The Asus TUF Gaming VG27AQ is a hot item at the moment and we believe this is due to a combination of factors. It’s a 27-inch 1440p 165Hz IPS display. That’s the sweet spot for resolution, refresh rate and panel technology for gaming right now. It’s one of those things that ticks a lot of boxes. The next factor is it includes a feature called ELMB-Sync, which for the first time allows you to use adaptive sync variable refresh rates and blur-reducing backlight strobing at the same time.
The third reason, and this is crucial to the overall picture... its price tag. For $430, this is a very competitive offering in today’s market, especially for the 165Hz refresh rate and feature set.
We like that Asus is taking a more aggressive stance on value with these TUF Gaming products. Some of their high-end ROG products may seem a little overpriced considering there’s so much competition. But when you are offering these specs at below $500, it seems like everyone wanting to buy a monitor is taking notice.
This is also one of the few monitor designs from Asus in the past few years that I actually like. It’s a lot more subtle than their crazy ROG designs with RGB lighting and weird patterns all over the place, but it’s still definitely a gamer-oriented aesthetic with red highlights and hard angles. Almost all the exposed surfaces are plastic of some kind, no metal stands or anything like that, and a lot of it is just your standard basic black plastic. But it works, and the build quality overall is pretty good.
The design includes a highly adjustable stand. We’re getting the works, with height, tilt, swivel and pivot support. The range of height adjustment is above average and it’s great to get enough pivot support to use the monitor in a portrait orientation. There is a VESA mount available as well in case you need it. Despite all the adjustments, the stand is sturdy and doesn’t wobble much.
Ports are standard stuff. Two HDMI 2.0 and a DisplayPort, with the HDMI ports being limited to 144 Hz. If you want to access 165Hz, you’ll need DisplayPort. And yes, this is a 165 Hz monitor. Some websites still list this as a 155 Hz display but that was its originally announced spec, the final model goes up to 165 Hz when you enable overclocking in the display’s OSD.
Speaking of the OSD, it’s controllable through a directional toggle and like other Asus monitors there are plenty of features here. Crosshairs, timers, FPS counters, shadow boosting and blue light filters are some of the major inclusions, plus of course ELMB-Sync for backlight strobing. More mid-range and budget options often don’t bother with decent feature sets but Asus is keeping the VG27AQ strong in this regard.
We’ll start our tests with response times and then later go into ELMB-Sync with some analysis of the backlight strobing mode. Normally we briefly skip over backlight strobing, but it’s a central feature of this monitor.
Response Times / Overdrive Modes
In typical Asus fashion there are six overdrive modes available under the “Trace Free” setting, which doesn’t have a great name if I’m honest, and it’s hidden on the second page of one of the monitor’s settings panels. Unless you specifically knew this was the overdrive mode, not sure how obvious it would be for regular users.
Anyway, six modes, ranging from 0 through 100 in increments of 20, with a default setting of 60. When keeping the monitor fixed at its maximum refresh rate, 165Hz, modes 0 through 40 are pretty slow and don’t have much overshoot. Where it gets interesting is with the upper three modes.
The default 60 mode is decent but not fantastic, with an average grey to grey response of 6.82ms and unusually for an IPS panel, a hint of dark level smearing. Not as bad as a VA panel, but a 10ms dark level average is mediocre for this technology. And with only 60% of transitions falling near the refresh window, there’s a bit of smearing when using overdrive set at 60, although overshoot is well managed.
Moving up to 80 and this is where 165Hz performance comes into its own. A grey to grey average of 5.35ms is good for an IPS, dark level performance is improved and refresh rate compliance is up to 77%, so ghosting and smearing isn’t as prominent. However this does come at the expense of error rates, which aren’t terrible but also not amazing. Most of the issues come in a small band of rise times when shifting to near-white, but outside of this zone you won’t see many problems: 87% of transitions had manageable overshoot.
At an overdrive level of 100, things get out of control. Yes, we reach a 3.44ms grey to grey average, but high levels of overshoot hurt performance, so we wouldn’t recommend this mode.
Response time performance is a bit more complicated than this though, because the level of overshoot and the speed of transitions is heavily influenced by the refresh rate. Take 165Hz with an overdrive level of 80, for example. This is our recommended mode at the maximum refresh. If you shift down to 144Hz, we start seeing an increase to overshoot and a slight increase to transition times. At 120Hz, this becomes unmanageable and an overdrive level of 80 is no longer suitable.
At 120Hz, an overdrive setting of 60 delivers better performance, overshoot is still a bit high, but with a grey to grey average of 6ms it’s not too bad.
But it gets worse because at 60Hz, say you’re gaming at ultra quality settings in a graphically intensive game, or you’ve hooked the monitor up to a console, overshoot is significant at most of the overdrive settings. At just a setting of 40, 41% of transitions have significant overshoot, which drops to 32% at overdrive 20, and then is solved at overdrive 0. The problem then becomes response times, which increase to a slow 11.17ms.
Without comparing this performance to any other monitors just yet, we already have a mixed bag. If the refresh rate is locked at 165 Hz or hovering around that 144 to 165 Hz mark, the monitor performs pretty well with overdrive level 80. But if adaptive sync is enabled and maybe a game's frame rate is fluctuating, or you’re playing different games with different levels of performance, you could be seeing overshoot artifacts if you set and forget an overdrive mode.
For example, if you’re playing Fortnite at say 160 Hz, then overdrive 80 is the way to go. But then if you switch to playing Metro Exodus and performance is fluctuating between 120 and 100 Hz, overdrive 80 is going to deliver inverse ghosting at that refresh rate. Switching the overdrive mode down to 60 or even 40 makes more sense for this game, but this is an annoying manual adjustment. And if your frame rate is jumping around more than that, there could be a case where no overdrive mode is delivering an optimal experience.
Meanwhile, if you’re gaming as low as 60 Hz, there’s no overdrive mode that’s usable. This isn’t a monitor that’s good for 60 Hz gaming, response times are slow with overdrive disabled and if you’ve set the monitor to overdrive 80, which is optimal for 165Hz then start playing at 60 Hz, inverse ghosting is very obvious.
The best adaptive sync monitors out there have a single response time mode that’s suitable or usable across all refresh rates. You set the optimal mode, forget about it, and enjoy a good experience regardless of the in-game performance you’re getting. At the very least there might be two suitable modes, one for high refresh and one for 60 Hz gaming, which you could choose between depending on whether you’re using the monitor with a high or low refresh input. But the VG27AQ has three or four optimal modes throughout the refresh range, which is annoying and unfortunate for adaptive sync gamers. It’s fine at a fixed refresh like 165Hz, but not ideal if you’re making use of variable refresh.
Let’s look at some comparisons now. At the maximum refresh rate with the best overdrive mode, the VG27AQ is quite competitive. It’s not as quick as the 27GL850 or the VX2758-2KP-MHD, but around that 5ms mark is good, delivering better performance than VAs and some other IPS options like the Pixio PX7 Prime. And dark level performance is good, as you’d hope when buying an IPS.
Response time compliance is also acceptable at this level of performance, a mid-table result clearly isn’t as strong as the excellent LG 27GL850 and part of that is from targeting a 165Hz refresh over 144Hz, but still, not bad.
Where the VG27AQ falls away is in the following charts. Error rates are high, and this is the same issue the VX2758-2KP-MHD faced: to reach those 4-5ms response times, overshoot becomes a problem. In the case of the VG27AQ, straight away average error rates are twice as high as the 27GL850. And the amount of inverse ghosting is significantly higher, as we’re right on the edge of what this panel can achieve. The VX2758-2KP-MHD is even more on-edge to hit a faster response time.
At 60 Hz, as we’ve talked about, the VG27AQ can’t maintain the same level of performance as it can at 165 Hz, falling down the charts, well behind the 27GL850. Its lack of decent overdrive at this mode makes it unsuitable for use at 60Hz, especially up against most of its competitors that are decent at this refresh rate.
The VG27AQ puts up excellent input lag numbers, at below 0.5ms of processing delay, and an overall lag from input to finished transition of under 10ms, which is elite. The best gaming monitors hit these sorts of numbers so this one is in good company.
Response time performance is mixed, decent at high fixed refresh rates but to get a good experience using variable refresh, it’s a bit fiddly.
What is ELMB-Sync?
Asus' brand new feature promises low motion blur gaming even when adaptive sync enabled. But what actually is this feature?
Asus has had a feature in their monitors for a while now called ELMB, or Extreme Low Motion Blur. It’s their version of Nvidia’s ULMB, LightBoost, or backlight strobing, or whatever else you want to call it. Basically, this is meant to strobe (or turn on and off very quickly) the display’s backlight in sync with the refresh rate.
The end result though is that by showing the image and flicking to black in rapid succession, you get better motion clarity, more in line with what we got in the glory days of CRTs. The image looks clearer, the transition time of the LCD is hidden when the backlight is off, and you don’t get as much blur or ghosting. That’s the theory anyway.
When it works, it works really well to improve clarity for gaming. But there are plenty of downsides. If the timing isn’t correct, strobing the backlight introduces artifacts. It also tends to reduce panel brightness, the flickering can be annoying for some sensitive users, and generally doesn’t work with adaptive sync. That’s up until now with Asus’ ELMB-Sync feature, which does allow you to use adaptive sync and backlight strobing at the same time. That’s because now, the rate at which the backlight is strobed can be synced to the varying refresh rate of the monitor, that’s the major breakthrough Asus has made. So with ELMB-Sync, we don’t need to throw away a smooth variable refresh experience when we turn on the blur-reducing ELMB mode.
ELMB-Sync does work as advertised, you can enjoy variable refresh gaming in conjunction with backlight strobing, it varies the strobe length nicely to match the refresh rate, all good there. The problem with the VG27AQ’s implementation though, is it’s not absolutely perfect in its tuning, so we do get some backlight strobing artifacts.
This is a pursuit camera photo of the VG27AQ’s ELMB-Sync in action, simulating how the human eye would see motion on this display, and you can see the effects of strobe crosstalk here with multiple images trailing the moving UFO in Blur Busters’ UFO Test. This is a moderate level of strobe crosstalk that can be noticeable in games, depending on what you’re playing. It’s not awful, but it’s not perfect, and what you see here is representative of what you get at most refresh rates, these photos being taken at 165 Hz.
We’ll also show how the monitor looks at 165Hz with overdrive level 80 without ELMB enabled. So these are basically your choices, between the standard blur you get on an IPS LCD with about 5-7ms response times, or artifacts with backlight strobing.
Out of the box calibration is average on the TUF Gaming VG27AQ, which is not unusual for a gaming monitor. Our test unit was tinted green and most notably, the gamma was too high at around 2.4 as opposed to the ideal ~2.2 you should have for sRGB content, seen in the yellow line. These two issues combined lead to a high deltaE average of 4.88
Default Color Performance
Saturation deltaE performance is average at 3.62, we don’t get oversaturation here because this is just an sRGB panel with no wide gamut capabilities, but with that green tint, performance isn’t perfect. The story doesn’t change much in ColorChecker, where we are left with a 3.85 deltaE average. When looking at other gaming monitors, this sort of default color performance is pretty standard although ideally we’d want those deltaEs below 2.0 out of the box.
A few tweaks to on-screen settings can improve performance, correcting the green tint my unit had. However there is no gamma control, so unfortunately that issue can’t be resolved, meaning our OSD tweaked performance can’t be fully accurate. We do improve performance a fair bit with these tweaks, but deltaE averages remain between 2 and 3, not quite what we’re looking for.
Calibrated Color Performance
Put this beast through a round of DisplayCal calibrations and we achieve very good performance as expected with essentially 100% sRGB coverage. No wide gamut capabilities may disappoint people that wanted P3 coverage but for non-HDR gaming this is still fine.
The VG27AQ actually does support HDR10 inputs for some reason, not that the experience is any good because it doesn’t support any key features of HDR.
Brightness is midtable at 350 nits, which is fine for most users and similar to other popular IPS options. Contrast is a bit better than I expected at around 1200:1, very good from an IPS monitor, with decent black levels. We spotted a bit of IPS glow with our unit but nothing too severe and similar to most other IPS displays we’ve seen. Contrast and black levels aren’t as good as VA alternatives, although viewing angles are better: they’re pretty good.
Uniformity is another area where the VG27AQ is outstanding. No cloudiness or patchiness, this is a very uniform display that is just as good as the best IPS monitors we’ve tested.
The big question for the TUF Gaming VG27AQ is how well positioned it is among 1440p high-refresh IPS displays. It’s not the cheapest at $430, though that's still a pretty good deal considering there are many $500+ options still on the market.
Response time performance is good, but it does have some issues. If you are planning to use this at 165Hz without variable refresh, the panel is capable of fast response times which in the 5ms range is very good from an IPS. But with adaptive sync, the optimal overdrive mode isn’t clear with no single option offering good performance across the refresh range. So when you choose a balanced mid-level overdrive option to avoid as much overshoot as possible, performance isn’t that much different from competing monitors like the ViewSonic VX2758 and Pixio PX7 Prime. If we had to generalize, performance among those three monitors is very similar.
One area where the VG27AQ suffers is at 60Hz, where it’s nowhere near as good as the two monitors we just mentioned. For whatever reason, Asus hasn’t been able to optimize the 60Hz experience nearly as well as ViewSonic, to cite an example.
While that summary doesn’t sound all that promising, it does have an ace up its sleeve in ELMB-Sync. This is a great new technology that in my eyes actually makes backlight strobing worth using, as you can use it alongside adaptive sync. The performance of this mode is only okay with moderate strobe crosstalk, but this feature is simply something you don’t get with any other monitor.
The rest of this monitor’s features and performance are average to good. We like the design and the stand’s high level of adjustability, the OSD is strong, brightness is decent, contrast also decent for an IPS, and uniformity is excellent. Input lag is fantastic, too, while factory color performance requires calibration work to nail down.
Would we recommend you to buy this monitor? It depends.
If you want a 1440p high-refresh IPS gaming monitor on a budget – and it seems a lot of people do – we think many people would be better off with the ViewSonic VX2758-2KP-MHD. Performance is similar to the VG27AQ, but it has the benefit of better 60Hz experience, and better factory calibration for around $80 less. It’s also wide gamut. The downside to the ViewSonic monitor is the its inferior design and no height adjustability.
If you want to use backlight strobing for increased motion clarity. The VX2758-2KP-MHD also has this capability, but it can’t be used with adaptive sync simultaneously. The VG27AQ can. Outside of backlight strobing modes, neither of these monitors are as good as the LG 27GL850.
When we get asked whether they should get the LG 27GL850 (read the review) or the Asus VG27AQ, the 27GL850 is generally a fair bit better with much faster and more consistent performance across its refresh range. But it’s a tad more expensive at $500.
The Asus TUF Gaming VG27AQ is a good monitor, with some really excellent features and some other middling stuff. We're excited to see where ELMB-Sync goes from here on future Asus monitors, particularly higher-end options if they can nail down performance overall.
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