The BenQ EW3270U monitor has a huge 32″ wide gamut, 4K screen. It has HDR support for gaming and streaming with High Dynamic Range, and has some interesting features for reducing eye strain. It’s not cheap at around £450 or $600, but if you want all these headline features, it’s currently one of the least expensive options.
But is it any good?
4K or Ultra HD monitors to be more precise, have a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels. That’s the equivalent of two side by side full HD monitors stacked on top of another two full HD monitors. There are a few reasons you might want to consider a 4K monitor. For productivity tasks, it provides a huge amount of screen real estate. Just using Windows built-in snapping features lets you easily arrange up to 4 windows. The size of the screen is then the limiting factor on how useful this is. The 32″ screen I’m looking at today is physically big enough that even 4 windows become manageable.
If your computer and broadband connection is up to it, you can stream 4K films and TV shows via services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube and it looks impressive. You can also hook up a set-top box or a gaming console and use it like a TV.
Finally, playing games at 4K is the holy grail of gaming, but you’ll need a very powerful computer, especially if you want to play at the game’s maximum graphical settings.
There are users who will prefer an ultra-wide monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Take a look at my recent review of the LG 29WK600 for some further discussion.
Once you clear enough space, it’s straightforward to attach the stand to the monitor. Attach the base to the stand, and tighten the thumbscrew. The complete stand then slides into the back of the monitor, and is secured by tightening the two sprung screws.
There’s a good choice or inputs with 2 HDMI 2.0 ports, a DisplayPort 1.4 and a USB Type-C port. All three cable types are also included which is a nice touch. Unfortunately the ports face downwards and are very awkward to reach.
I’m connecting via the included HDMI cable to an Nvidia GTX 970 graphics card. If you’re connecting to an older desktop computer, with only legacy display outputs, you’ll have to factor in adding a cheap graphics card to allow output to this monitor.
The weighty stand is a simple design comprised mostly of plastic. It has no height adjustment, and a minimal tilt adjustment of 5 degrees forward and 15 degrees back. There is also no cable management. But it supports the large display adequately.
If you need more adjustment, the monitor has standard 100mm by 100mm VESA mounting holes for any display mount of your choosing.
The monitor has an internal power supply, so there is no external AC adaptor. Connection is via the ubiquitous mains kettle lead.
The monitor has a rather boxy, business like appearance. The grey plastic bezel stands around 4mm proud of the screen and has a chamfer into the panel which I didn’t find particularly attractive but you get used to it, especially once you switch the monitor on.
This is a large monitor, with a 14 mm bezel around the sides and top and a 21 mm bezel at the bottom. The actual diagonal viewing size is 800 mm or 31.5 inches, with the overall dimensions of the monitor 725 mm by 428 mm and the overall height including the stand 521 mm.
The power button glows green with the monitor switched on and there is a dedicated button just above it for turning the emulated HDR mode and Brightness Intelligence modes on and off, which by default are both off. I’ll come back to this shortly.
Windows 10 will prompt you to adjust the scaling of text to 150%, which you’ll generally want to accept, unless you want the system text to be tiny. Most applications work fine with the system scaling, but not all, and I did encounter a few issues. For example the Origin game launcher wouldn’t load without overriding High DPI settings in compatibility mode.
There are 11 pictures modes in Standard Dynamic Range or SDR mode, with the default Standard mode defaulting to maximum brightness, which is way too bright for most situations. You can lower the brightness via the OSD, or On Screen Display controls, beside the power button. There’s no user friendly joystick here, you’ll have to navigate around using the five buttons. By default, just to get to the brightness setting requires five button presses. But you can customise the buttons if you’re going to be changing this setting frequently. Or turn on the automatic brightness controls, which I’ll cover shortly.
The monitor has built in audio via 2 x 2W integrated speakers. The default volume level is low – you’ll need to return to the OSD to bump it up. The audio quality is not bad but just lacks any bass. So it’s acceptable for spoken audio, but not much else. Fortunately there’s a headphone port for much improved sound.
Picture quality and colour accuracy
The 16:9 aspect ratio; 3840 by 2160 resolution, even with the large size of this monitor, delivers sharp results with a pixel density of 140 pixels per inch (PPI). By Apple’s reckoning that makes the display “Retina” at a viewing distance of over 64 cm or 25 inches, and you really wouldn’t have this monitor any closer. Which basically means text looks very crisp, and you’ll certainly notice switching back to any lesser display. The anti-glare coating does a good job of limiting any glare coming in from a large window to my side, and a bright light bulb above.
The monitor uses a VA panel, which doesn’t provide quite as good viewing angles as an equivalent IPS panel, but still offers excellent colour reproduction, and superb contrast ratios with deep, rich blacks. The monitor is marketed as a TV substitute for watching streamed 4K content or connecting to a console. The rich blacks are very desirable in these circumstances and would explain the choice of panel. It also brings the price of the display down. I still found the claimed 178 degree viewing angles good.
The contrast ratio of the monitor is quoted as 3000:1, although you’ll need to ensure your graphics card is configured correctly if you’re connecting over HDMI. By default my Nvidia card recognised the monitor as a TV and limited the dynamic range of its output, resulting in washed out blacks and a measured contrast ratio an order of magnitude less than the spec. Within the Nvidia control panel, check under Display resolution | Output dynamic range and change Limited to Full. If you can’t access this setting for any reason, you can also use the OSD to change the HDMI RGB PC Range from Auto Detect to RGB(16~235) to match the graphics card output, which although not ideal, will still vastly improve the contrast. It’s worth noting that connecting via an AMD RX 470 over HDMI worked perfectly with no configuration required.
The monitor is claimed to have 95% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space popular with Apple displays, which has a 25% wider gamut of colours compared to the more common sRGB. What this basically means is it can display a more accurate representation of colour. If you’re doing any colour critical work, this can be a real boon.
I measured the colour accuracy or Delta E (ΔE) of the monitor as it comes, using the default standard picture mode and the default maximum brightness. Delta E is a metric for understanding how the human eye perceives colour difference with a value of less than 1 being not perceptible to the human eye. And a value between 1 and 2 being barely perceptible. I got an average Delta E of 1.5 which is quite acceptable.
Using an X-Rite i1Display Pro, I calibrated the monitor, reducing the default maximum brightness I measured at 316 cd/m², to a more comfortable 150 cd/m². You’ll need to choose the User picture mode for calibration, since it’s the only mode that allows you to adjust the colour temperature.
I achieved excellent results from the calibration, bringing the average Delta E down to below 0.5 with a maximum of 1.89. I was also able to confirm the claimed 95% coverage of the DCI P3 standard with a measured value of 94.5% which is close enough, and an impressive 99.8% coverage of the sRGB colour space. I couldn’t get the claimed 3000:1 contrast ratio but 2800:1 is still pretty good.
There is some variation in brightness across the screen, only really detectable if you’re looking for it. But the monitor passed a basic uniformity test, checking variation in brightness and more importantly tint across the monitor, by dividing the screen into a 5 by 5 grid.
The BenQ EW3270U has a few interesting features, the most notable being the built in ambient light sensor just below the BenQ logo.
BenQ call this Brightness Intelligence Plus (B.I.+) Technology and dedicates a separate button to it that also toggles emulated HDR mode.
When turned on, the sensor automatically monitors the light levels and colour temperature of its surroundings and adjusts the brightness and colour of the screen accordingly, in an attempt to reduce eye strain. As an added bonus, it also saves power. You can turn on the Light Meter display which shows you graphically when a change of lighting is detected. There’s also a Sensor Sensitivity toggle, but I didn’t find this made much difference so would recommend leaving at the default 50%.
The B.I.+ technology works well, and unless you’re using a colour calibrated work flow it makes sense to turn it on. I measured a few typical values starting from the default eye-searing brightness of around 290 cd/m² in Standard Picture mode which used 45W. Just turning the feature on with only natural light from a cloudy day coming in through the windows, the brightness dropped to around 160 cd/m² and used 30W. In a completely dark room the brightness dropped to 100 cd/m², consuming only 25W.
I still found the brightness a little high for my tastes, and unfortunately you can’t adjust the brightness manually with the B.I.+ mode enabled. It would be nice to be able to set an upper limit.
It’s also not possible to use the ambient light sensor in sRGB, Rec 709, Eco and User picture modes.
I was able to measure the colour temperature of the screen changing as the colour temperature of environment changed, but it’s a very smooth transition and hardly detectable to the naked eye, just as it should be. It’s subtle but it does make the colours of the display appear more natural.
There’s a also a dedicated OSD button to choose from one of four Low Blue Light modes, which filter blue light which is meant to reduce eye fatigue and is also recommended close to bed time to aid sleep. Phones and tablets often have this feature. Apple calls it Night Shift and Samsung calls it the Blue Light Filter.
There’s also BenQ’s Flicker-Free technology that doesn’t use the common Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) to reduce the brightness of the screen. PWM effectively reduces the brightness but turning the backlight on and off very quickly. BenQ’s Direct Current (DC) backlight system is meant to eliminate flicker but I can’t say I’ve ever noticed flicker on any modern monitor. Still it’s meant to reduce eye strain and fatigue and is all part of BenQ’s Eye-care system.
The USB Type-C input lets you connect to a compatible laptop such as any of the latest Macbooks. There’s even a dedicated M-book Picture Mode, that will match the colours between your display and the Macbook.
One of the benefits of the USB Type-C connection is that it supports power delivery, so you should also be able to charge your laptop via the same cable. Unfortunately the monitor doesn’t support this feature, so you’ll still need a separate AC adaptor for your laptop. There are also no USB ports on the back of the monitor, so you can’t use it as a USB hub. You can still connect an older Macbook or any laptop with a mini-DisplayPort to the DisplayPort input, using the supplied cable.
Unfortunately there’s no screen windowing software which means you’re limited to using the built in Windows snapping, or paid software like Display Fusion for finer control.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
High Dynamic Range or HDR is a feature that expands the contrast and colours of the image, with the intention of providing more realism. There are various HDR standards including HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG and like the LG 29WK600 ultrawide monitor I recently reviewed, this monitor also supports the most popular HDR10 standard. However it also is not compliant with even the minimum VESA Display HDR 400 standard which specifies a luminance of over 320 cd/m². I’m not sure this is an issue to most users, but it’s worth mentioning. The display does support 10 bit colour depth for even finer tonal details, although Windows only detected a 10 bit display when connected via an AMD RX 470, but not my Nvidia GTX 970.
There’s not a huge amount of HDR content but I played Battlefield 1 that supports HDR10. The monitor automatically switches to HDR mode, confirmed by an OSD message. You have a choice of two picture modes: the default and a Cinema HDR mode intended for watching films. The game does look impressive, with deeper blacks and more vibrant colours.
Windows 10 support for HDR is continuously improving, and I found the monitor quite usable in HDR mode, which you enable from Settings | System | Display. Again the monitor will automatically switch to HDR mode. There’s no way to adjust brightness manually in HDR mode, but you can turn on B.I.+ for automatic control.
I played some HDR content from the YouTube HDR Channel and it looked incredibly vibrant and immersive. But you’ll need a very fast internet connection to stream 4K HDR content – my 40Mbps connection could barely keep up.
Unfortunately my system doesn’t support playing HDR content from Netflix or Amazon Video, which both have quite stringent hardware requirements.
I did find text doesn’t look as crisp in HDR mode, so I wouldn’t want to leave this mode on generally.
The prominent HDR button that also controls the B.I.+ mode, only switches to an emulated HDR mode when using the monitor in Standard Dynamic Range (SDR). Although it is highlighted when you are in true HDR mode which is a little confusing. I didn’t find emulated HDR mode improved any content I tried playing.
Gaming and FreeSync
If you have a powerful enough graphics card, gaming at 4K is amazing. But it can’t be overstated just how powerful a machine you need, especially if you want to enjoy all settings maxed out. Ideally one of Nvidia or AMD’s very latest high end graphics cards. My ageing Nvidia GTX 970 with an Intel i7 processor, could just about maintain usable frame rates of over 30 FPS playing Battlefield 1, letting the game configure optimal settings. Of course you can always lower the resolution of the game for better game play, but it won’t look anywhere near as sharp.
The maximum refresh rate of the monitor is 60Hz, which compared to some gaming monitors that go up to 144Hz seems low. But playing the latest games, at 4K at refresh rates exceeding 60Hz is asking quite a lot of even the most expensive graphics cards.
The 4 ms Grey to Grey (GTG) response time of the monitor is more than adequate for low latency gaming, and BenQ’s AMA setting allows you to adjust this further. I found the default High setting worked best for me.
If connected to an AMD graphics card, the monitor supports FreeSync that synchronises the achieved frame rate of the game to the monitor. This reduces any screen tearing and stuttering in game, where the graphics card can’t keep up with the refresh rate of the monitor. It’s only supported between 40Hz and 60Hz, but considering the intense graphic card demands of 4K gaming, it’s still nice to have. It can’t be turned on or off on the monitor itself, you’ll need to use the AMD graphics driver.
The BenQ EW3270U has good colour accuracy and comprehensive connectivity options and the ambient light sensor is genuinely useful for a connect and forget experience. I’m sure the price of 32″ 4K HDR monitors will come down, but you’ll have to pay significantly more than this display to get those headline features currently.
The big question is whether you really need HDR, particularly in its current form, or whether a smaller 28″ display like the the BenQ EW3270U’s little brother, the EL2870U, would suffice. Some may actually find the 32″ screen size unwieldy.
But the HDR support isn’t adding that much to the cost and does future proof the monitor somewhat.
If you’re after a 32″ 4K monitor, the EW3270U should definitely be on your shortlist.
- One of the best value 32″ 4K, HDR monitors currently available
- Very good colour accuracy with an average Delta E below 0.5 after calibration, and covers 94.5% of the wide gamut DCI-P3 colour space and 99.8% of sRGB
- High Dynamic Range (HDR) support via the common HDR10 standard (although see below)
- VA panel delivers excellent dynamic range with still decent viewing angles
- FreeSync support (with AMD graphics cards) for reduced stuttering and tearing in games (although see below)
- Ambient light sensor with B.I.+ technology automatically adjusts brightness and colour of display
- Matte display does a good job of reducing any glare
- Standard VESA mounts for attaching any display stand
- Excellent connectivity options with 2 HDMI 2.0 ports, 1 DisplayPort 1.4 and 1 USB Type-C port
- Some brightness variation across screen
- Not possible to adjust maximum brightness in automatic B.I.+ mode
- Some may find the 32″ screen size unwieldy
- Awkward access to ports
- No height adjustment or cable management
- Traditional OSD controls fiddly compared to joystick
- Limited FreeSync range of only 40-60Hz
- Doesn’t meet the DisplayHDR 400 standard
- Mostly plastic construction
- Rather boxy, business-like appearance
- VA panel arguably slightly inferior to IPS panel
- Need to confirm “full” dynamic range over HDMI with a Nvidia graphics card
- No windowing software included
- USB Type-C connection doesn’t support power delivery
I hope you found this article useful. If you have any specific questions, please do ask below in the comments section – I do my best to reply to any questions.
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