BenQ BL3201PT review: a premium 32-inch 4K monitor with all the trimmings

20141111_23013_4996_3208The BL3201PT is a beast of a monitor: 4K resolution, 32 inch diagonal and more ports and features than you can shake a stick at. Last year we loved its 1440p predecessor, the BL3200PT, so surely a 4K version is going to be even better? Let’s find out!

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Features

  • 32-inch screen with 3840 x 2160 (4K / UHD) resolution
  • 100% sRGB colour space
  • Display Pilot software
  • OSD remote access
  • CAD/CAM mode and animation mode for precision design
 

Specifications

  • Display screen size: 32 inches
  • Aspect ratio: 16:9
  • Panel type: IPS
  • Brightness: 350cd/m2
  • Contrast ratio: 1000:1 (Typ)
  • Dynamic contrast ratio: 20,000,000
  • Resolution: 3840×2160 (Only 60Hz over DisplayPort)
  • Response time: 4ms (GTG)
  • Color support : 1B
  • Viewing angles (H / V ): 178 ° / 178 °
  • Connectivity: 2x HDMI (30Hz), 1x DisplayPort (60Hz), 1x Mini-DisplayPort (60Hz), 1x DVI-DL
  • USB Hub: USB 3.0
  • Speakers: 2x 5W Stereo
  • VESA: 100x100mm
  • Height adjust, pivot, swivel stand
  • Warranty: 2 year on-site
 

Unboxing

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The BL3201PT comes neatly packaged in a massive box. Slide out the contents, and you’ll find the screen itself held between two thick blocks of styrofoam. As well as the monitor itself, you’ll find a DisplayPort to mini Display Port cable, an HDMI cable, a DVI-D cable, a USB 3.0 cable and a 3.5mm audio cable. A power cable is also included.

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Cutouts and pockets in the foam hold the stand, controller, cables and literature. You get an impressive amount here, including a mini Display Port to Display Port cable that is your best shot for connecting the monitor at full 4K resolution and 60Hz refresh rate.

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Design

At first shake, the BL3201PT looks very similar to its predecessor: a massive 32-inch monitor, supported by a wide stand and replete with ports and features. However, there are a few differences between the two models. Let’s take a closer look.

Like its predecessor, the BL3201 is bloody massive. It dwarfs the 27-inch model behind it. Despite the great size, it looks quite elegant.

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The metal stand ends in a nice place to keep loose change (or the OSD controller, if you prefer), and the base of the stand has a subtle brushed metal texture.

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The bezel of the display is unornamented, apart from some subtle identifiers on the top right and bottom left. In the bottom centre we have the light sensor and a small UHD label.

Finally, on the far right we have the power button (which glows white) and a quintet of square white LEDs which light up as your fingers go close to them; these are the controls for the OSD. It doesn’t look like the OSD has been updated for the new resolution; everything looks a bit pixelated!

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The right side of the monitor’s back housing houses its input ports. We have DVI-D, two HDMI ports, full size Display Port and Mini Display Port. It’s a staggering array of inputs, although you’d probably only use Display Port as this unlocks the 60HZ operating mode for 4K (a pair of HDMI cables can also work, but this is limited to 30Hz).

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Immediately to the right of the screen we have an SD card reader (invaluable for review photographers like me!), two USB 3.0 ports and a headphone port.

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On the bottom of the monitor we have a trio of USB 3.0 ports, a mini USB cable that makes the OSD controller work, and of course passthrough ports for audio and USB.

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Like its predecessor, the BL3201 can turn sideways, even if it looks a bit mad doing it.

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Testing

I used the BL3201PT for a period of two weeks as my main monitor. During this time I edited photographs for reviews, wrote many articles and played quite a few games as well. In addition to my hands-on impressions, you’ll also find a section of benchmarks made using the Spyder4Elite monitor testing tool.

Games

4K gaming is the most obvious advantage a modern gaming PC has over a modern games console. With many games running below 1080p on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, running at 4K resolution is a big step forward. As you’d expect, the latest games look absolutely insane at 4K. The level of detail on-screen can distract you from the story and gameplay on hand; I spent a good proportion of my latest Civilization: Beyond Earth campaign just admiring the majesty of the alien landscape laid out before me.

Of course, running a game at 4K requires four times the horsepower of 1080p. Even if you’re making the jump from 1440p, you’ll still find that games will run appreciably slower at the higher 3840 x 2160 resolution. In order to achieve strong frame-rates, you’ll need to invest in quality hardware, particularly your video card and processor. I was using a top-of-the-line GTX980 video card (review coming soon), and still found that recent games needed to have lower quality settings to run smoothly. Another option was to run at 1080p, which is exactly half the vertical and horizontal resolution of 4K, and therefore looked alright even on the 32-inch screen.

For older games though, the move to 4K was awesome. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft II and Wasteland II all looked brilliant at the new resolution. However, the greater resolution also meant that these games’ interfaces were relatively smaller than before. Many games do allow you to adjust the size of the interface to compensate for unusually large or small displays, and that ability was quite critical here. For games that don’t – like Civilization: Beyond Earth – you’ll have to get used to squinting and moving your mouse a great deal.

Work

The BL3201PT is designed for work, so it makes sense to look at its performance here too. The first thing you’ll notice when using the monitor in Windows is how crazy-small everything is. At default 100% scaling, you’ll find that everything from the taskbar to common programs have tiny words, tiny control, tiny everything. You can bump up the scaling in the Display settings in Windows, but that makes stuff blurry, which kinda sucks. I found it better to sit closer and keep the scaling at 100%, which kept everything sharp. In Chrome, I compensated for tiny web pages by viewing most at 150% or even 200% scale, which worked well enough.

This scaling issue aside, the BL3201PT was awesome for getting work done. The unparalleled amount of screen real estate made it easy to have four or more windows on-screen at once; I could write a review like this, refer back to specifications, control my music and chat on Skype without feeling cramped anywhere. Working on 1080p or 1440p graphics was also easy, with plenty of space for controls around your full-screen video or photo. It’s (almost) enough to make you go back to using a single display.

In other areas, the monitor impressed as much as its predecessor. There are a wide range of ports here, with many located on an easy-to-reach side panel. The inclusion of audio and USB passthroughs was also appreciated. There are enough here that you could legitimately connect everything (mouse, keyboard, USB storage) through the monitor, leaving only a single group of cables to connect to your PC. Finally, having an SD card reader was a welcome alternative to using a dedicated USB card reader.

Adjusting the monitor’s settings proved easy thanks to the included OSD controller. It’s way faster than pressing buttons on the monitor itself, and it tucks nicely into the monitor’s stand (or disappears if you don’t need it). The controller makes it easy to swap into modes for certain applications (like 3D modelling or reading), and even making advanced tweaks like adjusting colour is pretty rapid.

All-in-all: a mighty 4K monitor for getting stuff done!

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Media

4K TVs are taking off quickly; they’re the next big thing after curved TVs and 3D. 4K looks like a more substantial change though, an increase in the base resolution that should allow for dramatically crisper images that’s noticeable at a considerable difference. Adopting that same resolution – four times the pixels of 1080p! – should make the BL3201PT equally good for watching 4K content.

And true to form, that’s exactly what we find: this is a brilliant way to watch 4K videos. The level of detail is staggering, the colours are rich and accurate, and the wide viewing angles and large size of the display mean you can legitimately show videos to a sofa full of people.

Unfortunately, there’s an issue: actually finding 4K content to watch. YouTube has some 4K content available (like this brilliant 4K Star Wars trailer), but even services that promise 4K content (Netflix, Amazon) won’t make them available on PCs due to piracy concerns. That policy does seem to be working, too: a quick check of torrent sites reveals very few 4K films aside from some demos from TV makers. Even when 4K content is more widely available, the massive file sizes (think 100GB for a single film) will make it difficult to acquire, legally or illegally.

Watching 1080p content on the monitor looks great, although the difference to 4K content is quite noticeable after you’re used to it. Things get worse when you start watching 720p content, which doesn’t scale neatly to 4K and is noticeably stretched. If you normally stream or download 720p stuff, you may have to move to 1080p if your internet connection can handle it (and 1080p videos are available).

Still, with this monitor you’ll be well set up for the future, even if you can’t immediately start watching all of your favourite films and TV in 4K.

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Benchmarks

Now let’s turn towards the synthetic side of the equation: benchmarks. The BL3200PT uses a VA panel, so our expectation is for good contrast scores and worse colour accuracy than we’d find on an IPS panel – but better than that of a TN display. Let’s see how these results compare to those expectations.

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One thing we see immediately is excellent DeltaE values for 50% grey and decent contrast.

different brightness settings

 

We took a closer look at brightness, black values and contrast in the next test, which tests the monitor at different brightness levels. Contrast ratios are quite bad here due to higher-than-expected black levels. However, I’ve had reports from readers that the Spyder under-reports contrast, so take these with a pinch of salt. Generally, VA panels like the ones used here should be very good when it comes to contrast.

different presets

 

You can see how these levels change at different presets. sRGB boost brightness considerably, while movie and photo seem to result in higher contrast levels.

color accuracy

Color accuracy is expected to be good, and the BL3201PT definitely delivers here. An average of 2.31 is excellent, and significantly lower than the 3.82 reported for its predecessor. Only the turquoise and yellow colours were significantly off; all others were excellent.

color-uniformity

 

Color uniformity is quite bad here – we can see massive differences between the top of the display and the bottom, particularly the upper left quadrant. The rest of the display is fairly uniform, though, and the problems recede with brightness levels.

luminance-uniformity

 

When it comes to luminance uniformity, the panel is fairly good. We’re looking at a maximum of 19% difference between the centre and the upper right quadrant, which is not ideal but still slightly better than the BL3200PT.

 

 

monitor-ratings

Finally we have the Spyder’s monitor rating, which is normally worth including… we can see strong scores for pretty much everything except luminance uniformity, which seems fair enough.

 

Conclusion

The BL3201PT is 1.5x the price of the average 28-inch 4K monitor, but it offers some big advantages that justify the price – namely the use of a colour-accurate IPS display with wide viewing angles, a comprehensive array of ports and passthroughs, and of course the screen has a 30% greater viewing area. BenQ have done well here to craft a monitor without any major weaknesses, and it’s the best choice I’ve seen if you’re looking for a future-proof 4K monitor.

Pros

  • 4K display looks amazing for gaming, desktop and media use
  • So much screen real estate – easily have 4+ apps on-screen at once
  • All the ports and passthroughs you’d ever need

Cons

  • There’s little 4K content available (and 720p videos look poor)
  • Many Windows apps still don’t handle 4K displays very well
  • Get ready to zoom many webpages to 150% to be able to read them
  • 4K gaming requires a top-notch graphics card and processor
Support XSR: Buy for $1,177.90 from Amazon.com

score9

Support XSR: Buy for $1,177.90 from Amazon.com

About William Judd

Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @Expert_Will or on G+.

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  • Dustin

    Thanks for the review! Pretty excited to get my hands on one of these, although I’m still trying to figure out if I’ll need a new graphics card to play League at 4K. Either way, this looks to be incredibly beneficial for content creation of all sorts.