The Monitor That Made Me Say Wow: A Review of BenQ’s 4K PD3200U

The Monitor That Made Me Say Wow: A Review of BenQ’s 4K PD3200U

In the last few years, monitor technology has gone in a number of new and unique directions, with technology like ultra-wide aspect ratios, HDR support, and 8K resolution. Each of those features appeals to a particular user, but it almost seems like content creators have been left out.

Gamers get high refresh rates, viewers get glossy HDR panels, but what about a photographer or videographer who wants a quality panel, without the premium of professional solution costing thousands? In my search for a new monitor, I believe I found the perfect blend.

The Problem

To function as a meaningful upgrade to my existing PA279Q, which was a 27in 16:9 IPS display with 2K resolution, I had relatively limited options. I could go with one of a number of ultra-wide options, like LG’s 38UC99, which while wider, added almost no additional height. I pretty quickly ruled these out, as I already had side monitors, and many of these carried notable uniformity issues. Alternatively, I could go to a higher resolution display, but not gain much useable display area.

In my search, I came across BenQ’s PD3200U, a 32 inch 4K UHD display. To upgrade my existing display, this was a perfect option. I could retain my side monitors, while getting 40% more screen area and significant increase in usable resolution.

About the Monitor

The display has a 10-bit IPS panel, a must for color critical work, as TN and VA panels can exhibit significant color shifts. While it lacks 100% AdobeRGB coverage, I rarely find that I need to work in a printing-focused manner, and furthermore, I still have an older AdobeRGB capable monitor to fall back on. Further cementing the monitor’s color cred, it comes factory calibrated. When I checked this against my own calibration, I found that I couldn’t significantly improve on the already great performance.

Physical features include a built in KVM switch, allowing users to plug one mouse and keyboard into the monitor, while being able to control two computers, and a control “puck” with physical, reassignable shortcuts to switch between things like brightness and color mode. The built-in stand, which doesn’t cost an additional $1,000, allows for height, pivot, tilt, and swivel adjustments. One interesting feature is the Eye Reminder — an IR tracker that reminds you to take breaks and rest your eyes.

On the display itself, all the industrial design is very clean and professional. The base is a nice matte black, while the logo in the corner is small and relatively dark, a welcome relief from some shiny silver logos of other brands. Unfortunately, the bezels of the monitor are pretty chunky, especially when compared to some of the newest monitors on the market. At most desk distances, however, the panel takes up such a significant portion of your view that switching to a side monitor is a conscious action anyway.

Inputs are plentiful, with HDMI, USB 3, an SD card reader, and Display Port all supported right on the panel. While I haven’t made much use of the card reader or USB functionality, it’s conveniently located on the right side of the panel, along with additional USB ports on the underside, making it much easier to plug in your cables.

In Use

Setting up the monitor was easy, with the stand going together with just 1 thumbscrew. You’ll definitely want to get the panel itself mounted to the stand before moving it onto your desk, however, as the VESA style latch is difficult to line up blindly. 

One of the first things I did was drop Window’s scaling down to 100%, instead of the default 150%. At 150%, icons and text, while sharp, are huge. You lose a significant chunk of usable resolution compared to 100%, where things are smaller but still perfectly readable.

It’s tough to convey via a screenshot just how much screen real estate you gain over even a 2K monitor. In Lightroom’s catalog view, I can easily have 8 rows of photos visible in grid view, while still being able to see minor differences resolved in the thumbnails. For other tasks, “FancyZones” in Window’s PowerToys app lets you subdivide the monitor into a variety of areas, like a grid of 4 windows, or a single large window flanked by 3 smaller spaces for things like Spotify, Slack, and an email client.

When used with a video editor, I find it much easier to browse a timeline with small clips, as well as to check focus in a viewer, since the viewer can even be 1:1 with 1080P footage. The same goes for photo editing, where it’s easy to have plenty of resolution for your canvas, along with tools and panels, all on one display.

A screenshot obviously doesn't capture an accurate representation of the monitor's performance, but instead consider how much more helpful it is to have each slider consist of 200 pixels, instead of 50 when it comes to setting an accurate value quickly.

My monitor arrived with 0 dead pixels and excellent apparent uniformity. While this is only a sample of 1, it’s a positive reflection on BenQ’s QA processes. 

The out of the box defaults are all very reasonable for the intended user. The monitor was already set to sRGB, with a reasonable brightness and the previously mentioned accurate calibration. My computer had no problem picking up the display, and after rearranging the display spanning, has worked perfectly since then.

The backlight doesn't use PWM, making it easier on your eyes. The panel has a very slight anti-glare coat, which I don't find necessary, but also doesn't impart a significant "dirtiness" to white areas.

What’s Missing?

While this is a great monitor for my uses, there are a number of potential issues for other users. The biggest might be the lack of HDR, which has emerged as the big trend in monitor tech since this one was released. It’s also lacking full coverage of AdobeRGB, a potential annoyance if you find yourself working frequently with prints. Lastly, thinner bezels would be nice, as the panel’s size combined with beefy bezels have pushed my side monitors to the very edge of my desk.

Summary

I’ve appreciated high resolution monitors since I got my first Retina MacBook. There’s just something to the crispness of the image that you have to see to appreciate. Previous 4K panels were all too small, however, requiring scaling or a magnifying glass to be usable. At 32 inches, however, this panel hits a sweet spot of size and density, without needing to do things like curve the display.

When it comes to color, this panel is perfectly suited to professional use. It’s very accurate, hasn’t drifted, and offers excellent performance. While it might not be on the same tier as $5,000+ professional reference displays, I think it offers all the performance I need at a much better price point. Between the color, resolution, and size, this monitor has already changed my workflow for the better, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

What I Liked

  • 32 inches in a 16:9 aspect ratio is a meaningful upgrade over 27in panels and 34in ultrawides
  • 130 PPI is perfectly usable without scaling
  • Color accuracy right out of the box is perfect
  • Industrial design, while not perfect, is better than white plastic and shiny silver logos

What Could Be Improved

  • Reduce the size of the bezels
  • Remove the badging on the front of the panel entirely
  • Broader gamut support may appeal to some users
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13 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

The BenQ SW2700PT is an excellent cheaper option at 27" and 2560x1440 resolution as well. I believe pretty much the same technology, just different size and res. They also have a 27" 4K version. Excellent alternatives if you want/need a lower price or size. Easily the best monitors for the price.

Alex Coleman's picture

For photography, I don't think I'd go 4K at 27in, as it starts to hide sharpness issues behind the pixel density. As for the 2K monitor, I agree that it's a good value. If you're looking to save even more, BenQ's store offers refurbished models occasionally, at a substantial discount.

Matt Williams's picture

I have both the 2K and 4K 27" BenQ's since I do video work as well and like to be able to watch 4K footage at 100% - but I got the 2K specifically because the pixel density is quite high on the 4K for photo work.

32" wasn't really desirable as I didn't want two different monitor sizes and 32" is just a bit big for me at normal desktop viewing distances.

Edit: I also have SwitchResX to downsample to whatever resolution I want if I need to - which I do occasionally.

Alex Coleman's picture

Yeah, I've been putting up with 3 different sizes/ densities for a while now, across the displays. It's not a great experience, though, so I think there'll be some unification down the road.

How does more pixel density hide softness/sharpness? Do mac users produce inferior images because they're working with an even higher pixel density?

Big Name's picture

Most of the cheap panels are from the same company, AU Optronics. It’s no different than any other screen that uses a cheap AU panel. This one isn’t even 10bit, its 8bit plus FRC. Pretty much its a big fat nothing in the world of monitors.

Alex Coleman's picture

It's one of about 5 displays that offer the resolution and size, while being available at a significant savings (the others are mostly over $1K). Furthermore, just because a display uses the same panel, there can be significant differences in I/O, accessories, OSD, QC, and more.

Francesco Fusina's picture

I just bought a 4K 27" Benq SW271 and had to return it due to poor uniformity. In my opinion, as a professional photographer and post-producer, the uniformity of white across the panel is one of the most important thing to look for in a monitor, way more important than Adobe RGB coverage, 28bit LUT and other marketing gimmicks. I will save the money to buy an Eizo in the next future.

Alex Coleman's picture

Interesting. I wonder if you got a bad copy, as both the 3200U and SW271 show fine uniformity performance at their price points.

Francesco Fusina's picture

Probably yes but buying, testing and eventually returning a monitor takes time and effort I'm not willing to risk again.
I'm also quite sure displays sent to reviewers are previously checked and selected by Benq in order to get only the best ones.

Tom Fuldner's picture

About three years ago I acquired a lightly used Eizo CG 248-4k. It’s a 24-inch monitor with built in hardware calibration. At first I felt a bit guilty spending twice as much as I normally would for a display. I quickly got over my guilt. When you spend eight to 12 hours a day, often five or six days a week in front of a panel, it ought to be good. Economize where you can, but don’t dismiss the value of a good monitor.

I do not think it is a good time to buy a backlit monitor when OLED technology exists and that it will be available on the market very soon.

Alex Coleman's picture

OLED has existed on the marketplace for years, but it's been at an unreasonably high pricepoint. Add to that the issues with burn-in that would make for poor monitor performance, and I'm not expecting OLED to replace quality workstation monitors anytime soon.

If anything, MicroLED will come in, but like anything else, there's always new technology coming.