A high-refresh-rate ultrawide gaming display, MSI’s $799 Optix MPG341CQR introduces a range of features to the gaming monitor space that gamers didn’t even know they wanted, and it posts some remarkably low input-lag figures. Its color results may not be ideal for creative professionals, and the HDR quality leaves a bit to be desired. But outside of those quibbles (which don’t affect this panel’s core audience), the Optix is one of the best values among 34-inch ultrawide gaming panels today, and it earns our Editors’ Choice.
A Gamer’s Monitor Wish List
The VA-based Optix MPG341CQR is a 144Hz 34-inch gaming monitor with a 3,440-by-1,440-pixel native resolution. I first laid eyes on it during an in-office visit from MSI. Company personnel dropped off the unit at PC Labs after giving a quick hands-on tour of the unique features on offer.
On the design side of things, what immediately caught my eye: a mouse bungee mounted to the underside of the monitor, a camera cradle for a webcam on top, and a rainbow LED strip along the bottom. The latter can display colors that represent information—say, your local weather or the temperature outside—or that just runs as a classic breathing RGB wheel. (Yes, the weather—in case you play in a, shall we say, underground gaming den.)
The LED strip can also sync up with SteelSeries’ GameSense software to display helpful visual cues that correspond to certain in-game statuses, such as how much health you have or how much ammo is left in your magazine. As each is depleted or replenished, the LED bar will turn from green to yellow to red, as appropriate. That’s nifty, though at the moment GameSense is supported only by Counter Strike: Global Offensive, DOTA 2, and Minecraft. Big games, yes, but very far from all games.
These color changes can sync up with another LED bar, which lives on the back of the monitor. Though it may seem redundant to put an LED bar back there, if you have the monitor set with its back up near a white or contrasting-color wall, the ambient-lighting effect can spill out enough to remind you to reload in the heat of battle when you’re too focused on lining up a sniper shot to notice.
Outside of those new features, much of the core design is the same as what we’ve seen on other 34-inch, 21:9 ultrawide monitors in this class. At 31.9 inches wide, 12.8 inches deep, and 22.2 inches wide, this 29.8-pound monitor is in the same general weight and size class as its competitors. MSI claims a “bezel-free” design, and the edging (or lack thereof) does provide a more immersive experience than you’d get otherwise. In truth, the edges are not entirely invisible; I did still note a 0.25-inch-thick strip of bezel black.
Like Acer’s Predator series of gaming monitors, this Optix model features an ergonomically friendly stand, which is a must-have for FPS players (like myself) who prefer to orient the keyboard at an angle relative to the screen to maintain the most control over in-game characters without stressing the wrists. The keyboard can slide under the stand, making it easier to keep the panel close to your eyes while still using your preferred keyboard-placement style. It’s a subtle thing that many players may not notice, but those that care will be pleased by this attention to gamer detail.
The monitor has an 1800R curvature rating; this refers to the number of millimeters the curve would occupy if you drew it out into a full circle (in this case, 1,800mm). This degree of curvature is pretty standard for 34-inch ultrawide monitors like this and provides an immersive experience for one person, though anyone trying to watch a movie side by side with someone else might find themselves at a less-than-ideal viewing angle.
The chassis is lined along the back and side with ports, including one DisplayPort 1.4b and two HDMI 2.0 inputs, one USB Type-C (which can act as a video-input DisplayPort alternative), three USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports (downstream), one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-B (the upstream), and a full audio stack of line-in, line-out, and combo jack ports. The audio ports process any signals sent or received through the HDMI or DisplayPort inputs. This is a healthy mix of ports, giving gamers the option to plug in a USB headset much closer to the screen versus running two cables all the way to the back of a tower.
Your OSD, Your Choice
I’m a big fan of joysticks for panel control instead of buttons, and MSI nails that here. A five-way joystick lets you interact with the onscreen display-settings menu. And that menu is a doozie. It’s jam-packed with just about every gaming feature I’ve heard of, plus a few I haven’t.
This list includes an “A.I-assisted smart filter” called Night Vision. That may sound intimidating, but it’s just a fancy way of saying the monitor can adjust the gamma of the screen dynamically, depending on the darkness of the scene in your game. You also get access to an anti-motion-blur setting for fast-paced image smoothing.
Other innovative additions include a webcam embedded in the bottom bezel that does facial recognition on the user sitting in front of the monitor and changes the panel to his or her preferred profile automatically. Strangely, this built-in webcam doesn’t work as an actual, you know, webcam, and was only compatible with the facial recognition software. If you want to stream yourself gaming or do anything else webcam-related, you’ll need to attach another one (which you will have to provide) to the top using the cradle mount.
The panel supports both picture-in-picture (PIP) and picture-by-picture (PBP), as well as the option to apply an “image enhancement” filter, which actually didn’t look terrible at the lower intensities. Usually, image enhancement features on monitors apply a flat sharpening filter over everything (and that’s no different in the case of the Optix). This one, though, looked to be better tuned to incorporate information like the contrast and darkness of a scene into the overall level of enhancement being applied.
Then there’s the real gamer stuff. MSI went above and beyond with the Optix MPG341CQR, adding everything from the option to change your latency mode (best understood as an overdrive feature that disables other processes in the monitor to reduce input lag), to setting an alarm clock that flashes on your screen when it goes off. MSI also includes hardware-based OSD crosshairs, but unlike some monitors that limit you to just one, the panel gives you 12 different ones to choose among. (Hardware-based crosshairs are useful for gamers who like to play in hardcore servers, where the crosshair is generally removed to boost the difficulty of getting the perfect shot. Hardware crosshairs can help compensate for that.)
Every aspect of the monitor’s many different in-menu settings can also be managed, profiled, and programmed right from a desktop app called MSI Gaming OSD 2.0. Using your mouse and keyboard with the program removes some of the frustration inherent in getting your display tuned just right while using a hardware-based menu alone. MSI didn’t have to go as far with Gaming OSD 2.0 as it did, but I’m glad for it, now that I’ve had some time with the app.
A Panel Built for Speed
Because this is a gaming monitor, let’s talk first about its gaming performance. In testing the Optix MPG341CQR’s input lag using an HDFury 4K Diva (with few expectations, since VA panels tend to be slower than TN or even some IPS options in this arena), I was surprised to the see the Optix hit a very low (that is, fast) score of 1.4 milliseconds at a 60Hz refresh rate.
To test the color gamut coverage of the MSI Optix MPG341CQR, I used a Klein K10-A colorimeter, a Murideo SIX-G signal generator, and SpectraCal CalMAN 5 monitor calibration and evaluation software. The sRGB results in my sample were dead-on out of the box, scoring at 100 percent accuracy, as shown in the chart below. This isn’t particularly important for gamers, but folks who view a lot of content on the internet will be pleased with this result.
As for the DCI-P3 results (these measure a monitor’s ability to express color as used in movies or TV shows), the panel matched MSI’s own spec (84 percent) nearly bang-on, with our meter showing a slight gain in the company’s favor with a rating of 84.2 percent, illustrated below. It’s not the best you might see on a gaming panel (other monitors like the Acer Predator XB3 have scored in the low 90s), but it’s far from the worst.
Next up, Adobe RGB coverage, which matters to creative pros who work in Photoshop or do any kind of work that needs color accuracy in Adobe’s larger suite of creative software. Our test results ring in at 80.2 percent (see below), a result that might give pause to pros considering this Optix, say, as a daily driver and a gaming panel in a home office.
Brightness & Contrast Ratio
The Optix’s luminance numbers were just short of what we’d hope for in a DisplayHDR 400 panel (the “400” is in reference to its peak brightness level), achieving 395 nits in HDR mode, and 256 nits when we switched over to HDR mode. HDR 400 is the lowest of the HDR classes (HDR 600, HDR 1000, and HDR 1600 are the higher tiers), so it’s typical to see brightness levels in line with the HDR level that the manufacturer claims.
With black levels of 0.38 (fairly high for a VA panel in a test where the lower the number, the better), the Optix hit a little over a third of its MSI-rated contrast ratio (3,000:1) at default settings, with an out-of-the-box uncalibrated rating of 1,039:1. Given that most competing gaming monitors with similar panels claim contrast ratios of only 1,000:1, it’s curious that MSI makes such a substantial claim here for the Optix.
When we tested the MPG341CQR’s cousin, the Optix MPG27CQ, that monitor scored just above its own rating of 3,000:1 with a result of 3,110:1. Both the panel technology and most of the bells and whistles found on the MPG341CQR first made their appearances on the MGP27CQ, so the big disparity here is a mystery. (Both panels were tested after being reset to default settings at 75 percent brightness.)
Other Testing Aspects
The Optix recovered on color-accuracy tests, with a strong uncalibrated out-of-the-box result of 2.61 dE. Even the most color-accurate, carefully calibrated monitors in the world won’t get below 0.20 dE, so for the uncalibrated, non-creator-focused Optix to score a 2.61 without any tweaking on our part is a feather in its cap.
The overall HDR image quality of the Optix could be better, but that’s to be expected with a VA panel on an HDR400 display. During my test run of this Costa Rica 4K HDR stock footage, even in a cross examination between HDR and Cinema mode the colors still seemed a little more washed out than what I’ve seen on other monitors in this class.
If you want to get the most out of your gaming experience on this monitor we’d recommend going with a card like the AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT since the Optix only supports FreeSync 2 adaptive sync technology, not Nvidia’s G-Sync. With FreeSync 2 activated and the screen pushed to its maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and the newly patched Apex Legends ran smoothly with very few signs of screen tearing, even during the most intense firefights.
Tons of Features, Even More Speed
At $799, the MSI Optix MPG341CQR is a bright, buzzy, fast, and furious ultrawide gaming monitor that ticks close to every box a gamer could ask for. I’ve personally been using one model or another in the Acer Predator X34 line as my daily driver at home for four years, and long since converted to the cult of curved 21:9 gaming. The MSI Optix pushes each element of that experience to new heights.
With a stack of cool customization options, innovative approaches to the problem of dark scenes in gaming, and super-quick input-lag scores, this monitor is a recommended upgrade for any gamer who wants to game on one of the most feature-rich under-$1,000 displays we’ve tested to date. Connoisseurs of gaming on ultrawide panels will be especially jazzed by the Optix.