BenQ SW321C PhotoVue Photographer Monitor
The BenQ’s SW321C screen is big, bright and easy to view, and its colour balance appears quite natural-looking. We also found we could use the screen for extended periods without experiencing eye strain.
A good choice for anyone with a 4K-capable stills camera who wants to edit still pictures and video clips and/or create animations. It would also be suitable for graphic designers, where the large screen would be genuinely useful.
BenQ’s SW321C is a ‘big brother’ model of the SW 271 monitor we reviewed in September, 2018 and an upgrade to the popular SW320 model (which we didn’t review). Winner of the 2020 TIPA Award for the Best Professional Photo monitor, it features a large, 32-inch screen with 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolution and an improved anti-glare/anti-reflective coating plus second-generation uniformity technology. A new ‘Paper Color Sync’ paper simulation mode is similar to Eizo’s Quick Colour Match, although not as versatile.
Angled view of the BenQ SW321C monitor in calibration configuration, with the supplied shading hood in place. (Source: BenQ.)
The SW321C comes with the proprietary Hotkey Puck (G2), a shading hood, 1.8 metre power cable, USB-C and USB 3.1 cables, HDMI 2.0 cable and mDP to DP cable. Palette Master Element software is included for calibrating the screen. Like the SW271, the SW321C supports hardware colour calibration and is compatible with X-Rite’s i1 and ColorMunki colorimeters as well as Datacolor’s Spyder 4, 5 and X models.
It is supplied with a unit-specific factory calibration report that indicates each screen is individually tested before it leaves the factory. A detachable hood, similar to the one provided with the SW 271, is included in the package.
Who’s it for?
A 32-inch screen like the SW321C takes up a quite lot of desktop space, compared with the 27-inch screens most photographers use. But, images displayed on the screen look a lot more impressive. Bigger can be better when a pro photographer is trying to impress a client.
And, if you only use one monitor, the larger screen makes features like Picture-in-Picture (PiP) and Picture-by-Picture (PbP) more usable as well as providing more ‘real estate’ for handling multiple tasks. For photo editing, the larger screen will allow you to arrange floating function and tools panels around the image you’re working on.
For publishing and writing tasks, the high resolution of the screen can make text fonts appear small if you don’t enlarge them in your operating system’s display settings. Fortunately, when the SW321C was used in our dual-screen workspace in partnership with a 27-inch screen, this problem is less noticeable than we found with the 27-inch Eizo CG2730.
Videographers who edit their footage will probably find this screen can meet most of their needs. While it’s not quite up to professional standards for colour grading, it will provide an excellent simulation of how footage will display on a 4K TV set.
The same applies to graphic designers, who will find it can meet most professionals’ requirements, including excellent coverage of the sRGB colour space and good results in our tests for colour accuracy and gamut. Gamers these days are favouring ultra-widescreen monitors, as are professional video editors. But this screen should be ideal for content creators who use today’s stills cameras with 4K video recording capabilities, although even though it rates very well in some key categories, for professional stills editors it doesn’t match the evenness of performance that Eizo monitors can deliver.
While the size of the screen and its resolution will be major incentives to buy this monitor, its colour accuracy will be another reason for photographers to consider it. This is covered under the BenQ AQCOLOR Technology umbrella, which includes all the major colour standards.
The SW321C can reproduce 99% of the Adobe RGB colour space, 100% of sRGB, covering virtually all photographic requirements. It is also able to reproduce 95% of the DCI P3 gamut, which is a standard for cinema production companies and is also used by many smartphones and tablets.
Video editors are catered for with CalMAN certification and verification, while Pantone Certification will satisfy the needs of graphic artists and pre-press designers. The new Paper Color Sync software should make it easy to match print reproduction with screen view, although only with three printers and a very limited range of papers so far (updates have been promised).
The second-generation Uniformity Technology is designed to provide even brightness and colour across the screen, while the new surface coating on the screen resists unwanted reflections.
The SW321C also features powered USB-C compatibility enabling users to connect directly from laptops and other devices, with up to 60W available to power a laptop. (We couldn’t get this to work with our Windows laptops so assume it’s designed mainly for Mac users.) Users can also connect the monitor to a Blu-Ray player or video game console to display HDR (high dynamic range) content with support provided for HDR Premium, High Dynamic Range, HDR, Ultra HD Premium and Hybrid Log Gamma recordings. Full product details can be found here.
The review unit came with a printed Quick Start Guide and software CD plus all the necessary cables. The screen and stand were securely packed with neat cardboard compartments and soft foam plastic covers protecting the screen and stand components.
The matte coating on the screen appears to be susceptible to smudging so BenQ supplies a special roller to help you keep it dust- and smudge-free. It’s washable and re-usable but requires careful handling and storage if it is to last the monitor’s lifespan.
Like most photo-capable monitors, the SW321C can be rotated through 90 degrees clockwise into a ‘portrait’ position and also tilted forward through five degrees or backward through 20 degrees. Horizontal swivelling extends from 45 degrees to the left through to 45 degrees to the right and its height is adjustable through 150 mm.
The monitor can be rotated through 90 degrees when mounted on the supplied stand. (Source: BenQ.)
The Hotkey Puck is packed in the box holding the cables, while the hood has its own cardboard package in the base of the large cardboard carton in which everything is supplied. The stand is connected to the base via a bayonet fitting and then secured with a thumb-screw. It attaches via two locking prongs that slot into a recessed panel on the back of the screen. Cables can be threaded through a circular hole in the stand to keep them tidy.
Like the SW271, the SW321C can be connected to a computer via the supplied HDMI cable. There are two HDMI ports and it’s important to find which one has been selected as the default interface. (We found it was the HDMI-1 port.) This interface is required for High Dynamic Range (HDR10) support, which is accessible when the screen is connected to a device that is displaying 4K content.
The USB connection is via a USB-C plug, which fits into the upstream port on the back of the screen. The cable for the supplied Hotkey Puck plugs in next to the HDMI port. A headphone jack is also provided and a Kensington lock slot is located beside the input port panel.
The interface ports on the back of the SW271. (Source: BenQ.)
Two additional USB downstream ports are located in the left hand side panel, where they sit below a reader slot for SD cards. The top USB port is recommended for connecting a calibrator to the monitor, while the lower one will be free to accept USB thumb drives or other media. The screen has an integrated power supply, which connects to the mains via a standard IEC C13 connector, which is supplied.
The Hotkey Puck can be docked in a recessed section of the stand base. (Source: BenQ.)
The Hotkey Puck can be placed in a recessed section of the stand base (shown above) where it’s readily accessible. It has a dial control plus five keys for selecting the various display menus and an arrow pad for swapping between menus.
The dial is used for adjusting brightness settings and scrolling through sub-menus, while the controller keys provide direct access to the Adobe RGB, sRGB and B+W screen modes. The remaining keys can cycle through settings and be used for exiting the OSD.
The hood comes in seven pieces, of which five are used when the monitor is in landscape orientation. The two additional pieces are required to extend the sides when the screen is rotated to portrait orientation. The extensions should be installed before the sides are attached to the screen.
It’s easiest to install the hood by connecting the side and top pieces before attaching them to the screen. Once they are fitted, the final piece of the hood sits on top, connecting the left and right sides of the hood. It has a hatch with a sliding cover to allow a calibrator to be passed through.
The SW321C in calibration mode with the hood in place. (Source: BenQ.)
As before, the hatch was a bit too small to pass the Spyder5 colorimeter through with ease but, once the cable had been positioned it was easy to keep the colorimeter in place.
Design and Ergonomics
The bezels around the screen on the SW321C are less than 2 cm wide at the top and sides and just over 2 cm wide along the bottom of the screen. Like previous BenQ monitors we’ve reviewed, the screen itself is slim enough to be mounted on a wall using an optional mounting kit.
Embedded in the bottom bezel on the right hand side of the screen are five buttons that control the on-screen display settings plus the power on/off switch. The buttons replicate the controls on the Hotkey Puck, although the three at the left end are customisable. The fourth and fifth are the on-screen menu and exit buttons, respectively.
By default, the first customisable button is the hot key for Input, which is also usable for up and increase adjustments. The second button is the hot key for the Colour Mode and also doubles as the down/decrease adjustment. Custom Key 3 is the hot key for Brightness adjustments but is also used for entering sub-menus and selecting menu items.
The menus are similar to the SW271’s and include PIP/PBP capabilities plus B&W, Rec. 709, DCI-P3, Display P3, M-book (for MacBooks) and DICOM colour modes (the latter recommended for medical imaging). Available options will depend on the input sources, functions and settings selected and similar functions are grouped together in four pages.
BenQ has co-developed its Palette Master Element calibration software with X-rite and the application supports both X-Rite (iOne) and Datacolor (Spyder) calibrators. We’ve covered this application in detail in our review of the SW240.
To maintain consistency and ensure valid comparisons with other monitors we have tested, our performance testing was carried out with a SpyderX Elite colorimeter and software. Because we’ve never found Palette Master Element satisfactory and since it can interfere with the Datacolor software we use for our standard measurements, we decided to remove it from our computer after checking that it hadn’t changed significantly since our last BenQ monitor review. We also had issues with testing Paper Color Synch since it doesn’t support our printer or the paper we had available to use in any tests. The only printer listed in the supplied manual is the Canon PIXMA PRO-10 and only with Canon’s Photo Paper Pro Lustre media. (We believe it may also support the Epson P600 and P800 but, again, with only one type of paper, Archival Matte.)
It seems more work is needed before either application will be genuinely useful to most photographers.
It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer size of the screen and the amount of detail it can display. The matte screen coating is also praiseworthy because it is so effective in reducing glare and, on the review monitor, appeared to be completely non-reflective. It also made the screen very easy on the eyes.
The scaling issues we found with the 27-inch CG2730 screen were less noticeable when the SW321C was used in our dual-screen workspace in partnership with a 27-inch screen. The worst inconvenience was slight delays when moving the mouse pointer between screens.
As we expected from the supplied factory calibration sheet, the review screen looked good straight out of the box. It was brighter than our other screen but colours appeared just as natural-looking and the tonal balance was a good match for the images we displayed.
Like the smaller SW271 screen, the SW321C provided an attractive display in the B&W mode, with smooth tonality and no trace of unwanted colour biases. Similarly, switching to the HDR mode appeared to boost both perceived brightness and colour intensity but had little or no impact on our analytical tests.
When making the initial calibration with the SpyderX Elite colorimeter and Datacolor software the screen’s brightness as supplied was a little low for the 200 cd/m2 (candelas/square metre) level indicated initially. But when we proceeded with the analysis, the software re-set its upper level to match the 100% level of screen brightness adjustment provided through the Hotkey Puck adjustment. Subsequent tests were carried out at that brightness level.
Because most photographers will use the Adobe RGB mode, the results shown below relate to that mode.
The overall Monitor Rating graph shows the SW321C obtained perfect scores for the gamut and white point and obtained a 4.5 out of 5 score for colour uniformity and colour accuracy. It scored higher for white point and colour uniformity, with 4.5 out of a possible 5. Luminance uniformity achieved a score 4 out of 5, while tone response scored 3.5 out of 5. However, the contrast score of 1.5 out of 5, resulted in an overall rating of only 4 out of a possible 5.
The overall results represent the sum of individual parameter tests. Individual data graphs and tables are presented below.
Based upon its specifications, the review monitor performed much as we expected in this area. As shown in the graphs below, it comfortably encompassed the entire sRGB colour space and matched the expected 99% coverage of the Adobe RGB colour space. With the DCI-P3 colour space, which is designed to cover the colour range of cinema applications and is 25% larger than sRGB, it fell a little short of the claimed 95% coverage with a test result of 89%, which is still pretty good.
This graphic shows the colour gamut profile for the sRGB colour space (green triangle), which fits comfortably within the boundaries of the monitor’s gamut (red triangle). This means the monitor can display all of the colours used in Web applications.
The purple triangle delineates the Adobe RGB colour space, which is almost identical to the measured colour space for the monitor. This indicates the monitor should be able to display almost the entire range of colours in the colour space used by the majority of photographers.
Coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space was slightly skewed, resulting in a loss of a small amount to greens and reds. This could limit its use for editing video footage for professional use.
This graphic shows the results from all three colour space modes.
This test measures two parameters: the Tone Response, which shows the Gamma (the relationship between the brightness of a pixel and its numerical value) for the display and the Grey Ramp, which shows how the display performs across the different gradations between black and white. Together, they are a good indicator of how mid-tones will be reproduced. If gamma is set too high, mid-tones appear too dark; if too low, they will be too light. Ideally, the grey ramp should show a smooth transition from left to right.
The measured gamma (above) was very close to the 2.2 gamma recommended for image editing with Windows PCs. However, the grey ramp graph has some concerning ‘humps’ that could indicate uneven tonal transitions. Hence the 3.5 score for this parameter.
This measurement compares 24 standard hues against their ideal reproduction values.
This parameter shows the review monitor’s colour accuracy was very good, although not quite perfect. While most hues returned scores of less than 1.00, indigo, cyan, dark blue and mauve were between 1.00 and 2.00. Overall, this is a respectable result for a monitor that will be used for graphic design and editing.
The two Screen Uniformity tests check the brightness and colour consistencies of the display in nine sections of the screen (a 3×3 matrix), at various luminance levels. As usual, we’ve only published the upper and lower graphs for each category.
Luminance uniformity plots show the best performance was in the uppermost right side section of the screen with darker areas in the opposite corner showing less uniformity. This pattern persisted at all measured brightness levels. These readings account for the score given for this parameter.
The colour uniformity plots also show slight variability in colour reproduction, with a different position of the greatest variability on the screen. At the maximum brightness, the centre of the upper third of the screen is the most uniform while the least uniformity is on the right hand side of the screen. At the minimum brightness, the most uniform section shifts to the left of centre band. Given the4 score for this parameter, these results should present no problems when the screen is used for image and video editing or graphic design.
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Panel size: 32-inch
Active display size (h x v): 708.48 x 398.52 mm
Panel type: IPS with LED backlight
Viewing angles (h, v): 178o / 178o
Native resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
Pixel pitch: 0.1845 mm (137 ppi)
Bit depth: 10 bits
Display colours: 1.07 billion
Wide gamut coverage: 99% Adobe RGB, 95% P3, 100% sRGB
Brightness: 250 cd/m2
Gamma: 1.6 – 2.6, sRGB
Contrast ratio (native): 1300:1; Dynamic contrast ratio = 20,000,000:1
Response time (typical): 5 milliseconds (grey to grey)
Built-in Calibration Sensor: No
Look-up table: 3D 16-bit, Delta E <=2 (average)
Screen adjustments: Brightness, Colour Temperature, Gamma, Colour Gamut, Hue, Saturation, Black Level
Preset modes: Adobe RGB/ sRGB / Rec 709/ DCI-P3 / B&W / HDR / Darkroom/Calibration 1 /Calibration 2 / Calibration 3 / Custom 1 / Custom 2 / DICOM
Eye care: Anti-Glare / Anti-Reflection screen coating
Video/Audio input terminals: HDMI v 2.0 (x2), + DP1.4
Other inputs: USB 3.1 downstream x 2, upstream x1, USB Type C (PD10W, DP Alt mode, Data), SD card reader
Power consumption: 52W (based on Energy Star), 0.5W in standby and sleep modes
Height adjustment range: 150 mm
Tilt / Swivel / Pivot: -5o to + 20o tilt / 45o left and right swivel / 90o pivot
Dimensions (w x h x d with hood, landscape mode): 759.4 x 453.45 x 257.89 mm
Net weight: 11.83 kg without hood; 10.5 kg with hood
Supplied accessories: Shading hood, CD, QSG, Individual Calibration Report, Hotkey Puck, 1.8m power cable, USB type-C cable(1m), mDP to DP cable (1.8m), HDMI 2.0 cable (1.8m), USB 3.1 cable (Gen 1)(1.8m)
Distributor: BenQ Australia Pty Ltd, 1300 130 336
RRP: AU$3199; US$1099
- Build: 9.0
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Viewing quality: 9.0
- Photo editing quality: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.5