Thanks to the global chip shortage and ongoing woes for manufacturing, it’s taken a while for some high quality screens to make their way to Australian shores. But they’re finally starting to arrive. And if those monitors are as good as the EVE Spectrum, gamers are in for a real treat.
First, a bit of history. If the name EVE doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because they’re a new player that’s entered via Kickstarter. I’d actually heard nothing about the company officially, but I kept getting ads for them all over my Facebook page, which made me think it was another firm largely paying attention to the overseas market.
But I could see why EVE gained popularity. The company promised to launch the first 4K/144Hz, HDMI 2.1 gaming monitors before any other firm — and this was back in the pre-COVID days. Think back to March 2019 when a company comes out promising to deliver 4K/144Hz screens for $US799 with HDR600 support — or 1440p/240Hz monitors with 1ms response times, IPS Oxide panels and just as much brightness. Plus, you could save a little extra if you didn’t want the stand.
It’s no surprise EVE got a lot of attention real fast. But COVID spared nobody. EVE’s main advantage quickly faded away as supply issues meant many other manufacturers shipped high-end gaming monitors. LG’s updated 27-inch panel hit the market, and unsurprisingly, was very good. Samsung took everyone by surprise with their astonishingly capable next-gen VA screens, and I hear the firmware issues have corrected a lot of the problems seen in pre-release batches. Even MSI started knocking it out of the park with their 1440p/240Hz IPS screens, which are going for under $750 today.
Even the high-end 4K/144Hz market has gotten real crowded. EVE’s main pitch was that they’d be first to market. But as I write this, Australians will be able to get 28-inch 4K/144Hz screens from Samsung for a decent price, the incredibly affordable Gigabyte M28U, and competitive screens from Asus’s ROG line.
That’s not to say EVE’s first offering, the $US799 Spectrum 4K/144Hz model, doesn’t have some advantages. It’s still offering HDR 600 (albeit only with 16 local dimming zones), two HDMI 2.1 ports for your next-gen consoles, 100 percent coverage of the sRGB range, a USB 3.1 gen-2 port that can also pump out 100W of its own, customisable overdrive and customisable backlight strobing. It’s a pretty attractive package, with the notable exception of the cloud hovering over the company.
EVE is a company that’s created more of its fair share of issues for itself. Before the Spectrum, EVE created the EVE V, a 2-in-1 laptop that was crowdfunded and designed with support from the community. But the laptop suffered from lengthy delays: screens took time to deliver, then the community voted to delay shipping further to upgrade the screen, and then users could only buy them through a slightly unusual reservation/flash sale process.
And then EVE couldn’t produce enough computers to actually meet all the orders they received. “We warned [our payments processor] in advance about large sales amounts coming, but I think they didn’t take our forecasts seriously. So we ended up with a lot of devices sold and all of the funds frozen up,” Konstantinos Karatsevidis, EVE’s CEO, told The Verge.
The Finnish firm moved from laptops to monitors, and in mid-2021 the tech startup is finally starting to send out its first batch of monitors. Or, rather, it’s sending out it’s first batch of monitors again — because the early units first went out in January, and reviewers weren’t hugely impressed. HDMI 2.1 didn’t work on the pre-release batch — which makes you wonder why they sent them out to press — and the colour accuracy wasn’t really on point. To make things worse, one of the largest subreddits for monitor discussion banned EVE from their forums for vote manipulation.
On top of that, some users who tried to refund their earlier orders were told that Eve’s payment processor refused to process the orders — mostly because the monitor had been delayed so much that the refunds were older than what the payment processor would accept.
And then there’s the other problem: paying just over $1,000 Australian to have a monitor shipped from overseas. What happens if something goes wrong — how long will you have to wait until it gets shipped back, and will EVE cover the cost of express shipping on repairs?
All of those questions will be absolute dealbreakers for some people. And while EVE does ship directly to Australia — it’s one of the several regions available on the official site, although Aussies still have to pay in USD — dealing with an international supplier for repairs can be tricky. (EVE says aftermarket support will improve once the Spectrum is “available from major retailers worldwide with a higher price” — but that’s a whole other equation, since the monitor then has to be evaluated in its new price point and the available competition.)
Still, I’ve been impressed with the unit I’ve used. There was a slight snafu in getting 4K/120Hz HDR gaming going through the Xbox Series X — it would only work after enabling YCC 4:2:2 in the Xbox’s display settings, which isn’t enabled by default — but the console gaming performance was completely acceptable after some HDR calibration. Microsoft Flight Simulator doesn’t run at anything close to 120 FPS, but it does run very nicely at 4K in HDR. Games with a lot more black, like Mass Effect Andromeda above, don’t fare as well. The EVE Spectrum is a monitor, not an OLED TV, and the minimal dimming zones just lead to a washed out look with a lot of lost detail.
The added bonus of being a PC monitor — and its crowdsourced development — also means you get a few extra tricks. Want console gaming with backlight strobing? You can do that. (You’ll lose variable refresh rate support, but hey, the choice is there.)
And the Spectrum’s much better suited to PC gaming and all-around productivity. Along with the customisable strobing and response time overdrive — something monitor experts Blur Busters specifically worked with Eve on — the Spectrum also gives users a good amount of control. There’s sRGB and DCI-P3 profiles out of the box, although contrast and colour temperature are locked to the DCI-P3 modes. The modes were well calibrated out of the box, which was a nice surprise given the colour accuracy was one of the Spectrum’s biggest issues when reviewers played around with it earlier this year.
The amount of work that’s gone into the strobing also makes the monitor unusually well suited for retro gaming, thanks to its single-strobe support at 50Hz and 60Hz. Most people will obviously prefer to run the Spectrum at 4K/144Hz for PC gaming, though. And if you’ve got the hardware — say a 6800XT/RTX 3080/RTX 3080 Ti for example — the experience is outstanding. Creeping around an atmospheric game like GTFO is an absolute treat. And the customisable overdrive settings mean, coupled with the blur reduction (although I preferred to have it disabled due to the overshoot it introduced) means you can have a better experience in shooters like Splitgate or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive than you would on other 144Hz screens.
On the feature list, you get: G-SYNC compatibility and FreeSync Premium Pro support, USB-C, USB-B and USB-A ports, a 100mm x 100mm VESA mount, pixel upscaling for low-res sources like retro consoles, a maximum contrast ratio of 1000:1, 98 percent DCI-P3 coverage and full sRGB coverage, and three years limited warranty with an extra policy for ‘zero bright dot’ pixels. It’s worth noting that the Spectrum doesn’t come with a HDMI or DisplayPort cable, and if you want a stand, that’ll cost you an extra $US99. (EVE’s community strongly voted in support of having the stand as an optional extra, so the other way of thinking about it is you can save some money by using a existing VESA mount.)
You can also customise the USB hub, USB-C bandwidth priority and whether the HDMI ports both run at HDMI 2.1, or in compatibility mode. Also, the entire unit doesn’t need active cooling to operate — which was one of the biggest issues with the first generation of high-refresh rate 4K gaming monitors, like the Acer Predator X27.
Put simply, I’m impressed. But the proof isn’t really in the quality of the units that go out to reviewers — Eve showed they can clear that hurdle already. The problem is whether the company can fulfil all the orders it takes, and whether it can get units out in a timely manner that backers don’t opt for competing products instead. Many people Australians, quite reasonably, would wonder why it’s worth risking the dice on a screen with an LG panel when LG’s 27GN950-B is in stock. (I’d argue the EVE Spectrum is a nicer, sleeker design with less of the gamer styling, but the Spectrum can add potentially an extra $US60 to the final cost according to posts on its forums; I couldn’t see the precise shipping without stumping up $US100 for a reservation.)
So some might opt to wait until the EVE Spectrum is available in Australian retailers. Even if it’s an extra $100 or $200 on top, that’s still worth the peace of mind when you’re buying tech that will last at least five, six, maybe seven or more years.
But I take this as a positive. The EVE Spectrum is just one of many 4K/144Hz HDMI 2.1 monitors we’re going to get over the next 6 to 12 months. The HDR experience is still pretty deficient in areas, but we’re finally getting screens where turning HDR on isn’t a complete waste of time. The panel’s overall performance is great, and the chassis design doesn’t lean into that awful gamer shtick that so many PC peripherals use.
Even if the EVE Spectrum has too many red flags for you, don’t worry. A lot of real good 4K/144Hz screens are on the way. If this one doesn’t do it for you, retailers will stock another panel that does. It’s a good time for PC gaming.