AOC AG322QCX Curved, Freesync Gaming Monitor Review
The type of screen you game on matters. Whether you're playing alone in Far Cry 5 or against the world in Fortnite, things like refresh rate, response time, viewing angle, and pixel density can drastically alter your gaming experience -- and by proxy, immersion and success. With that in mind, AOC's Agon line of monitors looks to keep you competitive on and offline while giving you an elegant set piece to round out your desktop setup.
Released late last year, the AG322QCX gaming monitor prioritizes AMD gamers, offering them an affordable panel that's got a lot going for it under the hood. Featuring FreeSync technology and a 1800R, 31.5" screen, the AG322 makes 144Hz sing and 2560x1440p res look great on a wide-angle panel.
Melding elegance with practicality -- as well as a few interesting tricks -- there's little doubt the AG322 commands the consideration of any AMD gamer looking for a new screen. However, that doesn't mean it's a perfect solution, either. At $399, this AOC monitor may live in a mid-tier price bracket, but there are a few things to consider depending on your current and future needs.
One of the things I appreciate about AOC's Agon line of gaming monitors is how sleek they look on any desktop. Eschewing the typically boring "black box" design found on many monitors, the AG322 continues AOC's penchant for elegance by deftly augmenting the monitor's mostly matte black finish with silver accents and LED lighting.
The thin, muted bezel of the sides and top nicely flows into the glossy, slightly wider portion running along the bottom. And on the back of the monitor, you'll find a silver plate attached to the middle portion that rises up almost like wings (it looks similar to the red chevron on the back of the AG271QG).
On both the bottom bezel and the silver back plate, you'll also find LED accents that can be either turned completely off or easily set to varying intensities of red, blue, or green. The LEDs along the bottom are housed within a clear plastic that runs from one side of the monitor to the other, stopping in the middle where the AG322's OSD button resides. And on the back, the LEDs are housed in an opaque plastic that keeps them from being too obtrusive.
Around the back is where you'll also find the AG322's VESA mount and stand bracket. When you take the monitor out of the box for the first time, you'll have the option to either attach the included stand or another one you've got lying about. If you choose to go with the included stand, you'll find that it's crafted out of sturdy steel, and although its three pronged feet give the stand character, they do take up quite a bit of space due to their triangular configuration (which I found a tad disagreeable with my current setup).
However, with the included stand, you'll be afforded quite a bit of movement once you've got it together. The fully adjustable support lets you raise, lower, pivot, and tilt the monitor at your leisure. With a VA screen this large, that's a great feature to have at your disposal -- and it really helps you get the best viewing angle for your space.
As for inputs, although AOC's typical side-panel offerings aren't found on the AG322, the monitor does have I/Os in spades. If you look underneath the silver panel along the back of the monitor, directly underneath the VESA mount, you'll find the following ports: 2x HDMI 2.0, 2x Display 1.2, 1x VGA, 1x line in, 1x microphone out, 1x Quick Switch Keypad (which comes with the monitor for quick OSD support), and 1x power. Move to the left of that -- just under the left wing of the silver plate -- and you'll find ports for mic in and headphones, as well as 1x USB 3.0 downstream + fast-charging, 1x USB 3.0 downstream, and 1x USB 3.0 upstream.
Thankfully, the AG322's OSD is much easier to access than the one found on the AG271QG. Here, everything's controlled by a single, central button found just beneath the AGON logo on the front of the monitor. You can press the center of the button to open the entire on-screen display -- or you can click any of the square's sides to open one of four quick menus that, for example, let you adjust the monitor's LED intensity or choose which input you'd like to use.
The inside of the OSD itself is also (thankfully) easier to navigate than the one found on the AG271QG. One of my main gripes with that monitor was its OSD wasn't entirely intuitive and required too many clicks to get through. AOC's fixed that here, and while one menu option (Image Setup) was always grayed out during my review, all six other options were easy enough to navigate and tweak.
It's worth noting that you'll have quite a few image presets to choose from with the AG322 -- some better than others. Depending on what option you choose, some of the OSD's options may be grayed out that previously were not. That means you won't get full customizability all the time, but honestly, that's something to be expected and not a big gripe on our end.
To actually test the monitor's color, brightness, contrast, gamma settings, response times, and more, we made sure to use the Langom Display Test and Blur Busters to get a bit more granular. We also adjusted our OS and GTX 1080 color settings to reflect an unbiased setting. Note: Aside from any adjustments mentioned below, all of these measurements were captured with the AG322's settings turned to default.
Although the specs on the AG322 say the monitor can achieve a 50M:1 dynamic contrast ratio, the average player is most likely going to mostly experience its 2,000:1 static contrast ratio. We won't get into the minutia of why that is (you can check this article out for that), but all in all, the contrast ratio on this screen is pretty durn good.
Its contrast scores well on the LDT. Nearly all bars from the left to the right are discernible from one another, with marked demarcations between each one. The only bar that's a bit murky is the darkest blue bar, meaning dark darks may be a bit hard to separate.
Sharpness on the AG322 is a bit off out of the box. Using the LDT page for this measurement, the test boxes never fully integrated or blended in with the gray background -- no matter how hard I squinted my eyes.
They nearly became uniform during testing, but there were still rough edges and centers to each of them. Unfortunately, we were not able to adjust the default sharpness, which we believe is behind the locked "Image Setup" tab in the OSD, so we aren't able to definitively say the monitor gets better with a few tweaks in this department. However, we can say the test was worst at Gamma3, best at Gamma2.
Gamma is the brightness of intermediate tones of color, with the Langom Test using red, green, blue, and gray for examination. The AG322QCX has a native gamma setting of Gamma1, which can be changed to Gamma2 or Gamma3 -- for varying results.
However, working through all three gamma settings, the Langom Display Test showed that the monitor wasn't able to coalesce colors around the 2.2 thresholds on any of the settings. Tweaking contrast settings did not ameliorate the issue on either the 48%, 25%, or 10% luminance bars.
Instead, Gamma1 coalesced around 2.1, Gamma2 around 1.9, and Gamma3 around 2.3.
In-game, we didn't notice any terrible deviations between light and dark colors across the spectrum, but we did notice some seepage -- as is common with VA monitors -- in later tests, such as viewing angles, as well as some washing in Gamma2.
Viewed from straight on, no matter the height, the first black square in this Langom Test is barely distinguishable. One can make out the top- and bottom-right corners -- just slightly.
Taking another angle, from straight on and with the monitor at its lowest point, neither the first nor second square can be seen using the default brightness of 50. Even at 100, the first two squares cannot be seen (I'm 5'8" sitting straight up, for reference).
With the monitor at its highest point and tilted at its most extreme, the first three black squares are indistinguishable from the background. The same issue persists if viewed from its highest angle, straight down. Objectively, most users won't be using the monitor this way, but it does show that not every angle produces the truest blacks -- and that you can run into some issues playing games like Vermintide 2, which rely on stark contrasts and deep blacks. In fact, while playing that game in particular, I did notice some black mottling in the top right-hand corner of the screen specifically.
Even though we'd like to see all of the blocks distinguishable, it's known that VA panels have issues in this regard, so that is par for the course with a screen such as this and not completely surprising.
Using default brightness, contrast, and gamma settings (Gamma1), all of the blocks in this test were visible except those in areas of RGB 254. Those were indistinguishable from the white background. Adjusting the brightness, contrast, and gamma settings did not help to bring these out. Changing these settings only made the block in the bottom row, specifically in section RGB 253, worse or better.
There was slight banding in the darkest portions of this test. However, the rest of the grayscale gradient was smooth and didn't express any perceivable dithering. The banding in the darkest dark can be noticeable from some angles when watching cutscenes in-game or in the Steam overlay in dark rooms, but it isn't terribly jarring unless the media in question uses stark deviations in this spectrum.
Using Blur Busters, tests show that the monitor's native response time is comparable to what AOC advertises, somewhere around 4ms gray to gray (GTG). Engaging the monitor's overdrive mode in the game settings section of the OSD can help improve ghosting and coronas at lower refresh rates (sub 100Hz), but the "strong" setting greatly increases overshoot, as seen in both the LDT response time model, as well as Blur Busters.
Further ghosting tests with LDT reveal that the higher the refresh rate, the less ghosting appears on-screen. This means that the monitor is best used at 144Hz if you have a rig capable of hitting that number. You won't see major differences until right around 100Hz -- unless you're eagle-eyed.
At 1800R, the AG322QCX is supposed to make viewing angles more comfortable, especially when looking from the center of the screen to the periphery. In-game, we found the screen to be helpful in that regard, specifically in shooters like Battlefield 1 and CS:GO.
Taking a scientific look at what's going on behind the scenes -- and how the monitor actually performs compared to how it feels when playing -- it's evident that gamma is affected by viewing angle with the AG322QCX. From certain angles, the words on the Langom Test screen for this experiment blend into the grey background and retain a reddish hue. From other angles, specifically the sides, the words stand out in a darker, more vibrant red. While viewing from the top, for example, or a high angle, the words are dark red, yet the background takes on a greenish hue.
Overall, it wasn't something we specifically ran into or that was entirely noticeable when using the monitor in real-world situations, but it does mean that the gamma in the monitor is somewhat dependent on viewing angle and curvature.
When viewing the color saturation blocks of the test:
- The purple block remained vibrant in the middle when viewed from straight on, with the edges and corners darkening into a deeper hue. When viewed from above, the entire square took on somewhat of a pinkish hue.
- The red square appeared to be the most consistent of the four, with minimal color degradation along the sides and corners when viewed from straight on. Viewing it from above washed out the color a bit to a less saturated red.
- The green square also performed very well, without any discoloration or yellowing. When viewed from above, however, there was distinctive yellowing of the frame.
- The blue square was noticeably darker on the edges when viewed straight on. It deepened to a much darker hue when viewed from above.
Overall, the AG322QCX stands out as a well-made monitor that gives you 2560x1140p resolution across 31.5" -- stretching those pixels out over such a large distance instead of changing the resolution altogether is something most monitors don't do. And surprisingly, those pixels don't look stretched in the slightest.
Since it employs a VA panel, there are some issues with the AG322QCX that are endemic to that panel type. Dark shades can crush into one another -- especially at certain angles -- and the gamma could be a bit better. During tests, we also noticed quite a bit of ghosting below ~100Hz and a few color inconsistencies, but in-game, neither was terribly distracting (although it could affect some gamers differently).
If you're in the market for a Freesync-enabled 32" monitor, the AG322QCX is a VA monitor that mostly outperforms other VA panels. In other words, if you're not going TN or IPS, this AOC monitor should be one of the first on your VA list. It's responsive with low-input lag, and it reproduces colors competently. It's a monitor we definitely recommend.
[Note: AOC provided the AG322QCX used for this review.]