Review: BenQ SW321C monitor
As a child, back when televisions had cathode ray tubes, our parents were forever telling us to sit away from the screen. Nowadays, with 60” TVs common in many living rooms, sitting too close is not so much a problem as actually sitting far enough back to see the entire screen!
Over recent weeks I’ve had this conundrum with the new BenQ SW321C, a professional level 32” 4K monitor designed specifically for photographers and videographers. The screen has 67% more image area than my usual 24” monitor and its had me sitting back from my desk, enjoying the view.
Professional imaging monitors like the BenQ SW321C differ from most consumer level computer screens in that they use an In-Plane Switching (IPS) display panel. Although more expensive, IPS screens have faster response times, a much wider viewing angle and better contrast and colour.
The SW321C uses an IPS panel that has been individual factory calibrated using BenQ’s AQCOLOR and 2nd generation uniformity technologies. This calibration data is stored in a 16-bit 3D LUT (Look Up Table) that actively adjusts input data to ensure tones and colours are smoothly presented on the screen without a hint of a blemish to the human eye.
The SW321C can display 100% of sRGB and 99% of the Adobe RGB colour gamuts, as well as featuring a black and white mode. Five small buttons in the bottom right of the screen can be used to access the monitor’s menu and switch between these modes, but a much easier option is to use the supplied Hotkey Puck G2 controller.
Three hotkeys on the Hotkey Puck allow for fast switching between sRGB, Adobe RGB and black and white modes, but experienced users can assign their own preferred calibration preset to these keys. This is useful, particularly if your workspace experiences a mix of different ambient light conditions throughout the day.
Although the SW321C is not supplied with a monitor calibration device, it does come with BenQ’s Palette Master Element software that works with most calibrators including the X- Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro /i1 Pro 2/i1 Studio/ColorMunki Photo and the Datacolor Spyder 4/5. Another piece of software, Paper Color Sync, can also be used to simulate how an image will look in print.
One of the most impressive features of the SW321C is the anti-glare/anti-reflection treatment on the front of the display; it does an exceptional job of eliminating glare from the screen, even if there is a moderately bright ambient light directly behind the user. A shading hood is supplied with this monitor but you almost don’t need it, simply because there is so little glare on the screen.
In behind the monitor you will find a well-designed monitor stand, complete with a solid handle that makes it easy to move the monitor about; the monitor can be moved 150mm upwards on this stand and also rotate 90º into the vertical mode. Also, at the rear is the power input, a Display Port connection, two HDMI inputs and a USB-C connection; the USB-C port supports video, audio and data and can provide up to 60-watts of power to suitably equipped laptop. In behind the left side of the display are two USB Type A ports and an SD Card slot.
For people who would otherwise be working with two monitors on their desk, the SW321C lets you consolidate those screens into a one more enjoyable viewing experience. At a productivity level you can have a word document open on the middle of the screen and still have ample room to view a PDF document on the left of the screen and a web page to the right. Looking at a monthly planning calendars and spreadsheets is also made a lot easier.
For experienced Photoshop workers the extra screen space lets you push out the control panels even further towards the edge to see more of an image as you work on it. Previewing an image in the fullscreen mode is also delight; the 3840 x 2160 pixel lets you enjoy considerably more detail than a conventional screen. Using video editing programs is also made easier, given that you have more room for the preview and editing panels, and you can preview movies in full 4K resolution.
There is a downside however to having a 32” screen with such a high resolution. While your photographs and videos might look amazing, some of the default fonts within your operating system and apps can appear very small on the screen. Within Photoshop for example, the user interface fonts can appear small, even with the UI font size bumped up to large in the preferences.
This might not be much of a problem if you have young eyes, but some older users might find themselves forever leaning into the screen to read the menu options. You can downscale the resolution of this monitor if you want to for certain apps, but this defeats the purpose of having a high-resolution screen. It’s also worth noting that not all computers can support 4K; before buying this monitor, check first that your Mac or PC has a suitable video card to drive this monitor.
Quirks with font scaling aside, the BenQ SW321C is an impressive display. Images look fantastic on this screen, helped in part by an incredible efficient matte, anti-glare screen. Rather than dividing my attention between a pair of screens, this 32-inch 4K solution lets you do a lot more on the one playing field.
The BenQ SW321C monitor has a recommended retail price of $3,200, which is half the price of its competitor’s similar specced model. That being said, the BenQ321C is about as good as photo editing monitors get, and if you believe in buying once and buying right, you will not be disappointed with this display.
SET UP AND HANDLING ★ ★ ★ ★
Easy to set up base and stand, with the monitor connecting effortlessly to the mount. Connections to computer are simple. The only essential thing to check prior to purchase is that your computer’s display output can support a 4K monitor.
FEATURES ★ ★ ★ ★
The factory calibrated display combined with 14-bit 3D Look Up Table and built-in hardware calibration ensure a perfect viewing experience to even the most discerning eye. The Hotkey Puck G2 is useful for adjusting display modes (good for working conditions with variable ambient light). The only thing this monitor lacks is self-calibration.
IMAGE QUALITY ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Visually, this is one of the best screens on the market. The large size and high resolution allows photographers to see more of their images at a better resolution than most smaller screens, while anti-glare coating on the screen ensures a distraction-free viewing experience.
VALUE FOR MONEY ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The BenQ SW321C is an expensive monitor for most enthusiasts, but the professional-grade image quality is unsurpassed and the viewing experience is unbeatable.
The BenQ SW321C monitor has a recommended retail price of $3,200, which is half the price of its competitor’s similar specced model. That said, it is about as good as photo editing monitors get, and if you believe in buying once and buying right, you will not be disappointed with this display.