In the space of 12 months, PC gaming went from 4K gaming being an aspiration to deciding whether or not you want real-time ray tracing. And while that transition has been going on, ultrawide monitors have slowly been getting better and better — not just in terms of quality, but in terms of value too.
It’s hard to find something as transformative as ultrawide monitors. You can have large 4K screens, or enormous TVs. But the sheer size doesn’t actually give you that extra perspective or field of view the way an ultrawide screen does. And you don’t need to have an absurd 49-inch ultrawide monitor for that extra immersion or perspective.
Good, large ultrawide screens are available now for a decent price. And they’re not slouching on the specs either. I’ve had some time with MSI’s latest foray into the ultrawide sector, the $1279 MSI Optix MPG341CQR 144Hz gaming screen. Unlike older ultrawide models, the Optix MPG341CQR has a 1ms VA screen, with a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz.
That’s a nice improvement from the 100Hz in last year’s MAG341CQ model. 144Hz is a great sweet spot — it’s high enough that newer gaming PCs should have no troubles keeping pace, especially with the RX 6000 and RTX 3000 GPUs that just launched this year. But the 144Hz should also be good for those who casually enjoy shooters like PUBG, Call of Duty, Apex Legends or other battle royales where a wider field of view offers a significant tactical advantage. Having the faster 1ms VA panel will be a huge benefit in shooters, too.
MSI’s monitors have been gaining a lot of ground in Australia and other countries over the last couple of years, and it’s not hard to see why. A combination of aggressive pricing, decent panels, excellent out of the box calibration, not going overboard on the curved screens, and sensible no frills design are basically all the things anyone would ever ask for in a monitor.
In the last 12 months, MSI has begun expanding their IPS offering, although a lot of their bang for buck options in Australia are all based on VA panels. That’s the case with the MPG341CQR too: it’s a 1ms VA screen, meaning that you won’t have as good colour reproduction as an IPS screen.
But at $1279 — which is a decent price for a monitor this well-rounded — you’re getting a pretty good mix of benefits.
Of course, the MPG341CQR does have its drawbacks. It’s a 2019 panel, which means you can forget about things like proper HDR support. The monitor touts DisplayHDR 400 support, but as I’ve noted in previous posts, HDR 400 is effectively worthless. Even the upcoming generation of HDR 600 monitors have really struggled to deliver a good HDR gaming experience, and the MAG341CQ doesn’t really cut the mustard on this front.
There’s also a little bit of black smearing, which is par for the course with VA-based panels. MSI’s screen isn’t the same kind of next-gen VA panel as what Samsung used in their Odyssey series. But the MPG341CQR — like MSI’s 27-inch smaller VA panel MAG272CQR earlier this year — is fast enough that most people won’t have a problem with this.
Speaking of response times, it’s worth pointing out: Yes, the monitor is sold as an 1ms screen. But in reality you’ll get the best picture quality using the Faster mode instead of Fastest, which slows down the response a fraction. But only a fraction — it was just as good for gaming as the value for money MSI screen I tested earlier this year, if not a little better.
I also love how good MSI’s factory calibration has been. Everyone should spend some time fine tuning their monitors for their environment, but the reality is most gamers don’t. So monitors that are solid out of the box are always going to get a tick in my book, and MSI has consistently been very good on this front.
The 34-inch ultrawide was nice and even without any oversaturation or particular tint. The 105% support of the sRGB range is good for gaming. Professional content creators would probably want a different screen with better DCI-P3 reproduction, but if you’re in that boat then you’d probably want an IPS screen instead.
MSI’s other bells and whistles apply here too. The monitor chassis design is solid, and accessing all the ports at the back isn’t a hassle at all. There’s an RGB strip at the front if that’s your thing, and the monitor’s on-screen display (OSD) is well laid out. The stand is good too, and you can tilt and swivel the whole display, which is a nice touch. You can even control all of the monitor’s settings through their MSI Gaming OSD application, if you’d rather not mess around with the joystick on the back.
All in all, it’s a good screen for the price. And that’s ultimately going to be the biggest kicker, because the MPG341CQR sits in a weird middle ground between cheaper ultrawide monitors, and more expensive ones with IPS panels.
AOC and Gigabyte both are offering 34-inch ultrawide screens for just over $700, both with theoretical 1ms VA panels of their own. If you’re not going to be playing that many shooters, you can probably live with an ultrawide screen that has a slower refresh rate. MSI’s own MAG342CQRV is only $629, and there’s the LG 35WN65C-B too. And there’s the super-affordable Xiaomi Mi Curved 34-inch screen, which is going for as little as $579 (!) right now.
But if you want a faster screen with a tried and tested panel, the LG 34GN850-B — basically a bigger version of the very good 27-inch LG 1440p screen from last year — will arrive in Australia very soon. It’s more expensive, but you’re getting a slightly higher refresh rate, better colour reproduction and nicer viewing angles, although you’ll have to spend more time calibrating the monitor too.
So what it comes down to is how well that $1279 fits within your budget, and what your system looks like if that premium was spent elsewhere. I think what it really comes down to is what games you play. If you’re someone who enjoys playing a lot of twitch shooters, then you’re going to want a faster display that can keep up. But if things like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Star Wars Squadrons or Elite Dangerous are more your speed, the higher response times of the MPG341CQR may be harder to justify, particularly if the premium means you have less to spend on a better GPU.
It all comes down to balance. Still, credit where credit’s due. MSI has been producing a lot of good, well-rounded monitors over the last couple of years. Their 24-inch esports screen was great, their out of the box calibration remains excellent, and their MPG341CQR ultrawide screen is another great all-rounder. I’d still like to see the day when these kinds of screens are capable of proper HDR as well, but you can’t really fault MSI for that — they can only work with the technology available, and proper high refresh rate gaming screens with that sort of brightness don’t exist yet. And certainly not in this price range.