MSI’s giant monitor is rather expensive, but strong gaming credentials and a vast array of features almost justify the price
Pros Massive, high-speed panelGreat OSD softwareLoads of features and extrasCons ExpensiveSlight colour inaccuracyFacial recognition camera is a faff
There’s only so much performance that can be wrung out of existing display panel tech. The Optix MPG341CQR suggests MSI knows this: instead of trying to set new standards for image quality and gaming responsiveness, this hulking ultrawide monitor ups the ante with a veritable wealth of hardware features and software tools.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: What you need to know
Not that this is just some throwaway display with a load of taped-on trinkets. The Optix MPG341CQR uses a vast 34in, 3,440×1,440 VA panel, running at 144Hz for smoother gaming at high framerates. It’s gently rounded with an 1800R curvature, and claims to meet the DisplayHDR 400 standard for brightness.
It’s the feature list that really stands out, though. Besides common qualities like RGB lighting and a fully adjustable stand, the Optix MPG341CQR’s tricks include desktop OSD software, mouse bungee and camera mount attachments and even a facial recognition camera that helps the software switch between different profiles for different users. AMD Freesync is also supported, as is Nvidia’s G-Sync, albeit in an unofficial capacity.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Price and competition
Such an extensive arsenal goes some way to explaining the Optix MPG341CQR’s price: £870 is a serious stack of cash for any VA monitor. Admittedly, rivals such as the LG 34GK950F cost more while equalling MSI’s monitor on size, resolution and refresh rate, but then the LG has a higher-end IPS panel. The MVA-equipped AOC AG352UCG6, meanwhile, is more than £140 cheaper, its only specific disadvantage being a slightly lower 120Hz refresh rate. And if you can stomach the prospect of a mere 100Hz refresh rate, the Samsung C34F791 is an ultrawide bargain at £600.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Design and build quality
With the exception of some slightly scratchy plastic around the stand and rear, the Optix MPG341CQR looks and feels like a premium monitor should. The black and grey colour scheme is smart, while the strips of customisable RGB lighting – along the underside and curved up the back – add a touch of flair without being overly showy. The bottom bezel is far chunkier than the decidedly slim top and side borders, but that’s to make room for the camera (something we’ll discuss in depth later), which is a feature missing from smaller cousins like the Optix MAG321CURV.
The stand is excellent: there might be plastic surrounding the main pillar but it’s mostly hewn from strong, smooth metal, and does a fine job of keeping that gigantic 34in screen nice and steady. It’s not got the smallest footprint but because the base is mostly raised it is possible to slide a keyboard partially underneath it. Height, tilt and – in contrast to the Optix MAG321CURV – swivel adjustment are all present and correct, as is the possibility of 100x100mm VESA mounting. The only thing you can’t do is rotate it into a portrait view, but then that isn’t a practical or desirable feature for a massive curved monitor in any case.
There’s a very decent smattering of video inputs, including two HDMI ports, one DisplayPort and even a USB Type-C port. The MSI’s USB Type-C connection can carry DisplayPort but isn’t a full-fat Thunderbolt 3 connector. That’s still fine for occasionally plugging in a laptop, though, and it’s joined on the rear by a USB 3.0 port, an optical S/PDIF connector – a potential bonus for audio buffs – and a USB Type-B port, which is used to enable the desktop software (more on that later). The concealment of these ports makes them harder to reach, but thankfully there are another two USB 3.0 ports on the left side, next to separate 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks.
The Optix MPG341CQR also employs the finest – which is to say, least fiddly – of OSD controls, the joystick. This is located on the rear of the monitor, though not so far out of reach that it’s a stretch to use, and makes it very quick to flick through the OSD’s various menus. These are sensibly laid out, and are filled with all the tools you’d need and expect. MSI has created no fewer than nine different user profiles, most of which offer largely arbitrary changes, but a couple stand out. ‘Reader’ applies an orangey tint in a drastic attempt to reduce eye strain, while ‘HDR’ raises the brightness and widens the colour gamut, which has the side-effect of making the desktop and non-HDR content look vibrant, albeit at the expense of over-saturated colours.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Features
Since there are more bonus extras here than on a Disney Blu-ray, let’s start small with the mouse bungee. For the unfamiliar, a bungee is a little arm that holds your mouse cable up off the desk, keeping the latter clear and preventing the cable from tangling, dragging along the desk’s surface or falling down the back of it – while granting freer movement for rapid-fire gaming. They normally sit on the desk, but the Optix MPG341CQR’s bungee accessory can be clipped onto the screen’s bottom edge, either on the left or right side (depending on whether you’re left- or right-handed). While I initially thought the clip-on fastening system felt worrying loose, in practice the bungee held firm.
The camera mount is another neat addition. It looks like a ball head tripod mount, but clips firmly anywhere along the Optix MPG341CQR’s top edge, allowing you to attach a DSLR to use as a webcam alternative. Although this is far more of a niche feature – mainly for professional, enthusiast and aspiring livestreamers – it’s well-executed.
On the software side, this monitor joins the Optix MAG321CURV, Acer Nitro VG270UP and Gigabyte AD27QD in offering a desktop software alternative to the OSD. You have to connect a USB cable to your PC and manually download the software, named Gaming OSD 2.0, but mouse control and the sheer breadth of options make this easily worth the effort.
Hook up another source device, for example, and Gaming OSD 2.0 will make it trivially easy to set up either picture-in-picture (PIP) or picture-by-picture (PBP) viewing modes – both of which are nicely accommodated by the ultrawide dimensions, and are accompanied by audio switch and image size/positioning options. The similar ‘Split window’ group of settings is particularly brilliant for desktop multitasking, as it quickly snaps up to five different application windows in a neat layout of your choosing. The Optix MPG341CQR is primarily a gaming monitor, but where productivity is concerned, this feature alone greatly helps its viability as an alternative to dual monitors.
There are some more fun and/or silly options too. For instance, turn on location sharing in Windows and the bottom row of RGB lights can be set to display colour-coded temperature and weather information: surprisingly helpful if you’re a lowly technology journalist working in a basement lab, though perhaps less so if you can look out a window.
Gaming OSD 2.0 also provides a handful of image-tweaking tools outside the usual brightness, contrast and colour settings. One, Image Enhancement, is basically just a sharpening filter, though it looks okay at its lower and medium settings; on ‘strong’ and ‘strongest’ it starts to distort edges.
Another, Night Vision, is meant to adjust contrast to make dark areas in games easier to make out. The idea is to only light up the dark bits of the screen, but even the lower intensity settings seems to just lower contrast across the entire panel, which has the effect of making everything look more washed out. To MSI’s credit, though, the ‘AI’ setting worked well – and it’s a pretty effective (and impressively dynamic) system.
All of these settings can be applied or disabled on custom user profiles, which in turn can be assigned to different users – just in case you’ll be sharing the monitor with someone who has differing tastes in visuals. This is where that facial recognition camera comes in: it identifies who’s sat in front of the monitor and automatically loads their profile as soon as Gaming OSD 2.0 is opened.
Or at least that’s the theory – it just doesn’t work very well in practice. The camera’s low position and viewing angle means that it has a better view of a user’s chest than their face, so to both enrol my profile and to activate the camera, I had to lean down awkwardly. Even then, the recognition process takes several seconds of staring before it makes a positive match, and since you have to load the software anyway, it’s ultimately faster to select a profile by simply clicking on it.
The camera’s other party trick is to basically act as an ambient light sensor: click the Smart Brightness button in Gaming OSD 2.0 and the software will set the brightness according to how much light is hitting the sensor. This isn’t nearly as counter-intuitive as trying to gurn your way into a profile change, but it is unreliable enough that it’s better to just change brightness manually: repeated attempts at setting Smart Brightness, with no changes to the entirely artificial overhead room lighting, produced brightness levels all the way between 45 and 69 out of 100.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Image quality
On the core issue of picture quality, the Optix MPG341CQR copes well – even if some of MSI’s official numbers are, to put it charitably, ambitious.
For the first round of tests I used the default ‘User’ profile, with all settings as-is except turning brightness to maximum. Colour accuracy isn’t in class-leading territory, with an average delta-E of 3.2, but it did manage to cover a respectable 93.1% of the sRGB colour gamut. Brightness uniformity is good, too, with no more than a 7.7% drop in brightness around the lower left-hand edge. For a non-professional, primarily games-focused monitor that’s a worthy performance.
HDR is a different story entirely, though, and peak brightness in our tests fell a little way short of the 400cd/m2 needed to adhere to the DisplayHDR 400 certification. The standard user profile topped out at 316cd/m2 with a contrast ratio of 2,010:1, and while the HDR profile improved things slightly with a maximum brightness of 358.3cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 2,259:1, it’s still some way off MSI’s quoted figures of 3,000:1 and 400cd/m2.
In truth, though, we’d advise you not to set too much store by the DisplayHDR 400 certification – regardless of which monitor it adorns – as it’s simply not ‘proper’ HDR at all. By comparison, current 4K TVs with competent HDR performance hit peaks of well over 500cd/m2 at the very least, and in many cases significantly above 1,000cd/m2. What’s more, local dimming backlighting (or self-emissive display technology such as OLED) is essential to provide the dynamic range required for a true HDR experience. That technology is taking a painfully long time to trickle down into the world of (affordable) PC monitors, and consequently the MSI has to make do with bog-standard edge-lit LED backlighting.
That’s not the end of it, either, as the DisplayHDR 400 standard cuts corners elsewhere: it only requires a monitor to produce 95% of the sRGB colour gamut. In fairness, the MSI meets this criteria dead-on in its HDR mode (it manages exactly 95% coverage), but any self-respecting 4K HDR display targets the vastly larger palette of colours provided by the DCI-P3 colour gamut. Sadly, it’s not until you get to the DisplayHDR 500 certification and above that these limitations begin to be addressed, with 500cd/m2 peak brightness levels and 90%+ DCI-P3 coverage stipulated as a bare minimum. Buyer beware.
To be clear, the Optix MPG341CQR provides very respectable image quality for the most part. By comparison, the even more expensive LG 34GK950F has better accuracy but slightly lower sRGB coverage and inferior backlighting uniformity. The AOC AG352UCG, meanwhile, delivers both more varied and more accurate colours, though contrast and – again – uniformity is better on MSI’s monitor. Any perceived problems here are more to do with the expectation-setting of the MSI’s dauntingly high price – and the questionable value of the DisplayHDR 400 certification – than anything else.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Performance
Gaming puts the MSI firmly in its element, however. Even ignoring the quoted 1ms response time (this uses the questionably applicable Moving Picture Response Time metric) in favour of its more accurate grey-to-grey time of 4ms, the MSI is still a fast mover by VA standards, and it kept up with every game I tried. There are three levels of pixel overdrive if you want to squeeze the most out of the panel, though you’d be advised to avoid the fastest setting to avoid inverse ghosting.
There is a smidge of regular ghosting on fast-moving objects, but it’s relatively minor and can be ignored if you’re not actively looking for it. With no input lag issues or stuttering, that’s about it for things to be concerned about: this is generally a highly capable gaming display.
Both Freesync and G-Sync work wonderfully, even if the latter is only supported unofficially (and requires a DisplayPort connection specifically). Testing each of these features with our Radeon RX 5700 XT and GeForce GTX 1060 cards, both practically eliminate screen tearing with zero drawbacks; some reviewers have reported a flickering issue when using G-Sync on monitors which haven’t received G-Sync certification, but the Optix MPG341CQR performed fine.
Naturally, you’ll need a reasonably beefy graphics card to take advantage of the high refresh rate while also dealing with the demanding ultrawide resolution. That said, if you can afford a monitor that costs nearly £900, you’re probably not going to be connecting to an entry-level PC anyway.
MSI Optix MPG341CQR review: Verdict
MSI’s unusual approach to the Optix MPG341CQR pays dividends. For pure display performance the AG352UCG is a better-value alternative, but the MPG341CQR isn’t just a screen: it’s bristling with handy little tools and fun extras that make it easier to use, all the way from initial setup through to heavy gaming sessions.
Even the innovations that don’t work out so well – mainly the camera – are, at the very least, admirable failures in a corner of the PC hardware market that’s usually all too happy to coast along on the same old ideas. There’s no reason MSI can’t rework the camera to the point it becomes a genuinely useful addition in the future.
Back in the present, there’s the unshakeable feeling that the high price doesn’t quite match the contents – but the Optix MPG341CQR still performs where it counts. If you can hang fire until the daunting launch price begins to tumble, then this feature-rich monitor will be a much wiser purchase.