BenQ Approaches Reference Quality with SW321C Display

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If you haven’t shopped for a computer monitor in a few years, you have missed a great deal. HDR, 4K, are shrinking bezels are among the highlights. A rising star in the space is BenQ, consistently managing to produce displays with incredible specs and (relatively) affordable prices. The latest display it has created for photographers and video editors is the SW321C, and it is easily the company’s best yet, hitting all the marks for a top-of-the-line monitor for color-critical applications.

BenQ SW321C 32" Monitor

All the Specifications

We are looking at a 32" IPS panel with UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution and 10-bit native color depth. That’s what you want for an editing display. As for color gamut, it hits 99% Adobe RGB, 100% sRGB/Rec. 709, and 95% DCI-P3—another set of great specs. There is even a 16-bit 3D LUT, which goes beyond the 14-bit commonly found in many quality displays. The only area I would question is its 250 cd/m2 brightness, which is a bit dim for an HDR-compatible display. For regular editing it should be fine, however, since most users will set the brightness between 100-150 cd/m2, depending on their space.

There is a lot more to unpack when we consider the features. AQCOLOR is BenQ’s core and ensures that the display holds up to current standards and reliability. Uniformity Technology is included, which is essentially how BenQ ensures that brightness and color accuracy are maintained out to the edges, a potential problem for large displays. Hardware calibration is available through Palette Master Element software, and works with many commonly available calibration devices. It can also be calibrated at the factory and is Verified by CalMAN and Pantone Validated.

For HDR support, the SW321C supports HDR10 and HLG, the two most common formats. The display can also support true 24p and 25p video for clean playback of media. And, for more calibration, the monitor works with CalMAN and LightSpace for modifying the 3D LUT.

Nice and Unique

Now for the nice functions that make using the monitor a bit better or easier. One of the more unique functions is Paper Color Sync, which is designed to simulate the way your images will look once printed—effectively giving you a preview of the final product. It’s a good idea, one that could, as BenQ points out, save you time, ink, and paper. It’s also a fairly comprehensive feature, allowing you to preview your prints for specific paper types, color spaces, and even printer models. When I tested the Paper Color Sync feature, it seemed to work as advertised, though I’m not sure I want to add another layer to my printing workflow. If you are set up properly in your editing space and calibrate your monitor at a lower brightness, the built-in Proof Colors function in Photoshop should give you close to actual print results. On the other hand, if you are someone who struggles with getting a good print representation on your monitor, and/or you consistently find yourself reprinting photos because the final product is off, Paper Color Sync could be a great addition to your workflow.

As for final notes, the monitor does offer an Advanced Black & White Mode and a GamutDuo Mode for side-by-side comparison of images in different color spaces in addition to numerous PiP and PbP options. Connectivity looks to be straightforward: two HDMI 2.0, one DisplayPort 1.4, a USB 3.1 hub with two inputs and one output, and a USB Type-C that can function as an all-in-one Power Delivery (60W), video, and data connection. And to make this even better suited to the media industry is an SD card slot on the side. I’m still trying to figure out if the side of the monitor is the best place for a card slot. I think maybe the bottom with a clear indicator might be better. I don’t want to have to feel around for it or have to rotate my display to put a card in since that is something that sort of insertion happens quite often.

Hands-On Experience

I’ve seen a few BenQ monitors, and this is definitively the best yet. Right out of the box, the colors looked correct (matching another calibrated display on my desk very closely). This is a great sign that BenQ is performing good calibrations in the factory. Also, in terms of build, it is quite solid. The stand is a little wobbly if you tap the side of the monitor, but hopefully you aren’t tapping or moving the screen all that often. Bezels are standard, not too thin but not too bad if you want side-by-side displays. And, I was pleased to see physical buttons and BenQ’s signature Hotkey Puck G2. If you’ve read any of my other monitor reviews, you will know that I dislike the touch-sensitive buttons a lot of modern monitors use.

Another sign that the SW321C is a premium display is what BenQ decided to include with it. Sure, we got a smattering of the usual cables, but the bundled shading hood—which can be configured for vertical or horizontal use—and screen cleaning roller are super helpful to have included. You are already paying a premium for the display, so it is very nice not to have to pay extra for some accessories. As for the details on the hood, it has a non-reflective, flocked inside and there is a door on the top for using common calibration devices with ease.

The display itself looks very smart. If you want to edit 4K footage seriously, you will want something that can give you a full pixel readout of your video. On top of that, to benefit from the added resolution and still get pixel-level precision, you will want a monitor that measures at least 32". The resolution on this monitor looks clean. Everything is sharp without being over-sharp—and there are controls if it is one way or the other for your use. Refresh rates of 60 Hz provide a smooth experience, as well, but this is no gaming monitor. Watching a movie can be a very enjoyable experience, especially if you can get HDR. One other thing I noticed was the matte finish seemed especially resistant to glare. I have a large window next to my desk and it appeared to have less glare than my current display (even though that one isn’t much to begin with).

Straight Talk about Accuracy

Now let’s talk about the color accuracy. It is great straight out of the box. I’m legitimately impressed. It matched my current display and, during calibration, everything came back within very small margins of error. We are talking less than 10K off for the target 6500K white point. Color ranges are exactly what were claimed by BenQ, as well. And, the uniformity is very good. There is always going to be some degree of falloff toward the extreme edges, but the performance here is noticeably better than what I would expect for a display this size.

Color is great, calibrations are on point, and that leaves HDR for things I personally care about. This is where it is serviceable, but not quite as amazing as other monitors I have seen. It all comes down to a limited maximum brightness. Luckily, it does work as advertised. Using a DeckLink Mini Monitor 4K, I was able to output an HDR signal over HDMI and it worked perfectly without needing to adjust settings. It also automatically turned up to maximum brightness to give the best-looking image. However, it still looked a little dim. One benefit to this is that by not pushing the brightness up dramatically, the color accuracy is still very discernable. Many displays have issues once you bump it up. But, if this was your only display and you needed something on which to do basic HDR grading at home, it will work wonderfully. You will get a properly mapped image to preview your footage and work.

Overall, this is an impressive display and sets a new standard for BenQ’s monitors. This manufacturer started as a relative underdog in the industry, but I see this as a statement that it can compete with the best of them, even in high-end reference-quality environments.

What do you think about BenQ’s latest pro-oriented display? Any questions? Leave them in the Comments section, below!

2 Comments

For VESA DisplayHDR certification (https://displayhdr.org/performance-criteria-cts1-1/), the lowest tier requires the display to be able to sustain at least 320 cd/m2 on 100% of the display, at least 400 cd/m2 on 10%, and to flash at least 400 cd/m2 on 100%. Having worked with and evaluated several DisplayHDR devices, I'd say that HDR display becomes interesting starting with the DisplayHDR 500 True Black or DisplayHDR 1000 tiers. So, if a display's max brightness is 250 cd/m2, I wouldn't give it serious consideration as an HDR display. (Consider: premium HDR video content is typically mastered for 2000 cd/m2 or more.)

Definitely a good read on the brightness situation. While HDR "works" with minimal brightness, you don't actually see the benefits until you get past your stated 500 or 1000 tiers. If you are a working professional editing videos for projection or distribution this monitor likely isn't for you. But, if you are editing for YouTube and want something that gives you an image to work with that looks okay without much fuss this is a great option. It is also very accurate outside of HDR for standard work.

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