Review: Sharp's 32-Inch Ultra HD Monitor

After reviewing the Sharp PN-K321 Ultra HD monitor, the CRN Test Center liked its 3,840-x-2,160 resolution for medical imaging, CAD/CAM, video production and other intended applications at a list price of $7,395. But at its new price of $5,250, we like it a whole lot more. With the new list price announced Friday, Sharp expects the PN-K321 to be selling on the street for around $4,000. That's $1,000 for each of the full HD windows it can display on its single 32-inch IGZO panel.

That's IGZO, folks, another acronym to start hearing about. IGZO stands for indium gallium zinc oxide, and it was developed by Sharp as a thinner, more translucent and responsive alternative to the amorphous silicon used in most of today's LCD panels. A thinner active layer means more light can pass through more pixels, which means greater-resolution displays with faster refresh rates that use less energy to run, and require less cabinet space to keep cool.

That's according to Steve Brauner, senior product line manager for professional displays at Sharp. During a phone briefing with the CRN Test Center, Brauner explained that without a new technology, today's thin-film transistor (TFT) displays had hit a wall. "To increase the number of pixels, you have to increase the light that goes through," or darken the viewing environment, Brauner said. "That's why viewing high-resolution X-rays requires a dark room." Each pixel has a transistor behind it, so displays packed with pixels also are packed with light-blocking transistors. "The IGZO TFT dramatically reduces the size of the transistor, allowing more light to pass through," he said.

Side effects of the new technology actually have useful benefits, said Brauner. Aside from reducing the required light intensity, Brauner said that IGZO enables more light to be distributed more evenly to the edges of the screen. The panel also has persistence characteristics that enable it to maintain unchanged portions of the display without the use of the graphics processor. While this characteristic isn't in play on the desktop, it's expected to greatly benefit battery-operated devices. Apple is reportedly considering IGZO in its next-gen iPhones.

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NEXT: Testbed And Test Results

Sharp Thin IGZO

To test Sharp's new monitor, the CRN Test Center fired up our latest Haswell-based test fixture, an Intel DZ87KL-75K Extreme Series desktop board wielding an Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz dual-core processor running 64-bit Windows 7 Pro on 4 GB of high-performance RAM. Intel's latest processor and chipset support the new Thunderbolt spec as well as DisplayPort 1.2. Ultra HD can be driven by anything with DisplayPort 1.2, and Sharp's monitor also can function through one or both of its HDMI inputs.

The Intel board's single HDMI port drove Sharp's new monitor at 30Hz with full resolution. Performance using Intel's on-board GPU was adequate for displaying graphics and manipulating digital images. The 3,840-x-2,160 images on the Sharp Ultra HD monitor displayed side by side with a very good 1,920-x-1,080 monitor were most striking; the bright colors, sharp contrasts and photo-realism were impressive. But, Intel's HD Graphics 4600 GPU couldn't quite keep up with high-resolution video streaming and media playback we were flinging through its HDMI port. Even when playing hi-res media in a single window, we got choppy video and gravelly audio.

Fortunately, Sharp also included an AMD FirePro W600 workstation graphics card for testing. This put the PN-K321 in a whole new light. We opened four windows and put one in each corner. In two of the windows we ran high-resolution videos using the VideoLAN's VLC 2.0.8 media player. In another, we launched a Blu-ray quality video using Microsoft's Media Player, and in the fourth, we streamed videos from YouTube. All content ran smoothly, although the cacophony of sounds had us reaching for the mute button.

NEXT: Static-Image Test Results

Next we brought up the CRN Test Center's standard test images, and after a few adjustments to brightness and contrast, we found Sharp's Ultra HD to be well within acceptable limits. Gradients of color and black-to-white exhibited no banding, black level and white saturation were visible throughout the spectrum, and sharpness tests were the best we've seen.

The PN-K321's controls are on the top half of the right-hand edge. Though they're nicely hidden from view, they're easy enough to operate by feel. We especially like that the lower-most button is a dedicated input selector, and that it operates all on its own. A single press of the button displays the monitor's one DisplayPort and two HDMI inputs; a second press moves the highlighter from the current port to the next one on the list. And after a few seconds, the highlighted port is selected. One up from Input is Menu, which works with the next four directional keys, two of which control the volume of the monitor's built-in stereo speakers. The top-most power key has three dimples to identify it as such.

With HD screens becoming as common as high-end cell phones, we see 4K or Ultra HD as the next logical step in digital-display evolution. And with IGZO technology, Sharp has made major strides, and the CRN Test Center recommends the Sharp PN-K321 at its new price of $5,250. It includes a tilt-swivel stand and three-year warranty. In the channel since March, it's sold through major tech and pro-video distributors. In addition, the company this week announced the PN-K322B, a 10-point multitouch version with lay-flat stand to be available in the fall; pricing was not disclosed.