BenQ BL3201PT (BL3201PH)

Author: Adam Simmons
Date published: July 3rd 2015

 

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Introduction

The ‘4K’ monitor market is really gathering pace at the moment – or at least, the market for monitors with the 3840 x 2160 UHD (Ultra High Definition) resolution is. The current UHD monitor options range in size from ~23.5” to ~40”, which is obviously a significant size range. If you opt for the smaller screens then you benefit from an immense pixel density which can bring very impressive levels of detail to games and movies. If you opt for one of the largest screens then it becomes more practical to use the screen without using scaling and of course the experience can be considered more immersive in general. The BenQ BL3201PT (referred to the BL3201PH in North America) uses a 32” panel, sitting it somewhere in the middle of the size range. We take the monitor for a spin to see how it fairs when it comes to key image quality characteristics and also assess the 32” ‘4K’ experience.

Specifications

The monitor uses a 32” ‘4K’ UHD panel by AU Optronics, with 60Hz refresh rate AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) technology. 8-bit + 2–bit FRC colour is supported to assist in smooth gradation performance. A 4ms grey to grey response time is specified, which should of course be approached with caution. Some of the key ‘talking points’ of this monitor have been highlighted in blue below.


Screen size: 32 inches

Panel type: AU Optronics M320QAN01.0 AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) LCD Panel

Native resolution: 3840 x 2160

Typical maximum brightness: 350 cd/m²

Colour support: 1.07 billion (8-bits per subpixel plus dithering)

Response time (G2G): 4ms

Refresh rate: 60Hz

Weight: 12.5kg

Contrast ratio: 1,000:1 (20m:1 Dynamic Contrast)

Viewing angle: 178º horizontal, 178º vertical

Power consumption: 79W typical

Backlight: WLED (White Light Emitting Diode)

Typical price as reviewed: £700 ($1000 USD)


Features and aesthetics

From the front the monitor takes many style cues from the BL3200PT. It is a robustly built monitor, without managing to look boring or unsightly. Matte black plastic adorns the bezels, which are rather thin at the top and sides at ~9mm (0.35 inches). The bottom bezel is thicker at pretty much exactly 2 inches (50.80mm). The bottom bezel has a ‘sensor suite’ in the middle, including the ‘Eye Protect’ ambient light sensor and ‘Eco’ proximity sensor. These are explored in the OSD (On Screen Display) video a little later on. There are also proximity and touch-sensitive buttons to the right which illuminate when in use or a finger is near them. The screen surface on this model is very light matte anti-glare, which some users would refer to as ‘semi-glossy’. This provides a good balance between clarity and glare reduction, as explored later.

A solid specimen

Brimming with pixels

The touch-sensitive control buttons proved to be quite responsive – and having them individually illuminated is a nice touch (pun alert). There is also a power button to the right of these, which is a small pressable (not touch-sensitive) square. This has an illuminated power symbol, which glows white when the monitor is on and flashes dark amber when the monitor is on standby. There are certain other power states, such as where the monitor is on standby following deactivation by the Eco sensor, where the light will flash white. You can also control the OSD using a small remote which is included with the monitor. As per the images above, this docks in a holder on the stand base. It attaches with a Mini-USB cable and can be placed somewhere else, as shown below.

A remote control

The cable built into the controller allows you to place the unit up to ~46mm (~1.8 inches) in front of the screen. The following video showcases the controller and the functionality of the OSD.



From the side the monitor is reasonably slender. It is ~19mm (~0.75 inches) at thinnest point but is thicker centrally and where ports are located. Some of the ports are found on the right side of the monitor, which allows convenient access in most cases. These are; Dual-Link DVI, 2 HDMI 1.4 ports, DP 1.2, MiniDP 1.2, SD card reader, 2 USB 3.0 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Note that only DP 1.2 or MiniDP 1.2 supports 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz, with the other connections limited to 3840 x 2160 @ 30Hz. The monitor uses internal SST (Single Stream Transport) so is seen as one single screen by the operating system.

Many ports at the side

You can also see the solidly built stand from the side. This affords a full range of ergonomic adjustability to the monitor; tilt (5° forwards and 20° backwards), height (150mm or 5.91 inches), swivel (45° left and 45° right) and pivot (90° rotation into portrait). The portrait orientation of the screen is shown in the image below.

Standing tall

The rear has a mixture of matte, glossy and brushed metal effect plastics. There same brushed metal effect (‘faux metal’) is used on the stand base. The stand attaches using a quick-release mechanism to the centre of the screen. This can be removed to reveal 100 x 100mm VESA holes for an alternative stand or mount. Other features of interest include a K-Slot at the bottom right and 2 x 5W up-firing speakers.

The rear

Some additional ports are also found at the rear, facing downwards; USB 3.0 upstream, Mini-USB (for remote), 3 further USB 3.0 downstream ports (5 total), 3.5mm line-in, AC power input (internal power converter) and a zero watt power switch to minimise standby power consumption. A Dual-Link DVI cable, HDMI cable, DP cable, USB 3.0 upstream cable and 3.5mm audio cable is included in the box.

Some extra ports

Calibration

Subpixel layout and screen surface

This monitor has a very light matte screen surface, which some users might call ‘semi-glossy’. This is one of the smoothest (i.e. least grainy-looking) matte surfaces we’ve come across on a UHD monitor and preserves a good level of clarity and vibrancy. Meanwhile the matte anti-glare properties are retained for good glare-handling in moderately bright conditions.

Subpixel layout

The panel uses the usual RGB (Red, Green and Blue) stripe subpixel layout, which is the most common layout. This is the default expected by modern Operating Systems such as Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS. This means that Apple users needn’t worry about ‘fringing’ issues that can occur where non-standard subpixel layouts are used. Windows users shouldn’t have any particular issues of this nature either, but they should feel free to experiment with ‘ClearType’ according to their preferences.

Testing the presets

The BL3201PT (BL3201PH) features a wide range of presets, referred to in the OSD as ‘Picture Mode’ settings; ‘sRGB’, ‘CAD/CAM’, ‘Animation’, ‘Presentation’, ‘Standard’, ‘Low Blue Light’, ‘Movie’, ‘Photo’, ‘Eco’, ‘M-book’ and ‘User’. These are in fact the same presets that were found on the BL3200PT. We don’t intend to look at each of these individually, so please refer to the BL3200PT review if you’re interested in a wider exploration of what to expect from modes such as ‘CAD/CAM’ and ‘Animation’.

For the table below we will be focusing on a selection of presets and other settings (including ‘Gamma’ settings) which we found useful or particularly interesting. Note that our system used an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 connected using a MiniDP to DP cable. The monitor was kept in a ‘plug and play’ state on Windows 8.1, without any additional drivers or ICC profiles specifically loaded. Unless otherwise stated in the table (and for our ‘Test Settings’) assume things were left at default for the sake of this table. Gamma and white point was recorded using a Datacolor Spyder5ELITE colorimeter.

Preset Mode
Gamma (central average)
White point (kelvins) Extra OSD features Notes
sRGB 2.2 7008K Brightness, Contrast Very bright with a cool tint and excessive sharpness. Overall balance of saturation and shade variety is good, however.
Standard (Factory Defaults) 2.2 7035K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish), Eye Protect As above with improved (i.e. lower) sharpness.
Gamma = 1 1.9 7019K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish), Eye Protect A distinctly washed out look, remaining bright and cool-tinted.
Gamma = 2 2.1 7070K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish), Eye Protect As above with more depth.
Gamma = 4 2.5 7113K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish), Eye Protect The image now appears a bit too deep in places, with some shades appearing significantly darker than they should. Quite a striking and vibrant look, however.
Gamma = 5 2.7 7060K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish), Eye Protect Exceptional shade depth and a vivid look in places, but quite an inaccurate representation of many shades.
Low Blue Light = Multimedia -30% 2.2 5659K Brightness, Contrast The image remains bright but now has a more neutral rather than a cool tint. There is also a slight green bias.
Low Blue Light = Web Surfing -50% 2.2 5196K Brightness, Contrast As above but a slightly warmer appearance to the image.
Low Blue Light = Office -60% 2.2 4796K Brightness, Contrast As above, but the image is now noticeably warmer without a green bias. This is a very effective Low Blue Light setting which does what it sets out to do.
Low Blue Light = Reading -70% 2.2 4572K Brightness, Contrast As above but further blue light reduction. Even with this the gamma balance remains strong, which is pleasing.
User 2.2 6487K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Hue, Saturation, Color Temperature (Normal, Bluish, Reddish, User Define) As ‘Standard’ but even brighter. The cool tint has also been subdued, although there is a bit of a green bias.
Test Settings (as below) 2.2 6508K Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Hue, Saturation, Color Temperature ( Normal, Bluish, Reddish, User Define) As ‘Standard’ with better D65 colour temperature conformity and much more comfortable brightness. The image looks rich and inviting with pleasing shade variation and consistency.

Out of the box the monitor was very bright with a noticeable cool tint. The gamma tracking was pleasing, however. If users do prefer to use gamma which is higher or lower than the ‘2.2’ commonly targeted for PC use, then there are 5 different gamma settings which can be employed. You can target an average gamma between 1.9 (Gamma = 1) and 2.7 (Gamma = 5). The ‘Low Blue Light’ settings which BenQ have used on many of their recent models make a return, with some of these settings being very effective. What is particularly nice to see is that gamma tracking remains strong even when these modes are used. For our ‘Test Settings’ we made some changes to colour channels in the ‘User’ preset and significantly lowered brightness. Gamma tracking remained strong after doing this, averaging 2.2 and following the curve nicely as shown below.

Gamma test settings

Gamma test settings



Test settings

For our ‘Test Settings’ we switched over to the ‘User’ mode, which allowed us to make some adjustments to the colour channels. We also dropped down the brightness, but other than that no further adjustments were required. This produced a very nicely balanced image with good richness and very pleasing shade variety and consistency. Gamma averaged 2.2 with good tracking of the target gamma curve whilst the white point hit 6508K centrally without any green bias or weakness. Things looked just as we would hope from a good and well-configured AHVA panel. Given this strong performance and due to inter-unit variation, we will not be providing any ICC profiles – they would likely be counter-productive.

Any settings not mentioned below were left at default. We have also included the AMA (Advanced Motion Acceleration) pixel overdrive setting used in the review just for reference.

Brightness= 34 (according to preferences and lighting)

AMA= High

Picture Mode= User

Color Temperature= User Define

R= 98

G= 95

B= 100



Contrast and brightness

Contrast ratios

We used a Konica Minolta CS-200 luminance meter to measure the luminance of pure white and pure black using a number of different monitor settings. From these values static contrast ratios were calculated, as shown alongside the white and black luminance readings in the table below. Blue highlights in the table indicate the highest white luminance, lowest black luminance and peak contrast ratio recorded. Black highlights show the results of our test settings. With the exception of these test settings, any setting not mentioned here was left at default.

Monitor Profile White luminance (cd/m²) Black luminance (cd/m²)) Contrast ratio (x:1)
100% brightness (Factory Defaults) 313 0.30 1043
80% brightness 268 0.26 1031
60% brightness 220 0.21 1048
40% brightness 169 0.16 1056
20% brightness 114 0.11 1036
0% brightness 56 0.05 1120
Gamma = 1 313 0.31 1010
Gamma = 2 311 0.30 1037
Gamma = 4 311 0.30 1037
Gamma = 5 310 0.29 1069
Low Blue Light = Multimedia -30% 229 0.21 1090
Low Blue Light = Web Surfing -50% 202 0.19 1063
Low Blue Light = Office -60% 175 0.17 1029
Low Blue Light = Reading -70% 157 0.16 981
User 353 0.32 1103
sRGB 290 0.29 1000
Test Settings 162 0.15 1080

The average static contrast on the BenQ BL3201PT (BL3201PH) with brightness only adjusted was 1050:1, which is quite good. This peaked at 1103:1 once the ‘User’ setting was activated with all colour channels set to ‘100’. Following the adjustments made to our ‘Test Settings’ the contrast was actually very close to this, at a pleasing 1080:1. What was also pleasing was that contrast didn’t take a huge hit when the ‘Low Blue Light’ settings were activated, with even the strongest setting yielding 981:1 after a 70% specified blue light reduction. The maximum luminance was achieved using the aforementioned ‘User’ mode with all colour channels set to ‘100’; a bright 353 cd/m². The minimum luminance recorded in this table was 56 cd/m², which is nice and low. This gives a good useable brightness range of 297 cd/m².

There is a ‘Dynamic Contrast’ setting that can be activated in the ‘Photo’ and ‘Movie’ presets. This can be set between ‘1’ and ‘5’, with higher numbers increasing the effect. The purpose of a Dynamic Contrast setting is to allow the backlight to brighten or dim depending on the balance of bright or dark in the image displayed on the screen. With the backlight controlled as a single unit, you don’t get zonal control and the feature can’t really account for the intricate mixtures of bright and dark that is common in many scenes. Regardless of the setting used, the screen tended to provide too high a brightness output. This was uncomfortably high for some mixed images whilst the brightness didn’t reduce as much as it should for dark scenes. Overall this was a fairly poor Dynamic Contrast implementation, but this isn’t a feature we ever like to use so won’t hold that against the monitor.

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)

The monitor does not use PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) at any brightness level. Instead, DC (Direct Current) is used to moderate backlight brightness. The monitor is therefore considered ‘flicker-free’, as promised in BenQ’s marketing. This is good news for those who are sensitive to flickering from PWM-regulated backlights or dislike any of the other potential side-effects of this.

Luminance uniformity

Using our test settings and observing a black screen fill in a dark room revealed no noticeable backlight bleed or clouding. There is perhaps the slightest touch in some of the corners, but nothing that stands out even in these rather artificial conditions. As is typical for IPS-type panels there was a degree of so-called ‘AHVA glow’ (essentially ‘IPS glow’) which was visible from a normal viewing position. It manifested itself as a slight silvery-blue or golden sheen towards the very corners and extreme side edges of the screen. This was actually quite subdued compared to what would usually be observed on an IPS-type screen of this size, however. It bloomed out more noticeably as viewing position was changed relative to the screen, as shown in a video later in the review. Note that the image below was taken from a few metres back to eliminate this ‘AHVA glow’ and only show any remaining uniformity issues.

Monitor displaying black in a dark room

We used the Spyder5ELITE to assess the uniformity of white on the screen, measuring the brightness of 9 equidistant white quadrants running from top left to bottom right of the screen. The table below shows the luminance recorded at each quadrant and the percentage deviation between each quadrant and the brightest point on the screen.

Luminance uniformity table

Luminance uniformity table

The luminance uniformity was quite variable. The maximum luminance was recorded at ‘quadrant 5’ in the centre of the screen (161.8 cd/m²). The greatest deviation from this occurred at ‘quadrant 3’ at the top right of the screen (133 cd/m², which is 18% dimmer). The entire right side of the screen showed the greatest deviations overall, with 14% and 16% shown to the right of centre and bottom right, respectively. Elsewhere deviation between each quadrant and the brightest recorded point was 5-8%, which is good. It is worth bearing in mind that individual units can vary in this regard and also that there may be further deviation beyond the measured points.

The contour map below provides a graphical representation of these deviations, with lighter greys representing higher luminance and therefore lower deviation from the central point compared to darker greys. The percentage deviation between each quadrant and the brightest point is also shown.

Luminance uniformity map

Luminance uniformity map

The Spyder5ELITE was also used to analyse variation in the colour temperature (white point) of the same 9 quadrants. The following graphic shows the deviation between each quadrant and the 6500K (D65) daylight white point target. Deviations here are assigned DeltaE values, where a DeltaE >3 represents significant deviation that could readily be noticed by most users by eye. On this map lighter colours represent lower deviations from 6500K than lighter colours.

Colour temperature uniformity map

Colour temperature uniformity map

The results here were good overall. The point closest to 6500K was ‘quadrant 4’, left of centre. The bottom right (‘quadrant 9’) and region to the right of centre (‘quadrant 6’) showed significant deviations of DeltaE 3.8 and 3.1, respectively. These did not deviate significantly from the central region, though, or from any other quadrant other than ‘quadrant 4’. As with other aspects of uniformity, there may be variation beyond the recorded points and also between individual units of the same model.

Contrast in games and movies

On Battlefield 4 (BF4) the contrast performance was pleasing overall. There was appropriate detail in dark and shaded areas throughout most of the screen, with the detail loss due to IPS glow being quite restrained for such a large screen. Rather than giving a flooded look to large sections of the screen, it really only ate away at detail very near the corners of the screen. Lighter shades stood out nicely against their dark backgrounds, with bright elements such as white lamps in dark metro carriages appearing with only a light misty graininess.

On Dirt 3 the contrast performance was very good overall. Bright elements such as car headlights again looked fairly clean without troublesome graininess to them and they stood out nicely against their dark surroundings. The level of detail in dark or shaded areas such as car interiors was also good, with respectable material detail and loss of detail from ‘AHVA glow’ restricted to areas of the screen rather close to the bottom two corners from a normal viewing position. There wasn’t that deep and inky look to dark colours that you get from VA models with strong contrast, but things looked less ‘flooded’ overall than you sometimes see on IPS-type panels.

The Blu-ray of Skyfall was also used to help assess contrast. The overall level of detail on this film was excellent, with strong detail levels maintained in dark areas for the entire images. There were some impressive bright elements such as candles burning in Macau at night and neon lights in Shanghai, which stood out very nicely.

Lagom contrast tests

We used the Lagom tests for contrast to help analyse specific weaknesses in contrast performance which may not be obvious during other testing. We observed the following.

  • Performance on the contrast gradients was strong with every block appearing distinct from the others.
  • Performance on the black level test was also good. The first two blocks blended in quite readily, as they would on a monitor following the 2.2 gamma curve. The remaining blocks appeared with appropriate visibility and good steps up in brightness. There was no noticeable dithering.
  • Results of the white saturation test were pleasing, with all checkerboard patterns distinct against the white background. The final pattern was a bit faint, but not as heavily masked as you’d sometimes see from a matte screen surface. There was only a fairly light misty graininess visible.
  • The greyscale gradient were very smooth without noticeable dithering or banding.



Colour reproduction

Colour gamut

In the following image, the colour gamut of the BL3201PT / BL3201PH (red triangle) is compared with the sRGB colour space (green triangle). As you can see, the monitor fully covers the sRGB colour space with some extension beyond this in the green and red regions of the diagram. The colour space is very similar regardless of the preset mode used. This allows the monitor to represent all shades within the sRGB colour space, with a bit of extra vibrancy in places. If colour accuracy is critically important then a decent colorimeter will be able to compensate for this over-extension quite effectively.

Colour gamut test settings

Colour gamut test settings



Colour in games and movies

The range and depth of shades was very pleasing on BF4, with impressive vibrancy in places. Rich orange and red flames, bright orange paints and some very deep and lush greens of vegetation were particularly noteworthy. These elements did appear vibrant, but not in a garish or obviously oversaturated way. The monitor was also able to display more muted shades nicely, with lots of dusty earthy browns and greens and good neutral greys for certain building materials and rocks.

On Dirt 3, both the range and consistent richness of colours was pleasing. The natural environments showed both aspects very nicely. There was an excellent range of natural-looking green and brown shades, including good minty greens and dusty khaki colours. The saturation levels were maintained well throughout the screen, giving shades excellent individuality and identity. There was some particularly strong and lush-looking greens, for example in the Finnish Forests, too. This vibrant but not overblown look worked very nicely for car paints, too, which appeared lively and generally appealing. There were some good deep blues and purples that didn’t have that artificial ‘copper sulfate’ look that some monitors can give. Oranges appeared pleasingly deep as well, perhaps just a little too strong in places but still very distinct from surrounding reds. There were also some excellent neon pinks and greens were also observed.

Everything looked much as it should on the Blu-ray of Skyfall. Skin tones were displayed with appropriate and consistent saturation, whilst natural environments looked in-lace. The neon lights of the Shanghai night scenes and fires throughout the film showcased some good vibrant colours as well, with some eye-catching deep blues and reds in particular.

We also tested the Blu-ray of Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, which again highlighted the strong colour reproduction capabilities of the screen. With its large areas of individual shades, the strong consistency really showed. This also allowed many closely matched shades with just subtle differences to be shown with great individuality, for example various character skin colours. There was also an excellent range of impressively striking neon colours and strong deep colours. There were some very eye-catching neon light blues, greens and deep purples. Really every colour that you’d expect to stand out and look vivid did.

Viewing angles

We used the Lagom tests for viewing angle to further explore the colour consistency and viewing angle performance of the monitor. The following observations were made from a normal viewing position, around 70cm from the screen.

  • The purple block appeared a lilac throughout with just a very gentle pink hue at the far left edge and towards the bottom right corner.
  • The red block was appeared rich cherry red throughout the screen.
  • The green block appeared a fairly deep lime green throughout without an inconsistent yellow hue.
  • The blue block appeared royal blue throughout.
  • The Lagom text appeared blended grey across the entire screen, without any obvious green or red hints from a normal viewing position with or without head movement. This indicates that the gamma curve of the monitor has a low viewing angle dependency, as you would hope from an IPS-type panel. The video below shows this text, a mixed desktop and dark desktop background from a variety of viewing angles. You can see quite constrained shifts in colour and contrast, for the most part, as well as the aforementioned ‘AHVA glow’ which is a bit weaker than you might expect.




Responsiveness

Input lag

A highly sensitive camera and small utility called SMTT 2.0 was used to assess the BL3201PT (BL3201PH)’s latency. The monitor was compared to a range of screens of known latencies by using this method of side-by-side comparative testing. We calculated 6.85ms (under 1/2 a frame) of input lag. This value is influenced both by the signal delay (the element you ‘see’) and pixel responsiveness (the element you ‘feel’). It indicates that the monitor has a low signal delay, providing the lowest input lag of any UHD model we’ve tested so far. For users who are sensitive to input lag but happy with the 60Hz refresh rate, this should come as welcome news.

Perceived blur (pursuit photography)

In this article the concept of ‘pursuit photography’ is introduced, which relies on the use of a moving camera to capture movement on a monitor in a more realistic way. Unlike traditional static photography methods or indeed video-based methods, this accurately reflects what the eye actually sees when tracking movement on a screen. Such photography is able to capture how the pixel responsiveness, Response Time Compensation (RTC) errors and movement of your own eyes influences what is perceived.

The images below are pursuit shots taken with the UFO Motion Test for ghosting running at 960 pixels per second. This is a practical speed for taking such photos and also highlights the response behaviour of the monitor nicely. The top three photos show the results with the medium cyan background (middle row of the test) and the AMA (Advanced Motion Acceleration) pixel overdrive feature of the monitor set to ‘Off’, ‘High’ and ‘Premium’, respectively. The fourth photo down shows the results with AMA set to ‘High’ and a light cyan background (bottom row of the test). The final photo shows a fast 60Hz reference, which is a Samsung S27A750D set to full brightness (eliminates PWM) and 60Hz, using its ‘Faster’ response time setting.

Perceived blur with various settings

Perceived blur with various settings

With AMA ‘Off’, you can see a fair degree of blur in addition to what would ideally be perceived at the 60Hz refresh rate (i.e. the 60Hz reference). Setting AMA to ‘High’ cuts out a lot of this blur, although there is a small amount of overshoot (inverse ghosting) introduced due to some fairly strong pixel overdrive. This is particularly faint with the medium cyan background and doesn’t really come out on the photo, but appears as dark and bright trails behind the UFO with the light cyan background. Using the ‘Premium’ AMA setting introduces significant overshoot which wouldn’t escape the notice of most users. Given performance here and indeed during broader testing, it became readily apparent that using ‘AMA High’ was optimal on the BL3201PT (BL3201PH).

As an added bonus this monitor supports FreeSync, with a refresh rate range of 48 – 60Hz according to users. BenQ did not openly advertise this fact and we were not aware of it, so did not test the feature out.


Responsiveness in games and movies

On BF4 the level of blur was as low as you can hope for from a 60Hz sample and hold display. There were no apparent weaknesses in pixel responsiveness that would cause conventional trailing on top of the perceived blur from eye movement. There was a moderate degree of overshoot during some transitions, however. Some fairly noticeable ‘snail slime’ bright trails could be observed when moving past medium-dark greys (e.g. tree trunks or certain vehicles) with slightly lighter shades in the background (e.g. blue sky). These weren’t as bright or obvious as on some monitors and most users shouldn’t find them problematic. They don’t generally jump out at you and catch the eye and some users wouldn’t notice them. There were also some semi-transparent dark trails visible in some places, where certain lighter shades (e.g. brightly painted buildings) moved against darker shades (e.g. deep blue sky). These were very faint and could only really be observed if you knew what to look for.

On Dirt 3 there was a moderate degree of blur, particularly when manoeuvring around the track at speed. The rapid spinning antics of Gymkhana produced a level of blur that was mildly sickening at times. This was very much in-line with what you’d see on even the fastest 60Hz LCDs, however. As with BF4 there was a bit of overshoot here and there. This was most pronounced as a semi-transparent ‘snail slime’ trail behind trees as you moved past them with daylight sky behind. This was again not something that was too obvious and wasn’t something we really noticed when playing the game normally, but it was there when looking out for the issue.

To round off the responsiveness testing, we fired up our Blu-ray movie test titles. The pixel responsiveness did not impose any limitations here and we did not observe any overshoot. The fluidity is limited by the frame rate at which the titles run (~24fps), but that isn’t a fault of the monitor.

The ‘4K’ UHD experience

In this article we take a look at the ins and outs of the 3840 x 2160 (‘4K’ UHD) resolution on a 28” screen, with a pixel density of 157.35 PPI (Pixels Per Inch). With its larger 32” screen, the BenQ BL3201PT (BL3201PH) yields a still impressive pixel density of 137.68 PPI. We actually found this screen quite useable without using scaling, although this will depend on individual preferences, eyesight and viewing distances. The viewing distance during our testing was around 70cm, a distance from which text looked very sharp but readable. It did feel very small at first, coming from a monitor with significantly lower pixel density, but this was something that we adapted to quite readily after getting used to the new monitor. The image below shows the desktop with its rather small icons and other elements.

The native desktop

If you do find things too small then you can apply scaling in Windows, for example ‘Medium – 125%’ as detailed in our main ‘4K’ article. Also be aware of the issues raised with respect to some applications not scaling ‘cleanly’ and others refusing to scale at all. The high resolution and large screen leant itself very well to multitasking, for example working on a document with lots of content visible whilst also browsing a large chunk of a website. This is illustrated in the image below, which is just there to give an indication of how much information can be displayed at once. Even with this tremendous amount of content visible on the screen everything remained very sharp and clearly defined.

Excellent real-estate

If you commonly use applications such as those above, you can of course adjust text size without having to adjust the scaling used by the Operating System itself. We sometimes used these application-specific zoom controls to make text a little larger for viewing comfort. When reading small typeface with fatigued eyes in the evening, for example.

The experience when gaming was largely comparable to on the smaller models we’ve tested, aside from the fact that the larger screen provided a more engrossing experience in our view. One game we’ve been playing a lot recently is GTA V (Grand Theft Auto 5), on monitors of various resolutions and sizes. We found that playing at the 2560 x 1440 resolution on a 27” screen gives a nice boost in overall clarity and detail compared to playing at 1920 x 1080 on a screen of similar size. But playing this game at 3840 x 2160, even on a relatively large screen such as this, really takes things to a completely new level. Things had a distinct ‘4K’ look to them in terms of the overall clarity and detail on some textures. As you gazed into the distance on this screen there was a sharpness that is simply lacking on models with slacker pixel densities – including current 2560 x 1440 models of any size (down to 23.8”).

The need for graphically demanding Anti-Aliasing methods such as MSAA (Multi-Sample AA) was greatly reduced, although by no means eliminated. That is useful due to the extra graphical horsepower required to process MSAA. Without any MSAA things still looked a lot less aliased than they usually would, but there were plenty of thin straight edges that would reveal those dreaded ‘jaggies’. Car roofs in the distance, lamp posts, fences and road markings for example. The steps of the jaggies were smaller and somewhat less noticeable than on models with weaker pixel densities, but there was still this shimmering quality during movement. Even enabling a low level of MSAA such as 2x made a good positive impact here, if you dislike such jaggies. We still feel the game was quite playable without MSAA even though we wouldn’t dream of playing with such things on models with significantly slacker pixel densities. The image below is simply to set the scene and in no way represents the graphical quality seen on the monitor first-hand.

GTA V in UHD

When it came to texture detail on GTA V there was a certain look in places that really provided an extra layer of realism over lower resolution screens. Wood grain textures, some vegetation, road textures and certain uneven wall textures had a very detailed look. This was lost in places when you were right up against the texture, but that is due to the game being conservative rather than anything to do with the monitor itself. There were some textures that looked very impressive even when your character was very close, such as car tyres, leather, carbon fibre and other such vehicle model details. At the other extreme there were certain textures that looked quite flat and didn’t do the pixel density any justice whatsoever – character clothes and certain areas of ground, for example.

The experience on Battlefield 4 was very similar to this, and indeed similar to those documented on smaller screens here. In the image below, which is again just to set the scene, our character is on an aircraft carrier facing towards an island with a clifftop ruin at one end of it. The texture detail on the helicopter and runway is good and on the gun model is excellent. It is perhaps the clarity of objects in the distance that is most impressive, with the rocks of the cliff face, individual trees and the castle ruins all standing out nicely. And any enemies running about here are very easy to spot, too. Without MSAA things generally look appealing, but there is a bit of a shimmering look on thin edges such as the trees as you move the character. Even a low level of MSAA (2x) improves this significantly. The game certainly takes good advantage of the UHD resolution, even if there is untapped potential on some textures.

BF4 in UHD

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) provided this sort of mixture of highly impressive and less impressive elements as well. There was excellent distant clarity which was again one of the more impressive aspects of such a high pixel density. Many textures looked very crisp at a casual glance, including buildings, rocks and stonework. Up close they looked a bit flatter, again due to the textures themselves rather than any limitation of the monitor. Some ground textures and other objects were given textures that appeared quite flat from any distance really, so they looked a bit out of place. There were some creatures in the game look very crisp and detailed even when up close. The slimy Kwama and mechanical Dwarven Spiders looked particularly impressive. The image below is again just to help get the imagination going and does not represent what is seen first-hand.

ESO in UHD

As with games, UHD movie content looked just as impressive on this screen as on smaller UHD models. Unfortunately such content is still rather thin on the ground, but is something that should gather pace in the future. Overall we found that this screen size provided something of an optimal UHD experience. We didn’t need to rely on scaling, which can be hit and miss, whilst games and movies benefited in much the same way as on smaller UHD models. Meanwhile the large screen size provided a good level of immersion and a visually engaging experience.

Interpolation and upscaling

The monitor runs natively at the UHD resolution of 3840 x 2160. If you are connecting a device such as games console to the monitor, which doesn’t support this resolution, then you would run the monitor at 1920 x 1080 at the most. Alternatively you may wish to use a lower resolution as a PC user, perhaps because you don’t have the GPU grunt to push 3840 x 2160 pixels. The video below shows the ‘Display Mode’ scaling options that are available on the monitor. There are two options of particular interest; ‘Full’ and ‘1:1’. The former ensures the entire screen space is filled regardless of the resolution selected, using an interpolation process. The latter ensures perfect 1:1 pixel mapping, using only the pixels called for by the specific resolution you’re using and keeping the remaining pixels of the screen black (unused).


When the monitor uses its interpolation process (‘Full’ with a lower than native resolution selected) there is a degree of sharpness lost if you compare to running that resolution natively on a Full HD monitor of similar size. This isn’t as significant as we’ve seen on some models, but it does give things a bit of a softer look than they should have. When gaming, for example, the edges of objects and texture details simply don’t look quite right. By the same token it doesn’t look like the blurry mess that some monitors produce when running non-native resolutions. If you select 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) for the resolution, then things again look somewhat softer than running 2560 x 1440 natively on a WQHD monitor of this size. This softening is reasonably subtle, about as constrained as we’ve seen on a UHD monitor. We feel this resolution is quite useable when gaming with pretty decent texture detail – not ideal, but not disgusting either. With the large screen size any imperfections in the interpolation process are of course more evident than on smaller models, so whilst we may still declare the Dell P2415Q the king of interpolation that could be partly down to the relatively small screen.

If you decide to use the ‘1:1’ option, then you are greeted with a black border around the image as mentioned previously. For the 1920 x 1080 resolution only half of the screen space is used, filling 16” diagonally with a large black area surrounding the image. The 2560 x 1440 resolution gives you a 21.25” image with what is still quite a large sea of black around it. It will really be down to personal preference whether you use the interpolation process of the monitor to fill up all of the pixels are instead go for a smaller and sharper image with a black border. We feel the interpolation process of the monitor is decent overall, but be aware of its limitations.

If you keep the monitor at its native resolution, but are watching lower resolution content (for example a Full HD Blu-ray or other video) then the GPU or software you’re using handles the upscaling. As usual this process is rather good and provides a good experience that is not far off watching that content on a screen natively matching its resolution. There is a very small amount of softening, but nothing to write home about.

Conclusion

We’ve now tested a number of ‘4K’ UHD monitors, each offering a slightly different experience to the last. From the humble 23.8” Dell P2415Q to the imposing ~40” Philips BDM4065UC and some 27” – 28” models in between. We felt that the 32” screen of the BenQ BL3201PT (BL3201PH) offered the most pleasant UHD experience. When using it for general desktop use we didn’t have to rely on scaling, which is certainly nice given that it can be quite hit and miss. Meanwhile the game and movie experience lived up to the ‘Ultra High Definition’ moniker, providing a similar level of detail and clarity to the smaller models we’ve tested. This is something lost from the experience on the ~40” Philips, which also excellent in many ways has a comparable pixel density to a 27” WQHD model. The screen size also provided an absorbing experience on games and movies without being too imposing.

Aside from the brightness and the cool tint, the image ‘out of the box’ on this monitor was quite workable and fairly well balanced. It was just the case of some slight adjustments on the OSD and things were right where they should be. Gamma tracking was very good, not necessitating switching to one of the other 4 gamma settings kindly offered by BenQ. We also found the ‘Low Blue Light’ modes to be well implemented and useful for relaxing evening viewing. With the OSD remote, too, it was very easy to switch between preferred daytime and evening settings. And if you prefer to simply adjust brightness in an easy to access way, you have the flexibility to do that with the controller as well. The overall build quality of the monitor was also excellent, with the super-solidly constructed stand of the BL3200PT making a welcome return.

We enjoyed the image quality offered by the AHVA panel, particularly impressed by how smooth the matte surface was. We have found a lot of the ‘4K’ monitors we’ve tested with matte surfaces to be a bit on the grainy side, so this was quite a relief. The contrast performance of the monitor was also pleasing overall. Whilst static contrast was nothing to write home about, although decent, the relatively low levels of ‘glow’ helped provide a more pleasing atmosphere in dark scenes. This was certainly no VA panel, but it was nice to see this much-maligned characteristic of IPS-type panels subdued a bit. Colours were appropriately rich and varied, with the generous but not excessive colour gamut giving a nice dose of extra vibrancy. This was complimented by the screen surface, too, which didn’t sap away the vivid look in the way that some matte surfaces do.

In terms of responsiveness the monitor was largely impressive, although not technically perfect. There was a little bit of overshoot in places when using the optimal ‘AMA High’ setting. This was eliminated by turning AMA off, but the downside was an unacceptable additional level of blur. On the plus side the overshoot was not at distracting levels, quite constrained overall and not something most users would find distracting or necessarily notice. The pixel responses were very snappy, too, letting the monitor make full use of its 60Hz refresh rate. In fact the BL3201PT (BL3201PH) comfortably outperformed those 28” TN panels with their hugely misleading 1ms response times, in practice. There were no pixel transitions that stood out as being noticeably slower than others, with the movement of the eye being the predominant cause of blur across a wide range of transitions. It is also worth mentioning input lag, which was pleasantly low on this model.

Overall this is a monitor worthy of praise. It is of a size that we feel compliments the UHD resolution very nicely and it offers a very solid performance without any nasty surprises. No monitor is technically perfect and this is no exception, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best UHD models we’ve tested.

Positives Negatives
The AHVA panel offers excellent shade variety and colour consistency, with a generous gamut and pleasingly smooth screen surface complementing this nicely
A little tweaking required on the OSD but nothing too extreme, no support for a wide colour gamut either and certainly nowhere near the ultimate goal of Rec. 2020
Decent static contrast performance and relatively low levels of ‘glow’ helped provide a pleasing contrast performance for this panel type, whilst the screen surface is one of the smoothest (least grainy) matte surfaces we’ve seen There was some ‘AHVA glow’, despite this being reduced, and there is certainly a gulf between the depth of blacks and other dark colours between this and some of the VA panels out there
Low input lag and strong pixel responsiveness make this a strong 60Hz performer
There was a bit of overshoot in places using the optimal ‘AMA High’ setting
The screen size worked very nicely for the 3840 x 2160, offering a pleasing experience without scaling (mileage may vary) and a definite ‘UHD’ look to game and movie content
Some users would still want to use scaling, which is hit and miss. The resolution is also graphically taxing and the interpolation process is not perfect when displaying lower resolutions, particularly 1920 x 1080

PC Monitors score – 88%

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BenQ BL3201PH

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