HDR is a damp squib right now, but the AOC AGON AG322QC4 impresses in virtually every other department
- Great contrast levels
- Solid colour accuracy
- Sturdy, feature-filled design
- HDR has limited impact
- Remote control is awful
- Review Price: £380
- 32in VA panel
- 2560 x 1440 resolution
- 144Hz refresh rate
- AMD FreeSync
- 1 x DisplayPort, 2 x HDMI
- 4ms response time
What is the AOC AGON AG322QC4?
The latest monitor to emerge from AOC’s AGON gaming brand isn’t cheap – £380 is a lot to spend on a screen. The AGON attempts to justify its price by offering plenty of features.
But I’m a little concerned that this screen loads up on the extras while forgetting about image quality. Let’s see what happens when I deploy the benchmarks.
AOC AGON AG322QC4 – HDR
The AGON’s biggest selling point is HDR – a feature that’s usually the preserve of pricey TVs. It uses a beefed-up backlight in order to ramp up brightness and deliver deeper, more impactful contrast and punchier colours, as well as greater detail.
It’s fantastic news for movies and games; any media where extra depth and vibrancy will be welcomed.
Get closer to the AG322QC4, however, and you’ll see that its HDR comes with a significant caveat. This particular panel can be sold as an HDR screen because it meets a display standard called VESA DisplayHDR 400 – one of the more modest HDR protocols around at the moment.
While this means the AOC has the capability to handle HDR-optimised content, it only requires that compatible screens have a backlight capable of a 400-nit brightness level.
That’s a solid brightness measurement, of course, but it isn’t much higher than many non-HDR gaming panels. It’s also a long way short of, admittedly, pricier HDR TVs; they have backlights that regularly top out at 1000 nits and contrast levels that rise to around 10,000:1.
The AOC’s VA screen and 400-nit backlight work together to deliver a claimed contrast ratio of 3000:1 – which is okay, but still some way short of what “true” HDR products manage.
The AGON’s relatively undemanding HDR standard does keep the cost down, but it also means that the AG322QC4 won’t do a transformative job of rendering HDR content. It will be better compared to non-HDR screens, but the improvement will be subtle.
Remember, too, that HDR is a technology with its best days ahead of it. Right now, it’s slim pickings in terms of the HDR content available. It’s supported by only a few games – including Hitman, Battlefield 1, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Forza Horizon 4 – and Windows 10 support is patchy. The situation will improve, of course, but it will take time.
The AOC isn’t the only panel in this relatively murky HDR situation. The ViewSonic XG2340C also has a VA screen, a backlight that promises a 3000:1 contrast ratio and the same relatively underwhelming issue with HDR. Both screens go further than many rival gaming panels, especially those made from IPS or TN technology, but neither is a “true” HDR offering. Putting that to one side, what else does the AOC AGON AG322QC4.
AOC AGON AG322QC4 – Design and features
Elsewhere, the AOC’s specification sits comfortably alongside the ViewSonic XG2340C. It includes support for AMD’s FreeSync variable refresh rate tech that peaks at 144Hz. It’s also FreeSync 2, which means it supports HDR content, and performance is better with regards to input lag.
Up until now, having an AMD FreeSync monitor meant that you’d need an AMD graphics card. This isn’t the case anymore – Nvidia has seen the tide turning, therefore enabling FreeSync support on its own graphics cards via a driver update. That’s a huge boost to FreeSync, and it gives gamers much more freedom when picking a panel.
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Regardless of which GPU company you use, FreeSync bears a little consideration. Take that peak refresh rate of 144Hz: while it results in butter-smooth gaming, it also means that you’ll need to have a GPU that’s capable of playing your chosen games beyond 100fps and at the screen’s native resolution of 2560 x 1440.
If you’re an eSports gamer then you won’t need a particularly beefy GPU to get games to beyond 100fps. But if you run the latest and most demanding single-player games then you’ll need significantly more powerful, and more expensive, graphics hardware.
The AGON is a curved screen with the usual 1800R radius, which is ideal for making games more immersive. The panel itself adopts VA technology, which should make for impressive contrast and rapid response times. It’s an 8-bit screen, so colours will be sufficient for gaming and movies, but there won’t be enough depth for colour-sensitive photo or design work.
The 32-inch diagonal combines with the 2560 x 1440 resolution for a density level of 92ppi. That’s more than enough for crisp gaming and movie-watching, and it matches the ViewSonic XG3240C. However, sharper panels are available: a 27-inch screen with a 1440p resolution ramps the density up to 109ppi, while 4K screens will obviously be even more detailed.
The AOC has a 4ms response time – a middling figure, and 1ms down on the ViewSonic. Both figures are fine for most games and gamers, but particularly keen eSports players will want a 1ms screen.
AOC has the usual slim bezels around three of its edges, and a row of lights on the bottom. More lighting can be found across the metal plate at the rear of the screen. That’s good for adding atmosphere, but it’s disappointing that the light only cycles through red, blue and green – other screens with lighting tend to offer the freedom of RGB LEDs.
At the rear you’ll find two HDMI 2.0 ports, a single DisplayPort 1.2 connector and a D-SUB socket. A fine selection, and you also get two USB 3.0 ports, two speakers and a headphone jack. There’s also a handle and a headphone hook.
Build quality is excellent throughout, and the physical design is imposing. As well as the band of metal on the rear and the lights across the bottom of the screen, you get a metal base with tall, curved legs.
And, for once, the bombastic design doesn’t come at the expense of versatility. There’s 110mm of height adjustment, side-to-side swivelling and screen tilting. It’s VESA 100 compatible, and the AOC weighs a reasonable 6.6kg.
The AOC is much better looking than the ViewSonic, which looks staid and cheap. Elsewhere when it comes to physical features, there’s very little between the two monitors.
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AOC AGON AG322QC4 – OSD and Setup
It’s easy enough to put the AOC together. The base attaches with a single screw and the stand snaps into the back of the panel without the need for tools.
Try to use the AOC’s on-screen display, however, and you’ll encounter this screen’s worst feature: the remote control to adjust the menus.
It’s a great idea in theory – using a remote control can be far more intuitive than reaching around the back of the panel for some tiny buttons or a flimsy joystick.
In practice, though, the AOC’s system is awful. The remote’s eight buttons are arranged in two vertical banks, but their position bears a patchy resemblance to the on-screen prompts – which results in plenty of confusion.
The four directional arrows are separated strangely, and their ambiguous design makes it tricky to tell which is which. Annoyingly, the selection methods that are displayed on-screen often change as you navigate the menus. The Menu and OK commands are forced to share a button for no clear reason.
It’s all the more disappointing when you considered that the remote control isn’t small – there’s easily enough room for separate Menu and OK buttons, and a more coherent and conventional D-pad.
The OSD itself is fine, with the usual options in the usual places. It’s just a shame that it has to be navigated using the truly terrible remote control – and that this great idea wasn’t executed with any real degree of competence.
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AOC AGON AG322QC4 – Image quality
The AGON’s benchmark performance is mixed. Take its measured brightness level of 322 nits. When stacked up against most gaming screens, this is excellent – and better than the ViewSonic XG3240C’s 249 nits, even if both panels have ample brightness for day-to-day use.
The AGON combines that brightness level with a black measurement of 0.12 nits. That’s another excellent score, and they create a measured contrast ratio of 2683:1. That’s about level with the ViewSonic, and is a great result. Games and movies displayed in the screen’s normal modes will look deep and rich, with absorbing dark areas and plenty of vibrancy in all of the right spots.
However, that contrast result is a little short of AOC’s quoted 3000:1 figure, and this screen’s brightness can’t quite meet the 400-nit level demanded by its HDR standard.
In short, HDR content will look good on this screen, but the difference when compared to normal content will be subtle rather than revolutionary.
The AOC’s colour results are solid, but the ViewSonic has it beat here. Its average Delta E of 1.84 is impressive, for instance, but the ViewSonic scored an average Delta E of 0.09. The AOC’s colour temperature of 7101K is a little bluer, but not enough to cause issues – but the ViewSonic was basically on the nose with a score of 6490K, just a hair off of the 6500K ideal.
Ordinarily, I’d say that the AOC is good but the ViewSonic is a little better, however, the ViewSonic’s always-on HDR option means that its colours were always a little oversaturated. On the AOC, it’s possible to switch between HDR and non-HDR colour gamuts, so it doesn’t suffer the same issue. For that reason, and because of its still-solid benchmark results, I prefer the AOC’s colours.
The AOC handled the sRGB colour gamut with a coverage level of 99.8% – a near-perfect result. However, HDR content uses the DCI-P3 gamut, and the AOC displayed only 85.3% of that range – 5% less than the ViewSonic. That’s a minor issue, but not a terminal problem given the AOC’s modest HDR implementation.
The rest of the AOC’s benchmarks are reasonable. Most of the screen’s segments only had a single-figure backlight deviation, which is good enough to not be noticeable during games and movies. The 11.8ms input lag time is easily decent for any kind of gaming, including eSports.
There are three gaming modes, designed for RTS, FPS and racing games. However, all of them ruin the colour temperature and accuracy and have a poor impact on contrast. Stick with the default settings or your own minor tweaks – the image will be far better.
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Why buy the AOC AGON AG322QC4?
The AOC’s headline feature may be HDR, but the AG322QC4 isn’t necessarily worth buying if that’s what you’re looking for in a new monitor.
This screen’s entry-level HDR standard means that relevant content will only look a little better when compared to normal screens. A lack of HDR content available right now means I’d wait until more has been released. By then, a greater number of HDR screens will come to market, and they’ll be cheaper and more capable.
Look beyond HDR, though, and there’s plenty to like about the AG322QC4. Its contrast, brightness and black levels are all excellent, and uniformity is solid. Colours are great, and the diagonal and resolution are fine for reasonably crisp gaming. In short, this screen has ample quality for gaming and movies.
It’s impressive physically, too: sturdy and versatile, with lots of features. The on-screen display is a misstep, but beyond initial setup, you’re unlikely to have to reach for that awful remote control often.
AOC’s screen is a little cheaper than the ViewSonic with comparable image quality, a generous amount of features and more outlandish gaming looks. Ignore its iffy HDR and you’ll find that the AG322QC4 is an excellent option if you’re after a large gaming screen with features and quality to spare.
AOC’s headline feature may be HDR, but it’s too subtle to be the main consideration. Look beyond that and the AOC is enticing: contrast is high, image quality is consistently good, and it’s packed with features. If you’re wanting a large, versatile and impressive gaming screen, then this is one to consider.