Living with a high-DPI screen
With the prices of high-resolution panels trending downward and the availability of adaptive-sync monitors increasing rapidly, this may be the year that I finally replace my 1080p monitor. Reviewing the Aorus x3 gave me the opportunity to play with a 3200x1800 panel and find out what working with a high-DPI screen is like.
This high-density panel isn't really meant to be run at its native resolution. Instead, with Windows scaling on, it's supposed to provide smoother-looking text (as Apple does with its Retina displays). It's also an IPS panel, meaning that it offers superior colors and viewing angles compared to TN screens. The only thing that I found myself missing about my regular monitor is its size. A 14" screen makes for a portable notebook, but it's not as immersive as the 24" screen that I've become used to.
I should give some credit to Aorus for shipping the machine with an appropriate Windows scaling factor turned on. From the moment I first turned on the Aorus X3, the taskbar and desktop icons were appropriately sized and text was clearly readable. For example, I didn't find myself zooming in much when browsing in Firefox. Not everything worked correctly right out of the box, however. Here's a snippet from our beloved home page in two different browsers:
While Aorus may be doing its part to provide users with a seamless experience with a high-resolution display, I can't say the same about software developers. While I was happy with Firefox, for example, Chrome doesn't look as good at 3200x1800. From my two screenshots, you can see that Firefox makes better use of the screen. It displays eight items in our news feed without scrolling down, compared to five in Chrome, and it does so without sacrificing readability. I ran across occasional problems in other applications as well. Here's a picture of one of the worst offenders:
Inside a number of applications, I found menus and interfaces that were almost too small to read. Bending over and squinting to look for the play button makes me feel like an old man in need of bifocals. I wouldn't call the inconsistency in scaling behavior a dealbreaker for high-resolution displays, but it is a reminder that the industry in general is still transitioning to support QHD and 4K screens.
Subjective impressions are one thing, but we put the X3 Plus' screen under the scrutinizing eye of a colorimeter to get an idea of its accuracy and consistency. We used a Datacolor Spyder4 Elite and its bundled software to perform our testing, along with the free-and-open-source DisplayCal (formerly dispcalgui) and HFCR tools to fill in some holes in the Datacolor software.
Out of the box, the X3 Plus v5's screen is a bit too cold, and it's also somewhat inaccurate. DisplayCal's pre-calibration report indicates a roughly 7000K white point, and its gamma is a not-particularly-accurate 1.9 compared to the 2.2 gamma we want with sRGB.
After calibration, the X3 Plus' screen comes into near-perfect conformance with the sRGB gamut. Datacolor's utility says the screen covers 100% of the sRGB gamut, while DisplayCal claims 98% coverage. We don't think most people will be able to see that minor difference.
The graph above gives a little more insight as to where the Aorus' screen is most and least accurate. Blues seem to give the display the most trouble. All told, though, the screen's average delta-E is just 1.2. We'd consider any average dE below three to be a good result.
The gray ramp above suggests the X3 Plus' display has trouble with grayscale accuracy, though, a problem that's echoed somewhat in the delta-E figures above. Instead of a flat line near 6500K, the gray ramp graph is all over the place as we approach pure white.
Even after calibration, the X3 Plus' gamma doesn't quite track the ideal 2.2 curve we want.
The X3 Plus' brightness and contrast figures are good, if not outstanding. At the 50% brightness setting, the display's white level is about 123 cd/m2 at the center of the screen, and our colorimeter measured a 330:1 contrast ratio. Cranking the display up to 100% shows a maximum brightness of 243 cd/m2.
As you can see in the four pictures of the X3 Plus v5's screen above, the IPS screen offers viewing angles that are more than good enough. The screen does undergo some color shifts when viewed at the most extreme angles, but that's hardly a flaw when you consider that anything on-screen will be barely visible at those angles anyway.
Datacolor's luminance uniformity tests reveal a distressing flaw in the X3 Plus' screen, though. Going by our results, there's about a 40% drop in brightness from the top of the screen to its bottom. That's far worse uniformity than we'd expect from the screen in a $2200 laptop. The falloff manifests as a sort of dirtiness on pure white or gray backgrounds like you'd see in Photoshop and Windows Explorer, though it's less noticeable in "real-world" scenarios like pictures and games. Picky media professionals will want to seek out a different laptop or plug in an external monitor.
Aorus doesn't specify a gray-to-gray response time for the X3 Plus' display, but that figure is important for a gaming monitor. We don't have the necessary gear to check gray-to-gray response time at TR, but the folks at Notebookcheck do, and they measured a 47.2ms black-to-white response time and a 52.4ms gray-to-gray response time for the X3 Plus' screen. Those numbers might be typical for a notebook screen, but they're an order of magnitude greater than the 4ms response times we're used to from IPS displays on the desktop.
To see just what kind of effect these response times have in practice, we rigged up a pursuit camera in tandem with the Blur Busters motion test. In the photo above, you can see just how much smear is evident on the X3 Plus v5's screen. This blur is quite visible to the naked eye. It can be pretty distracting, especially on scrolling webpages and high-contrast edges in games.
Whether that blurriness will bother you depends on the games you like to play. In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and other fast-twitch shooters, the X3 Plus v5's screen feels a bit like treading through mud. Input in those titles feels frustratingly laggy. Less-twitchy games like Grand Theft Auto V aren't so bothersome to play on this machine, but some smearing is still evident if you're looking for it.
Given the X3 Plus v5's price tag, it's also annoying that Nvidia's mobile G-Sync tech isn't included, either. As it happens, G-Sync and Optimus can't coexist in notebooks right now, so this omission isn't Aorus' fault. Even so, the 3200x1800 native resolution of this display can be tough for the GeForce GTX 970M to drive smoothly, so the feature would be nice to have. Even at 1920x1080, G-Sync would be a useful safety net for graphically intense games that aren't running at or above 60 FPS all the time.
All told, the X3 Plus v5's display is something of a letdown. Content creators won't appreciate the considerable change in brightness from the top to the bottom of the display, and gamers will probably notice its slow response time. The screen does offer accurate colors and great viewing angles, but those are just two requirements that a good display needs to meet.