I looked at a lot of screens to find out
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
If theres one product category that still often sees genuine technological advancements at CES, its screens and these days, PC monitors in particular. As someone who enjoys looking at nice displays, Im always down to check out some even nicer ones, and CES 2020 brought us some of the fastest, brightest, largest, and curviest monitors ever.
The question, though, is when Ill actually be moved to buy one. A couple years ago I wrote about how monitor shopping sucked through the lens of my quest to find one that checked off all my boxes. Its harder than you might think! And Im still pretty much happy with what I have.
Thats why I spent one day at CES specifically tracking down as many monitor firsts as I possibly could, in an attempt to gauge the value of all the brand-new features that might push a prospective buyer to snap up a new screen. Heres my take on how important each one is.
The ROG Swift 360Hz monitor, at left, coming later this year.
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge
Faster screens at 360Hz
Asus introduced the ROG Swift 360Hz G-Sync monitor at CES, setting a brand-new bar for high refresh rates. Now, I am a huge proponent of VRR (variable refresh rate) technology, and made it a priority when buying my own 165Hz monitor years ago. Theoretically, the faster refresh rate lets players respond even faster than before. That said, 240Hz monitors are already a thing, and I think you hit diminishing returns pretty sharply unless youre a pro League of Legends player.
Asus had the new 360Hz monitor set up next to a 240Hz model, scrolling through the same MOBA battlefield at high speed. And honestly, I didnt know which was which until I noticed the frame rate counter in the corner of each screen. After that, I felt like I could just about tell the difference, but I might have been kidding myself.
Put this one down in the cool that it exists, but you almost certainly dont need it column. Especially if youre considering laptops, which now have optional 300Hz screens, but havent yet gotten a powerful new wave of mobile GPUs to drive them.
Acers 32-inch ROG Swift PG32UQX. Not pictured: the Acer Predator X32 that meets the same spec.
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge
Very bright HDR screens with Mini LED backlights
Between unreliable software support and displays that arent quite up to the task, HDR on Windows has been kind of a mess for years. VESAs DisplayHDR certifications were meant to help sort things out, but now there are lots of 400-nit HDR-certified monitors in the market that dont produce brightness levels anything like what youd expect from a good HDR TV set.
This year at CES, however, Asus and Acer both announced some of the very first monitors with eye-searing 1,440-nit brightness and support for the DisplayHDR 1400 standard along with Mini LED backlights, which are supposed to offer more accurate local dimming in addition to providing that brightness boost. And yeah, after looking at them in person, I would say that this is legit PC HDR. Its not perfect you still get a degree of typical IPS glow on dark screens, and the Mini LED dimming isnt going to compete with OLED. But for most games and movies, these displays look great.
If I were buying a gaming monitor today, I would probably at least want to future-proof myself with HDR support, and I think that would probably mean considering a high DisplayHDR spec to be essential. As for Mini LED, its hard to say how much of a leap forward it represents the effectiveness of LED dimming solutions can vary from model to model or panel to panel. But if nothing else, it should signal that youre looking at a monitor with serious HDR support.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
More curved than ever with 1000R curvature
Both Samsung and MSI introduced what appear to be the first monitors with screen curvatures of 1000R, which is a measurement I admit I have never heard of, but supposedly replicates the human eye. Samsungs are available in 27, 32, and 32:9 49-inch sizes, while MSIs is a 21:9 34-inch model.
Ive never really been a curved monitor guy. I have been a 21:9 monitor guy, though never at such gigantic sizes. I dont really think the extra curvature will be much of a bonus for monitors designed for regular desks. But if you do like curved monitors, you probably already know whether youd like yours to curve even more.
Its like youre sitting inside the screen
I did, however, think that the curvature was pretty novel on Samsungs gigantic 49-inch 5120 x 1440 Odyssey G9, a monitor so wide that it truly does benefit from 1000R, up from 1800R for previous monitors. When I sat in front of it, I tried to imagine what itd be like if it curved less, and itd just involve pushing the edges of the screen further away from my eyes. The combination of shape and size makes you feel like youre sitting inside the screen its honestly a cool experience.
At least, it would have been if Samsung hadnt inexplicably decided to demonstrate it with Overwatch, a game that doesnt support ultra-wide aspect ratios at all. The 16:9 image was stretched across the display, and frankly it looked terrible. Though, I wonder what the sweeping vistas of Red Dead Redemption 2 would look like.
What I will say about 1000R curvature is that on this specific Samsung monitor, it is not a gimmick if you are okay with dropping what is almost certainly going to be an ungodly amount of money and probably refitting your entire home office at the same time. In other words, you probably shouldnt allow yourself to want it.
The Acer Predator X55, an OLED TV turned monitor.
Lots of PC companies are now offering gaming monitors in sizes more commonly associated with TVs, from Asus 43-inch VA panel to Acers new 55-inch OLED to HPs Nvidia-endorsed 65-inch LED display from last year.
I thought this was a cool idea when Nvidia introduced it a couple of years ago at CES blend the best features of TVs and gaming monitors into giant panels with simple interfaces. Obviously theyd be niche products, since most people arent going to build PC gaming dens around 65-inch screens, but it felt like a niche worth serving.
Things are a little different at this CES, though, because HDMI 2.1 is one of the big stories of the show. The new specification brings variable refresh rates at high resolutions to standard living room TVs for the first time, and itll work with next-gen game consoles as well as PCs. At this point, its hard to imagine who wouldnt be better served just buying an HDMI 2.1-compatible OLED TV instead of a PC monitor.
An awesome clamp stand
When writing about niche technology, I try not to write off potential use cases. I like to imagine who might possibly want a particular thing, even if it seems excessively specific to me at first. After all, we shouldnt encourage the tech industry only to cater for the most mainstream users imaginable.
Thats why Im including LGs new UltraFine Ergo monitor here, because you and I probably have no use for it, but I think the design is great anyway. It clamps onto the back of your desk, and then youre able to raise, lower, tilt, turn, or swivel the panel more or less however you want. One use case LG suggests is turning the monitor all the way around to show the person sat opposite you at work.
Would I buy it? No, because there are a bunch of things that I personally need a monitor to do that it doesnt. But I bet there are people out there who put ultimate flexibility at the top of their own list, and theyll probably be very happy with this.
Thats the thing about monitors. Theyre an unavoidably messy market with trade-offs in all directions. You cant really make a perfect one. But this CES has certainly got me thinking about my next upgrade.
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