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BenQ SW321C monitor review

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Review: BenQ SW321C monitor

PhotoVue 32″ 4k UHD display


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Keith has been looking at the newest BenQ PhotoVue SW321C monitor. The 32″ 4k UHD display is aimed at photographers and introduces a new print soft proofing mode.

Keith has previously reviewed several of BenQ’s high end monitors including their 4k 32″ SW320 model The 321C adds input ports and USB C input with power delivery, along with a wider range of calibration options.

There are two videos looking at the setup and basic use of this monitor

Jump to Full specifications

benq sw321c

SW3231C Product info page
Buy from B&H in the US and support our site.

SW321C monitor

Superficially, the SW321C looks very similar to the previous BenQ monitor of this sort, however there are a number of changes and improvements that make it somewhat more flexible in its options than the SW320C, as well as having improved specs.

Key features

I’ll work from BenQ’s list here since several of these are beyond the capabilities of the kit I edit my work on.

  • 4K & 32” photographer’s monitor for photo-editing
  • Wide gamut space: 99% Adobe RGB / 95% DCI-P3 & Display P3
  • 16-bit 3D LUT, ΔE ≤ 2
  • Brightness & Colour Uniformity: the color and the brightness at hundreds of
    sub-regions are fine-tuned to achieve screen-wide precise color
  • Video format support with HDR technology: HDR10 & HLG
  • IPS panel for wide viewing angle
  • Hardware Calibration
  • Paper Color Sync Technology
  • Hotkey Puck G2
  • USB-C for video/audio/data transmission and 60W power delivery
  • GamutDuo to support dual colour space on one screen
  • Pantone Validated and Verified by CalMAN

I should note that my own use of the monitor challenges and relies on a few key aspects, namely, its wide gamut, the hardware calibration, display uniformity and sheer size. Most of the photos here are not taken in my office, which is lit at lower levels.

There’s a good range of connectivity at the back.

main-ports

rear-ports

With testing on my older MacBook Pro I used the USB B uplink (right) and DisplayPort connections.

laptop-connection

If I had a newer laptop, I could use just the single USB cable.

The USB Power Delivery quite happily worked for recharging battery packs and my EOS RP since it supports higher voltages for charging.

usb-c-power

The monitor works as a USB 3.1 hub, with two USB sockets at the side, along with an SD Card reader.

side-ports

The control puck is a USB device, but not externally visible.

Setting up the SW321C

The monitor is exceedingly well packed in avery solid cardboard box – coming in at 26kg total

I’ve an ‘unboxing/assembly’ video on YouTube

The black patch is the envelope with the individual calibration report for the SW321C

huge-box

The base is just two parts – note the array of cables.

leads-and-base

The vertical part of the stand just locks into the base plate.

monitor-stand-lock

There’s a screw to lock it in place. The stand has about 6 inches of height adjustment.

monitor-stand

The rear of the screen is a standard mount. The stand clicks into place very solidly.

monitor-rear

Here’s the panel attached to stand.

The first thing I noticed was how dark the screen is – this is noticeably less reflective than older BenQ monitors.

monitor-without-hood

The screen comes with a monitor hood, which just clicks together.

monitor-hood-parts

The parts left over are the ones used if you want the hood to fit when using the monitor in portrait mode (it can auto detect rotation).

monitor-hood-in-place

Using the monitor

For the assembly and overview videos and photos, I’ve connected the monitor to my MacBook Pro. This won’t quite manage the full resolution, but is of acceptable quality for initial testing.

The leads tidy away nicely through the hole in the back of the stand – note the very convenient lifting handle.

cable-tidy-and-handle

The control puck now has a dial. After using a previous version with just buttons, I find that I don’t actually use it very often – mainly to occasionally switch between calibration modes, such as REC709 for video editing, as opposed to my normal Adobe98 setting for photo editing and occasional use of sRGB for checking how a brightly coloured image will look on the web.

control-puck

You can customise the operation of the puck and default actions for the on-screen display buttons to quite some extent.

I’d suggest using the monitor controller at its default settings for a while until you find what options you make use of more often.

Picture in Picture

With all the inputs, the monitor can handle multiple inputs at the same time. A second input can be displayed as a small window (PIP) or Picture by Picture (PBP) where the entire display is shown as a small version, beside the second image.

What’s more, the second image can be displayed using a different calibration – or you can have the same input displayed in both windows. This can really show up the difference between colour spaces. This matrix shows the range on input sources.

dual-picture-sources

These are the on-screen display settings available for the PIP/PBP mode (with the main display at Adobe98)

pip/pbp mode

Here are two examples using my 5Ds to provide an HDMI signal, using its liveview mode. The screen and surroundings have been processed at different white balance settings to give a picture more closely showing what the setup looks like to the eye.

picture-by-picture

With PIP mode, I’ve changed the position of the inset window, using the on-screen display (OSD).

One note for the OSD is that I increased its default timeout, since it vanishes quite quickly if you pause whilst searching round for options or thinking about what to do.

picture-in-picture

Display modes

When connected to my old MacBook Pro, the laptop can’t quite handle full 4k, and is displaying at 2640×1440, rather than the full 3840×2160. Whilst this is fine for showing example images and the videos I’ve made, which include the display, it’s not what I really want for my photo editing. For that, my Mac Pro comfortably handles full 4k.

This chart covers the full range of display sizes (click to expand)

display-modes

4k video

My video work is currently only at HD, but the display supports multiple 4k UHD signal formats

4k-video-modes

Calibration and Profiling

supported-devicesTo make the most of the hardware calibration, you need to use the (free) Palette Master Element software from BenQ.

Now I know this from previously looking at BenQ monitors and it has always worked very well.

The SW321C takes a few minutes to run a full calibration, and does seem a little faster in uploading data.

I’m using an i1Display Pro colorimeter from X-rite, but as you can see from the list here, it supports a wide range of devices.

The software also supports spectrophotometers, including the now discontinued i1Pro and ColorMunki Photo.

It’s important to note that whilst you might install the X-Rite or Datacolor calibration software for use with any other monitors, you need to use the BenQ software in order to access the features of the monitor.

So, for my test system here, I’d need to use the BenQ software for the SW321C and i1Profiler for the MacBook screen – you can’t use the BenQ software on other monitors.

There is a Basic and Advanced mode of using the software.

For the Basic mode you can just set a typical usage scenario and use the suggested settings.

range-of-calibration-settings

Selecting the ‘photographer’ mode gives me an Adobe98 based colour space, a screen brightness of 120 cd/m2 and a gamma of 2.2.

All quite reasonable settings, although in my office, with its relatively dim lighting I might normally choose a slightly darker 100cd/m2

The SW321 has three calibration ‘slots’ for your own choices of settings.

Each calibration can be quite different, so I have a general working one at the A98 setting and luminance of 100.

basic-target

Other slot settings really do depend on what work you want to do with the monitor. I’ll have a REC709 one for HD video editing.

I’ll use the preset ones as well every so often. The B&W mode is OK for occasional quick checks of how things look for B&W, and I keep a lower colour temperature one (D55) for some (but not much) print work.

The ‘Advanced’ mode for the software offers bigger target patch sets and more detailed controls of settings.

expert-large-target

One thing I’d note is that unless you know why you want to change a default setting, take it as a hint to leave alone (or read up on colour management).

On an older Mac I change the default ICC profile version to V2 and use Matrix profile types for greater compatibility.

One day I’ll get a newer setup, but not for a while in the current work circumstances (Mar 2021)

The software also allows for validation of the profile – once again if you understand the numbers, it’s worthwhile., but don’t forget that the process is only as accurate (in some respects) as the colorimeter you use

validation

Whilst the X-Rite display verification functionality refuses to work with non X-Rite profiles, the Datacolor Spyder monitor calibration software will happily help evaluate any screen. Here’s a ‘color ‘accuracy’ report using a Spyder X sensor.

spyder-report

Now, in general, this confirms pretty good colour reproduction by the monitor

BUT…

I provide the info here for no more than illustration. I have no idea how accurate the sensor is and there is no real context or explanation for the numbers. The software is quite good for a comparative check and shows just how hopeless my MacBook Pro display is in comparison… Just remember this if you see other ‘reviews’ using the data in anything other than an illustrative manner.

I do have reviews of the Spyder X for monitor calibration if and i1Display Pro Plus – for all related reviews and articles, see the Monitor Calibration section of the site

Paper Color Sync

An interesting feature available for the SW321C (and some other monitors) is a screen special calibration mode designed to match a paper colour for better proofing.

This needs some software running which will set the monitor to a specific display setting to go with a paper and printer.

There is a guide to setup, and the process is simple to run.

color-sync-setup

The image below has been processed with a different white balance for the screen and the room to try and give a feel for what the screen looks like. In this case it’s for a Canon PRO-100 printer and Canon Matte paper.

I’ve activated the on screen display to show that the paper color mode has been selected (by the software)

paper-color

From the original RAW photo I’ve white balanced it on the grey desktop, and noted the whitepoint that’s been set

screen-wite-balanced-for-paper

This shows that the screen has been set to a very warm white point.

Whilst I welcome any attempt to make printing easier, I have to note that four printers supported (Epson P600/800 and Canon PRO-10/100) were all replaced with new models in 2020 and there is a very limited range of OEM papers available.

Just one thing to note, is that the Paper Color Sync software changes your monitor profile to match that of the image displayed. Ok, part of the process, but after I finished using the software, it didn’t change it back (on my Mac – win systems not tested).

It’s a good idea – I hope to come back to it when the software is updated to cover more printers/papers.

Thoughts on using the SW321C

The monitor is extremely nice to use for editing, with a uniformity that gives confidence in editing images across wide areas of the display. Even a fully black, there is little ‘glow’ visible even in my darkish office.

Compared to the older SW320 the case/bezel and hood look identical. The base is however noticeably larger (~40x29cm vs ~38x21cm). As to styling… it looks just fine by me. If a razor thin edge and ‘designer’ look are important for your monitor choice, well… what can I politely say? ;-)

The screen coating is noticeably less reflective than previous BenQ monitors, giving deeper blacks in brighter lit surroundings. That said, I edit photos in my office at fairly low levels of lighting and go to some trouble to avoid strong light sources that could reflect. The cleaning roller is a nifty device. Take care to note the cleaning instructions (just use plain water).

The ports at the side are useful. although their deeply recessed nature means that unless you have good access to the rear of the monitor, they are not ones you’ll probably want to change often – more for a wired mouse or perhaps a suitably long lead for connection to other items – I’ve tried with two cables to different USB plugs for connecting up to profiling devices such as my i1iSis or i1iO.

Previously I looked at the SW320 and whilst superficially quite similar, the SW321C does feel like a second generation. I get a general impressions that the internal processing power of the monitor is greater. This is in addition to the increase in speed and variety of input and interface connections. This is one of those things difficult to measure, but the increase in speed for calibration is just one aspect.

The Paper Color Sync setting for the monitor is an interesting approach to print matching, but is currently limited to only a few printers and a very limited set of OEM (only) papers. What I’d like to see is to be able to tie this new mode to an arbitrary paper profile, in particular ones I’ve created myself.

In many ways, I’m not challenging the performance of this monitor, however the key areas that matter to me are the quality of the image displayed, and its accuracy, and there it does well.

Choosing a monitor for your work

Every photograph I edit and send to a client is influenced by the quality of my monitor. Every print I make is first seen on my monitor. Those two things have always been my guiding principle in choosing equipment. That tells me not to skimp on such an important part of my workflow.

Of course, there are some very high end monitors available, but just as my photography business won’t (if I’m honest) justify the expense of medium format cameras and lenses, it doesn’t need reference level monitors.

I need good reliable and capable kit that I have confidence in.  I don’t have the equipment to give laboratory standard measurements and tests, but what I do have suggests that the specs for the SW321C are pretty good and it would work well for my business and personal photography.

It’s enough that I’m happy adding the SW321C as a suggestion for photographers who might have been considering spending a lot more, and definitely for those considering spending a lot less…

For more about the SW321C see the SW3231C Product info page

See also, Keith’s other reviews of BenQ equipment

Specifications

Full Specifications
Display
Screen Size 32
Panel Type IPS
Backlight Technology LED backlight
Resolution (max.) 3840 x 2160
Brightness 250
Native Contrast(typ.) 1000:1
Viewing Angle (L/R;U/D) (CR>=10) 178 / 178
Response Time 5 ms (GtG)
Refresh Rate 60Hz
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Display Colours 1.07 billion colours
Colour Gamut 99% AdobeRGB, 95% P3, 100% sRGB
Display Area(mm) 708.48 x 398.52
Pixel Pitch (mm) 0.1845
PPI 137
DCR (Dynamic Contrast Ratio) (typ.) 20M:1
Colour Bit 10bits
Audio
Headphone Jack Yes
Monitor
Target market Photographers
Product Colour Grey
Colour Mode Adobe RGB / sRGB / Rec.709 / DCI-P3 / Display P3 / M-book / B+W / HDR / Calibration 1 / Calibration 2 / Calibration 3 / Custom / Paper Colour Sync / DICOM
HDR HDR10 / HLG
Display Mode Full, Aspect Ratio,  1:1
Colour Temperature 5000°K / 6500°K/ 9300°K /  Custom / User Defined
Gamma 1.6 – 2.6, sRGB
K Locker Yes
OSD Language 18 Languages (English / French / German / Italian / Spanish /  Polish / Czech / Hungarian /  Romanian / Dutch / Russian / Swedish / Protuguese / Japanese / Chinese / S-Chinese / Arabic/ Korean)
PIP/PBP Yes
HDCP 2.2
VESA Wall Mount 100x100mm
AMA Yes
Display Screen Coating Anti-Glare / Anti-Reflection
Professional features
3D-LUT 16bits
Delta E <= 2 ( avg)
Uniformity Technology Yes
Hardware Calibration Yes
Video Format Support Yes
Gamut Duo Yes
Black & White mode Yes
Black Level Yes
Hotkey Puck G2 Yes
Factory Calibration Report Yes
Connectivity
HDMI HDMI (v2.0) x 2
DisplayPort DisplayPort (v1.4)
USB 3.1 Hub USB Downstream x 2
USB 3.1 Hub USB Upstream x 1
USB Type-C Yes
(PD60W, DP Alt mode, Data)
Card Reader SD/MMC type
Support Format: SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC
Power
Voltage Rating 100~240V
Power Supply Built-in
Power Consumption (on mode.) 170W
Power Consumption (based on Energy Star) 52W
Power Consumption (stand by mode) 0.5W
Power Consumption (sleep mode) 0.5W
Dimension and Weight
Dimensions (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base) (with shading hood) 453.45 x 759.4 x 257.89
Dimensions(HxWxD mm) (without shading hood) Landscape: 502.25-652.25 x 747.2 x 223.61
Pivot: 798.6 x 448.15 x 223.61
Dimensions (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base) 448.15 x 747.2 x 77.82
Dimensions (HxWxD mm) Landscape: 513.65-663.65 x 759.4 x 340.53
Pivot: 811.5 x 460.35 x 340.53
Net Weight (kg) (without shading hood) 11.8
Net Weight (kg) (without stand) Landscape: 9.1
Pivot: 9.4
Net Weight (kg) Landscape: 13.2
Pivot: 13.5
Gross Weight (kg) 25.6
Tilt (down/up) -5˚/- 20˚
Swivel (left/right) 45/45
Pivot 90˚
Height Adjustment (mm) 150mm
Software
Palette Master Element Yes
Calibrators supported X-Rite il Display Pro / il Pro /il Pro 2 /il Studio/ ColourMunki Photo, Datacolour Spyder 4/ Spyder 5/ Spyder X
* Note. MacOS 10.15 update:
(a) Spyder 4 / il Display 2 not supported by macOS 10.15
(b) Spyder 5 will be supported macOS 10.15 in future PME software update
Video Signal Data
Hor. Frequency (kHz) 27~140 kHz
Ver. Frequency (Hz) 24~76 Hz
Video Bandwidth (MHz) 600 MHz
Included Accessories
Other Accessories Shading hood, CD, QSG, Factory Calibration Report ,Hotkey Puck G2
Power Cable Yes(1.8m)
Signal Cables USB type-C cable(1m)
mDP to DP cable (1.8m)
HDMI 2.0 cable (1.8m)
USB 3.1 cable (Gen 1)(1.8m)
Reliability
MTBF(hr, exclude backlight) 60000
Operating Temperature 0˚C – 40˚C
Operating Humidity (non-condensing) 10% – 90%
Backlight Life (hr) Typical 30000
Compatibility
Mac Compatible Yes
Windows Compatible Windows10, Windows8.1, Windows8, Windows7
Certification
Verified by CalMAN Yes
Pantone Validated Yes

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