Asus ROG Strix XG438Q 43″ Evaluate: A Huge 4K 120Hz Gaming Monitor

Today we're testing Asus' latest large format gaming monitor, the ROG Strix XG438Q. We have seen 43-inch 4K monitors in the past, some of which are designed for gaming. You might even remember our test of the monstrous Philips Momentum 43 last year. However, the XG438Q combines several cool technologies in a single (huge) package.

We get a 43-inch 4K panel at 120 Hz. We get VA technology combined with DisplayHDR 600 certification and FreeSync 2 HDR support, so HDR is a function here. And we get 90% DCI-P3 coverage for fans with a wide color gamut. All in all a very decent range of functions.

This is not the type of ad that I want to use personally. I think 43 inches is a bit too big for a monitor at a typical desk distance. But I can understand why others might like it. The display is so large that it dominates your field of vision, which is great for games. As a reference, it is about 20% wider than a 34-inch Ultrawide and at the same time significantly larger. It has a pixel density similar to that of a 27-inch 1440p monitor. So if you increase the size at 4K to 43 inches, you can use a lot more screen space, which could be beneficial for a 4x grid with 1080p inputs with the screen, for example, in picture-in-picture mode.

You definitely want to be a fan of a big screen because this thing dominates your desk almost a meter wide. For games, we think it would be even better if the monitor were curved so that the expansive edges would only be a little better in your field of vision, but regardless of when you sit in front of this thing, you won't really see anything else.

In terms of design, the front (surprise) is the entire screen. The bezels aren't particularly small when you stand them against a modern 27-inch monitor. However, since the screen is so massive, this doesn't seem to be a problem. The wide metal legs support the monitor well, although given the size, there is of course only tilt adjustment plus VESA mounting support. I couldn't imagine how difficult it would be to incorporate height adjustability into a 33 pound monitor.

From the back, the thing looks like a television. There's a massive Asus ROG logo, some vents, and patterns that normally go with a ROG monitor design. Surprisingly, the monitor itself does not contain any RGB elements. However, you do get this RGB Aura Sync ROG logo projector accessory that you can attach to the back if you want.

The ROG Strix XG438Q has four display inputs, three HDMI 2.0 ports and a single DisplayPort 1.4. If you want to use the monitor with a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz at 4 KB, you must use DisplayPort as HDMI only supports up to 60 Hz.

And since we're at the limits of DisplayPort without display stream compression, there are some minor tradeoffs to get 120 Hz in some situations. You get full 8-bit support up to 120 Hz, so there are no problems with SDR content here. However, if you want to use 10-bit HDR, you are limited to 60 Hz. 10-bit at 100 or 120 Hz requires chroma subsampling. However, nothing prevents you from using HDR in conjunction with 8-bit color depth, and in previous tests it was very difficult to tell the difference between 8-bit and 10-bit HDR anyway given this type of panel native 8-bit panel.

For other I / O we have some audio jacks and a USB 3.0 hub. The built-in speakers work well for a monitor and are much better than average if this is important to you.

The screen display can be controlled in three ways: by changing the direction on the back, the supplied remote control or via the software utility from Asus. Here you will find all the usual things like cheat crosshairs, shadow enhancement modes, timers etc. One of the big omissions may be a backlight strobe mode, which Asus usually calls ELMB, although this usually applies to higher refresh indicators at 144 Hz or higher.

Before we look at some other aspects of performance, let's talk about how this monitor deals with fine details. It is a 4K display that is large enough to be used with its native resolution without scaling to a standard distance. Therefore, it should handle text and other fine details well. Unfortunately not, and that is due to the sub-pixel layout.

Here are two images side by side showing how the XG438Q handles text alongside an IPS monitor with a similar pixel density. The XG438Q runs in SDR mode at 4K 120 Hz via DisplayPort. However, since this is a problem with the panel itself, it doesn't matter what configuration you are in. From these pictures you can clearly see that the text is sharper and clearer the IPS monitor compared to the XG438Q.

If we zoom in more, we can see why this is the case. The IPS monitor uses a standard RGB sub-pixel layout that your operating system expects and plans when rendering text. The Asus XG438Q uses a rarer BGR layout, which even modern operating systems cannot really handle. Using ClearType in Windows can help alleviate the problem somewhat. We ran the utility for the images shown here. However, it can never be fully resolved, leaving only slightly blurry and strange-looking text. If Asus had rotated the panel 180 degrees to bring it to RGB, this would not have been a problem.

How big is the problem in practice? For games, it's not a big deal at all. With larger fonts, this is also not a big problem. So if you use a scale of 150% or higher, the problem tends to go away. However, if you want to use this as a productivity monitor in its native resolution scale, you might be bothered by the BGR layout.

performance

Continue with other aspects of the monitor, starting with the response times. This is a VA panel, so we don't expect miracles. When using the standard overdrive mode, level 3, the dark level is heavily smeared. An average of 19.62 ms for dark transitions is not great, and the overall average of gray to gray of 10.03 ms is also not great. However, overshoot is well managed in this mode. So let's push things up a bit.

Level 4 improves the overall average to 8.7 ms and the error rate is still manageable, with only 10% of the transitions showing more than 15% overshoot. However, smearing on a dark level is still a big problem here. We can go up to level 5, which significantly improves response performance, but at the expense of an average error rate of 35%, which is huge. I would only recommend using this mode if you love inverse ghosting. There are levels below 3 that you can use, but each step is even slower so we won't bother to cover them here.

When using the optimal level 4 overdrive mode at 120 Hz and comparing it to other displays, the XG438Q is generally slow. The best VA panels that we tested can be seen with an average in the range of 4.5 to 6.5 ms, which means that 8.70 ms is at the worse end of the scale.

This is reinforced by an average value of 18.31 ms for the dark level. This is the slowest result we have recorded. This indicates that this monitor has the worst dark level of the seven VA panels we tested. An average of 10 ms is not surprising for some of the better monitors. So at 18 ms you will notice it.

Adherence to the update rate is also mediocre: only 65% ​​of all transitions approach the 8.33 ms window, which is required for real 120 Hz. It is the dark performance that affects this display because brighter transitions are much faster and are slightly within 120 Hz. And with this optimal overdrive mode, the error rate is pretty normal, so inverse ghosting is not a big problem.

If you want to use this display at 60 Hz, you should use level 3 overdrive mode, which is very similar to level 4 performance at 120 Hz. An average of 8.8 ms is fine here, but again an average of 15.91 ms is a problem.

Again, the entry delay is not surprising. A result of 9.75 ms in our tests indicates that there is a processing delay of approximately 4.5 ms. Not terrible, not amazing. For a 120 Hz monitor we might want a slightly faster input delay, but on the other hand it is roughly the same as the Acer Predator X34.

As for color performance, a couple of quick notes before we go into it. The XG438Q supports 90% DCI-P3 coverage, but there is no sRGB switcher, so the standard colors are oversaturated. Local backlighting for dimming is enabled by default, which affects performance. Due to the small number of zones – there are only eight peripheral lighting zones – the haloing for desktop use is very striking. I would normally only enable local dimming for HDR content, but it is enabled by default. So let's see how it works.

Standard color performance

When testing the display against the sRGB standard, the start in grayscale starts rocky. While the hue is fine and a CCT average of 6123 K is only slightly warm, the gamma curve of about 2.4 is far from the sRGB standard, and a DeltaE average of 3.13 is out of the precise range we usually like to see the one below is 2.0.

If we turn to saturation performance, the most noticeable problem with performance here is the yellow: they are miles away and cut off at the top for some bizarre reason. This results in an overall DeltaE average of 3.71 and we get oversaturated due to the wide bandwidth. It is no surprise that ColorChecker performs similarly: A DeltaE average of 3.584 is again not as accurate as I would like it to be.

However, when compared to others in its standard configuration, this monitor falls into the typical gaming monitor zone where DeltaEs are between 3.0 and 4.0.

If you want more accurate performance, dynamic backlighting is the most important feature to turn off. This seems to be impacting gamma performance, and to me it looks pretty crappy for use with SDR content or desktop apps. I also made some slight changes to the color temperature for my device and of course switched overdrive mode to level 4, as we noticed earlier.

With these changes, we see fairly significant improvements in grayscale performance. The DeltaE average is as firm as the compliance with the sRGB gamma curve. This is a really strong result that is achieved without a full calibration. Unfortunately, the yellow issue is not resolved, so the color performance in our other tests is still pretty poor.

OSD optimized color performance

To make things beautiful and accurate, you need to do a full calibration that fixes issues like the strange yellow performance and allows you to get sRGB-accurate colors for general use. It is not a perfect result, as you will see here from the ColorChecker test, which ideally does not test colors with a DeltaE above 2.0. However, this is fine for a gaming monitor.

Calibrated color performance

The monitor is also pretty accurate when calibrated for the performance of the D65-P3. There is a little clipping at the top because the coverage of the color gamut is only 90% instead of 100%. However, this is to be expected. If you like a bit of oversaturation and vivid colors, this is a great monitor for you.

The brightness in SDR mode is excellent and is 474 nits. The native contrast ratio is also very good. Therefore, do not disable dynamic backlighting for SDR use as you will still get a contrast ratio of over 4000: 1 after calibration. And the calibration does not primarily have a significant impact on the contrast ratio, so we do not further compromise native panel performance when looking for deep blacks.

Unfortunately, the uniformity is poor. This was the same problem with the Philips Momentum 43: with such a large panel, uniformity problems are difficult to prevent and easy to spot. In this monitor, the bottom third of the panel is turned off compared to the rest, at least for our test device, and there is also noticeable vignetting. You won't notice this when playing, but it can be annoying when surfing the web with large areas of the same color.

HDR is also a great feature. Asus promotes DisplayHDR 600 compliance, which is slightly lower than the DisplayHDR 1000 compliance we've seen from previous 4K 60Hz monitors of this size, but still promising for those who want HDR functionality. What we get here falls into the semi-HDR category. The brightness is good enough, peaking at 600 nits and persistent, as is the color performance, which easily achieves 90% DCI-P3 coverage. However, the lack of a full array local dimming backlight, with Asus choosing only 8 edge-lit dimming zones instead, prevents you from getting the full high-contrast experience expected from real HDR.

The HDR brightness is good and reaches 660 nits, regardless of whether it is sustained or lightning fast. With small window sizes, the drop drops only slightly to around 550 nits. While monitors with a high number of zones tend to increase the brightness as the window size decreases, this is reversed for monitors with a low number of zones. Fortunately, the decline here is only slight.

The contrast is very good because the dynamic backlight almost turns off the backlight when a solid black image is displayed. This leads to a very high best case contrast ratio. When looking at the single image contrast, which is the cornerstone of HDR, the backlit backlight can only achieve a best case ratio of 20,000: 1, which is below the ideal ratio of 50,000: 1 or higher. So we get about a five times higher contrast ratio than the native one, but due to the small number of zones, the monitor can only meet this kind of ratios in large blocks.

In the worst case, the XG438Q performs well in our HDR contrast test due to a very high native contrast ratio of 4,000: 1. Although we don't go beyond the native contrast here, it surpasses the Asus PG35VQ with its FALD backlight. This is because the PG35VQ has much better zone control, but has a lower native contrast ratio and the FALD backlight is only suitable for an additional 1500: 1 in this test.

It is good?

I have two thoughts on the Asus XG438Q. It is a large monitor, supports 4K at 120 Hz and is suitable for HDR in certain scenarios. Most other 43-inch monitors were only 60 Hz capable at the time, so the XG438Q is unique in this regard and offers something better for gamers.

However, it is fair to say that there are some achievements. The BGR sub-pixel layout has been a problem for other 43-inch monitors, and it is upside down again, resulting in poor text rendering at 100% resolution. The response time performance is below average with particularly poor smearing of the dark. And while the monitor does a good grayscale accuracy when disabling the dynamic backlight, there are some peculiarities of color performance as well as poor uniformity.

We would not normally recommend this type of monitor, but it is also the only option for high-update games at this size. Although performance is only average, it will be better for games than 4K 60Hz equivalents simply because it has a higher refresh rate, provided you can use it. If you don't have a sufficiently powerful GPU or gaming isn't a use case for you, choose a 43-inch 60 Hz IPS monitor instead.

The ROG Strix XG438Q is brand new and its prices have yet to be set in stone. We estimate that you will get around 1,200 euros back in Europe and 1,100 US dollars in the United States. In other words, you pay a premium for 120 Hz support. Duplicate payments are not uncommon to get high refresh rates. Ideally, however, a $ 1,000 monitor should perform better in most ways, which the XG438Q doesn't quite achieve. However, this isn't the first time we've encountered issues with a 43-inch 4K VA panel, so we're not going to blame Asus. Instead, it seems to be as good as possible for panels of the current generation of this size, which are clearly not as popular at the moment as some of the more sophisticated smaller sizes.

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