Introduction

120Hz panels are definitely still market newcomers - in fact, look no further than Newegg, where there still isn’t a 120Hz category, much less a refresh rate field for drilling down products. The necessity for 120Hz panels arose entirely out of the ongoing 3D obsession across the entire consumer electronics segment, something that remains a difficult sell for many gamers. On a technical level, the necessity for 120Hz arises from the need to drive two discrete 60Hz images - one 60Hz image for each eye. In its current incarnation, consumer 3D technology relies primarily on active shutter glasses - parallax barrier 3D displays are still too expensive, and I’ve yet to see passive polarization methods used outside the movie theatre. But you probably already know most of the 3D story.

Though the 120Hz refresh frequency does make games playable in 3D, there’s another important benefit of using a faster refresh rate - everything looks smoother, and you can now drive up to 120 FPS without tearing. The ASUS VG236H was my first exposure to 120Hz refresh displays that aren’t CRTs, and the difference is about as subtle as a dump truck driving through your living room. I spent the first half hour seriously just dragging windows back and forth across the desktop - from a 120Hz display to a 60Hz, stunned at how smooth and different 120Hz was. Yeah, it’s that different.

If you’re the kind of person that cares about squeezing every last FPS out of your box - regardless of how you feel about 3D - don’t even bother reading the rest of this review, just run, don’t walk, to the store and get this 120Hz display. I’m serious.

ASUS’ VG236H isn’t perfect, like any product there are a few caveats. That aside, honestly, the completely unparalleled level of smoothness on a 120 Hz display has made me hyper attuned to just how flickery 60Hz looks on all the other LCDs I’ve got.

Oh and my initial skepticism about 3D? I’m still shocked about it, but I've completely changed my mind.

Let’s dive into this review.

Overview and Specifications
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  • synaesthetic - Monday, August 09, 2010 - link

    If your livelihood depends on color accuracy, you can damn well bet it's worth spending money on. Monitors cheaper than $300 have terrible color reproduction. Reply
  • Seikent - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    I have the Samsung 2233RZ monitor (120 hz, 3d ready, 16:10), it is a bit cheaper than this one, but it has some limitations.

    I don't have the shutter glasses, but I don't care too much because I don't have a Nvidia card. I bought it just because the 120 hz refresh rate. Playing with vsync on is awesome, the visual experience is much better, it feels fluid and it is hard to go back. It is hard to understand because you can't see it how it feels without having this monitor in front of you. I recommend you to try one.
    Reply
  • JGabriel - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Brian King: "I’d say the vertical angle you get isn’t quite as advertised, but honestly if you’re viewing the monitor from so far down below that this is noticeable, you’re probably doing something wrong ..."

    Or viewing it in portrait mode after attaching it to a pivot arm. Really, Brian, that should have occurred to you, as you bragged about "rolling your own" only a few paragraphs earlier.

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    Reply
  • JGabriel - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Whoops, sorry for getting your last name wrong, Brian. I mis-read it somehow. Apologies.

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    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    I agree, but the primary weird viewing angle is from below. From above, it seems much better (like many other TN panels, which is quite typical). I've encountered exactly that issue before putting a TN panel in portrait, and it definitely isn't desirable.

    I would definitely not recommend doing that with this ASUS ;)

    -Brian
    Reply
  • FH123 - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Are 3D games, like Metro 2033, any better than what we get to see at the cinema? I saw Avatar (the film) and thought the 3D effects were laughable. In many scenes I could discern at most 3 or 4 planes of depth and, within those planes, everything looked flat. For example there might be a computer monitor in the foreground, then Sigourney Weaver, then the background. Where 3D worked it was mostly when things popped into the foreground, but the actors faces and backgrounds usually looked completely flat. South Park immediately sprang to mind. The actors looked like cardboard cut-outs in front of a background picture.

    Am I the only one noticing this effect? I admit my experience is very limited, as I walked out of Avatar half-way through and haven't watched anything 3D since. Nor do I have the desire to. The 3D effect was jarring and the film lost much of it's brightness, contrast and color saturation. What's the point? I own a good (JVC) projector. Something well recorded and not over-processed like, say, Treme (the TV series), looks far better to me than what I saw at the cinema that day. Depth perception, in that case, comes from low black-levels and proper dynamic range. Less dramatic, but it seems better to me.

    Having said that, perhaps there is some advantage games have over films, even films that rely heavily on CGI, such as Avatar? Do they, perhaps by virtue of having a depth coordinate for every pixel on the screen, give a better continuity of depth perception?
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    I agree with you, so that weird senstation is partly an artifact of 3D being added in after the fact, and partly just poor cinematography.

    The nice thing about games is that the 3D models are there already and have much finer meshes. I'd say that on the whole, no, that experience of things only existing in a few planes of depth is completely absent from gaming in 3D in any of the games I've tested thus far.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • nvmarino - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Brian, great review, thanks!

    One of the benfits of a true 120Hz display (120Hz at the input) you didn't mention are the benefits for HTPC usage - a framerate that's evenly divisible by 60 and 24 means you can output both 24fps and 60fps content without having to change the refresh rate in the video card settings. Any chance you can confirm if the monitor supports HDCP on the DVI input? Also, any chance you could see if the commercial Blu-ray players (i.e. PowerDVD, TMT3, and WinDVD) play nice when outputting @120hz? Would also be good to know if Windows Media Center has any issues when outputting @120Hz as well!

    Also, one minor gripe about your review - I think you're incorrectly referring to the system you're testing as "3D Vision Surround". "3D Vision *Surround*" is when using 3D Vision with multiple displays. Since you're reviewing with a single display it's just "3D Vision"...
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Excellent catch on 3D Vision Surround versus 3D Vision, fixed that!

    I'll test to make sure, but I'm 90% certain that it supports HDCP. It'd be absolutely unforgivable to be shipping a monitor in 2010 without HDCP. Having HDMI onboard pretty much guarantees that at least that input does, but I'll double check. I don't expect any problems though.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Saturday, August 07, 2010 - link

    Just tested with PowerDVD 10 Mark II Version 10.0.1830.51 and playback is perfect - tried a variety of BD titles. Looks good at 120Hz (no stuttering). HDCP apparently does work over the DVI-D datapath.

    -Brian
    Reply

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