A taste of HDR at a compelling price
- High resolution
- Excellent colour reproduction
- Impressive black levels for LCD
- HDR emulation
- Lacks peak brightness levels of true HDR
- Limited to 60Hz
- Inputs and menu buttons are fiddly to reach
- Basic design
- Screen Size: 31.5"
- Panel Type: VA
- Resolution (max.): 3840x2160
- PPI: 140
- Brightness: 300cd/m²
- Contrast: 3000:1
- Viewing Angle: 178°/178°
- Response Time: 4ms
- Refresh Rate: 60Hz
- Color Gamut: 95% DCI-P3
- Color Bit: 10 bit
Displays with HDR, or high dynamic range, are becoming common in the TV market, where the tech lends itself well to films. Computer monitors have lagged behind and carry a correspondingly high price tag - but BenQ's EW3270U breaks that mold.
Launched earlier this year, the 31.5" LCD display boasts some impressive specs, including 4k (3840 x 2160) resolution, DCI-P3 colour gamut and AMD's Freesync anti-tearing technology. That makes it a solid option for gaming as well as media consumption, despite being limited to a 60Hz refresh rate.
You could be forgiven for writing BenQ's monitor off as ‘just another office screen' based on its design, which is all grey and black plastic, although with a rather good-looking brushed appearance to the stand. The bezels are relatively thick (13mm top/sides and 19mm bottom), but the sheer size of the display area makes this almost unnoticeable. Clearly, there have been some compromises to bring the price of 4k HDR down to reasonable levels.
Ergonomics are similarly basic: users can tilt the screen between -5° and 15°, but there is no swivel, pivot or height adjustment. That last is something that we consider very important for monitors, as improper positioning of something you're looking at for hours each day can easily lead to neck and back strain. We had to completely change our desk set-up, by removing our two-tier standing desk converter, to make the monitor comfortable to use.
The display controls are positioned underneath the screen, with shortcuts for low blue light mode, picture mode and input, plus the menu button. Inside the menu, users can toggle a feature called BI+ (Brightness Intelligence+), which alters the colour temperature and brightness of the screen based on the ambient light. As the controls are slightly fiddly to reach, this is a handy feature if you are using the screen in an environment where the light changes through the day.
Prominently displayed on the front of the monitor, near the menu buttons, is the HDR button, which can enable both HDR mode and BI+. The former is intended to emulate HDR, but what we found is that it simply cranks up the brightness and contrast of all content. It improves some content with more vibrant colours, darker blacks and brighter whites, but its use will definitely be down to personal taste.
Also underneath the display are the inputs (DisplayPort, 2xHDMI, USB-C) and two down-firing 2W speakers, which we found a little quiet. The inputs are fiddly to access due to their downward-facing position, and the decision not to include USB-A ports is off-putting to those who want a single-cable solution or laptop users.
The EW3270U certainly has some impressive display stats. As well as 4k resolution, it has 10-bit colour (no banding) and 95 per cent coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space, plus the HDR mode. That is where things get tricky.
The VA panel BenQ uses has a 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 178° viewing angles (unlike other reviewers, we didn't observe any issues with off-angle viewing), while the edge-LED backlight provides 300 cd/m² of brightness.
An edge-lit display will never achieve the really high peak brightness levels that various certifications, like UltraHD Premium, require, so don't expect to see the same level of HDR out of this monitor as you would get from a direct-lit TV with local dimming (very bright), or an OLED set (very dark).
While the brightness is comparatively low, the monitor's black levels are very good: a minimum of 0.0415cd/m² in HDR mode, thanks to the VA panel, which is not comparable to OLED but is still a great result for an LCD set. Good HDR relies on both peak brightness and black levels, so this goes some way towards compensating for the display's lower brightness.
Gamers will enjoy the monitor's high resolution and HDR emulation - in the games that support it - but might find themselves limited by the 60Hz refresh rate. Unfortunately, most modern GPUs cannot go above this level while still outputting 4k.
We used the Lagom LCD test to test elements like brightness, gamma and white saturation. All of these came close to the ideal out-of-the-box, aside from sharpness (too low). Gamma was about 2.0, slightly lower than the 2.2 standard, but well within the acceptable range.
BenQ claims a 4ms grey-to-grey response time, and we didn't notice any ghosting or blur while using the UFO Test.
In terms of colour, 95 per cent coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space is an impressive figure, with deltaE sitting at 1.9 out of the box and 0.6 after calibration in Standard mode, which is very good. In sRGB mode (99.9 per cent coverage), deltaE sits at 1.4 uncalibrated and 0.5 after calibration.
While its HDR mode is lacking in brightness compared to Dell's UP2718Q, with its 384-zone backlight, the EW3270U provides the best version of HDR we have seen on an edge-lit monitor to-date - and for less than a third of the price.
Although not the best choice for twitch-style gamers or laptop users, due to its lower refresh rate and limited port selection, BenQ's display is more than viable for everyone else. If you are after a monitor with plenty of screen real estate, excellent colour reproduction and - if not the full experience - at least a taste of what HDR feels like, this is one of the better options out there.