In December 2018, BenQ held their 2018 APAC Summit meeting.
This was a chance for BenQ and their most important sales channels in the Asia Pacific region to meet and discuss the BenQ AQColour range (PV, SW and PD series monitors) - progress so far, the future of the range, and to establish a network of like minded industry professionals for back and forth feedback directly with the product development team.
As the key (and longest) supporter of BenQ in the Australian professional monitor market - the most successful market for BenQ in this category worldwide - Image Science was exclusively invited to give a presentation on our thoughts on BenQ's monitors, and the approach to market.
This is Jeremy's report on the 2018 APAC Summit.
Taipei, capital of Taiwan, is approximately 9 hours from Sydney by direct flight. Taiwan is a small, mountainous island off the coast of China and has about the same population as Australia.
On the travel:
As I was coming from Melbourne, I stopped through Sydney on the way and Hong Kong on the way back, so with all the airport shenanigans the trip was around 16 hours long each way. (Random side-note - this was my first trip with noise cancelling headphones and can I just say I will never travel overseas without them again - so good!).
The journey was comfortable and went without a hitch (China Airlines were excellent - a lot better than Qantas on the way back - and the new Airbus 350s are noticeably more comfortable). The new Hong Kong 'island airport' is excellent although I miss the excitement of flying right through the buildings on arrival...but I'll trade that for an easy to navigate, comfortable airport any time.
In all, 32 hours travel for just 2.5 days in Taiwan feels a bit disproportionate, but given the time difference at the moment is only three hours there's not really any jet lag to worry about. And in all, all that travel is well and truly worth it - and kudos and enormous thanks to BenQ for their generosity in arranging all this - as there is simply no better way to establish rapport and learn about these things than getting all the right people in a room together, for a proper face to face meeting.
The meeting was set up by BenQ to discuss:
In addition, there were of course lunches, dinners, shopping and sight seeing - all excellent chances for networking and socialising with like-minded people working with BenQ monitors from all over the Asia Pacific Region.
Naming things is hard. And so far BenQ have, to some extent, confused their market with some inconsistency in the naming and product lines. Understandable as in the early days of these things, product development and strategy take some time to really solidify.
BenQ currently have PG, PV, PD and SW lines of monitors. And these are marketed under a variety of names - PhotoGenic, PhotoVue etc. This has definitely caused a little confusion in the market and made it harder to explain to customers exactly what problems each range is intended to solve, and therefore who these monitors are appropriate for.
BenQ AQ Colour is the new, global name for BenQ's colour accurate monitor programme - covering monitors for designers, photographers, video production, and really anyone involved in the visual arts.
Going forward, this name will be the global name for these monitors. I suspect we'll still see the old names for a while but I hope they really tighten this up and commit to the AQ Colour name, much like Eizo have with their ColorEdge branding. This simplifies the conversation - which is always a good thing when you're dealing with inherently complex products.
The BenQ PV271 is a a major new model for BenQ, currently in active development.
An early prototype was available for viewing throughout the summit and certainly piqued our interest. Availability is expected to be Q4/2019 or just into 2020, all going to plan.
(N.B. Of course all things below are subject to change and the final physical form factor is likely to be different to this unit).
Key Features of the forthcoming PV271:
PV Series Quality
PV monitors use the best panels - with extra hand tuning to achieve very tight uniformity across the panel.
In-Built, Automatic Calibration
A sensor will be built directly into the monitor's bezel (a feature heretofore unique to Eizo's ColorEdge CG models). This sensor will be 'i1Display quality' - to keep up with the quality of the panel itself. The unit is noticeably larger/chunkier (and noiser!) than the Eizo in built calibrators - so there's room for refinement here yet - but this is a hugely interesting development. Fantastic accuracy and nailing ease of use/convenience - is where colour management really comes into its own and ceases to be a chore.
Direct SDI inputs - as well as your more typical monitor inputs of course!
Direct SDI inputs are widely used in the video world - particularly in the context of video reference monitors in edit suites - this feature alone will be hugely popular in the video world
4K (UHD) Resolution
The world is anxiously awaiting really high quality 4k monitors. The BenQ SW271 is a hugely popular hit and serves the needs of most, but we still don't have a relatively affordable PV or ColorEdge level option in this area (I was personally quite surprised the Eizo CG279X launched as a 2K screen).
High Contrast including local dimming support !
Seen from across the room, I've certainly never seen contrast like the prototype PV271 was displaying on a desktop monitor before. I've never seen local dimming support on any desktop monitor before, and it certainly is impressive in the video context. (Local dimming is the key technology that keeps LCD even vaguely in the TV race next to OLED - it means the backlights can be turned off in local areas, so that LCD can achieve a true black in a way than a panel with a permanently on backlight simply can never achieve). Again, this is a key feature of interest in video post production, allowing a monitor like the PV271 to be used a a realistic reference monitor for e.g. TV mastering.
The PV271 is the next major model due, however BenQ is currently considering releasing tweaks to current models - which may contain features like newer inputs such as USB-C, and tweaking to improve uniformity performance.
We don't have release dates or further details on these yet, but we'll let you know if/when these plans become more concrete.
The Accurate Colour On The Go system (conceived on our last trip to Japan, and driven by Shawn Zheng) - is inching closer to production and we hope to have more news about this soon.
Shawn Zheng, Product Manager for BenQ Australia and I (Jeremy Daalder, Director of Image Science) - were specially invited to give a talk on our strategy and success with BenQ Colour Accurate monitors in Australia - to inspire other members of the Asia Pacific region due to the success we have achieved over the past few years.
Inevitably a bit of self congratulation follows in the next few paragraphs - hopefully that is ok as we've worked very hard on all this across recent years and it is very nice to achieve results and to be recognised for these efforts!
Whilst Australia is not (and never will be) the largest market in terms of sheer numbers, it is a very well developed market for colour accurate equipment.
Put simply, in this country the colour accurate message went out earlier, and more clearly, than nearly any other market in the world - thanks, I think, especially to education efforts by people like Les Walkling and of course our own efforts with our extensive and hugely popular knowledge base (which is read by over 350,000 unique readers a year, and much of which has been in place since the early 2000s - long before most labs in this country had even really heard of colour management!).
The BenQ Strategy
BenQ first began with colour accurate monitors in 2013 (see our introduction article from that time here). After their initial strong approach, though, there was a significant lull until 2016 when a combination of new energy (Shawn!) and new models kick-started BenQ's entry proper into the colour accurate market (and, coincidentally, NEC were busy shooting themselves in the foot at just around this time).
Since that time, BenQ have focussed on really three key things to drive their entry into the market:
Channel Partners - BenQ have achieved much, and quickly, in this market - by working closely with (and strongly supporting) key channel partners (most notably us!). Partners who have demonstrated and established knowledge about these products, and the jobs they are used for - rather than focussing on large traditional dealers with zero meaningful knowledge who simply move boxes (like your Amazons, JBs etc).
Quite simply these products are complex to explain, and investment at this level requires the back up of on-going real world knowledge & support - for the lifetime of the product - which, not coincidentally, is the foundation rock on which Image Science has built our business.
Ambassadors - by working with well known names in the photographic community, BenQ have shown they know how to properly supply and support the professional market segment. The trick with ambassadors is to chose carefully - a good ambassador is not just a great, well known photographer - but a great communicator as well. Someone who can talk to other industry professionals - as well as aspiring beginners - clearly about the benefits that products like these bring. And someone who is not just interested in their own brand.
BenQ have chosen some great examples and recently we've connected BenQ and our good friend Mark Galer (ex RMIT - Mark has taught digital skills to just about every serious photographer in Melbourne at some point or other, and indeed tours as an Adobe and Sony ambassador all over the world). Look forward to more from Mark and BenQ in the near future.
Industry Support - Showing up (and even creating!) events, offering prizes, sponsoring things, etc. - BenQ are very active and generous. But just as importantly they support their products on the rare occasions there are issues - with no quibbles over genuine warranty issues and so on.
Put simply, they are good people who want to support this industry and are excited to be a part of it, and it shows.
Image Science and BenQ
We sell - and just as importantly support - the vast majority of BenQ Colour Accurate monitors in Australia.
We know the brand and these monitors better than anyone in the Australian industry and, thanks to several meetings now, we have a fantastic relationship directly with the developers of these monitors at BenQ - most notably Chris Bai (Chief Colour Scientist and Vice Chair of the Display Working Group of the ICC) and Scread Liao (Product Manager of the BenQ LCD Business Unit) - both lovely gentlemen who have kindly made themselves accessible to us, and answered all our queries over the years.
We have been BenQ's key channel partner in this area since 2013 (and have recently expanded our offerings to include some of their nifty lighting products!).
Our Unique Approach:
Our approach has been the same with BenQ as with all the brands we sell. Whilst we offer all the usual things like competitive pricing, and free shipping and so on - it's our knowledge of the products, and our legendary pre AND post sales support - that is our true value-add. We of course have our extensive articles on actually properly calibrating BenQ monitors (and these attract readers and support queries from BenQ customers all over the world!). We answer detailed technical questions on these screens - as well as simple connections enquiries - all day, every day. We offer knowledge about their use in general imaging, fine art print, video cutting and grading, and all areas of the visual arts - based on our own extensive use of these machines in our very busy production studio.
In reality, we have always sold everything we sell really as a by-product of teaching people about the things we sell. Yes, we have pretty product pages and so on, but the reason people choose Image Science has always been because we know what we're doing and we really want to make sure the people who buy from us get the very best benefit from the things they have bought. It's over 15 years of endless writing and talking, talking, talking to people that really makes us what we are. We don't 'close deals' here and we've never, ever even though of it like that. We simply find products that aid us in our own work, and then properly explain those products to others. And support them when thing go wrong or get confusing. This is, of course, a very time consuming approach - but it's an approach which remains unique in the Australian market (and indeed seems rare across the whole world).
I truly believe that the only way a niche retailer like us can survive & thrive in a world dominated by big box moving, race to the bottom mega-stores - is by offering vastly better knowledge and service. It is specifically this approach which has worked well for our business for over 15 years, and why our relationship with BenQ has become so strong. (And of course we try and develop this relationship with all the brands that we offer here).
I had a long and fascinating chat with Chris Bai from BenQ about how monitor development actually works from start to finish.
I've attempted this same conversation with other manufacturers across the last 15 years, and never have I come across a company even close to BenQ in the willingness to share their approach. Indeed - and unfortunately (even foolishly!) - most companies seem to go out of their way to create layers between their actual end users and the people developing the product - and there is often a huge disconnect between what the people designing the product think the users want and value, and what users actually need and find important.
This direct line of communication from those of us 'on the front line' - i.e. actually using and supporting and receiving daily feedback on the products - directly back to the people designing and making the products - is a truly wonderful thing. You simply can't put a price on the benefit that brings to both sides of the equation - it is fabulous for BenQ to hear this stuff directly, and fabulous that we're able to share it with them and thus influence the future roadmap for better solutions to real problems in the industry.
I won't bore you with the details (feel free to come in for a chat though!) - but I will say that following this fascinating-to-me-but-perhaps-not-everyone conversation - Chris gave me some coffee beans he personally roasted - as a restorative I presume! (Chris ran a coffee shop in days long past).
These were very gratefully received and greedily consumed on my return (great timing as I have a new grinder/espresso machine to play with!). Hand roasted beans direct from the BenQ's Chief Colour Scientist - now that is, without doubt, an honour.
Of course it wasn't all work! BenQ were (again!) very generous with their hospitality.
We had several quite wonderful meals - Taiwanese, Thai, and an incredible seafood feast. The hotel was great. There was time for shopping on the last day.
And, they treated us all to a day trip to Jiu Fen. Unfortunately the weather turned diabolically awful for this - very heavy rain (not unlike Melbourne today!) and ergy thick fog - so I didn't take many photo this time around, but a few are below & there's a more complete gallery here.
The process of printing my files for the exhibition was made very simple with all the detailed information on the Image Science website. In particular the downloadable templates are a fantastic resource. I feel I have a pretty good basic knowledge about the printing process and pre-production but I am totally in awe of the knowledge and set up at Image Science. Printing with them I feel in safe hands and very happy with the final results.