In the sweet spot.
The 1440p gaming monitor market is a battleground of high quality options. Into that fray comes AOC with its AGON 3 AG273QCX (See it on Amazon), a 27-inch monitor with features to tempt the aspiring gamer. It’s got DisplayHDR 400 certification, AMD FreeSync 2, a 144Hz refresh rate, and customizable RGB lighting. At $499 it lands squarely in the middle of the 1440p/144Hz market, but is one of precious few FreeSync 2 monitors currently available. AOC also makes a G-Sync version of this monitor as well (AG273QCG), if you’re on team green.
AOC AGON 3 AG273QCX – Design and Features
The AG273QCX makes a great first impression. Its 27-inches is already generous but the 1800R curve works to enhance its perceived size, taking up more of your field of view. I’ve used curved displays large and small and, while it ultimately comes down to personal taste, I find 27-inches to be the point where they find their value in gaming as they’re large enough to actually draw me further into the game. The curve is also well implemented here as I didn’t see any text blurring or other deformation at the edges of the screen.
The panel driving that gaming experience is VA with a native resolution of 2560×1440 and a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz. This is the “sweet spot” for modern high refresh rate gaming, offering a fluid, crisp gaming experience while not demanding most cutting edge hardware on the market. The display is also DisplayHDR 400 certified, though that comes with a big caveat.
While technically the AG237QCX can meet the VESA requirements for DisplayHDR certification, it most certainly cannot at 144Hz, which most gamers buying this monitor will want to do.
While technically the AG237QCX can meet the VESA requirements for DisplayHDR certification (400 nits peak brightness, 10-bit color depth), it most certainly cannot at 144Hz, which most gamers buying this monitor will want to do. At its highest refresh rate, it can only produce 8-bit color. At 120Hz, it’s the same unless you drop to 4-4-4 chroma sub-sampling. It’s only at 60Hz where the AGON actually meets DisplayHDR requirements without limitation, which is disappointing from a $500 monitor stamping DisplayHDR Certification and 144Hz side-by-side on its box. The much more expensive Acer Predator XB273K I reviewed also required a lower refresh rate to deliver all of its features due to limitations of DisplayPort, so it’s not the first time we’ve seen this, but it feels especially egregious since this monitor has its DisplayHDR Certification and 144Hz features listed side-by-side on the box.
On top of that, enabling HDR on the monitor disables other core gaming features AOC has built-in. Things like Shadow Boost, Game Color Boost, and the ability to swap profiles on the fly are completely locked down. This is to be expected as HDR demands peak brightness and consistent color settings, but by disabling these differentiating features, enabling HDR undermines core reasons why competitive gamers might choose this monitor in the first place.
On a more positive note, it’s one of very few gaming monitors to feature AMD FreeSync 2. Compared to normal FreeSync, FreeSync 2 monitors are validated by AMD and are guaranteed to feature High Dynamic Range, low latency, and low framerate compensation. The last is particularly important as it extends the FreeSync range throughout the monitor’s entire refresh range instead of the limited window of original FreeSync. Though isn’t on Nvidia’s list of G-Sync approved FreeSync monitors, that may change in the future, and you can always force G-Sync with the latest Nvidia drivers.
AOC has integrated extremely thin bezels, which look fantastic. When looking at the monitor from the side, we see that AOC has done a good job of integrating a uniform curve with no thick outcropping to house the electronics, unlike older designs like the Viotek GN32Q. The left and right sides both feature headphone hangers that flip down from the body, which is a neat addition that gives you the flexibility to actually use it in a way that works with your setup.
Around the back, AOC has integrated a flashy RGB light ring that’s actually quite vibrant. It looks great and is customizable too. The problem is that once your monitor is in place you’ll never actually see those effects as they’re not bright enough to create anything more than a very faint light on your wall. Even moved to the very edge of my desk, it just didn’t compare to the ambient light effect produced by a standalone LED strip. It’s a nice feature but one that’s quickly forgotten.
On the underside with have a generous selection of inputs and outputs. For video connectivity, we have two each of HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 and a VGA port (limited to 1080p @ 60Hz). There’s also plentiful audio connectivity with a headphone and microphone port (as well as a microphone pass-through to connect to your PC), and a combined audio jack for connecting a gaming headset. It also features four USB 3.0 ports, one of which stays powered to charge your devices even while the monitor goes to sleep. The monitor also has a pair of built-in speakers which are surprisingly better than most others I’ve heard.
AOC has gone the extra mile by building an equalizer and DTS surround sound right into the monitor itself. The surround sound isn’t very good, unfortunately, and there’s no low end to speak of but at only 5W per speaker, it’s to be expected.
We also have the joystick, oddly placed in the middle of the monitor’s bottom edge. Pressing it a certain direction opens up some quick settings menus for input, picture presets, or pulling up a reticle in the center of the screen. Clicking it opens the OSD. Navigating the menus with the joystick isn’t difficult but confusingly requires you to switch between clicking and pressing right to enter menus and select options.
Thankfully, AOC has a much better solution included with the AG237QCX. Coming in as the add-on-you-didn’t-know-you-needed-but-absolutely-do is the QuickSwitch controller. This little box allows you to switch between three picture profiles on the fly and to navigate the menu without using the joystick at all. You’ll still need to swap between clicking and pressing right but it’s much easier using the controller.
The QuickSwitch pad also allows you to take full advantage of Shadow Control feature, which instantly boosts the brightness allowing you to see into shadowy areas. Being able to move through a game and instantly crank the brightness to see into a window or far-off corner provides a tangible advantage, especially if you’re playing competitively.
It’s also worth noting that the AG237QCX features one of the heaviest, most rugged stands I’ve ever encountered. Once it’s in place, it’s downright hard to move unless you use the handle built into the top behind the monitor. It’s height adjustable with a 110mm of range and features a +/- 30-degrees of swivel for sharing your screen with a neighbor.
AOC AGON 3 AG273QCX Gaming Monitor – Testing and Gaming
VA panels have become my personal favorite for gaming, delivering rich colors and excellent contrast compared to the twisted nematic (TN) panels so common to gaming displays. The trade-off is usually response time. AOC’s own AGON AG322QCX from mid-2018 is quoted at 4ms gray-to-gray, whereas a TN panel like the ASUS ROG Swift PG278QR can deliver 1ms. I say “usually” because AOC actually quotes the AG273QCX as featuring a 1ms “smart response,” which, by wording alone, made me raise an eyebrow.
We thoroughly test all of our monitors, typically beginning with Lagom’s LCD test suite, but I made a pit stop to Test UFO to put the AGON through its Motion Picture Response Time Test. The best result I was able to achieve was 1.6ms. This isn’t a scientific measurement but does lead me to believe we should take that 1ms “smart response” measurement with a grain of salt.
That isn’t to say the AG273QCX is slow. Heading over to Lagom, the monitor did exceptionally well on the response time test. I observed some flickering at stage D which represents visible dark to light transitions were very limited. The color of the flickering square was also light, indicating a fast response time. It also did well on the black and white level tests, though did lose distinction on the top two white level images. On an ideal monitor, all 12 boxes would be clearly differentiated. Since the top two images blended together, this tells us that the AGON 3 has some difficulty separating images at the brightest of white images. In practical terms, this isn’t something you’re likely to notice but worth noting no less.
The gamma tests were a bit off, falling in the 2.3 range. Standard gamma calibration is 2.2, to these results are close but still slightly off. The gradient test was pristine, however, showing no banding whatsoever. The ghosting test also came out exceptionally well, which was borne out in my game tests where we observed no ghosting whatsoever.
for a monitor that sells itself on HDR, it turns out to be a much better gaming monitor with HDR disabled.
As far as gaming goes, I found that for a monitor that sells itself on HDR, it turns out to be a much better gaming monitor with HDR disabled. You can still take advantage of its brightness outside of HDR mode and leaving it turned off opens up the QuickSwitch controller for full use. I tested the monitor in Apex Legends, Battlefield V, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and good, old fashioned Skyrim, and in every case it delivered an enjoyable gaming experience.
The high refresh rate was perfect for both Apex Legends and Battlefield V. It was worth sacrificing 10-bit color to play these games at 144Hz. The smoothness of the higher frame rate made fast-paced battles feel fluid in a way 60Hz just can’t. I’m reminded of when people used to gush about Call of Duty being locked to 60 FPS and how much better it made the game feel. This is the same kind of jump but on steroids; it’s hard to go back to playing first-person shooters at 60Hz.
The QuickSwitch controller is game-changer, too. Being able to run-and-gun and change brightness on the fly is empowering. The rich colors provided by the VA panel also made the saturated palette of Apex Legends look especially good. More critically, the bright colors made it easier to pick out enemies from the terrain, which was enhanced by turning up Game Color. This wasn’t as true in Battlefield 1 which has duller hues, but it certainly made the both games look great.
Playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance with the fluidity of the AG237QCX made intense battles feel better than ever. One of the benefits of producing more frames a second is reduced motion blur as you quickly turn the camera. Being able to rapidly spin around to face another enemy without losing all clarity of what was around me made for a nice enhancement to the game.
Lastly, I put adaptive sync to the test with The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. As an older game, my dual RTX 2080 Tis produce enough frames to make screen tearing a real issue without some form of sync in place. Since I’m not running an AMD GPU, I couldn’t test FreeSync but G-Sync worked wonderfully, providing a smoother experience than I’ve had in ages on my non-adaptive sync monitor.
The AOC AGON 3 AG237QCX has an MSRP of $499.99 and it’s the same price online.