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Inside the shadowy underground of Korean monitor sales

Loyd Case | Sept. 20, 2012
If you're in the market for a new high-definition desktop monitor, take note: You may be able to pick up a very good Korean-made display for far less money than what you'd spend on, say, an Asus, Dell, HP, or Samsung model. Sure, you'll have to cope with odd product branding, limited functionality, and less-than-inspired product design; but if your primary concern is image quality, a Korean display purchased on eBay could be just the ticket.

I wouldnt recommend this kind of monitor for intensive photography work or video editing. Although you can, in theory, calibrate the display, the backlight hotspot is probably a negative for any serious task. Also, since the display has no built-in hardware for scaling the video, you're at the mercy of the graphics card and driver when it comes to video rendering quality. For instance, on my screen, HD video from Netflix streaming looked very soft, whether at 2560 by 1440 or 1920 by 1080.

You can spend up to $150 for additional features, such as video scaling and high-bandwidth HDMI. But my QH270-Lite has acquitted itself well as a standard desktop monitor, and it certainly handles games with aplomb. Maybe I was just lucky. Quite a few users have bought such displays from a variety of Korean resellers on eBay with good results. But others have received very poor displays, with plenty of dead pixels. It pays to research the vendors, and it's worthwhile to hand over a few extra dollars for a perfect pixel guarantee.

Don't want to take a chance on eBay and on Korean shipping? Some of these monitors are starting to show up at resellers in the United States. For example, Microcenter is offering a display labeled the Auria EQ276W for $399, and it seems quite similar to these Korean displays. You can also buy from Amazon resellers, though they tend to ship directly from Korea.

What this experience really illustrates is how international tech buying has become. In one sense, purchasing a Korean monitor is like buying a gray-market product. However, gray-market products are typically brand-name gear intended for overseas customers but sold into the United States instead, whereas these monitors are purely local Korean brands. If you do find one at a nearby source, you may get better support. Wherever you shop, be aware of the risks. If you can't afford to lose $300 to $400, you might not want to take a chance.


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