Tested: How to Buy a Cheap 27-Inch Monitor from Korea

By Wesley Fenlon

Upgrading to 2560x1440 doesn't require spending over a grand. In fact, depending on your needs, you could spend a whole lot less.

Crossover is a brand you've probably never heard of before. There are a million 21-inch monitors out there, but around 27 inches the choices start to thin out. Big names take over. If you want anything over 1920x1200 pixels, choices are slim. Dell's UltraSharps and Apple's Thunderbolt Display are the go-tos. Downside: They cost about $1000. Enter Crossover.

The rising stars of the monitor world are a group of Korean brands available for import via eBay. Yamakasi, Crossover, Shimian. They use the same LG panels as Apple's Thunderbolt Display, but they cost about one third the price. It sounds like too good a deal to pass up, and after a couple weeks of researching these Korean monitors I decided to pay $390 for a Crossover 27Q LED-P. It's now my primary monitor, and my 23-inch Dell UltraSharp has taken up a flanking position in portrait mode for writing and web browsing.

The screen is flawless--not a single dead pixel in sight--and after weeks of working, gaming and movie watching, I think the Crossover is the second-best PC upgrade I've ever made, behind a blazing fast SSD. It's easily worth $400, and that's actually on the high end of what these monitors go for on eBay. With some diligent searching and a little luck, you could nab one for a hundred bucks less.

That's part of the dilemma: Korean import monitors are cheap, but the trade-off is risk. You don't have customer service to call up for help, and there are an overwhelming number of choices. I picked the Crossover because I think it's the best of the bunch, but after using it for a month I have a better idea of its strengths (display quality, stand) and weaknesses (lack of inputs, subtle-but-noticeable electronic whine).

The first half of this feature contains my impressions using the Crossover 27Q as my primary monitor for a few months. The second half covers the rest of the Korean import monitors available on eBay, advice on picking the model that suits you best, and tips on getting a good price from a reputable seller.

A Few Months with the Crossover 27Q

The Crossover 27Q doesn't look or feel like a cheap $400 monitor. At about 15 pounds, it's heavy enough to stay solidly planted on a desk; the front half of the monitor casing is glossy black, while the back half is a clean white metal. The LED-P variant has a great stand: It can tilt, swivel horizontally, raise and lower and pivot the 27-inch screen 90 degrees. Most of the Korean imports are criticized for shaky or flimsy stands, though thankfully they're all VESA compatible.

But the Crossover's stand is good out of the box. If I shake my desk, I do get some wobble, but no more than I see with my Dell UltraSharp. Height is adjustable, the screen tilts and rotates generously side-to-side, and the LED-P model can pivot 90 degrees into a vertical orientation.

The screen itself looks every bit as good as one of Apple's Thunderbolt displays. It measures 27 inches diagonally and is 2560 pixels wide by 1440 pixels tall. The screen supports 16.7 million colors, aka 8-bit color depth. That's basically standard color range; there are 10-bit billion color display out there, but they're for professional artists who need extreme color accuracy.

If you really need a wide gamut monitor, you're not shopping for a budget import--you want an NEC, probably. Otherwise, you can download an ICC color profile for your monitor to calibrate it, or use a real hardware calibration tool like the Spyder.

Even though it's not a wide gamut display, the Crossover 27Q looks fantastic.

Even though it's not a wide gamut display, the Crossover 27Q looks fantastic. It turns on in about three seconds, is noticeably more vivid than my Dell UltraSharp U2312HM, and absolutely pixel perfect (which I paid a bit extra for--more on that later). While light bleed and color uniformity can vary unit-to-unit, this review of the Crossover actually shows more uniform backlighting on the 27Q than on an Apple Thunderbolt Display. In a dark room, I see a small amount of light leakage out of the bottom bezel, but the screen itself is evenly backlit.

All the import Korean monitors are glossy displays, just like Apple's. Colors have much more "pop" on glossy displays than they do on screens with anti-glare coatings, but reflections can be an issue.

From the front, the Crossover could pass for a much more expensive monitor. When you look at the back, you see where they cheaped out: there's a single dual-link DVI input, a power plug, and a few cheap-looking buttons for power and adjusting brightness. That's it. You can even see the monitor's barebones circuit board through vents in the back. There's no on-screen display, but the monitor doesn't really need one, since there's only one input.

The buttons are easy to use for adjusting brightness and turning the monitor on and off. Like the rest of the cheap Korean imports, the Crossover 27Q has no internal scaler, meaning you can't pipe in video from a PS3 or Xbox 360 and have it up-ressed to 2560x1440, a resolution neither console supports. This is strictly a PC monitor.

On the bright side, scalers can introduce input lag, and having one in a budget monitor is likely a recipe for disaster. 27-inch displays naturally aren't as responsive as smaller monitors, but in my experience the Crossover 27Q looks great while gaming, with no visible ghosting.

I have only one complaint about the Crossover: the quiet, but audible, high-pitch noise that it emits. It's a sound you've probably noticed from electronics before: I can hear it when I turn on some LCDs, and it's much more prevalent in old tube electronics. it's just loud enough coming from the Crossover to be a little annoying if I'm not listening to music or wearing a headset.

Some Googling confirms that other popular Korean monitors, the Shimian and Yamakasi Catleap, produce the same noise, which is loudest when the display is displaying primarily white pixels, and much quieter when displaying primarily black. I've also read that this problem isn't unique to cheap monitors--one of ASUS' 27-inchers produces a noticeable buzz as well.

Considering the monitor cost only $400, I'm glad that a quiet whine is its biggest drawback. I'd still happily recommend it to anyone in the market for a 1440p monitor. But if you want to spend a bit more, or a bit less, there are some other good imports out there. Let's go over them.

Choosing the Right Import Monitor

The Catleaps were the first Korean monitors to pop up on eBay and attract widespread attention; it took only a few months for the popularity of these budget brands to spread, and tech enthusiasts have analyzed the screens to determine whether they're worth the average $300 (they are) and to pin down how they can be sold for so little. The two main reasons:

  • They're extremely feature light (no USB ports or HDMI or scaler or on-screen display or webcam etc.)
  • The LG panels they use are grade A or A-. Basically, Apple can be very picky for its monitors and choose the highest quality panels. The ones they don't want get put into budget monitors. Sometimes they're flawless, sometimes they have dead/stuck pixels or bleeding or tinting.

Here are the basics on the most common import monitors. Another wrinkle I'll get to in a second: there are more expensive models that add in features like HDMI, and there are now some American competitors sold at retail that hit similar price points but actually have warranties.

  • Brands: Achieva Shimian, Yamakasi Catleap, Crossover
  • Where to buy: Ebay, Micro Center
  • Basic stats: 27 inches, 2560x1440, DVI-D input, 380 cd/m2 brightness,
  • Price range: $250 - $450
  • Warranty: 14-30 days by sellers. You may be able to ship back for a 1-year manufacturer's warranty after that, but good luck communicating with the South Korean company.
  • Shipping: Free from most sellers, but you'll have to pay for a return if you need it.

So which one should you get? This article on Swiftworld describes the differences between all the well-known brands. It's absolutely worth reading if you seriously consider buying a South Korean monitor, but here are the highlights for the three most popular cheap models:

Achieva Shimian: About $300

"The ShiMian QH270-LITE is the cheapest option out of all the other brands and models....The stand used is the same as of all the other different Achieva models. General user feedback is that the stand is alright but does feels cheap and may be wobbly at times."

Yamakasi Catleap: About $350

"The Catleap Q270 SE has a circular based stand that apparently allows you to swivel 360 degrees. Apart from that, there is the chance of receiving a monitor that allows for overclocking to refresh rates of 120Hz....These monitors cost slightly more than the Shimian Q270-LITE."

Crossover 27Q: About $400

"The Crossover 27Q LED is similar to that of the ShiMian Q270-LITE. It also has a rectangular base stand but is said to be of better quality. The general consensus is that the overall build construct of the monitor and quality of the stand is the best among all the other brands....The model cost slightly more than the rest at roughly ~$50 USD more expensive than the ShiMian Q270-LITE."

One bad thing about how popular these monitors have become: the eBay sellers have raised their prices. They're still cheap, but they're not as cheap as they were a few months ago. Achieva, Yamakasi and Crossover also sell step-up models with HDMI, speakers, and other additions. Are they better? Potentially, but remember that the inclusion of a scaler introduces a bit more input delay. Expect to pay $500 - $700 for one of those models and check out the Swiftworld article for details on each (and if you're paying that much, seriously consider the way better Dell U2713HM, at $800).

I've decided I want to import a cheap monitor. Which should I buy?

If you want one that's just good to go out of the box, I say go with the Crossover 27Q LED-P. The stand is solid. The casing is attractive and doesn't feel cheap. It's only a bit more expensive than a Catleap, which has a crappy stand.

I've decided I want to import two or three cheap monitors for a big multi-monitor setup. Which should I buy?

Going double- or triple-monitor? If you hunt for an eBay deal on an Achieva Shimian, you can probably get a triple-monitor setup for under $900. The QH270 sells for as little as $250, in some cases. Remember that these monitors only offer dual-link DVI ports, and you'll need 2-3 ports on your graphics card to support a multi-monitor setup.

Which eBay seller should I buy from?

dream-seller and green-sum are two of the most popular vendors. I bought from greensum because they offer pixel perfect Crossover monitors. I paid $390 for a guarantee of no dead pixels; for about $350, dream-seller sells monitors which may have some dead or stuck pixels. This is dream-seller's normal guarantee: "If there are more than five very big defective pixels on screen, we couldn't ship out...however if there are 20 very small defective pixels it is not faulty and we will ship out."

green-sum's policy: "More than 2 dead pixels in central part: faulty. More than 20 dead pixels in the side area: faulty."

I would buy a perfect pixel from dream-seller again in a heartbeat. If you're hunting for a deal, just trawl ebay for good prices, then check the seller's dead pixel policy and see if it falls within your standards. Remember that these pixels are tiny--there are 3.7 million of them in the panel--so in many cases, dead pixels will be all but invisible. Forum threads dedicated to these monitors are primarily full of positive feedback from perfect or near-perfect monitors. But I think it's worth paying a bit more to minimize the risk.

I've decided I want a cheap monitor, but I don't want to take a risk on an import. What's the alternative?

You can try out the Nixeus Vue, which offers HDMI and DisplayPort for $500. Anandtech gave it a favorable review, but noted some issues with response time and dynamic range. There's also Micro Center's Auria, which is only $400. It also supports DisplayPort and HDMI. Since both monitors have scalers, you should be able to plug in an Xbox or PS3, but expect more input lag than you'd get with one of the barebones Korean monitors.