BenQ SW320 32inch 4k monitor review
Monitor review: BenQ SW320 31.5″ 4k wide gamut display
Looking at BenQ’s high resolution Adobe98 gamut monitor for photography
Keith looks at using BenQ’s latest high end monitor, the 31.5″ 4k SW320 (BenQ info).
The monitor offers a huge 3840 x 2160 resolution and comes with a dual use (portrait or landscape) monitor hood. It supports hardware calibration and has HDR support.
Keith is looking at the display connected to a Mac Pro, running OSX 10.11
If you’re in Europe, BenQ have a competition to win a photo trip to Venice
The SW320 monitor
The full specs are at the foot of this review, but BenQ’s headline features are listed as:
- 99% Adobe RGB Colour Space With IPS technology
- 31.5 Inch 4K UHD Resolution – matt screen
- High Dynamic Range (HDR)
- 1000:1 native contrast ratio
- 350 cd/m2 brightness, 5ms response time (GTG)
- DisplayPort 1.4, and HDMI 2.0 inputs
- USB 3.0 hub, Headphone jack
- Landscape / Portrait orientation
- Brightness Uniformity Function (for A98 and sRGB settings)
- Monitor shading hood
- Hardware Calibration With Palette Master Element Software
- 3-year warranty
The 10-bit panel has 100% sRGB colour space coverage as well as supporting HDR 10 content.
I’m looking at the monitor from the point of view of a professional photographer wanting to create very high quality prints and supply images to clients. Although I’ve looked at quite a bit of colour management equipment in our reviews, I’d note that I don’t work in the colour critical proofing field, so certification and other features would not be of more than passing interest for my work.
My aim is to create great looking photos and prints and use this monitor as one of my tools to achieve it.
I’d looked at the specs for the SW320 before it arrived, but what really bought home the fact that I was definitely moving up, was the size of the box it arrived in.
Inside the box is an individual monitor calibration report (details later)
The contents of the box are packed in the order you need them, starting with the leads and software.
USB (3.0), DP display port (full size and mini), HDMI leads are provided, along with a small control puck for quick access to display functions.
Putting these aside I look at all the different panels for the monitor hood.
There are a lot of parts.
Checking the set-up guide shows why – the shielding hood works for the monitor in portrait orientation too.
The parts simply clip together
The hood is of solid construction once clipped together.
Next up I’m going to assemble the monitor itself.
I’m using the bag it came in to protect the table and screen.
There are just three parts.
The supporting column clicks into place on the base plate and is locked secure.
It has +-45 degrees of swivel movement
The column then locks into place at the back of the screen.
The button just below the attachment is the one you never press once everything is assembled…
You can see the display and USB (in) ports.
The monitor can be slid up and down the column, which also has a useful carrying handle at the top.
With a weight of almost 19kg take care in moving it
(I almost laugh at such advice having moved 23″ colour CRT monitors in the past)
For a quick test with my MacBook Pro, I’ve connected the power lead, USB and DP to mini-DP leads, and plugged in the OSD control puck.
You can also see the two USB out ports and SD card reader slot.
The ports cover a good range of options.
Connecting it up to my older 15″ MacBook Pro actually needed the resolution of the display setting at 2560 pixels wide, since the laptop was never intended to work with such screens (it worked perfectly at full resolution with the SW2700 I tested).
Just for comparison, here it is next to a SW2700PT (see my sw2700pt review for more)
The increase in bulk is considerable, but on my desk I quickly got used to it.
Before I use the monitor for real work, I want to make sure it’s optimally set up.
It comes with an individual performance report – which gives you a starting point for looking at just how good the monitor is
[click to see larger version]
The Delta E figures are based on dE 2000 formula [details – maths warning]
The monitor is supplied with BenQ’s Palette Master profiling software (Win7 or above, Mac OS 10.6.8 or above).
Since the monitor was a very new product, I went to BenQ’s web site to download the latest Mac version of the software.
You will need a measuring device to use with the software (X-Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro / i1 Pro 2 & Datacolor Spyder 4 / Spyder 5)
One of the features of the monitor is hardware calibration, where many of the adjustments are made by the display hardware itself, as opposed to the more common solutions where they are made by adjusting your video card, which comes at the cost of slightly reducing the range of outputs it can manage.
Hardware settings also offer preset display options such as predefined sRGB, Adobe98, Rec 709 and DCI-P3 settings – all accessible from the on screen display (OSD) via the control puck.
Another option here is a black and white mode – but why would I use this given all the work I put into getting just the right colour to B&W conversion for my images?
The answer came when looking at a full screen folder of colour images (in icon view) and wondering which might look good in B&W. One press of a button and I was able to scroll through several hundred images looking for certain features in B&W.
Palette Master Element software
The software installs easily.
Opening the application spots the calibration device I have attached, and offers me two profiling options: basic or advanced.
The basic option will more than meet the needs of many photographers like myself. Of course, I’d always suggest exploring more advanced options, but if you find a feature you don’t know about, take it as a hint that the default is probably OK.
I note the ‘photographer’ option goes for a screen brightness of 160, which is rather high for my own liking, where I prefer around 100 to 120.
At 100 cd/m2 you definitely need to be working in a relatively dimly lit room.
At the next stage I can set some more options.
Note that I’ve set ‘Calibration 1’ – this makes a custom calibration set that I can call up from the puck controller (or the OSD via the buttons at the front of the monitor)
The software will prompt me if I need to check the measuring device.
The colorimeter hangs down through the little hatch at the top of the monitor hood, in contact with the screen
It’s now going to measure coloured patches on the screen.
One irksome feature of the Palette Master Element software is the seemingly inordinate amount of time it remains in the ‘Writing LUT’ phase.
It’s long enough that if I wasn’t expecting it, I might wonder if the software had crashed. In general this is not a good approach to take and I’d like to see a bit more feedback indicating that something is actually happening.
After a while the screen shows a number of coloured patches for the colorimeter to read.
Once again we have to wait for the LUT write phase
A brief note of the calibration results are provided
The validation button starts a series of measurements to check the accuracy of the calibration, producing this report (dE2000 values)
The report can be exported as an HTML document.
Offering a few more options, it’s worth jumping straight to this mode if you know what you want to set.
The software has remembered my D65/L100/G2.2 from a previous calibration
I can set the primaries for this calibration (I just left it at the panel’s native settings)
I went for a 16 bit lookup table option rather than a matrix profile (this can produce better results).
I’m also using my i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer to do the measurements, along with a larger set of coloured test patches.
All little things that I’m hoping give an edge in profiling and calibration quality.
Here are two calibration reports for D65 and 5500K (my ‘Calibration 1’ and ‘Calibration 2’ settings)
This second version is from the saved HTML file
It would be useful if the range of patches tested in this validation was wider (such as the X-Rite ColorChecker target colours)
A personal note
I’m acutely aware that there are quite a few people who take a somewhat more perfectionist approach to colour management than I do (remember that for me it is a tool, not an end in itself), but the functionality offered in the Palette Master Element software is more than enough for my requirements running a pro photography business producing images and prints.
I’m minded to say that if you know exactly why you need even more precision and functionality in your monitor setup, and it’s for good sound business reasons, then you’ll want a bit more data than I’ve given here. However, if it’s just because you feel you ‘should’ be using more advanced features, and some self acknowledged internet expert says it’s vital, then you might want to take a good long look at your work, and get out more and take more photos?
Colour accuracy definitely has its place, but I’m asked about it all too often by people who really should be looking elsewhere for the big advances in their photography. The better your work, the more benefit you’ll get from a good monitor like this – just as with cameras, printers and lenses.
Anyway – I’ve now got the monitor set up to my satisfaction and looking better than any other monitor we’ve currently got at Northlight…
Just one more thing…
On the top edge of the monitor, in the middle, is a small sensor window pointing upwards. There is even a small hole in the hood for it to see through.
On my Mac, it does nothing except collect dust ;-)
However, on a Win PC you could use BenQ’s ‘Color Display Clone’ software:
“The Color Display Clone software helps adjust the display settings to best suit the light conditions around your BenQ professional monitor. With this software, your monitor provides a consistent display performance without being effected by the change of lights. The calibration results, however, may vary by the light sources around the monitor.”
Suffice to say, this is not an approach I’d want to take – If you look at my reviews related to colour management over the years, you’ll notice that I’ve never been a fan of -any- auto adjustment feature…
You do need to make sure that your computer is up to driving a monitor with this many pixels.
My 2010 MacBook Pro might be running Sierra 10.12 (the current operating system) but it choked on the 4K output – setting the monitor to 2560 wide via the OSD fixed things, but it’s obviously not much use for serious work…
The OSD is easily accessed by pressing the low profile (black) buttons on the front of the screen.
You can see the dim power light/switch
It’s easier to use the USB puck and configure it for custom options.
I usually have my two favourite display calibrations set, along with a brighter ‘sRGB’ mode for a quick check of what stuff may look like on the web…
Once I’ve a monitor set up, I don’t adjust much, but if you were switching between modes (doing video or web work) there are a lot of things you can adjust.
The ‘Uniformity’ option is actually only provided for the A98 and sRGB preset options – unfortunately whilst these are good for evaluation, they are a bit too bright for my editing choices. However, I was able to see no obvious screen variation in my use of other settings. The panel seems well balanced in this respect.
I don’t need eyeball burning levels of brightness and the settings I’ve got via the Palette Master Element software cover my needs – YMMV.
For my older Mac Pro desktop computer, the old ATI Radeon HD 4870 512 MB may have been fine for the SW2700, but no way was it up to driving the SW320
An updated card was easy to install and gives the Mac Pro a noticeable bump in performance (in some areas – it already has an SSD disk and 32GB ram)
The finer dot pitch of the SW320 is immediately noticeable (especially next to the Cinema HD display) – I need to put on close-up glasses to see pixels on the SW320, whilst my normal reading glasses let me see pixels on the Apple display.
What a nice monitor to use – the simple reaction of most people sums it up “It’s huge”.
Then, when they look at one of my images at full screen size they spot the incredible detail and sharpness.
Despite the massive screen area it fits easily on my desk, and once I’d got past trying to use it on an inadequate video card, functions perfectly well.
I don’t do colour critical proofing work, so I want a display that looks good and is accurate enough for my print work, and also editing photos that I’m going to send to clients.
The base specification of the monitor look good, and the individual calibration and uniformity report is a good sign that I’m getting a monitor that’s been well checked before shipping.
The profiling software is easy to use and supports a range of good quality measuring devices from my i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer to my I1 Display Pro and Spyder 5 colorimeters.
Checking display evenness matched the info on the calibration sheet, but in many ways, the simple test of displaying an even neutral tone across the display and just looking at it helped convince me that it more than up to what I need in my work.
One thing I’d mention is that the screen is so wide that if your head is central to it, then you are looking at the edges of the monitor at quite an angle and even though the monitor has a good viewing angle range, there is some falloff. If you want to see how even the monitor is, view it from further back.
I note that the display is ‘Technicolor Color Certified’ – which may mean more to your work than it does for mine…
Detail and scale
Using it for a while editing images for my recent review of the Samyang 12mm fisheye lens, I was repeatedly struck by the sheer amount of detail on screen from my 50MP Canon 5Ds – that and how a 100% view of an image from my 11MP Canon 1Ds was not much beyond the size of the screen.
The amount of information in front of you (and its scale) subtly changes how you see detail and address sharpening.
For web images I found the smaller dot pitch could easily make images look sharper than usual – having the Apple display at one side made it easy to check, but it took a while to learn to trust what I was seeing.
The same goes for print preparation where I applied sharpening to parts of an image and then wanted to check on both screens.
This isn’t a problem, it just shows how much you can take for granted in your workflow.
One other thing, the monitor is a 4k UHD display rather than a DCI 4K Display with a resolution of 4096 x 2160 – but you will know if this is important for your particular work (I don’t do any video work).
Here, I’ll admit that my range of kit to test with the monitor just wasn’t up to what it can handle. Immediately after assembling it, I plugged the HDMI lead into our satellite TV receiver and watched a few HD channels on it – quickly realising the vast improvements over our main TV (an old SD 44″ Panasonic Plasma unit). Connecting up my laptop showed split input working, but apart from a feeling of ‘it works’ I’d suggest my tests in this area are but a side note.
As you can see – there are a lot of options for what will work with the PiP feature.
The on screen display (OSD) is simple to use and clearly laid out.
Whilst I’ve never been a fan of working in portrait orientation with monitors (first tried with a Mac SE/30 external monitor over 25 years ago) I know that for some work it’s very convenient, and it’s nice to see the additional monitor hood parts included for it.
I have Calibration 1 and Calibration 2 set to different colour temperatures for different work and can easily switch between them with the control puck. However, on my Mac, this does not switch the active screen ICC profile, so I need to go to the system preferences to switch over. Why does this matter? Well, colour managed software uses the screen profile to handle displaying things, and I’d prefer it to base it on what the monitor is actually set to.
This is something I’m not even sure can be ‘fixed’ in that it may be a limitation in OS X or the way monitors and computers talk to each other. Not a problem, but something I need to remember to change.
The side USB ports and card slot of the SW2700 have migrated back round the monitor, so they are now some 4-5 inches round the back. With a ‘busy’ desk up against the wall, the low light I work in and the black monitor makes using the card slot a bit awkward. I’m six foot tall with long arms, but Karen, who’s somewhat shorter found it quite difficult.
The screen resolution is much finer than normal monitors, but not at the very fine ‘retina’ resolution. Although higher resolution monitors have been round a while, not all software can be scaled to show its interface elements at a larger size. I don’t spend all my time at the computer editing pictures, so I was initially quite concerned about this.
I found that for web browsing and document editing, I just had to adjust display magnification/scaling (in the software) a bit, whilst for using the Mac OS, type sizes (and folder icons) are adjustable. I keep my email display running on the Apple 23″ display and sometimes drag windows to that display to see how things look at lower resolution (mainly images for web use).
The finer detail on the screen has also reminded me to get my eyes checked again and make sure I have glasses that give optimal detail at screen and keyboard distances.
So is this monitor for you?
At around £1300 it’s not cheap, but if you look at other similarly specced high end monitors you’re going to be paying a lot more, and you get a 3 yr warranty.
Not doing video work, I can’t comment on its suitability, but given I’ve nothing capable of recording 4k video, I don’t see this as an issue of imminent concern.
I’ve been used to larger than average monitors for over 25 years now and thought I was ‘just’ getting a bigger wider monitor… Not so, I was getting a monitor that displayed vastly more information on screen, this has immediate effects on how you lay out your workspaces and work. The finer detail has a more subtle influence on how you see detail in images at different magnifications.
The colour accuracy and technical performance is great for trusting my work when sending it off to others, whilst the near Adobe98 gamut makes print editing a bit more consistent for me.
Questions/Comments – see below
Data from BenQ SW320 product info
|Product Colour||Dark Grey|
|Colour Bit||10 bits|
|Pixel Pitch (mm)||0.233|
|Brightness ( typ.)||350 (Uniformity off , Calibrated)|
|Native Contrast ( typ. )||1000:1|
|Viewing Angle (L/R;U/D) (CR>=10)||178/178|
|Response Time(Tr+Tf) typ.||5ms (GtG), 14ms|
|Display Colors||1.07 Billion|
|Colour Gamut||100% Rec. 709/sRGB, 99% AdobeRGB|
|Vertical Refresh Rate||60Hz|
|MTBF(hr, exclude lamp)||60,000|
|Lamp Life (hr) Typical||30,000|
|USB||3.0 ( 2* downstream , 1 * upstream), 2.0 x1 (only for Hotkey Puck)|
|Input H||30-140 KHz|
|DP Input||1.4x 1|
|Signal Cable||miniDP to DP cable (1.8m) , HDMI cable (1.8m) , USB 3.0 cable (1.8m )|
|Support Calibrator||X-Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2 , Datacolor Spyder 4/5|
|Ethernet LAN||1.4 x 1|
|Power Supply (90~264V AC)||Built in|
|Power Consumption (On mode)||90W|
|(Power saving mode)||0.7W|
|Power Consumption (Off mode)||0.5W|
|Power Consumption (Base on Energy star )||50W|
|Lamp Life (hr) min||30,000|
|Hor. Frequency (KHz)||30-140Khz|
|Ver. Frequency (Hz)||48-76Hz|
|Video Bandwidth (MHZ)||600MHz|
|Palette Master Element||Yes|
|Colour Display Clone||Yes (Windows OS required and only works under Calibration mode)|
|Support OS||Win 7 32/64bit or above , Mac OS X 10.6.8 or above|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Net Weight Without Stand||H:10 Pivot:10.3|
|Net Weight with Shading Hood||H: 14.2 Pivot:14.5|
|CTN Dimensions ( H x W x D mm )||600 x 375 x 870|
|Dimensions ( H x W x D mm )||663.65 x 759.4 x 340.53 (Pivot)
811.5.4 x 460.35 x 340.53
|Dimensions with Wall Mount ( H x W x D mm )||448.15×747.2×72.12|
|Net Weight (kg)||18.7|
|Gross Weight (kg)||20.3|
|OSD Hotkey Puck||Yes|
|Delta E||<=2 (avg.)|
|Colour Temperature||5000°K / 6500°K/ 9300°K / User Mode|
|OSD Language||17 languages|
|VESA Wall Mounting||Yes 100x100mm|
|Swivel ( left / right )||45/45|
|Tilt ( down / up )||-5/20|
|Dimensions(HxWxD mm) (without shading hood)||(High Height Adjustment): 652.25×747.2×223.61
(Low Height Adjustment): 502.25×747.2×223.61
|Dimensions(HxWxD mm) (witt shading hood)||663.65 x 759.4 x 340.53 (Pivot) 811.5.4 x 460.35 x 340.53|
|Dimensions with Wall Mount (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base) (with shading hood)||448.15 x 759.4 x 257.89|
|Colour temperature Sensor||Yes|
|High Adjustment (mm)||150mm|
|Dynamic Power Saving (DPS)||Yes|
|PIP / PBP||Yes|
|3D LUT||Yes (14 bits 3D LUT)|
|Other Features||Hardware calibration/14bits 3D-LUT/HDR 10/GamutDuo/Colour Temperatures sensor/ Colour Display Clone/B&W mode/Darkroom monde/Hotkey Puck/Card Reader/PIP/PBP|
|Windows® 7 Compatible||Yes|
|Windows® 8 Compatible||Yes|
|Windows® 8.1 Compatible||Yes|
|Mac OS Compatible||Yes|
|Other Accessories||Shading hood, CD, QSG, Individual Calibration Report ,Hotkey Puck|
* Technicolor® Color Certified is a designation reserved for devices — PC monitors, laptops, all-in-ones, and tablets — that satisfy the required Technicolor specifications during the device’s manufacturing process to meet the same strict standards for colour accuracy used in Hollywood and throughout the media and entertainment industries. All Technicolor Colour Certified devices display colours accurately, consistently and exactly as the content originators intended. Anyone can enjoy shopping, entertainment and gaming experiences with full confidence that the colour you see onscreen is accurate.
For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page.
All colour management articles and reviews are indexed on the main Colour Management page - please do let Keith know if you've any questions, either via the comments or just email us?
Some specific articles that may be of interest:
- Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
- Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.
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