BenQ BL3201PH review

BenQ's monster monitor won't feast on your bank account

The BL3201PH is sure to please photo and video editors with its high color accuracy.
The BL3201PH is sure to please photo and video editors with its high color accuracy.
The BL3201PH is sure to please photo and video editors with its high color accuracy.

Highs

  • Plenty of connectivity
  • Numerous image quality controls
  • Excellent color accuracy
  • Affordable for its size

Lows

  • Dull design
  • Wobbly stand
  • On-screen controls need work
  • Mediocre contrast and gamma

DT Editors' Rating

The typical American consumer likely catches sight of the name “BenQ” and says “Ben what?” The Taiwanese company isn’t well known on these shores, and a result many consumers forget to give it a fair shake. That’s a shame, because BenQ has consistently cranked out high-quality displays at reasonable prices.

The BL3201PH is, at a glance, the perfect example. Its has a massive, 32-inch, 4K IPS panel that promises to display 100 percent of the sRGB gamut and uses “flicker free” backlighting to allegedly reduce eye strain. Yet it retails for just $999. That’s about the same as Acer’s B326HK and far less than the admittedly superb Samsung U32D970Q.

Yet big, inexpensive panels often have their pitfalls. Aside from the fact 4K doesn’t look as sharp when spread across a larger area, monitors that prioritize size and price often skimp on color accuracy and on-screen controls. Does this BenQ make common mistakes — or is it a budget-friendly behemoth?

That sure is a monitor

BenQ calls the BL3201PH a member of its “Designer Series,” but you wouldn’t know that from looking at it. The massive monitor is constructed entirely out of matte black plastic. Even the stand’s base, which is textured to look like brushed aluminum, feels chintzy. At least the stand itself is of real, semi-gloss silver metal.

In fact, the word “Designer” in the monitor’s branding has nothing to do with the monitor’s look, but instead indicates it’s meant for people who are designers. From that perspective it makes more sense. The simple, thin bezels provide zero distraction. The stand can tilt, adjust for height, rotate, and swivel. It’s not an attractive package, but it does everything a serious user requires.

We noticed during our review that the bundled stand is on the unsteady side. A great dealt of movement from our desk’s surface made its way to the monitor, resulting in wobble. That could be an issue if your desk is less than rock-solid. A VESA mount is included, so the default stand can be replaced, but for $999 we expect more.

Connectivity is a strong point. Video input is available via DVI, DisplayPort, mini-DisplayPort, or one of two HDMI ports (though only the DisplayPort jacks can input 4K resolution). Five USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and an SD Card reader round out connectivity. A pair of five-watt speakers is bundled, too.

Feature filled

The BL3201PH has a massive list of features targeting designers, image editors, and other professionals, such as custom color profiles for CAD, animation, and low-light environments. The CAD profile, for example, enhances colors frequently associated with CAD wire-frames (like magenta) so they’re easy to see. There’s even an advanced picture-by-picture mode that lets users adjust how large each desktop sharing display space appears, though it only works with Windows after a software install.

This BenQ is part of the “Designer Series,” but you wouldn’t know that by looking at it.

Image quality controls are plentiful. Five levels of gamma, three levels of color temperature, and user definable values for red, green, and blue join the usual trio of brightness, contrast, and sharpness. There’s also an option to change hue and saturation, but not on a pure-color basis.

Users can access the many features through touch-sensitive controls that, like most of their breed, don’t work particularly well. They’re not helped by an ugly, sometimes obtuse interface (color controls are found under color temperature, for example, and only work in the user-defined color mode).

BenQ partially rectifies the problem of touch control with a USB-connected remote that includes several customizable hot-keys. It’s a handy extra for anyone who change color settings frequently.

Pre-calibration image quality

Using the BL3201PH at its default settings practically requires sunglasses, as it boasts an incredible maximum brightness of 314 lux. That’s among the highest figures we’ve recorded from a stand-alone monitor, and it’s frankly too much for typical use, as there’s no reflective glass panel to overcome. Still, if your office happens to be located on Mercury, BenQ has you covered.

BenQ-BL3201PH-front-corner-angle
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The extreme default brightness bars the display from achieving solid black levels, but contrast still came in at a respectable 520:1. That’s better than the Acer B326HK and Samsung U32D970Q but behind the smaller, and less expensive, Dell P2715Q.

Color gamut was recorded at 100 percent of sRGB and 79 percent of AdobeRGB, figures that are literally the average for IPS displays. Virtually every competitor achieves the same out of the box, give or take a percent. The exceptions are Samsung’s U32D970Q and Dell’s UP2715K, both of which have expensive wide-gamut panels.

This monitor falls short of excellence because of mediocre contrast.

Accuracy is a highlight. While the gamma curve came in at 2.3, slightly above the target result of 2.2, the average color difference was 1.53 (a difference below one is generally unnoticeable). That beats every monitor we’ve reviewed except the Samsung U32D970Q.

These numbers translated to strong subjective performance. While obviously too bright for use in most environments, the picture was vivid and the contrast high enough to deliver some punch. We did notice weak black levels in scenes with extreme variations in contrast; some detail was obscured. Still, this BenQ is a solid performer.

And we should mention it’s huge. The BenQ’s 32 inches of diagonal space translate to about four extra inches of width and three inches of height compared to a 27-inch panel. Basically, it’s large enough to be a small television. That hurts sharpness, though, because only 137 pixels are packed into each inch. While still an upgrade over old 1080p and 1440p monitors, the BL3201PH doesn’t reach the knockout clarity of smaller 4K competitors.

Post-calibration image quality

A monitor that performs well out of the box usually offers little room for calibration, and the BL3201PH proved no exception. Still, we did manage to increase the AdobeRGB gamut to 80 percent and decrease color accuracy to an exceptional 1.17, which is our second-best calibrated result, again behind only Samsung’s 32-incher.

We reduced brightness, as well, to a more reasonable 120 lux. That cut black levels in half (which is good — lower is better). Overall contrast decreased to 480:1, but subjectively the result was an improvement, as shadows showed more detail and dark scenes were closer to true black.

BenQ-BL3201PH-front-corner-controls
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Gamma proved an issue. BenQ provides five presets, but none of them reach the perfect 2.2 gamma curve. The closest settings were “Gamma 3” and “Gamma 2,” which produced curves of 2.3 and 2.1 respectively. The latter provided the better viewing experience in movies and games due to a deeper, bolder look, but Gamma 3’s brighter look may be better for productivity. The BL3201PH can produce a curve as high as 2.7, though we’re not sure why anyone would need that.

Still, the post-calibration image was exceptional. The monitor’s mediocre contrast was obvious and robbed media of some depth, but exceptional color accuracy went a long way towards excusing that issue. Our 4K trailer of Elysium looked exceptionally vivid on the BenQ, even if high-contrast scenes lacked the depth found in monitors like the Dell P2715Q.

Warranty

Owners of the BL3201PH are protected by a three-year parts and labor warranty. Such terms are standard for monitors priced around $1,000, so this isn’t enough to help BenQ stand out, but it’s better than the single year of coverage provided with cheaper monitors.

Conclusion

The BenQ BL3201PH is big, relatively inexpensive, and offers strong image quality in most respects. Yet it falls short of being a standout display, largely because of mediocre contrast.

This is a common theme among 32-inch, 4K sets we’ve seen thus far, which leads us to wonder if it’s a problem with the panel used (which is likely built by a third party, such as LG or Samsung) rather than BenQ. Whatever the reason, it’s disappointing to see these massive monitors fall behind smaller competitors. Sharpness also fails to reach the heights of 27-inch sets, because spreading a 3,820 × 2,160 resolution across a large area reduces pixel density.

There are a few missteps in design, as well. The stand wobbles more than any we’ve tested in recent memory, the on-screen controls can be difficult to use without the special remote plugged in (and sometimes even with it), and the monitor’s simple aesthetic fails to impress.

Sounds like a miss, then, but there are positives that make the BenQ attractive. It offers better image quality than the Acer B326HK, yet shares a similar $1,000 price tag, and color accuracy is the second-best among standalone monitors we’ve reviewed. The selection of image quality controls is robust, as well.

These traits make the BL3201PH a contender for professionals who can’t afford a superior option, such as Samsung’s U32D970Q. Home users craving a big screen might also enjoy this set. There are better options, however, and we think 27-inch alternatives like the Dell P2715Q make more sense.

Highs

  • Plenty of connectivity
  • Numerous image quality controls
  • Excellent color accuracy
  • Affordable for its size

Lows

  • Dull design
  • Wobbly stand
  • On-screen controls need work
  • Mediocre contrast and gamma
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