The MSI Optix MAG281URF is a competitively priced Rapid IPS gaming monitor that’s perfect if you game on PC and next-gen consoles. It is not a full-on HDR gaming monitor, but it is currently the cheapest 4K 144Hz variant with HDMI 2.1 you can buy now. Let’s check it out to see how it performs and if it can dethrone value kings like the Asus VG28UQL1A or the Gigabyte M28U.
MSI Optix MAG281URF Specifications
- Screen Size: 28 Inches
- Resolution:3840 x 2160 UHD
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Panel Technology: In-Plane Switching (IPS)
- Refresh Rate: 144Hz
- Response Time:1ms
- Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
- Brightness: 300 cd/m2
- Built-in Speakers: None
- Stand: Height – Yes
- Stand: Tilt – Yes
- Stand: Swivel – Yes
- Stand: Pivot– Yes
- VESA Compatibility: Yes (200 x 200)
- Connectivity: DisplayPort 1.4 DSC x 1, HDMI 2.1 x 2, USB-C PD15W x 1, USB 2.0 x 3, 3.5mm Jack x 1
- Dimensions With Stand (WxHxD): 25.1″ x 16.1″ x 9.2″
- Weight: 17 lbs
Design and Features
The MSI Optix MAG281URF sports a simpler aesthetic, unlike the older high-end Optix monitors, but it still has the distinct element of the brand. The monitor has a matte black chassis so it’s easy to main since it will not attract dust or fingerprint smudges. The display is bezel-free on three sides but it still has inner borders.
28-inch monitors aren’t humongous, but they are still bigger than your usual display at the office or in school. It’s wide enough to cover your other bigger peripherals like speakers, but at least it only needs 9.2 inches of depth. It is not too heavy at 17 pounds so most won’t need to ask for help during assembly and setup.
This model did not sacrifice its build quality even if it is in the affordable stream of 4K 144Hz HDMI 2.1 monitors. The plastics used are thick and sturdy, plus there were cosmetic defects on its parts when it was unboxed. The included stand is stable and reliable so the screen won’t shake or sag during long hours of gaming.
You will find an RGB strip at the back along with MSI’s signature angled designs for its gaming lineup. The LED strip isn’t positioned at a straight angle so the light it casts can be uneven so it is mostly unusable as a bias light. It works with MSI’s Mystic Light RGB ecosystem, so you can sync its colors and lighting themes with your other MSI gear.
The MSI Optix MAG281URF has an OSD joystick at the back for your convenience. The brand has been improving its settings layout a lot, so it is nice to have an easy-to-use tool to navigate it. The controller is located at the back near the right-side edge of the screen so it’s still very accessible even if you can’t see it directly from the front.
The stand included with the package offers tilt, swivel, pivot, and height adjustments for your comfort and convenience. Its easy to get an angle that will not strain your neck, plus you can always adjust it again without worry. You can use VESA mounts, but spending the extra money on them will only be necessary if you have multiple displays or if space is limited.
One of the highlights of the MSI Optix MAG281URF is its connectivity layout which includes all you will need for modern setups. It has DisplayPort 1.4 for your gaming PC and two HDMI 2.1 slots for 4K 120Hz operation with the latest consoles. It also has a USB-C slot with DP Alt Mode for USB-C laptops, but it only offers up to 15 watts of charging power.
You also get two usable USB slots with this monitor, but they should be reserved for your mouse and keyboard. The monitor has KVM functionality which lets you switch between multiple signal sources while using a single keyboard and mouse set. It’s great for productivity, but gamers won’t be able to utilize it unless they also have a workstation PC on the side.
The MSI Optix MAG281URF doesn’t have speakers, but that’s okay since it’s affordable for a monitor in this class. Gamers will almost always prefer headsets anyway since they will sound more accurate and immersive for gaming. It is always nice to have a handy backup, but it is forgivable for us if the price is low enough.
Display and Performance
The MSI Optix MAG281URF sports a 28-inch Rapid IPS panel that has a 3840 x 2160 resolution, a 144Hz refresh rate and a 1ms boosted response time. The backlight has a 400 cd/m2 maximum while the contrast ratio is listed at 1000:1 like most IPS panels. This model has HDR 400 certification, but we all know how limited that is when it comes to HDR performance.
4K screens are extra sharp at this size because the pixels are bunched up tighter than they normally are on other products. It is fantastic for games and movies, but we’ve seen plenty of complaints regarding visibility and legibility. You might need to use scaling, but the bigger concern here is the GPU requirements that you need to utilize the 144Hz maximum refresh rate.
The MSI Optix MAG281URF renders more than 100% sRGB and 94% DCI-P:3 for stunning colors in games and movies. It’s overly saturated so games look rich, but the accuracy suffers, as a result, is a high deltaE average of 3.87. The monitor has a dedicated sRGB mode if you need it for content creation, but it only lowered the dE average to 2.65.
Calibrating the MSI Optix MAG281URF improved its dE average to 0.91 which makes it suitable for editing work. However, you need a colorimeter to achieve that, and they are quite expensive if you are only gaming. We can only recommend getting one if you will use this monitor for your job, but otherwise, it’s not needed.
Its backlight reached 431 cd/m2 in SDR and it reached 468 cd/m2 when it’s HDR mode kicked in. Its contrast ratio peaked at 1077:1 at 40% brightness, so its still unable to produce deep blacks like VA or OLED types. This model isn’t capable of true HDR performance, but that’s also understandable since those that are equipped to do so are considerably more expensive.
Panel uniformity for the test sample only had a few minor issues at the top edge of the screen. The backlight leaks introduced clouding which is more pronounced in dark scenes or an all-black image. Note that there are some manufacturing tolerances in play, so it is entirely possible to get a better unit without this common IPS flaw.
The MSI Optix MAG281URF is just as good as its closest competitors when it comes to pixel response time. It’s still susceptible to some persistence and trails, but you can use its MPRT Sync mode to clear it up for E-Sports games. It is not needed in most cases, but at least you have a solution if you are extra sensitive to blurring.
The MSI Optix MAG281URF is compatible with both FreeSync and G-Sync so you don’t have to worry about tearing and stuttering. This is essential for a monitor like this since 4K is still rather demanding even if you have a powerful GPU. Input lag sits at 6ms at 144Hz so it is fast and responsive enough for competitive gaming.
Thoughts on the MSI Optix MAG281URF
The MSI Optix MAG281URF is a fantastic pick if you want a practical choice that offers flagship-level performance and specifications. It can handle your PC, gaming consoles, and even a USB-C laptop so it can stretch the value of your dollar by being flexible. The IPS panel offers punchy and rich colors so games and movies will look more convincing and eye-popping.
It isn’t perfect and we have a few minor complaints such as the weak USB-C output or the loose default color accuracy. We’d rather have better out-of-the-box performance rather than RGB lighting. However, we still think that it is an excellent buy since it brings 4K 144Hz and HDMI 2.1 closer to the masses.
- Extensive Gamut Coverage
- 4K 144Hz/4K 120Hz for PC and Next-Gen Consoles
- G-Sync and FreeSync Compatible
- USB-C and HDMI 2.1
- Mediocre HDR
- USB-C Charging Only at 15 Watts
- Limited Contrast
About the Author: Paolo is a gaming veteran since the golden days of Doom and Warcraft and has been building gaming systems for family, friends, and colleagues since junior high. High-performance monitors are one of his fixations and he believes that it’s every citizen’s right to enjoy one. He has gone through several pieces of hardware in pursuit of every bit of performance gain, much to the dismay of his wallet. He now works with Monitornerds to scrutinize the latest gear to create reviews that accentuate the seldom explained aspects of a PC monitor.</span