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BenQ SW320 32inch 4k monitor review

  |   Articles and reviews, BenQ, Colour management, Hardware review, Monitor calibration, Monitor reviews, Review   |   8 Comments

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

sw320 monitor

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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.

Monitor Setup

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.

sw320 box

Inside the box is an individual monitor calibration report (details later)

sw320 calibration certificate

The contents of the box are packed in the order you need them, starting with the leads and software.

sw320 parts

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.

sw320 leads and puck

Putting these aside I look at all the different panels for the monitor hood.

sw320 hood parts

There are a lot of parts.

sw320 hood assembly

Checking the set-up guide shows why – the shielding hood works for the monitor in portrait orientation too.

sw320 instructions

The parts simply clip together

sw320 hood side panel

The hood is of solid construction once clipped together.

side panel portrait

Next up I’m going to assemble the monitor itself.

sw320 display in box

I’m using the bag it came in to protect the table and screen.

sw320 monitor assembly

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

sw320 stand

The column then locks into place at the back of the screen.

sw320 clip stand to panel

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.

sw320 lower 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)

sw320 height adjust

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.

sw320 connect inputs

The ports cover a good range of options.

rear connections

It works.

sw320 connect to laptop

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)

sw320 compared to sw2700pt

The increase in bulk is considerable, but on my desk I quickly got used to it.

Profiling and Calibration

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]

sw320 calibration cert

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 lut

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.

install pme software

Opening the application spots the calibration device I have attached, and offers me two profiling options: basic or advanced.

pme software

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.

photographer preset

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)

basic set to 120

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

sw320 measuring

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.

sw320 colour patch measurement

Once again we have to wait for the LUT write phase

long lut wait

A brief note of the calibration results are provided

basic calibration

The validation button starts a series of measurements to check the accuracy of the calibration, producing this report (dE2000 values)

calibration confirmation

The report can be exported as an HTML document.

Advanced mode

Offering a few more options, it’s worth jumping straight to this mode if you know what you want to set.

advanced workflow

The software has remembered my D65/L100/G2.2 from a previous calibration

advanced options

I can set the primaries for this calibration (I just left it at the panel’s native settings)

set primaries

I went for a 16 bit lookup table option rather than a matrix profile (this can produce better results).

profile type

I’m also using my i1Pro 2 spectrophotometer to do the measurements, along with a larger set of coloured test patches.

calibrate with i1 pro2

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)

5500K validation

This second version is from the saved HTML file

D65 L100 report

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.

sensor

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…

Using the monitor

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.

sw320 buttons for controls

You can see the dim power light/switch

It’s easier to use the USB puck and configure it for custom options.

puck 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.

adjustment options

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)

graphics card

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.

SW320 Conclusions

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.

Display Quality

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).

Display features

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.

PIP sources

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.

Quibbles?

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.

Overall

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

Buying a monitor – these links help support the site (thanks!)
Amazon (US) | B&H | Amazon (UK)

Specifications

Data from BenQ SW320 product info

Product Colour
Product ColourDark Grey
Display
Screen Size31.5″
Colour Bit10 bits
Aspect Ratio16:9
Resolution (max.)3840×2160
Pixel Pitch (mm)0.233
Brightness ( typ.)350 (Uniformity off , Calibrated)
Native Contrast ( typ. )1000:1
Panel TypeIPS
Viewing Angle (L/R;U/D) (CR>=10)178/178
Response Time(Tr+Tf) typ.5ms (GtG), 14ms
Display Colors1.07 Billion
Colour Gamut100% Rec. 709/sRGB, 99% AdobeRGB
Display Area(mm)697.92×392.58
Vertical Refresh Rate60Hz
MTBF(hr, exclude lamp)60,000
Lamp Life (hr) Typical30,000
Input/Output
USB3.0 ( 2* downstream , 1 * upstream), 2.0 x1 (only for Hotkey Puck)
Input H30-140 KHz
DP Input1.4x 1
Signal CableminiDP to DP cable (1.8m) , HDMI cable (1.8m) , USB 3.0 cable (1.8m )
HDMI2.0 x1
Card ReaderYes
Support CalibratorX-Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2 , Datacolor Spyder 4/5
Headphone JackYes
Ethernet LAN1.4 x 1
Power
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) min30,000
Hor. Frequency (KHz)30-140Khz
Ver. Frequency (Hz)48-76Hz
Video Bandwidth (MHZ)600MHz
Voltage Rating96-240V
Calibration
Palette Master ElementYes
Colour Display CloneYes (Windows OS required and only works under Calibration mode)
Hardware CalibrationYes
Support OSWin 7 32/64bit or above , Mac OS X 10.6.8 or above
Dimensions & Weight
Net Weight Without StandH:10 Pivot:10.3
Net Weight with Shading HoodH: 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
Special Features
OSD Hotkey PuckYes
Gamut DuoYes
Flicker-free TechnologyYes
AMAYes
Delta E<=2 (avg.)
HDCP2.2
Colour Temperature5000°K / 6500°K/ 9300°K / User Mode
OSD Language17 languages
VESA Wall MountingYes 100x100mm
Swivel ( left / right )45/45
Brightness UniformityYes
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
Pivot90 degrees
Dimensions with Wall Mount (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base) (with shading hood)448.15 x 759.4 x 257.89
Colour temperature SensorYes
High Adjustment (mm)150mm
Dynamic Power Saving (DPS)Yes
K LockerYes
PIP / PBPYes
monitorYes
Kensington LockYes
3D LUTYes (14 bits 3D LUT)
Black LevelYes
Other FeaturesHardware calibration/14bits 3D-LUT/HDR 10/GamutDuo/Colour Temperatures sensor/ Colour Display Clone/B&W mode/Darkroom monde/Hotkey Puck/Card Reader/PIP/PBP
Certification
Technicolor*Yes
Windows® 7 CompatibleYes
Windows® 8 CompatibleYes
Windows® 8.1 CompatibleYes
Windows_10_CompatibleYes
Mac OS CompatibleYes
Other AccessoriesShading 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.

More colour management and printing related information

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 information is indexed on the main Colour Management page.

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.

 


Buying anything from Amazon (not just what's listed) via any of the links below helps Keith and Karen keep the site going - thanks if you do! [Amazon UK]

 


  • HI Keith, I have bought this monitor and tried to calibrate it using a Sypder 5. For whatever reason the profile created is always way above the 7,000 kelvin, turning the whole screen yellow-ish. Do you think there is any reason behind it? I wish it could hardware calibrate through Datacolour’s software, as opposed to Palette Master.
    Other question, how could you calibrate the existing Adobe RGB profile as opposed to creating a custom profile? How am I sure that the stored Adobe RGB is accurate?
    Thank you very much for your help,

    Felix

    • Keith Cooper

      Are you creating a calibrations/profiles for Cal1 or Cal2?
      That’s what I did for the one here – no real difference between Spyder 5 and i1Display Pro.

      If it’s consistently wrong, that suggests a Spyder not working correctly.

      At the moment, the PM software is the only one supporting the hardware, so not using it somewhat defeats the point of hardware calibration.

      The built in A98 is what it is (accurate at the factory), and whilst you can create a profile, you can’t re-calibrate it.

      This is why I only use Calibration1/2 and keep the sRGB option for simulating a cheaper monitor – all the software I use on my Macs is colour managed, so it’s not often something I use.

      • Yes, I was trying to set up Cal 1 (for when natural light gets in the room from the window) and Cal 2 (for when I edit pictures at night, with the warmish tint from my bredroom lights).
        I went through a basic calibration process, selecting the photographer setting, tuning the brightness down a touch, selected the Matrix mode and then let the Spyder5/PM combo do its trick. However, my two attempts at calibrating resulted in a yellow screen calibration, and I do not know why (I even tried to calibrate the screen in pitch black to prevent any wrong reading from parasite light).
        The spyder unit is less than a year old and I made sure the sensor was leaning on the screen the whole time.
        Really do not know what the problem might be.

        Understood about the inbuilt profiles, that’s helpful to know, thank you.

        • Keith Cooper

          What computer is this with? Most of my testing was with Mac OS X 10.11

          Can you check the Spyder on a laptop or some other computer?

          • MacBook Pro Retina 15″ 2014. Software calibration works fine on my laptop screen and Benq. It’s just the hardware bit that fails on the Benq.

  • I’ve been checking back watching for your review. I’m not sure I want something this big, they are not available here yet anyway. I just ordered a new DELL PC, and am planning to get a graphics card that can handle something like this. I’d need to do some revising of my office to make it fit, its possible with a little work lowering my desk by a inch or two, I am 1/2 inch short on clearance, but I’d like more space than that. My desk is too high anyway.

    • Keith Cooper

      Whilst it is nice to have, I was perfectly happy with a 27″ monitor before…

      The new graphics card has speeded up a few things too (it is a 2010 Mac Pro I’m using after all)

      • My 27 inch run of the mill Samsung is OK, its not a photography monitor, and I do not like the additional startup delay while monitor calibration loads. I expect to get the BenQ 27 inch photo monitor, but the 31.5 seems like a excellent solution. First is a new SSD, more memory, and a Video card. There seem to be some decent cards that are priced reasonably and are not power hogs. I was looking at a Nvidia 1050Ti, I bought a 750Ti for my previous PC, but it does not have display port, or higher resolution.

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