BenQ EX3501R review: HDR ain’t all that

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£639

The BenQ EX3501R brings HDR gaming to ultra-wide monitors, along with a catalogue of desirable specifications for both home and office use such as a 35-inch span, 1440p ultra-wide resolution and USB-C connectivity. We’ve got one in to review, so let’s see if its titanic 35-inch span justifies that £639 price tag.

 

Specs & Features

  • 35-inch ultra-wide (3440 x 1440) VA panel w/ 1800R curvature
  • 100Hz refresh rate w/ FreeSync
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range)
  • 100% sRGB coverage
  • Brightness Intelligence Plus, Flicker-free, Low Blue Light mode
  • HDMI 2.0 x2, DisplayPort 1.4, USB-C (PD10W, DP Alt Mode, Data)
  • USB 3.0 x2, USB 3.0 upstream, 3.5mm
  • 834 x 444 to 504 x 224mm, 10.4 kilograms
  • £639 RRP
HDR: High Dynamic Range displays pushes the boundaries of contrast and colour, creating a more realistic image with brighter whites, darker blacks and more shades of colour. HDR10 is one of the most common standards, and requires a 10-bit panel and support of the Rec.2020 colour space.
 

Design

The EX3501R dominates a desk thanks to its 35-inch span, while its 1800R curvature provides a rather immersive experience — particularly if you’ve got your head nice and close to the screen!

The monitor has medium-sized bezels on the top and sides, with a larger chin that sports an ambient light sensor, a BenQ logo and no other visible lights or other distractions.

On the underside of the monitor, you can see the wide array of ports on offer: DisplayPort 1.4 (use this if you can), two HDMI 2.0 ports, a USB-C port, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.0 upstream port and a headphone jack. You can also make out the buttons, which appear towards the right side of the monitor in normal use. The power button is longer than its peers, which makes it a bit easier to avoid accidentally turning the monitor off when you’re looking to instead change a setting.

The back of the monitor has a nice silver colour scheme, which is reflected in the silver-coloured plastic stand. This stand is a V shape, with the two legs sitting just wide enough apart to fit a tenkeyless keyboard in (those are the keyboards without number pads). The stand includes 60mm of height adjustment and 25˚ of tilting, but sadly no swivelling or rotation.

 

Testing

We used the BenQ EX3501R for a period of four weeks, testing it almost non-stop while writing articles, editing photos, watching videos and playing games. Here are our impressions.

Gaming

 

Gaming on an ultra-wide monitor is a pretty awesome experience, particularly one that is as wide as the 35-inch EX3501R.

The game world takes centre stage, with most UI elements appearing out of the way on either side, as you can see in the World of Tanks screenshot below. That makes it a little harder to quickly check the minimap, but makes the actual game feel a lot more immersive.

This also works well in strategy games and other third-person titles, where the wide screen can really provide a sense of scale and grandeur that can be hard to find on standard 16:9 displays.

Of course, not all games support 21:9 well or at all, and sometimes you’ll get an experience that really lacks immersion, such as a game that runs at 16:9 with black bars on either side, stretches to fill the screen or has interface elements hidden. 21:9 game support is continuing to grow, but it’s still worth mentioning in 2018.

Obviously, running games at an ultra-wide resolution will be more challenging for your graphics card and processor, because you’ll have more pixels to put on screen. However, if you make the naive calculations, the EX3501R isn’t that demanding compared to a standard 2560 x 1440 monitor running at the more common 144Hz refresh rate, so you won’t need to worry about not being able to ‘max out’ the capabilities of the EX3501R.

Resolution1920 x 1080
Full HD
3440 x 1440
Ultrawide Quad HD
2560 x 1440
Quad HD
3840 x 2160
4K Ultra HD
Total pixels2.1M pixels5.0M pixels3.7M pixels8.3M pixels
Max Refresh240Hz100Hz144Hz60Hz
Pixels / sec504M495M531M498M

However, for gaming, the 100Hz refresh rate can feel a little limiting if you’re used to a higher refresh rate monitor. Our daily driver is an Acer XB271HU which can run at 144Hz and overclock to 165Hz, and the difference in responsiveness is certainly noticeable despite both monitors coming with a quoted 4ms response time.

However, I don’t wish to sound ungrateful here; 100Hz is still significantly better than a standard 60Hz display, and I don’t feel I’m at an insurmountable disadvantage from those missing 44 frames per second. It would have been nice to see an option to overclock to 120Hz, which is found in the similar Acer Z35P.

It’s also nice to see FreeSync support, which should help the minority of PC gamers that choose to use AMD graphics card and also can’t quite run their games at a full 60 to 100 frames per second.

Productivity

After using both 2560 x 1080 and 3440 x 1440 monitors, I really have to say that 1440p should be the minimum resolution for all ultra-wide monitors over 27 inches, as it makes a big difference to productivity — you can have three smaller windows on screen at once, or two larger windows, without feeling cramped.

The strong contrast ratio and colour reproduction of the monitor also make it a nice choice for image or video work, although some minor imperfections that we’ll cover later (such as uniformity) ensure that this won’t be a professional editor’s number one choice.

BenQ’s OSD with bottom-mounted buttons is easy to use, and the various eye health features are nice to have as usual. The monitor is also reasonably stylish, with medium-sized bezels and no annoying lights whatsoever, which makes it a good choice for modern homes and offices. Finally, the inclusion of USB-C is very handy for modern laptops and mobiles, letting you to get multiple uses out of a single cable — awesome.

Media

Finding HDR content on PC remains surprisingly difficult, at least compared to games consoles or TV dongles that seem better supported by video content owners (presumably for piracy-dodging reasons). However, once you do find some HDR videos, you will find that the EX3501R has a little something over monitors without an HDR certification. However, it’s not quite the night-and-day experience that it can be on proper HDR10 or DolbyVision sets.

However, enabling HDR mode makes everything else look awful, even  after tweaking the HDR settings provided in the latest build of Windows 10. I ended up using the monitor almost exclusively in SDR mode, as I didn’t feel the hassle of swapping back and forth was worth the minor visual upgrade.

 

Benchmarks

Before running our benchmarks, we calibrated the screen using an i1Display Pro Colourimeter and DisplayCAL software (version 3.5.1).

Before benchmarking, we let the monitor warm up for several hours. We ran all of the tests with HDR disabled, as a) DisplayCAL doesn’t support HDR content anyway and b) I don’t think HDR is the best feature of this monitor.

Here are the monitor settings that we ended up with after each calibration phase:

Display modeUser
Brightness22
Contrast50
Gamma3
Sharpness5
Colour (RGB)100/98/93

EX3501R ICC / ICM download

Here are ICM files produced by the DisplayCAL software, which you may find useful or may make your display worse — no guarantees:

Download the EX3501R ICM / ICC file

Next, we performed our usual suite of tests, checking gamut coverage, colour accuracy and other metrics. Here’s what we discovered.

Luminance and contrast

After calibration, we’d ideally want our monitor to hit our 120 nit target as closely as possible with the lowest possible black luminance, in order to provide a good contrast ratio. The EX3501R does well here, with a black luminance of 0.06 nits which means contrast that works out to around 1977:1. That’s a little below the quoted 2500:1 ratio, but given that we’re in SDR mode it’s not unexpected. Having around 2000:1 contrast should still be sufficient for darker scenes in games and video.

Color temperature

We targeted a white point of 6500K, and we can see that we are pretty close to the desired curve despite one extremely high reading at 5%, with a measured vs assumed target white point ΔE value of 0.11, where under 1.00 is recommended and 2.00 is nominal.

Gamma

Ideally, our display’s default ‘gamma 3’ setting should deliver gamma 2.2, the most common target for all kinds of monitors. The gamma curve looks good here, sitting at or just below 2.2 for the bulk of curve.

Gamut coverage

Next up is gamut coverage, which tells us how much of a given colour space our monitor can reproduce. Any monitor that is designed for creative use ought to be able to cover the most common sRGB colour space, while more advanced models should also target a good proportion of the more challenging Adobe RGB and DCI P3 colour spaces.

The BenQ monitor does well here, nailing 99.3% of sRGB, 75% of Adobe RGB and 81.5% of DCI P3. The sRGB measurement is within the margin of error for 100% coverage, so I’m happy to confirm that this monitor should be quite usable for entry-level professional photo and video editing.

Colour accuracy

Next up we have another important metric, colour accuracy. Here, anything under 1.00 is a good result, and anything under 2.5 is the sort of difference that an average user would struggle to spot. The EX3501R scores a ΔE value of 0.24 here on average, with a 99th percentile ΔE of 0.82. That’s excellent, showing that we should have no colour accuracy concerns with this monitor.

Screen uniformity

Screen uniformity is a measure of how much a screen changes from area to area, and we’re doing the full 5×5 test to get a comprehensive idea of how this monitor changes from area to area. This uses a simple traffic light colour system, with green being a near-perfect result, yellow being a nominally good result and red indicating issues.

As you can see (particularly if you click the image to enlarge), the VA panel provided here isn’t perfect, especially on the far left and right sides where the display is about 10% dimmer and colour accuracy issues begin to emerge, with ΔE values above 3. However, I didn’t notice this issue in my testing, so it may need be a dealbreaker.

 

Benchmark summary

The EX3501R is a strong monitor when it comes to the synthetics, with laudable colour accuracy, 100% sRGB gamut coverage, a reasonable 2000:1 contrast ratio in SDR mode and acceptable gamma and colour temperature readings. The only issue is the screen uniformity, which does show some weaknesses in the exacting ISO 14861:2015 standard. However, this is not likely to affect anything but professional colour-sensitive work, so I wouldn’t consider this a big deal for most users.

 

Wrapping up

So, is the EX3501R worth buying? Well, the monitor hasn’t really sold me on its HDR capabilities, with its 8-bit panel not really offering the quality of displays that support HDR10 or DolbyVision which can make HDR such a transcendent technology. Likewise, the Acer Predator Z35P provides a more fluid experience thanks to its 120Hz overclock, making the EX3501R a little underwhelming for fast-paced competitive games like Fortnite or CS:GO.

However, the EX3501R is still a solid monitor in other respects. As an SDR ultrawide monitor, it provides a suitably cinematic experience for slower-paced gaming or watching movies, with a well-calibrated screen out of the box and excellent synthetic results. The nods to eye health and productivity, such as the adjustable screen height, USB-C connectivity and automatic brightness adjust, also make good sense for an office-oriented display.

Ultimately, if you can get the EX3501R for a similar price to its non-HDR predecessor, the BenQ EX3501, I’d say absolutely go for it. However, the gaming-oriented Acer Predator Z35P is also worth checking out; you can find our Z35P review here.

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Last modified: June 24, 2018

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