content such as Netflix and movies all follow the same pattern and provide a clear, crisp viewing experience.
There’s one more thing which is a bonus: All the connections into the monitor give it excellent expandability. The card reader is in a handy spot and works quickly via USB 3.0. There are also an extra 5 USB 3.0 ports which provide an accessible place to plug things in.
Connectivity-wise, with full-size and mini-DisplayPort as well as four HDMI ports, there’s the possibility for plugging in not just any computer you want, but perhaps also a sneaky games console, a cheap TV box, or even an AppleTV-type device. And here’s where the hardware calibration preset comes in. Sure, you want to edit your photos in complete colour-accuracy, but games or movies? Make them bold and sharp and colourful please, and you can put that preset right next-door and switch straight away. It makes the monitor more than handy for anyone who wants to create a little entertainment hub in their office space.
With the ASUS monitor priced at under $2000, I’m reminded I paid almost as much money for a monitor which had a vastly inferior feature set and offering, and provided not as much future-proofing as this one does, and I kept it for ten years. There are more expensive monitors out there which give an ultimate high-end experience. However, I still felt like this is a well-positioned monitor for those who want not just to dabble into each feature-set, whether it’s 4k resolution, colour accuracy or expandability, but have a reliable standing in all of them.
The fact it feels so familiar on my desktop after such a short time means that it’s a useful addition to anyone’s workflow. Whether you’re looking to make your photos look better, be more efficient in word-processing or work from one central monitor, it will be hard to look at my old 24” in the same way ever again.
For further information on ASUS Displays: https://www.asus.com/au/ProArt/Displays-Home/
Adam Hourigan has worked as a photojournalist for the past 25 years at a regional daily in northern NSW. He also ran a small wedding and portrait business.
He has won numerous awards including the 2014 Walkley Prize for Regional Photojournalism, and is a Master with 1 Gold Bar with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography – winning highest scoring portrait print at the 2015 Australian Professional Photography Awards.