It feels like ViewSonic has re-engaged the gaming market of late with some new, high-value monitors targeting our PC Gaming community. That’s ok – as a member of this community I think it’s fair to say that we like being targeted with low cost feature packed products.
My first LCD monitor was a ViewSonic VX2025WM 20.1 inch widescreen 1680×1050 monitor purchased almost 10 years ago. I still have it and use it to this day as a testing screen during the build process or at the occasional LAN for Minecraft demo systems where the lower resolution and smaller size don’t matter.
When we received 2 of the newer ViewSonic VX2457-mhd monitors for review, I realised that it had been a long time since I really considered ViewSonic as a gaming monitor brand. There was no real reason for this, no negative experience that turned me off the brand but probably more a case of where the competition stepped up, marketed better and had more of a presence on the forums and retailers. Competitors like BenQ, AOC, Samsung (for a while there), ASUS, Acer and to a limited extent, Dell, really started to slug it out for the market share of gaming-grade monitors and anyone else was probably considered office use.
Whilst reviewing the two VX2457-mhd screens, we received a XG2401 which is a different specification but almost the same size and the same resolution. The specifications for both screens are listed below for comparison. With 3 screens on the test bench, we couldn’t resist the temptation to use a couple of Brateck VESA brackets that we had in the cupboard to set up a triple screen configuration with the XG2401 panel in the middle and the VX2457-mhd monitors on either side. This gave us an AMD FreeSync desktop area of 5760×1080 to play with. To be clear, both AMD Eyefinity and NVIDIA Surround can be used to merge the desktop but FreeSync obviously only works on an AMD GPU.
|Viewsonic VX2457MHD||Viewsonic XG2401|
Whilst we could configure the triple screens as one virtual monitor with the full 5760×1080 resolution, we also had the option of running games at 1920×1080 @ up to 144Hz on the centre screen with the side monitors used for web browsing, streaming, email, chat or statistics monitoring. 144Hz is attainable at 1080p with many arena style shooters and we found that in this circumstance, the benefit of peripheral vision that the 5760×1080 resolution brings is not worth the trade-off for the drastic reduction in frame rate.
We tested the triple screen gaming on both our MSI NVIDIA test bench and the AMD test bench. The MSI rig was powered by a GTX980 and had significantly more grunt than the AMD build with its <$300 RX 470 graphics card but for some titles, the cheaper card was still doing well. Both Systems had 4GB of Video memory.
|MSI X99 TESTBENCH||AMD TESTBENCH|
Radeon Crimson software makes switching between Eyefinity modes quick and easy. We would switch between a single 144Hz 1080p game space to 5760×1080 area; depending on the game.
Almost immediately there were mixed feelings of either elation or disappointment with basically nothing in-between. Triple screen gaming on either NVIDIA Surround or AMD’s Eyefinity are impacted by the game developers and their implementation of the Field of View (FOV). What this means is that in many titles, the sharpness, size, aspect ratio and other elements of what you see are distorted or stretched as they get further from the centre of the screen, like a fish-eye lens. Although there are 3rd party tools available to try and correct it, they are largely ineffective. However, this stretching is not present in all games, in some games like Elder Scrolls Online, the effect on peripheral vision is quite pronounced but the menus that appear in the overlay for things like chat and inventory are razor sharp wherever they appear on the screen.
Here are some examples in the gallery below to demonstrate this:
Now We’re Talking
When triple screen gaming works though, it’s awesome. Games like Civilization V, World of Warships, War Thunder, EVE Online (not perfect but pretty good). In World of Warships, the extra peripheral vision was very handy and my scores were typically higher over a test period of 15 matches compared to 15 at 1920×1080 in single screen. This test involved me playing as the same class (Destroyer) in each battle so as to keep things as even as possible. The extra viewing area made it easier to avoid running aground or colliding with other ships in the fleet too which is great when things get congested and shells are raining down. War Thunder in aerial combat was also a great experience and the extra pixels provided an advantage when turning to get on an opponent’s tail, or even moving to avoid a collision. It’s interesting to note that the two best games for triple screen in my testing were similar game-play and also free-to-play titles.
FPS – peripheral vision ain’t what we expected
First person shooters were ok at the larger resolution but for the most part, we saw higher scores in single screen configuration with the higher FPS. We found that there is too much physical surface area to look at in a first person when gaming on 3 screens and as soon as we weren’t focussed on the crosshairs, we were late to open fire which meant we ended up in the respawn screen more often that we’d have liked. In games where the larger resolution is not handled well, the distortion effect was distracting and objects often looked much closer than they actually were.
Civilization V looked great with zero issues but I’d probably look to buy a 27″ 2560×1440 or a 4K if I was a hardcore Civilization enthusiast.
Triple screen gaming was a little more appreciated when playing Project Cars with the G920 racing setup but space sims like Elite: Dangerous or X3: Albion Prelude just felt a little ‘off’ due to the fish-eye effect. The effect was present for Project Cars but at speed and with a focus on the road ahead, it adds to the ambiance and immersion with the distortion not a noticeable distraction in real time. The still screen shots make Project Cars look much worse than it actually was when going flat out around a track.
The desktop space required to successfully implement a triple screen setup is likely to be more of an issue if using stock monitor stands. In this case, we just used 2 monitor brackets, clamped to the edge of the desk for our side screens. This made it easier to align them vertically with the middle screen and angle them accordingly. The cables can be easily secured with Velcro straps or zip ties to the back of the brackets to keep it neat and, best of all, you can actually use the desk real-estate under the side monitors (where the stock stands would normally be). Using brackets significantly reduce the impact and footprint of multiple monitors – we can’t stress this enough. The VESA mounts on both the VX2457-mhd and the XG2401 can be accessed without having to remove any of the monitor housing. The VX2457-mhd base stand has 2 screws holding the bracket in place which can be removed in about 60 seconds – it really is that easy.
We gave 3 current EA titles a run to be thorough and Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2 and Star Wars Battlefront all had the same issue with peripheral distortion. When sniping in BF1, the peripheral vision, although intentionally blurred and unintentionally distorted does help to notice movement outside the scope and whilst not technically cheating, I felt that it gave me a small advantage and I found that I was being flanked less.
At this point of our testing and after over a month of gaming with 3 screens at 5760×1080 we collectively noted a few things:
• The bezels, when overlapped a bit, are not too distracting. They become less of an issue over time but we never really ‘forgot’ they were there.
• Peripheral vision when using NVIDIA Surround or AMD Eyefinity is not optimized for most games, especially in First Person Shooters where the distortion can be distracting. Whilst there are ways to mitigate it and lessen the effect, at this aspect ratio there is still a lot of fiddling around to lessen the distortion.
• Only a few games that we tested really took advantage of a surround setup – these would be World of Warships, Civilization V, EVE Online and perhaps Project Cars despite the Field of View Distortion. The rest were better in single setup 1080p at 144Hz.
• The GPU power required to pump out the higher resolution can mean that you spend more of your gaming life in Medium or High settings instead of Ultra. 5760×1080 is a massive screen area for a graphics card to render.
• The combination of monitors in our test setup was very versatile and seemed to present great value in terms of the overall resolution.
In isolation, the VX2457-mhd, at under $180, is a brilliant monitor with surprisingly good colour reproduction, lack of backlight bleed and good uniformity. AMD FreeSync and an improved refresh rate of 75Hz just add to that value proposition. The stand on the VX2457-mhd feels a little cheap and it doesn’t include a DP cable. However, the connectivity and features exceed what I expected at this price point.
From a productivity point of view, I absolutely loved the triple screen configuration. I had email and Skype open on the left screen, my main workspace with editing tools on the middle screen and photos/notes, a web browser or HWMonitor running on the left one. It was also great when streaming live TV while working, watching the Australian Open streaming on a side screen.
Some further context
So, does this mean that a multi-monitor setup is overrated and a waste of money? Absolutely not. Ultra Wide Screen gaming is going to be a disappointment for some people who don’t do their research and making 3 separate 1920×1080 screens share a 5760×1080 desktop might not be the best use of the hardware and financial outlay (to buy all new). The peripheral screens are probably better served with other applications such as streaming tools, chat windows, media controls, network stats, web browser or perhaps notes/maps of your game area for reference.
Let’s put this into context. The VX2457-mhd has a street price of $179, and the XG2401 can be purchased for $399. This means that this particular setup would cost ~$760. 5760×1080 means that our total pixel count is 6,220,800 – so about 6 Megapixels in a 5.33:1 aspect ratio. These are all TN panels with a max refresh rate of 75Hz for the VX2457-mhd and 144Hz for the XG2401
The popular 2560×1440 monitors provide 3,686,400 pixels in a more standard aspect ratio, 4K displays @ 3840×2160 deliver 8,294,400 pixels. TN panels are fast and cheaper but have poorer viewing angles and colour reproduction than screens that use IPS panels.
The alternative specifications at the $760 mark are:
• LG 27UD68 – 4K 3820×2160, IPS panel, 60Hz, 27″, FreeSync ~$659
• AOC AGON AG271QX – 2560×1440, TN panel, 144Hz, 27″, FreeSync ~$689
• BenQ Zowie XL2730 – 2560×1440, TN panel, 144Hz, 27″, FreeSync ~$749
For that bit extra, the ViewSonic XG2703-GS comes in at $899 with an IPS panel, WQHD 2560×1440 resolution, 165Hz and NVIDIA G-SYNC. This isn’t an option that will appeal to many due to the price but it does provide food for thought.
At the end of the day, 3 screens are probably not worth it for most people and gaming across multiple monitors at 5760×1080 is generally more troublesome than it is awesome. That said, the productivity benefit and convenience of using a second 1920×1080 monitor on a VESA bracket is a game changer – an affordable game changer that can be had at a bargain when you look at the VX2457-mhd where you get that significant change for under $180. It’s low cost, has great colours for a TN panel, AMD FreeSync and can run at 75Hz, a massive 25% faster than the standard 60Hz.