Last Updated on November 9, 2021 by ViCadia
In a Nutshell
The MSI Optix MAG301CR2 is a high-end WFHD gaming monitor that features 30″ ultrawide curved screen, 200 Hz refresh rate, and support for HDR. However, despite its great specs, this monitor struggles to deliver all of its advertised capabilities.
Super-high refresh rates have become common in professional esports gaming monitors, but they’ve only just begun to trickle down to more leisure gaming panels. One such monitor is the MSI Optix MAG301CR, which comes with a 30-inch ultrawide panel and 200 Hz of extremely smooth motion for a price of $350.
MSI Optix MAG301CR2 Specifications
|Panel Size & Type||29.5″ VA|
|Color Saturation||98% DCI-P3/127% sRGB|
|True Resolution||2560 x 1080 (WFHD)|
|Response Time||1ms (MPRT)|
|Refresh Rate||170 Hz|
|Signal Input||2 x HDMI 2.0b|
1 x Display port 1.2a
1 x USB Type-C
|USB port(s)||2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A|
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-B
Design and Features
The design of MSI Optix MAG301CR2 is discreetly playful. The external elements of the screen unit, including the stand and the monitor’s attachment point are made of black plastic with a matte surface. The monitor features a three-legged stand, made of aluminum alloy and has a durable matte dark gray-silver coating. On its back, the monitor features a nameplate with the Optix Curved Gaming inscription, as well as a red joystick.
The outer surface of the monitor is black, with semi-matte coating. The surface of the display screen is subtly curved so that the right and left edges are slightly pushed forward. The declared bending radius is 1.5 m. The uniformity of the screen curvature of this monitor is good, although at the right and left edges the screen is almost flat, but this is typical for all curved LCD screens. From the front, the screen looks like a one monolithic surface, bounded at the bottom by a narrow bar, and around the perimeter by a narrow bezel. By displaying an image on the screen, you can see that there are actually narrow margins between the outer edges of the screen and the actual display area.
At the bottom of the screen there are two buttons, each on a separate side. The button on the left works in conjunction with the Gaming OSD app and by default pressing the button simply calls this app (if it’s installed), but you can assign another action. The button on the right turns off the monitor or puts it into a standby mode. The location of the buttons is indicated by the icons on the front side. Next to the icon on the right, there is a tiny hole through which the status indicator shines through.
There are ventilation grilles in the upper part of the rear panel, on the bottom end and on the wall with connectors. All interface connectors and the power connector are located in an open recess on the rear panel and are oriented downward. It is convenient to connect cables to these connectors if the screen is rotated to portrait orientation. Cables from the monitor connectors can be passed through the hole at the bottom of the stand arm.
Around the circular mounting pad is a clear plastic ring insert that is illuminated by several multicolor addressable LEDs. In the monitor menu, the backlighting can be turned on (dynamic mode) or turned off. More lighting options are available if you use the MSI Mystic Light utility, which is launched from the Gaming OSD app.
The base of the stand provides the monitor with good stability. Rubber pads on the bottom of the stand base anchor points protect the table surface from scratches and prevent the monitor from sliding on smooth surfaces. Even a full-size keyboard can be placed close to the monitor between the widely spaced legs of the stand.
The supporting elements of the stand are made of thick stamped steel or aluminum alloy. The post is of a fixed height, but a spring-supported steel rail ball bearing mechanism allows vertical movement of the assembly to which the screen assembly is attached. As a result, with a slight movement of your hand, the screen can be set to a desired height. The hinge in this assembly allows the screen to tilt slightly forward from a vertical position and more to tilt back and flip to portrait orientation clockwise and counterclockwise. Additionally, a pivoting unit at the base of the stand allows the stand with the screen block to be rotated left and right.
The stand for the screen unit is fastened with latches in one movement, and it can be detached just as easily by holding the latch slider. If necessary, you can detach the stand and attach the display unit to a VESA-compatible bracket (you must use the supplied wall mount bracket).
Video and Audio Inputs
The MSI Optix MAG301CR2 has four video inputs: a pair of HDMI version 2.0, DisplayPort version 1.2 and USB-C. Of these, only DisplayPort and USB-C support the input signal with the maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,080 pixels at 200 Hz refresh rate. Inputs can be selected in the menu, and in the absence of a signal at the current input, an active input is automatically selected, although this feature can be disabled.
The listed inputs are capable of accepting digital audio signals (PCM stereo only), which are output after conversion to analogue via the 3.5mm microphone jack. An external powered speaker or headphones can be connected to this jack. The volume is not controlled by the monitor. The power of the headphone output was decent enough to provide sufficient volume in 32-ohm headphones with a sensitivity of 92 dB. The sound quality in the headphones is average. The sound is crisp, and there are no low frequencies at all. There is also a built-in USB (3.2) hub with two ports.
Software and Additional Functions
The power indicator on this monitor glows dim white during operation, orange in standby mode, and does not light up if the monitor is conventionally turned off. Pressing the built-in joystick displays a menu on the screen with the active first item of the first level. The menu is quite large, and the labels are readable. Navigation is convenient, since everything is done only with the joystick. You do not need to move your finger over the buttons, and the lists are looped. The only annoying thing is that in order to confirm the set value, you need to press the joystick, which is clearly unnecessary. When adjusting the image, the menu remains on the screen which somewhat interferes with the assessment of the changes being made.
Of the additional features, there are three “gaming” functions: displaying the frame rate counter on the screen, the crosshair of the selected type and color (red or white), as well as a customizable timer with a countdown. The position of these elements on the screen can be changed, and everything can be displayed simultaneously, including a not very useful window with information.
Screen Refresh Rate and HDR
There are not very many settings that affect the brightness and color balance, which is expected for a gaming monitor. You can adjust brightness (backlight) and contrast, edge clarity (Sharpness), modify substring for distinguishing gradations in shadows, fine-tune reduction of the intensity of the blue component, toggle dynamic backlight brightness, and enable Image Enhancement preset.
You can correct the color balance by choosing a color profile from three presets or create a custom one in which the color balance can be adjusted by modifying the intensity of the three primary colors. You can also choose one of four “gaming” preset profiles or “professional” image preset profiles. All profiles are editable.
There are three modes of geometric transformation: the image can be transformed to a ratio of 21:9 (it can be displayed across whole screen), to 16:9 and to 4:3. In the last two cases, black fields are displayed on the sides.
In a combination with a discrete graphics card and DisplayPort output, the 10-bit per color mode is supported, but the output to the monitor screen is still in the 8-bit per color mode. This monitor also supports FreeSync Premium technology via DisplayPort and HDMI inputs. The range of supported frequencies is 30-200 Hz for modes with a vertical frequency of 200 Hz (connection via DisplayPort) and 48-180 Hz for modes with a vertical frequency of 180 Hz (when connected via HDMI). Enabling FreeSync allowed us to get an image with smooth movement without tearing. This monitor also supports NVIDIA graphics cards in G-Sync Compatible mode, but only via DisplayPort connector.
Only when connected to a computer via DisplayPort (and, apparently, USB-C), a resolution of up to 2560 × 1080 pixels at 200 Hz is supported in 8-bit color mode and without loss of color clarity. Reducing the frequency to 144 Hz allows you to enable 10-bit color mode. When connected via HDMI in 2560 × 1080 resolution, you can get a maximum of 180 Hz frame rate at 8 bits per color (and 12 bits at 120 Hz).
This monitor is HDR capable. To test this mode, we used the official DisplayHDR test tool , which VESA recommends to use to verify that display devices meet the certification criteria. The result was good. A special gradient test showed the presence of 10-bit output. The maximum brightness reached a value of about 300 cd/m², which is not bad, but not more than in SDR mode. Thus, in terms of maximum brightness and the number of gradations of shades (as well as color gamut), this monitor is quite close to the DisplayHDR 400 criteria.
Image Quality and Performance
To assess the nature of the brightness intensity on a gray scale, we measured the brightness of 256 shades of gray (from 0, 0, 0 to 255, 255, 255). The increase in brightness is more or less uniform, and each next shade is brighter than the previous one. In shadows, all shades visually differ in brightness, which is very useful for a gaming monitor. Fitting the resulting gamma curve gave a score of 2.25, which is close to the standard value of 2.2.
The MAG301CR2 has no built-in profile with sRGB color gamut. Note that normal sRGB-optimized images appear unnaturally saturated on screens with wide color gamut without proper color correction. However, in more sophisticated operating systems, such as Windows 10, the desired color correction is achieved using a color management system. Therefore, a wider color gamut is not a disadvantage in this case.
White uniformity on this monitor is good, and black uniformity, and as a result, is worse. Contrast for this type of matrix is typical by modern standards. It is visible that the black field is overexposed in places.
In standby mode, the monitor consumes about 0.4 W. Turning on the backlight increases power consumption by up to 0.8 W. The brightness of the monitor changes precisely by the brightness of the backlight, that is, without compromising the quality of the image. The brightness of the monitor can be changed within a fairly wide range, which allows you to comfortably play, work and watch movies both in illuminated and dark room. At any brightness level, there is no backlight modulation, which eliminates visible screen flickering. For those who are accustomed to recognizing the familiar abbreviation, all we can say is that there is no PWM.
At a maximum refresh rate frequency of 200 Hz, clarity in motion does increase, but artifacts appear due to ghosting. This mode is recommended to be used with caution, as ghosting can lead to increased eye fatigue. Also note that enabling this mode will lower the maximum image brightness. The latency of the image output (with FreeSync off) at 200 Hz is 5 ms. This is a very small delay, it is absolutely not felt when working on a PC, and in games it will not lead to a decrease in performance.
The MSI Optix MAG301CR2 is a high-end gaming monitor suitable for very fast-paced games in 1080p, including ultra-wide format. Features include a 1.5 m curved screen, versatile design and multi-color backlighting. There is support for refresh rates of up to 200 Hz, as well as support for HDR. Despite the obvious focus on gamers, the monitor is also suitable for comfortable office work and for watching movies. The narrow viewing angles, both in terms of dimming and changing colors, are partially compensated by a stunning curved screen.