Neil Snape / Beauty photography, portraits, fine art photography
The new BenQ SW320 is a surprising exciting new monitor that is a huge step not only in size but in resolution showing the ultimate amount of detail in images and video. Viewing 4k video on a HD monitor (1080 HD) is doing a disservice and not showing what is really there.
BenQ did it again, delivering a top-quality product with a better price point than any other competitor. Highly recommended for those seeking a true 4K editing system which also has stills image editing for an editing station more than complete.
This review is intended for image editors and content creators both stills and video. It is a review from a user’s point of view to other users looking for information on the use and application of this monitor and not intended to be a technical review, which are available from qualified technical writers.
The all new BenQ SW320 is a huge step up in every way for those coming from a smaller lesser monitor quality wise. Surprisingly for those familiar with a high-quality pro monitor such as the BenQ SW2700 (my review here) it is not just an increase in size it is so much more.
Recent computers have been ready for jumping into a new realm: editing very high resolution in a display capable of 4K UHD with the quality of the best of imaging hardware available.
Being a technical challenge, the new BenQ SW320 had to add a slew of new electronic features to allow the new 4K UHD to be certified and capable of offering the colour capacities for all common standards and recommendations.
Continuing the trend with BenQ SW monitors, the panel gamut maintains 100% of sRGB/ Rec.709 and 99% of Adobe RGB. Targeting video, more importantly, DCI P3 and the conditions to be met are very well achieved.
For some only doing stills photography this makes investing in a capable monitor a wise long-term choice, as camera and editing applications including video support aligned with these colours spaces in mind.
Of course, any high-end monitor has more features than any one user will ever use. That is where I would like to point out the most usable and important features for the photography and video editing domain.
The impressive physical dimensions are indeed exciting perhaps overwhelming. The BenQ SW320 monitor is about as large as one can fit into a standard desktop space. That said for a dual monitor setup 27”and 32” is a challenge to fit. Yet, when you have a laptop and use the BenQ SW320 together it will be ideal. A 27” is big enough for a main window, yet best to have a secondary display. The BenQ SW320 is large enough to run both as a main window and has enough room for palettes at the same time.
What is really surprising is the 4K monitor will have you changing the magnification of text. Both Windows and Apple MacOs, it is really easy to change text size, yet the default monitor resolution text will be really small. Whereas, a hi resolution 27” monitor like the BenQ SW 2700, any given the image on the BenQ SW320 will appear to be sharper and more detailed. It simply has to be seen to be believed.
You will find detail that you have never seen before at this pixel peeping level. Now when editing you have a more detailed view of noise, grain, granular detail, and what best suits noise reduction or sharpening adjustments.
All this resolution and its advantages also has its drawbacks.
Most editing computers since 2012 are capable of delivering 4K video output signal albeit not all can drive this at 10 bits per channel (over HDMI 2.0 or Display Port).
You can reduce the BenQ SW320’s resolution to HD but that will negate the fantastic display qualities. I opted for an iMac 5K 27“(40GB of RAM) for its 8GB video power for editing 4K video in real-time.
Implementation by Apple with Thunderbolt 3/ USB C is problematic. Worse, is Adobe Lightroom that requires a redraw of any edit changes for output resolution greater than 2560 pixels (HD). Both PC and Mac have lags yet this is certainly not the fault of display makers. Application primary window selection also is a variable depending on which monitor is in focus when the app is launched. That said, viewing images is pure joy on the BenQ SW320.
When you have the very latest and best iMac 5K screen and the BenQ SW320 side-by-side you’ll instantly recognise the superior screen. As good as the iMac is, the BenQ SW320 has a superb mat screen, and although the Apple specs are similar the viewing angles specifications it is readily apparent that the BenQ really outperforms any glossy screen at extreme angles. A good thing considering the size of the monitor and relative viewing distance which has you looking at the borders of the screen, which thanks to the viewing angle uniformity maintain equal brightness and colour. When looking closely at an iMac you’ll also find colour banding due to the lower bit depth of the panel and the extremely fine bit depth offered by the BenQ SW320.
If clients are present, the undeniable repeatability and viewing angle comfort of the BenQ SW320 will prove its worth.
As photographers, we are drawn to video more and more. Not long ago video editing was a specialised domain reserved for mid-sized companies with experts in editing with very expensive equipment required to do so.
Now, the requirements have become in reach of independent artists and content creators making high quality video editing a reality with a smaller investment in equipment as well as training. Yet delivery of content needs a reliable editing post where the monitor is the portal into the visual world we are working with.
BenQ addresses the needs by aligning colour display to your workflow both video and stills.
When the output video is the same as the display colour, an assurance is made. This is not to say a display will replace a reference monitor (in terms of video reference monitors certified for various broadcast standards). It will however assure colour coordination and workflow in editing will be maintained. BenQ SW320 is also Technicolor Certified, which is an outsourced colour certification program that measures the ability to meet or exceed a standard set of controls such as white point, gamut, contrast and brightness to BlueRay specification. Basically, it means the BenQ SW320 will easily maintain great fidelity between watching movies, or any other applications you use.
BenQ SW 320 in detail.
I want to talk about the passage from smaller and or lesser monitors what are the competition 32 inch (31.5 inches) 4KUHD
The question that will come up for everyone will be do I need a 4K monitor. No one answer will fit each user’s needs.
If you are starting out in video, or already working in video editing the answer is likely yes.
All cameras both for stills and video are 4K now, even smart phones, drones etc. Viewing footage on a HD monitor will do, but it cannot represent the image true to its intended output. The size gain with a 4K monitor in a 32” form factor, will leave ample room for viewing and editing all the palettes in the same window or not. Smaller 4K monitors will be space challenged. The best option truly is a 32” monitor or bigger if you have space, yet the only monitor that is price reasonable for top quality in 4K is the BenQ SW320.
For still photography there are advantages to a 4K 32” monitor as well as some drawbacks. Resolution is fantastic with razor sharp realistic detail with the BenQ SW320 for stills, and lots of room for palettes to live on the same monitor if you have enough desktop space to hold a big monitor. Is it that much bigger than a 27”? Not that much but if you have both it becomes a tight working space. I actually had three, the iMac, BenQ SW2700, and the BenQ SW320. That was fun to compare HD vs. UHD 4K!
Often reviews lists specifications without describing what that could mean for the user. I will try to explain some here.
First off, resolution 10 bit 99% of Adobe RGB 3840 x 2160 is telling you that inside the 31.5” viewable area you can fit four HD monitors at the same aspect ratio. All 4K monitors I know of are UHD which is 3840 x 2160pixels. Actual video is filmed at 4096×2160 pixels which is the DCI specification for 4K video. For projection, indeed this is the ratio yet for monitors it has slight reduction in the width to fit the format. You can still edit at full resolution yet the preview window has to be sized accordingly.
Bits per channel and bit depth are “Colour depth or colour depth (see spelling differences), also known as bit depth, is either the number of bits used to indicate the colour of a single pixel, in a bitmapped image or video frame buffer, or the number of bits used for each colour component of a single pixel.” To be able to supply a video out signal at the potential of billions of colours you need ten bits per channel, which is actually the requirements of UHD Premium and DCI P3. What does this mean to an end user? Well to have slightly more precision in colour fidelity 10 bits per channel allows this. The other number is 14 bit LUTs. This is the higher precision information for which the 10 bit data is relayed through for signal processing. This higher precision basically gives more room for correcting errors that would occur with lower bit precision. This is to say less banding, better gamma, minimum black point fine highlight control, on the monitor side internally. To recap; 10 bit per channel from the computer for maximising colour potential, 14 bit LUTs for maximum error correction for the panel itself.
BenQ have made a superb mat finish on the screen avoids and eliminates almost all parasite reflection, while maintain contrast and detail. Working with a gloss screen all day will be frustrating to say the least. To go with this is a sturdy hood which is easy to assemble, and comes with optional panels so you can use the hood in portrait mode. Materials used are heavy grade nice finishing likely the best in the industry. Inside of the hood is an efficient black velvet which removes all spurious reflections. It also has a calibration device sliding drop port for easy fixing of a calibration device.
Viewing angles are similar to all quality IPS monitors which are stated at 178º. This can be variable, and all I can say the BenQ SW320 is as good or better than most. It is particularly important with a 32” monitor as you’ll be looking at angles broader than a smaller monitor.
BenQ monitors all have nice stands. This monitor has a very heavy duty stand which is well suited for the weight of this monitor. The stand is also a lot more robust than other smaller 27” BenQ models. One of the things I found a bit off was the SW2700 the stand was a little weak, yet by keeping the hardware down in weight made it portable. This stand allows rotation and height adjustment as well as pivot. More than adequate for reasonable operation yet you can mount it on a Vesa mount.
Frame, bezel, outer casing strong and well done a heavy duty black mat finished plastic.
There is a sturdy handle on the centre column for safe transport of the monitor. The height adjustment is fluid and has a strong spring which counter acts the weight of the monitor for smooth controlled adjustments. The base also has a nice cut out for cable routing, and the embossed are for the controller disc.
Controller puck, a nice addition which I use daily. Fully customisable for each button, and quick easy access to all functions otherwise done with the front panel buttons. I set button 1 to calibration 1 (after doing a hardware calibration with an X-Rite i1), leave button 2 for sRGB and button 3 to B&W. Since it is cabled you can change settings and view the results at a comfortable distance compared to the front panel buttons. It sits nicely into a round embossed base of the column and now has a similar mat black finish.
The B&W mode is a very nice feature that makes viewing of an entire window of colour select images or video show in B&W or greyscale/ monotone without having to set any colour grade or develop settings! A photographer’s dream come true, exactly why I leave controller button 3 assigned to B&W!
Ports: Connecting cables is a bit tricky as the ports are all down pointing. I use a small mirror which makes swapping cables or plugging them in quick and easy. For all but Vesa mounts, I’d prefer them pointing to the back making it a lot easier to plug in, or at least be grouped with the two USB ports and card reader on the left side of the monitor.
The card reader is a really nice touch as it is USB 3.0 rapid and useful for times when you have no card reader in the computer. Two additional USB 3 ports are also a nice touch.
BenQ supplies all cables except a USB C> DisplayPort. HDMI cable 2.0 (1.8m), mDP to DP cable(1.8m), USB 3.0 cable (1.8m) and Power cable.
The monitor breaks down easily and has no problems in break down set up repeatedly
Hardware Shipping box robust enough, logical placement in a very reusable box. Important for those wanting to use it on location
A factory measured Report ensuring each monitor is individually tested to perform exactly as intended from the factory. By doing so as soon as you connect it to a computer the colour will be at a high level and close to perfect without calibration.
Palette Master application is included used for measuring and adjusting colours. The application both Windows and Apple, accepts various X-Rite devices as well as DataColor Spyder. It is almost automatic, as the screen communicates with the operating system and sends the calibration data and profile to the monitor which hosts this internally. Doing so is recommended as each computer and graphics card will have slight variations easily corrected at a very high precision inside the monitor. This is much more effective than any local generated ICC profile as it will not have the precision to correct for the panel in the same way.
User settings also include PictureInPicture and or PbP if you want to use two different computers to compare content with different colour spaces attached to each Picture. This is perhaps useful for colour grading for different outputs. Other user settings include various presets, yet they are for my editing not in a phot/video workflow.
HDR although not meeting full spec allows viewing HDR content at a reasonable intent, if you must. Normally new displays for television will reach the specification, yet that is out of scope for our editing stills/video.
Rec. 709 and sRGB 100% gamut covered
AdobeRGB and DCI P3 99% gamut covered
USB 3.0 (2x) hub, SD Card reader 1 USB 3 to host 1 mini USB for the controller disc only
HDMI V2.0 + DisplayPort 1.4 MiniDisplayPort 1.4
350 cd/m2 with a 5ms response time
16:9 format 60 Hz refresh rate DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) P3
For the full list of technical specifications please click here!
A little on the confusion of DCI P3, Rec. 2020, UHD Premium sRGB Rec. 709
Gamut has evolved the reference NTSC gamut was never used phosphor TVs were based on SMPT C gamut. The first mobile smartphones were able to produce 70% of sRGB or Rec.709 due to the brightness yet quickly increased gamut towards sRGB thereafter. Since 2015 many IPS screens are able to extend past sRGB towards Adobe RGB and beyond. Adobe RGB has 17% more volume than sRGB with a more saturated green primary where the bigger gamut is derived. When percentage of gamut comparisons are made it is not always an exact overly often devices or displays can be producing colours and white point different than the standard with primaries outside of this standard. DCI P3 is 26% larger than sRGB or Rec. 709. This standard has inclinations for 2 different white points one at D65 and theatre which is for projection only.
The reason you need high bit depth signal processing is in fact to correctly display colours in their target gamut with error correction for both the LUTs and panel precision. The higher bit depth the higher the precision of colour reproduction will be achieved.
UHD Alliance requires 90% DCI P3 for Ultra HD Premium.
HDR OLED panels are capable of extreme blacks without bleed 0.0005 nits by are limited to around 540 nits LCDs have a minimum black around 0.05 nits but reach 1100 nits.
Minimum requirement for HDR are; 10 bit colour per channel processing reasons,
UHD 3840 by 2160 pixels,2.6 gamma, wide gamut, signal input Rec. 2020, display gamut greater than 93% DCI P3, either >1000 nits with a black of <0.05 nits or > 540 nits, with a black of < 0.0005 nit
HDR also requires a minimum HDMI Version 2.0
UHD Premium is 3840 x 2160 pixels which becomes important for untagged documents and resources such as icons or any other display documents which are not in colour managed applications. sRGB remapping with the BenQ SW320 allows clipping the colour extremities back to smaller restricted sRGB set of coordinates.
This very useful feature lets you view highly saturated images as they would appear on a web based non-colour managed display without any conversion. Then BenQ SW320 has options for all users including the ubiquitous Adobe RGB. Since the colours of the BenQ SW320 achieve > 99% of Adobe RGB calibrating and selecting this space as your primary workflow ensures a streamlined precise and highly reliable for a workflow. Using a corresponding colour working space choice in editing applications permits total seamless colour workflow without surprises.
The larger the surface of the more difficult it is to maintain equal brightness over all zones. With the PV series, you can measure and correct for these differences yet the SW series you cannot, which is why uniformity is not perfect but far more then acceptable on the BenQ SW320.
Hoping for a similar uniformity was unrealistic as there are differences in luminosity yet to my surprise colour seems to be very consistent in all zones even better than that SW2700.
From a 4 month test period, I can truly say this is an absolutely great choice of a monitor for multipurpose workflow, and one that is by far the best price to performance ratio. Advancing to the future is something you can do now as the cost of this monitor is reasonable and performs at a top level. Your photography editing will be as good as it gets, and now the video in actual 4K UHD is a reality that cannot be had on a HD monitor.
Getting used to a 4k monitor regardless of brand will take a bit of getting used to.
You simply cannot ignore progression towards higher definition monitors, cameras, video editing, and image content production.
BenQ is putting their best into the pro line of monitors, and doing so with affordable prices that no other brands match. This BenQ SW320 is in the top level display category, offering superb gamut, brightness, resolution, user customisation of usage settings, repeatable and reliable colour accuracy with included software. Build quality too is sturdy robust and excellent finishing. The stand, casing, included hood, and controller disc all are of professional system hardware grade. Stand quality and the controller disc are intended for ease of use, again BenQ is putting users first. The hood is quite different on the 32” a solid heavier build which also includes optional side panels to use when rotated in portrait mode.
Yet the most important overall appreciation is found in seeing side by side comparisons. Many details are lost in translation, like 14 bit correction, or 10 bit per channel workflow. Whereas the iMac 5K is a good choice for general purpose, one of the first 5K monitors, it pales in comparison to the BenQ SW320. With the iMac 5K 27” reflections, colour banding, and problems in showing slight differences in highlight and shadow, and above all consistency lacking (I have to recalibrate often), all add up to a problematic workflow.
I fully recommend this monitor for anyone wanting a 4K pro level monitor for photography and or video without hesitation.