Photographer’s review of the ASUS PA32UCR-K: the best budget HDR monitor?

PA32UCR-KB&H is currently offering an outstanding deal: $200 off the brand new ASUS PA32UCXR monitor, which is a stunning 1600 nits monitor with 2304 local dimming zones (4x the Pro Display XDR), automated calibration, and single cable charging/pass-through. I recently bought one of these to test and it’s amazing. This is the best mini-LED I’ve seen for Windows and it compares well to the Pro Display XDR for Mac users at half the price. I’ll create a full review in the future, but you can see my initial impressions here.

HDR displays are already the norm for TVs, smart phones, and Apple computers. However, options are more limited for external computer monitors. I have several options and general buying advice on my recommended HDR monitors page. ASUS has caught my attention with a large number of great HDR options in their ProArt line, so I recently acquired three of them to test and see how they compare to my Pro Display XDR and MacBook Pro’s XDR display, both of which are outstanding mini-LED displays.

In this post, I want to focus on ASUS PA32UCR-K, which caught my attention for several reasons:

  • Great HDR support:
    • 1000 nits peak brightness for great highlights
    • 576 local dimming zones to ensure good blacks
    • wide gamut (99.5% Adobe RGB, 98% DCI-P3)
    • 4k resolution in a 32″ display
  • Great accuracy:
    • deltaE <1%
    • Support for calibration in the monitor hardware itself. This is ideal for HDR because there is no standard for the typical ICC-based calibration at this time.
    • A colorimeter is included with the monitor (at least in North America).
  • Outstanding value: monitor, colorimeter, and a very nice stand for only $1299.

This monitor is well supported on both MacOS and Windows in my tests.


Image quality:

I tested three different ASUS monitors and they have consistently under-promised and over-delivered on brightness. I actually get around 1600 nits (vs the promised 1000) of brightness with this display. Your results with a specific product or calibration targets may vary slightly, but there’s a good chance you’ll see well above the promised capability. Regardless of actual peak values, the monitor will report 2.6 stops of HDR headroom, which is the level of support you’ll have inherently with Adobe software under MacOS. Windows users can tweak the SDR brightness, which means you should be able edit with up to 4 stops of HDR headroom on this display. It would be ideal if MacOS would offer similar control over SDR brightness for 3rd-party monitors, as this would be a useful way to increase editing capabilities when working in suitably dark rooms.

I found the ASUS calibration software quite easy to use and resulted in excellent HDR image quality. Once calibrated, this display matched the color I see on my Pro Display XDR quite well. The out of the box results were quite good, and improved with use of calibration.

The display has several SDR modes and you can control the brightness right on the monitor (even in MacOS, which does not have a system slider for SDR brightness while in an HDR mode). There are HDR modes for P3 and Rec 2020. And you can create a couple of custom “user modes.” These allow you to choose your gamut, EOTF (such as gamma 2.2), white point (such as 6500K or custom x/y for D65), and brightness (for SDR). This gives you the flexibility to set the monitor for your specific need. The brightness target is ideal if you want to ensure you are evaluating SDR work with a specific SDR brightness, such as for prints.

Display uniformity is reasonable, but not as good as something like a similarly priced SDR-only Eizo. That only makes sense, of course. HDR is a complex technology and you shouldn’t expect to find such a premium feature without either a higher price tag or a tradeoff in something else.

There is one notable caveat with this display, which I’ll refer to as “dark halos.” By this I mean unexpected darkening of the display around bright content – such as when moving the cursor over a dark grey background. It looks as if ASUS erred too much on the side of dimming the backlight to avoid blooming (ie the kind of bright halos typically associated with mini-LED). You are unlikely to see it in photographs, areas of detail, or when using bright background themes. Where you will see it are in dark solid areas, such as the area around text in a dark themed text editor like VS Code, or in the background around an image or the layers panel in Photoshop when using a dark theme. You can evaluate a monitor for it with my tests. I consider it unacceptable under the default settings, but thankfully you can make some simple adjustments which significantly mitigate the issue.

You can make the dark halos a relative non-issue by raising ProArt Palette / Black Level / Backlight on the monitor to around 8-10 (vs the default 0). You may then wish to adjust the black level signal down to 25-35 to help preserve dark contrast after changing the backlight. Most people should be ok with the results after those tweaks, and you can further avoid the problem by using Photoshop in a light theme. And you can completely eliminate the issue by turning off local dimming when working in an SDR mode. See my conclusions below for thoughts on  who might want to consider a more expensive alternative.


Daily use and other considerations:

The monitor stand is surprisingly nice. You can adjust height easily with a single finger, tilt the display a considerable amount, twist it right or left, and even rotate the display a full 90 degrees to switch between landscape and portrait orientation. If you are going to rotate the monitor, you’ll need a little clearance behind the monitor as you have to temporarily tilt it when rotating to avoid the corner of the display hitting the base. It’s no big deal unless you wish to push the display all the way back against a wall.

The monitor includes single cable connection via USB-C (with 80W power for your laptop), a downstream USB 3.1 Type-C port, and three USB 3.1 Type-A  ports. If you cannot or do not wish to use USB-C for the image, the monitor also supports input from HDMI or DisplayPort.

This monitor includes speakers, but like most monitor speakers they are not impressive (if they are included at all). I have always personally preferred using my laptop or Sonos speakers, so this isn’t a concern for me at all.

Conclusions: what should you buy?

The PA32UCR-K offers a great HDR experience and excellent value. The support for hardware calibration is compelling. I would highly recommend this display for those who are on a budget looking for an HDR monitor for photography.

While the residual dark halos should be of no concern for most photographers once you configure the settings mentioned above, this is a more budget-oriented display (in terms of HDR-capable displays) and won’t be for everyone. You may want to buy a more premium alternative if you:

  • currently own an SDR display that costs as much or more than this HDR display
  • offer professional printing
  • tend to care deeply about small details

These may be good signs that you expect higher display uniformity.


No cost alternatives:

If you have or are considering an Apple M1 or later MacBook Pro, you’ll have an outstanding HDR display. It is 14-16″, but that’s a great option and all I had my first year of learning HDR. Aside from that, there’s a good chance you already have a great HDR display in smart phone (both iPhone and Pixel phones are supported in Lightroom mobile) or a great HDR TV (which you can connect to your computer over an HDMI cable). All of these are options you may already own. See my HDR page and e-book for details on how to get started with these alternative options.


Alternatives at a similar price point:

Another budget-friendly option with better performance is the ASUS PA27UCX-K. It’s a 27″ monitor with similar specs, but at a slightly higher price point due to a film designed to avoid these dark halos.

If you want a budget monitor which prioritizes perfect blacks / no halos over peak brightness / color accuracy, there are some OLED displays in the $1k price range which are worth considering. This includes OLED TVs like the excellent 42″ LG C3 or gaming monitors like the 1000 nit ASUS ROG PG27AQDM. Keep in mind that peak values for OLED are not directly comparable to mini-LED, as OLED tends to only offer those levels when a small percentage of the screen gets that bright. So these are great options to consider if you have controlled lighting or a darker environment (especially under Windows, which lets you dim the display while in HDR mode). These displays may be complicated, costly, or impossible to calibrate for HDR or SDR /print workflows. Many modern TVs ship with fairly high accuracy now, so calibration is less of a concern if you don’t print much. And you can hire a professional to calibrate most TVs (this is not true for monitors, which lack controls in the hardware). Gaming monitors tend to have poor color accuracy (but faster refresh rates) and might be suitable if you are a gamer and simply want something to support HDR. See my HDR monitor recommendations for more considerations if you think an OLED TV or monitor might be right for you.


Upgraded options for those with a larger budget:

The ASUS PA32UCXR is outstanding. I recently purchased that monitor and will review it in depth in the future. My initial impressions are positive. It offers greater HDR headroom, even better wide gamut support and has no such halos. With its 2304 dimming zones, it even offers less blooming than the Pro Display XDR in the deepest shadow values. Or you might consider the older ASUS PA32UCX-PK, which is priced in-between. It’s a former flagship model with 1152 zones (inventory may be limited and I have not tested this model).

If you use MacOS, want the simplest possible experience or control over SDR brightness to increase HDR headroom up to 4 stops, and have a large budget – the Pro Display XDR is probably the best choice for you. It’s pricey, but it is truly excellent.


I’d like to thank ASUS for their support to help make these reviews possible. While I’ve been happy with my Pro Display XDR, it’s clearly priced out of reach for most people who don’t make a living from photography. After seeing several ASUS monitors at the latest Consumer Electronics Show, I reached out to them asking to test some models I thought would be ideal for photography and they offered to help me acquire some units. They’ve also been helpful in answering questions so I could determine the best options to review (their product range is quite extensive).

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Greg Benz Photography