So it turns out that 4 years ago, at around this time, I was writing about a new player in the colour accurate monitor market - BenQ, with their very-good-for-the-time first monitor in the colour accurate market, the PG2401PT model.
It's fair to say it took them a little longer than anticipated to flow through with further models in their high end range. But late last year and early this year, there was a flurry of announcements and then actual releases of screens - and today we finally have a BenQ PV270 demo model here in our office. This is the model we've been most excited about (especially with NEC's recent strange decisions - essentially exiting the market).
Read on below for our thoughts on this excellent new option.
Just how good can a $1300 colour accurate monitor be in 2017? The short answer is very good indeed. I have no real hesitation in saying it's the best value monitor at it's price on the market, and (yes it's a bit of a cliché, but like many clichés, sometimes true...) ...the BenQ PV270 performs much, much better than its price would suggest when compared to it's competitors (the Eizo CS2730 and the NEC PA272W).
The rest of this article spends perhaps too much time on little usability niggles - suffice it to say all things mentioned are minor and easily overcome, and the executive summary is this - we think this is an excellent monitor currently unmatched in performance at its price point. For anyone with a budget around $1000 to $1500, this has to be on your shortlist at least.
The BenQ SW2700 model has already become very popular (a good quality wide gamut 27" monitor for under $1000 - it's easy to see why!) - but we're always a bit hesitant to actually recommend it. It has a bit of a reputation online for questionable uniformity - although we've never had a customer raise it in practise, and plenty of folks are enjoying them. This new PV270 model is the improved, uniformity corrected model that we feel we can finally really get behind and recommend.
We've only had the monitor a couple days, but we know many of you are eagerly waiting for our impressions of it, so I thought I would document those here as quickly as possible. Remember, we've only seen one example of this model. so can't yet comment on how consistent unit to unit the performance is, but we've had no issues with BenQ in that regard so far, with all the PG24 units etc. seemingly very consistent to one another.
First, this monitor was the hardest to remove from it's box of any monitor we've ever had through the door. The packaging is good, but it's fiercely tight in that box and I couldn't get it out on my own - I needed someone to hold the box so that I could then remove the large foam container within - something I've not needed before, even with much larger screens. And it required a lot more force than I'd normally expect. Still, it came out and was very well protected within!
Setup from there was relatively straight forward - take out the stand base, and put in to that the main monitor support - a very simple twist and lock process. Then, mount the screen to the main support - super simple, as BenQ have an excellent quick release system here. I was easily able to do this on my own, but it's the other main part of the process that you might need a second person to assist. Once it's on its stand you shouldn't need any further help.
Plugin was simple. First comes power, just your standard 'kettle cord'. Then video - the ports are well labelled, and I used DisplayPort. I also hooked up the supplied USB 3 cable to enable the USB hub & card reader that are conveniently and neatly located on the left hand side of the monitor's bezel.
At this point, after a final quick check over, I was ready to turn it on. The monitor looks good - a relatively narrow bezel. Folks in the office here are not huge fans of the look of the BenQ monitor stands (there's a purple circle thing that can be used as a cable management system, and the legs are rather randomly angled) - but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and certainly the functionality of the stand is quite good, with plenty of travel vertically. You just carefully grab the bezels and pull the screen up or down, and tilt forward or back depending on how you have the screen physically positioned.
BenQ use touch buttons, with on screen icons that you can see only after you first touch one of the buttons. I hate this - icons confuse customers, routinely, and Eizo's use of small labels here is much better. NEC are better again here, with a very simple up/down/left/right/ok system that is intuitive to anyone that has ever used a TV remote - i.e. basically everyone. That said the menus are pretty clear on this screen, and easy to get around once you play with them a bit - and once set up you'll almost never use them again. Still, the use of confusing icons is a definite noticeable lack of refinement versus the competitors.
Default settings were all sensible as far as I could see - with all the auto adjustment features turned off by default - which is a big tick in my book. The number of folks who buy great monitors with calibrators, then end up never using them properly because their monitor is doing some sort of non obvious auto adjustment in the background, is far higher than it should be! The first thing to do with any new monitor is tour the menus and turn off any auto adjustment / eco saving features that cause the picture to be dynamically adjusted without your control.
BenQs seem incapable of reliable automatic signal detection across the multiple ports, so I have given up trying - when I turn it on the first things I use are the touch buttons to change the current input. Again, annoyingly, icons are used here - which is only useful if you know immediately the subtle difference in the icon for HDMI vs. DisplayPort for example. Labels would again be a MUCH better choice here (or better yet, labels AND icons).
Still, once on it's stand, plugged in and with the correct input selected, the monitor image came up immediately - and was immediately impressive. Even without further calibration it was immediately obvious this is a quality screen, with good uniformity and a generally excellent picture.
Palette Master is a customised version of the software that comes with X-Rite's excellent i1Display Pro calibrator (which is the only calibrator we recommend for this monitor). It's been customised to talk directly to the PV270s hardware, thus offering direct hardware calibration, but using the standard i1Profiler interface...which is actually a very good interface once you're used to it.
BUT - and here comes one huge (but easily solvable) negative about this screen - in the box, in the manual, there is nothing but a one line mention of Palette Master - which is a huge, crucial part of making this monitor live up to its full potential. It doesn't really even explain what it is, or even give you a link to download it. They do supply a software CD (almost anachronistic in this day and age - should be a USB key by now!) - but there's no copy of Palette Master on it!
For reference, the essential link you need is:
It's the lack of attention to detail, this needless making-of-things-more-difficult that shows the BenQ aren't yet as refined in this area as the brands that have been doing this level of product a bit longer. Still, it's an easy to solve problem, just a slight tweak to the manual, or better yet a separate include that explains what the software is, basic steps for using it, and gives them the download link.
Ok, once you have the software, things go smoothly. Download, install, and then essentially follow our calibration guide below to work through your calibration (you can skip the steps about identifying the monitor type, though, as this is done for you).
Note, you need an i1Display Pro for this process (or i1Pro) - you can't use other calibrators (Munkis, Smiles, Spyders etc).
Calibration (following that guide) is then easy, and effective. You'll repeat this process every couple of months or so, so 'save your workflow' at the end to make repeating the process later even quicker. The first time you do this, you may spend a half hour or so on it, but future sessions will generally take only 5 to 10 minutes.
Post calibration, I did a careful inspection of the screen. I noted:
A USB hub, with two downstream USB3 ports and SD card reader is a very handy useful extra (and the USB to the monitor must be plugged in for calibration anyway). Other than that - there's not a lot more to it.
Warranty is 3 years, although we've not really had any customers that have needed to draw on BenQ's warranty yet, we have found them generally very responsive to all our queries and there's no doubt BenQ Australia are here to stay and very keen on making a place for themselves in this market - so they're highly motivated to provide high quality support.
Overall, in broad terms - a nicely uniform, generally very good calibrated result - impressive, and considering the cost - actually very impressive. In terms of value, there's really nothing to touch it. If your budget is anywhere around $1000, then this screen really should be at the top of your short-list of options. The limitation of only allowing i1 calibrators with Palette Master is perhaps a shame, but honestly we really only recommend the i1Display Pro when it comes to calibrators - it's the obvious sensible choice anyway (being distinctly better AND cheaper than the equivalent Spyder Elite product).
For $1299 (plus calibrator if you don't already have one) you get an excellent quality, wide gamut, direct hardware calibratable screen. It's really the first time this level of quality has come down to such a low price point and I think BenQ have a real winner here.
Our BenQ PV270 has now been placed on our front desk, attached to our client machine (improving on an Eizo EV2455 that has served us well in this role in recent years) - thus becoming the main monitor clients can use to check their files for colour accuracy before print work.
So swing by if you'd like a demo! And bring a USB stick of your favourite images. Even better, prepare a few for print so you can see how well an end to end colour managed process can work.