BenQ SW321C monitor review
BenQ SW321C is a newly updated version of a UHD 4K 32” monitor that offers modern connectivity, superb matte surface technology, and workflow options for editing both stills images and HD+4K native video. All BenQ SW line monitors are wide gamut, covering 100% sRGB+Rec709, 99% Adobe RGB to maximise colour rendition and fidelity.
Highlighted feature upgrades
What is not to love in a USB-C single cable that provides 60W power delivery to your portable computer? Extreme connectivity, encompassing all data transfer, audio and video over a single cable without a power supply.
New surface coating that I’ll call nano-lenses as I cannot think of a better term. It gives an absolutely velvet finish that doesn’t light up with spurious reflections nor LED backlight glow. No words can describe this new surface you simply need to experience it. The next best thing is taking my word, you will not find a more delicious screen texture that seems to eat reflections yet maintain contrast. See image below for an idea how well it handles reflections.
Uniformity Technology, measured and corrected at the factory using a Minolta CA2000 radiometer for the finest precision control. Each new version of the BenQ SW line shows their progressive leading-edge technology at an accessible price point. By micro controlling the surface’s zone uniformity both in colour and luminosity overall performance is greatly improved to the point of being a non-issue. This not only helps for each individual monitor yet goes further to providing closer tolerances between monitors (often referred to inter device agreement) for those with multiple monitors in a multi seat environment or multi-site situation (say one monitor at work, one at another workspace). The BenQ SW321C has the best uniformity I have seen with monitors at this level, and is easy to get used to. It does however make my iMac 27” 5K look really bad side by side in terms of uniformity.
BenQ proves once again by delivering top-quality products with a better price point than any other competitor that it is possible to fulfil needs of quality first with a price point meeting modest budgets of most photographers today! Highly recommended for those seeking an updated USB-C or Thunderbolt enabled editing monitor with 32” 4K being the largest photography monitor with 4K resolution now available in this SW line.
Who is this monitor for?
Photographers or videographers wanting the ultimate in a large surface area super high resolution with an extended high gamut potential fully aligned to all important editing with be a perfect fit with this incredible monitor.
BenQ have thought of every use for this monitor no one is left out. Doing so future proofs the monitor, and since it is the current ultimate monitor it will stand the test of time going forward with you many years being fully capable of multitasking between photography and video editing, and then some!
What does it have that covers all bases? Pantone Certified for graphic artists and prepress, CalMAN verified for video editing, Light Space CalMAN video calibration ready, and an all new Paper Color Sync software for proper print to monitor matching.
That is what the BenQ does for you with AQcolor delivering accurate colour beyond expectations.
Into the details
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 others looking for information on the use and application of this monitor and not intended to be a technical review, which will be available from qualified technical writers. To be clear, in the past BenQ have graciously offered to keep monitors after reviewing them, I’ll be happy if the same is offered for this gem.
For a full specs list click on the link below.
The new BenQ SW321C has similar display qualities as the SW270C, SW320, and SW271 combined with some major changes for better quality viewing and of course at a 32” diagonal viewing surface. My favourite stills monitor was the BenQ SW2700PT (my review here) which was/is near perfect for photographers and videographers alike in an HD 27” monitor. Recently I have been using the SW270C (review here) as the logical updated monitor for the same reasons the SW321C is perfect with having USB-C. Before receiving the SW321C I was using my trusted SW320 (review here) for any video editing and live shooting in studio.
As computers and video cards become capable of editing video at very high resolution of 4K, 5K, 6K even 8K UHD, with 10 bit video card out, the SW321C finds its place perfectly suited for the most demanding polyvalent workflows. The SW321C will last well into the future as it covers 4k video editing natively, and any high resolution stills images with exacting details.
BenQ SW321C has added new electronic features to allow advanced USB-C connectivity while maintaining and exceeding certification with superior colour capacities for all common standards and recommendations.
BenQ SW monitors have common aligned colour space options. SW line panel gamut maintains 100% of sRGB/ REC 709 and 99% of Adobe RGB, with only some slight variations in DCI P3. BenQ note a DCI-P3 coverage at 95% with the SW321C which is excellent performance.
Targeting video, BenQ continues to strive for excellence by rendering DCI P3 with smooth transitions, and offering the ability to view video streams in HDR or a new video HLG. This HLG profile can also used for recording flat or raw video footage to be graded in Post. Many digital cameras have log profiles for shooting video with specific gamma power curves to allow better resolving of highlights and details for which there are 3 HLG profiles.
These are monitor viewing presets accessible in colour space choices when a HDR capable device is used such as a Playstation, portable telephone, desktop player, video card output HDR over HDMI, etc. In any case BenQ is allowing HDR players or video streams to automatically show their best adapted presentation into an appearance model that optimises what these editing monitors are truly capable of.
Said simply, if you plug an HDR device into the monitor you have optimised settings for these devices showing more shadow detail and maintaining a high level of contrast and colour saturation. . If you want to read more about HLG or Hybrid Log-Gamma click on this HGL
Colour consistency between multiple SW321C monitors has been improved thanks to new Uniformity Technology as well as the newest screen coating for truly superb uniformity in both luminosity and colour deviation. This is factory measured, and registered for each display, an important step for maintaining the utmost of quality delivered. I am delighted with the results of the new SW321C as far as uniformity goes. If anything, that was one of the only details separating BenQ from much more expensive monitors. This is a factory measured value field reported and delivered with each unit from BenQ. You can also measure uniformity in i1 Profiler. Be aware that i1 measured uniformity will not correlate to factory precision measurements made with a very finely tuned device.
Cameras have been producing images with more colour than monitors can show for a long time. Monitors now are targeting Adobe RGB colour spaces as the reference point, with the goal of managing extended colour spaces such as DCI P3 within the scope of SW line monitors. Apple decided on a wide gamut device space called DCI P3 for retina displays. BenQ added a colour matching function called M=Book which allows matching of the default MacBook Pro screen to the SW321C. I assume that this would also work for Asus high end portables as their screens are quite similar to Retina, and the colour space is Display P3. Matching this colour spaces is easy with the included presets for P3, as well as the possibility of targeting the chromatic boundaries in Palette Master Elements at a hardware calibration level.
Size may or may not be a problem. The BenQ SW321C monitor is suited for a little further back viewing distance. While the SW320 required this space or reach, the SW321C with its new coating is no longer bound to be viewed at extended distances compared to 27” monitors. I run mine with a dual monitor setup 27” iMac 5K which gives a huge working area. When switching back to my SW270C well it seems small!
Laptops with USB C paired with a BenQ SW321C will make for an ideal editing setup, as will desktop towers especially the new Mac Pro!. If you have a higher level graphics card the BenQ SW321C will perform even better, yet fear not a more modest card will still do fine for both video and photo, as well as watching movies.
With the addition portrait mode all bases are covered, even the portrait rotation panels or extensions are provided.
The dilemma of choosing a 4K or HD monitor will be your hardest decision.
For example, if you like to be close to the monitor(s) a standard HD monitor as the SW270C, or SW271 would be your choice. All 4K monitors have you further away for a reasonable viewing distance. I am finding the text on the SW321C very sharp, only being a touch crisper on my iMac 27” 5K when set to medium text size scaling. It also comes down to how the OS manages text on above HD. Apple does this well on their Retina monitors. For any monitor plugged in that is managed by the system Mac or Windows text rendering is somewhere between acceptable and good. To my eyes great has not yet happened.
For editing images, I find the operating systems run smoother with HD monitors regardless of video card. Hence my recommendation for stills or non 4K video you’ll be happier with this monitor over a 4K such as the excellent BenQ SW270C.
Recent computers are capable of delivering 4K video output signal yet not all can drive this at 10 bits per channel (over HDMI 2.0 or Display Port). With the addition of USB C much more data can be sent. What I like best about both the SW321C and SW270C is USB C with Power Delivery. The SW321C is supplied with a high quality USB-C PD cable for all data including the USB hub, card reader, 10 bit workflow and sound etc. Not only is the performance enhanced, the power supplied from the monitor (60w) is enough to power a MacBook Pro or other USB C portable. One cable does it all, no need for additional power bricks, or cables. The USB 3.1 ports and SD card reader come in extremely useful too.
Time required for calibration with Palette Master Element is reduced by 3 thanks to USB C and a fast-on-board processor.
Implementation by Apple with Thunderbolt 3/ USB C, however is not perfect. Delays on wake up persist after the last OS updates, yet thankfully all connections are HDMI, Display Port, and USB-C are working without fault.
BenQ SW321C has a new nano surface micro lens making for a superb mat screen. It is impossible in words to describe what you will find as there is no specification to cite!
IPS monitors normally list 178º viewing angles. Yet that does not describe the change of colour and density. Even more important for a 32” monitor as if you are close, moving around will have a lot of influence on what you see. The new coating makes for the best viewing experience you can find with so unbelievably little shift that is becomes a new standard. It is like immersing yourself in your imagery. Combined with Uniformity Technology, there is a very reduced deviation viewing straight on or at any angle. On top of that there is very little LED backlight glow which in dark environments a negative point with my SW320.
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. Uniformity is superb on the SW321C, beyond my expectations.
When clients are present, the undeniable repeatability and viewing angle comfort of the BenQ SW321C 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 SW321C is also Technicolor Certified, CalMAN calibration ready, which are outsourced colour certification programs 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 SW321C will easily maintain great fidelity between watching movies, or any other applications you use.
Paper Color Sync is a host computer application that will pull profile information for the print paper profile, take the source working space profile and modify the monitor to show a suitable screen to print matching, if the viewing light is a true viewing environment lightbox.
It is a good idea, yet the implementation is missing finesse.
This can of course be done with a second or third hardware calibration with a reduced luminosity and colour temperature.
Palette Master Elements
The good news is super rapid calibrations and profiling are now done with the i1 Display Pro, the fastest instrument out there. The bad news is the application has not been correctly updated, nor certified/optimised by Apple. It does not save customised settings, does not have trending although does save out an html report. Curiously profiles created with the same device are not only different built from other applications yet variations are noted especially with this monitor!
I am finding BenQ Palette Master calibrations are rendering slightly green compared to other monitors or profilers. Calibrating to 16bit LUTS should fetch the highest possible quality, yet PM falls short here with some crunching of dark areas. Overall grey ranges are smooth yet, a tad green albeit they validate in the reports as being within tolerance. I am still using it yet constantly comparing it to standard ICC profiles which are sometimes better.
Until there is an overhaul, I will say use whatever you like, test out your profilers, and go with that.
Some hardware details
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. It is the same hood as the SW320. 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.
All BenQ monitors have nice stands. This monitor is a very heavy duty stand with a new detent at landscape and portrait orientation positions. This makes it easier to find its home position. This stand allows rotation and height adjustment as well as pivot. It is more than adequate for reasonable operation yet you can easily mount it on a Vesa mount by removing four screws behind the stand mount.
Frame, bezel, outer casing strong and well done a black mat finished plastic just a touch finer than the SW320. The bezel is slightly smaller than the previous model as well.
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.
BenQ’s remote controller, has been updated to G2 or generation 2 include a rotary control knob. While the panel itself has every control button on the facade, once you use the wired puck you cannot help to love it. 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. I leave the rotary knob to brightness for custom spaces. The new G2 remote takes some getting used to yet I find going back to G1 tells me the new one is just so much better.
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! It is not just a desaturation mode yet an ideal conversion to Monochrome with a look that photographers will appreciate. 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.
An SD card reader is a really nice touch as it is USB 3.1 rapid and useful for times when you have no card reader in the computer. Two additional USB 3.1 ports are also a nice touch.
BenQ supplies all cables USB C (1m), HDMI cable 2.0 (1.8m), mDP to DP cable(1.8m), USB 3.1 cable (1.8m) and Power cable.
Hardware Shipping box has been revised with an extremely robust design, logical placement in a very reusable box. Important for those wanting to use it on location.
Advantages of the BenQ SW321C monitor
A factory measured report ensuring each monitor’s quality assurance is delivered to show your monitor will perform exactly as intended from the factory. Out of the box a BenQ SW321C colour will be at a high level and close to perfect without calibration. To align your graphics card output you can calibrate at a hardware level with included Palette Master Elements (both Windows and Apple) with a number of X-Rite and Data Color devices (not included). It is almost automatic, as the screen communicates with the operating system and sends the calibration data 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.
That said I am seeing more and more problems with recent MacOS updates. Apple changed some gamma settings and default non-tagged UI items such as the dock. Because of this, images displayed in P3 Retina space is limited compared to the maximum potential of their screens. Even with an i1 Display Pro calibration and profile, matching say an iMac to any BenQ has become a challenge. Palette master has been updated for the SW321C, yet the monitor albeit fantastic in colour after calibration does not match the i1 profile for the iMac or any other Retina for that matter.
The best match I can find is profiling with X-Rite i1 Profiler and an i1 Display Pro then using the default EDID BenQ SW321 profile and hand tweaking a custom space on Adobe RGB.
I have always put faith in Apple yet here things have gone wrong. BenQ with or without PME is much more reliable. You can make your choice if you prefer a mismatch or matching by eye. Hopefully Windows is able to produce better matching without these anomalies.
User settings also include PictureInPicture and or PbP if you want to preview two different colour spaces at the same time. This is perhaps useful for colour grading for different outputs. The user manual will show you the way, in words it would be a long winded explanation.
REC 709 and sRGB 100% gamut covered
AdobeRGB 99% gamut covered
DCI P3 95% gamut covered
USB-C PD60W, DP Alt mode, Data
USB 3.1 (2x) hub, SD Card reader 1 USB 3.1 to host 1 mini USB for the controller disc only
2X HDMI V2.0 + DisplayPort 1.4
250 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!
New Video settings in the BenQ SW321C
You can switch rgb signal settings to full or reduced (16-235 closer to broadcast specs), also 12 bit upstream video. Because of the better data rates and processor, video playback at 24fps or 25 fps is native without what they call pulldown. This was introduced with the SW270C. The addition of viewing HLG video with the correct profile is new to only the SW321C.
Click on this link for a full Resolution report and video data specifications.
BenQ is continuing to improve uniformity with new technology to adjust multi-zone and sub zone levels to maximise evenness in luminosity and colour! With 16bit table conversions and the new regulation circuits measurements and embedded integration at the factory a very tight tolerance uniformity has been achieved. This is not only for each monitor but for overall matching between multiple monitor set ups, and or multiple sites.
Conclusion the BenQ SW321C Professional Series Monitor
With a 4 week test period the BenQ SW321C has proved to be the top of the line, reference monitor that we all want with a price point that makes it accessible.
Bringing in another era in ultra-high definition with extended colour spaces is something you can do now with this top performing monitor at a very reasonable justifiable price! Your photography editing will be as good as it gets, and now the video in native 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 SW pro line of monitors, and doing so with affordable prices that no other brands match. This BenQ SW321C 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 for hardware calibration. Build quality too is sturdy, robust with excellent finishing. The stand, casing, included hood, and controller disc all are of professional system hardware grade. Stand quality and the hot key G2 controller are intended for ease of use, again BenQ is putting users first.
I fully recommend this monitor for anyone wanting a 4K pro level monitor for photography and or video without hesitation.
- Very tight tolerance uniformity and surface technology
- USB-C PD 60W for one cable operation
- Very wide gamut, high contrast and controllable monitor
- 10-bit panel with 16bit correction internally
- Unequalled quality hood both orientations portrait and landscape panels included
- Supplied with proprietary calibration software
- Supplied with quality cables
- Perhaps just a bit shy on the maximum brightness for HDR (250cd/m2)
- Palette master needs more attention to detail and QA and more frequent updates.
- The card reader and USB ports poorly placed
- Not the fault of BenQ yet 4K monitors need a lot more GPU and CPU and scaling
- USB-C or Thunderbolt through port for daisy chaining
- Power consumption in operation 170W (if true there may be an error here!)