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BenQ now have four separate 27" colour accurate monitors in their range - so which should you choose?!
The BenQ SW271C is the obvious choice if you need 4k - there remains absolutely nothing to matching this at a similar price if you're after colour accuracy and 4k.
In this article we evaluate the BenQ SW270C and see where it fits in the BenQ product line-up and the overall monitor landscape as it stands.
Executive Summary: The BenQ SW270C is another model from BenQ that offers a pretty tremendous balance of features, performance and low cost. We suspect it will soon become the most popular model in the BenQ line-up.
Ok, so what are the key features of the new SW270C over previous models in the BenQ range, and how does this model fit in the general landscape of colour accurate monitors?
The BenQ SW monitors are aimed at serious amateur and professional photographers primarily. They seek to offer quality well on the way towards Eizo ColorEdge CS quality, but at a much more aggressive price-point.
Whilst the marketing is targeted squarely at photographers, the SW range are really appropriate in all sorts of scenarios needing high quality displays - Illustrators, Artists, Graphic Designers, Architects, Videographers, CAD/VFX/Grading, non-diagnostic medical imaging etc.
BenQ have another range - the PV range - which currently has only one option (the wonderful PV270) - with another due early next year, the PV271. This range is positioned higher end, and geared more directly at video users (e.g. the new model will have local dimming and direct SDI inputs). (They also have a 'PD Designer Range' but whilst those are ok, we don't carry them at Image Science currently because they're not really the right sort of monitors for higher end creatives that we tend to work with).
Read our evaluation below for more on this interesting new development in mid priced professional monitors.
Let's start with a quick run through of all the current (mid 2019) BenQ options. There are sort of three groups:
The SW240 and SW2700PT are the entry level options.
The SW240 must represent just about the best $699 you can spend in all of photography. Whilst not big, it's an excellent quality monitor for the price and a great way to get started with colour accuracy. Perfect for students or beginning hobbyists.
It's bigger brother, the somewhat older SW2700PT, is what we think of as a perfect 'camera club' monitor. A great combination of price and performance - but more serious users will want to stretch a bit further for more refinement.
Professional 27" Monitors
27 Inches is by far the most popular monitor size currently. Big enough for serious work (you can fit an A3 page at 1:1 on screen and you've still got room for palettes!) - but not so big you lose your whole desk to your monitor.
The new SW270C slots in here - it gets rid of the SW2700PT compromises (see below) - and adds some modern features like USB-C, HDR etc. And it's much better looking than the SW2700PT too!
A final 27" option is our long term favourite - the PV270. The key choice is really between these two models, unless you're on sub $1000 budget or need/want 4k. See below for more.
4K Colour Accuracy (SW271/SW321c)
Indisputably the king of 4k colour accurate monitors, and hugely popular, is the BenQ SW271C. We prefer this one to the the bigger, near identical version - the SW321c. We prefer it because it's more uniform (smaller screens always are) - and it packs the same number of pixels into a smaller space - making it super sharp.
There really is nothing that can touch the performance of the SW271C in terms of 4K colour accurate monitors - nothing else comes close. If you need 4k, and the budget is anywhere below about $4000 - the SW271C is quite simply the 4k monitor to get.
Here's a quick list of all the options:
So the BenQ SW270C slots into the BenQ range as what is most likely going to become the de-facto choice in colour accurate monitors for many, at least those wanting 4k.
Of course, an in house demo is always available at Image Science.
Let's run through some of the long list of highlight features:
Out of the box, you get great, even colour with each BenQ SW270C receiving extensive factory calibration and uniformity tuning - now measuring and correcting hundreds of zones across the whole panel.
The uniformity is substantially improved over previous models.
Support 24P/25P, with 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0 video formats. Ideal for use as a reference monitor with e.g. Black Magic breakout boxes.
There is even HDR Support.
USB-C single cable solution (for data, video AND audio - and can provide power output to 60W).
Of course there are HDMI and DisplayPort inputs as well.
(Plus a USB Hub and SD Card Reader!)
BenQ's modern, professional design with ultra slim bezels. Comprehensive package - comes with an excellent hood, and most cables included.
Programmable HotKey Puck for quick mode switching. Certified by both Calman and Pantone.
As with all BenQ SW and PV models, the BenQ SW270C undergoes a comprehensive hand tuning and uniformity balancing process before the monitor leaves the factory. The SW270C notably receives '2nd Generation Uniformity' tuning - BenQ's new, more advanced uniformity tuning process that samples many more areas of the screen, and results in a significant uniformity improvement over previous models (the one regular criticism of the SW2700PT model in early reviews was that the uniformity was not ideal - that said, even that model had significantly improved over time as BenQ tuned their processes, so modern SW2700PT examples are much better than the ones reviewers initially saw).
You can see our demo unit's actual report here. Impressive performance for sure. (Note the DICOM assessment on this report - a clear sign that BenQ is moving towards the medical market, which makes perfect sense of course).
What this panel uniformity tuning & factory calibration actually means, in simple terms, is that you can pop an SW270C out of its box and, using the comprehensive range of pre-set modes, experience high colour accuracy with no further work in a variety of set-ups suitable for common image and video editing scenarios. If your colour accuracy needs are modest, you may even be able to avoid the expense of a monitor calibrator for some months.
But, of course, all monitors drift over time, and to maintain performance will need calibration and correction. And you may well want to move away from the pre-set modes towards a more finely tuned, situation specific calibration (such as modifying the whitepoint to make the monitor more suitable for fine art print work). For this, you will need a monitor calibrator. As ever we recommend the industry standard professional calibrator, the X-Rite i1Display Pro, as the ideal companion to the BenQ SW270C. But BenQ's calibration software is also widely compatible with other calibrators, like the i1Studio and Spyder devices (see our full product page for more details).
Once you have a calibrator, you'll be able to use BenQ's Palette Master Elements calibration software with your BenQ SW270C. Whilst this is at the simpler end of calibration solutions, it is easy to use - especially if you follow our comprehensive guide:
You should read through our guide above to see how simple calibration is with Palette Master Elements (PME) and the BenQ SW270C, using a compatible calibrator like the i1Display Pro. We won't repeat that content here, just follow the link above. In all, it's an easy, solid system for direct hardware calibration of BenQ SW monitors.
An important point to note, and the key reason you might still consider the older PV270 model - is that the PV270 uses Palette Master (rather than the elements version). Palette Master is a generally more refined product, and has one key feature that the SW range/PME currently lacks - proper control over monitor contrast - that is, the ability to target a specific contrast ratio during calibration which is particularly important for print work.
As a quick explanation, modern monitors are inherently high contrast devices - having native contrast ratios of 1000:1 to more. Paper, at best, is about 200:1. Thus, there is a fundamental mismatch between monitor contrast and paper contrast that can make it hard for the eye to interpret the screen to print relationship. Now, Palette Master Elements (currently) offers only very basic control over contrast, as you can't specify a specific blackpoint value (contrast is defined as whitepoint dividied by blackpoint, e.g. 100 cd/m2 for white and 0.5 cd/m2 for black is 100/0.5 for contrast - i.e. a contrast ratio of 200:1 which is ideal for print work.
BenQ's PV270 (and here is our guide to the PV270's Palette Master software) - allows you to control contrast to a far greater degree and thus is simply capable of better screen to print matching. We consider this an essential feature for high end fine art print work and, for this reason alone, if that is the domain in which you are specifically working, we consider the PV270 to be still the best option from BenQ (if you can live without the more modern features & design of the SW270C such as USB-c and HDR support).
That said, we do have it on good authority that, after extensive feedback from us on this particular issue, BenQ will be adding contrast control to Palette Master Elements. Hopefully by the end of 2019 we'll be able to say this shortcoming has been fixed (the SW hardware can certainly handle it, and we're expecting this feature to be back-ported to the entire SW range when it comes). Of course, until the feature is actually delivered and tested working, we can't really promise this feature will come to SW monitors for sure - but we're quietly confident this feature will arrive in the not too distant future.
More and more we're being approached by content creators and video editors looking for affordable solutions for creating modern video content.
There are two main approaches to this - either using your desktop monitor for direct editing, or using a 'breakout box' (usally Black Magic) and an external reference monitor.
This new model from BenQ works very well in both of these scenarios.
Of course it can work as a regular 60 Hz desktop monitor. So for cutting purposes, it's a natural fit - and you have near complete DCI-P3 coverage, and complete coverage of Rec.709 (plus control calibration for all those scenarios of course!). Just plug it in and away you go.
But, this model has comprehensive direct input video support as well - specifically and notably of 24p and 25p input, with support for 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0 colour.
So if the question is what's a great, affordable desktop video HD reference monitor - the answer if the BenQ SW270C (and for 4k purpose there is of course the SW271).
Ok, so with all of that information locked in, how good is this thing actually?
Here follows our brief, subjective evaluation based on a few days work with the SW270C (but backed by nearly 20 years of high end monitor experience in a very busy high end print production lab!).
The first thing you notice is the design - placed side by side with a PV270, the BenQ SW270C is positively attractive in comparison. Sleek and professional looking, versus the somewhat clunky and old fashioned look of the PV270. It's not that the PV270 is ugly, as such, just that this new one is so much more...refined. It simply looks MUCH nicer on your desk. That's not really important from a quality perspective, but is sure doesn't hurt either.
Setup was very simple - click in the stand arm (noting the standard 10*10 VESA mount behind it should you ever want to use a monitor arm/mount) and use a single, fixed hand screw to attach the base to the arm.
The Hotkey puck has improved over previous monitors - it's round and well made. It's still not cordless unfortunately, but I suppose that means no batteries etc. I still query whether a separate puck offers much over the quick mode change button found on e.g. the SW240, but for people who find it useful.
From there, it's a simply plug in of the video and USB connection (we don't actually have any USB-C video outputs in the office here yet, but customers bring in Macbooks and test these all the time - and the USB-C method worked exactly as expected with a recent Macbook 15" model). Finally, turn the monitor on, using the (yay!) real button on the front bezel. Actually the bezels are worth mentioning they are about 5mm all around except the bottom bezel which is more like 15mm. Very svelte - these near frameless designs
BenQ seem to improve the hood with each model. Since around the release of the SW271 they have been really quite excellent. Not _quite_ up to Eizo-magnetic-hood excellent, but easy to mount and once mounted the BenQ hoods are actually better as they are distinctly deeper than the rather shallow current generation Eizo hoods. Also, the fact they are free with the monitor and not a $350 extra rather helps, too!
Well, it's hard to write anything particularly new here as really, everything is as expected from a modern BenQ monitor.
There's plenty of ergonomic adjustment available - including 90 degree pivot (which everyone asks about but no one seems to actually use, in my experience). The screen has a good matte surface - like the SW271C it is slightly glossier than Eizo's monitor surface, but it's definitely not objectionably so, and definitely still matte.
The calibration process, detailed above, is easy and relatively quick. There are three hardware calibration slots available, which is plenty for most folks but not quite up to the 9 slots current Eizo CG screens offer.
Once on, calibrated, and in actual use...it's really very good. BenQ are no longer beginners at this, that's for sure. There's no question the monitor is more uniform than the older SW2700PTs. Indeed, in practise the uniformity seems not to be any appreciably worse than the venerable PV270, which we have used very extensively and actively at Image Science and find to be a very reliable bargain of a monitor.
Placed side by side versus an Eizo CS2730, which is the logical monitor to compare this with (until we have the new CS2731, anyway), it's not necessarily super easy to see why the Eizo is some $500 more expensive ($850ish, if you count the hood!). The Eizo does have noticeably nicer software in ColorNavigator, and you can still see the advantage of Eizo's tremendous tuning of the neutrals and deep shadows. And, if you're simulating print, the proper contrast control is a clear win for Eizo as well. But for a lot of general purpose editing work, the two would be very functionally similar, and you'd have (at least) $500 left in your pocket to spend on other things. Of course Eizo have their five year warranty and if cost was no issue, I'd still choose the CS2730/CS2731 for sheer quality overall, but it's a closer run race that it should be - given the price differential.
(Of course, where Eizo really run out in front is their ColorEdge CG range. That is still another level of quality again, and the convenience of their built in calibrators is simply unmatched by anyone at this point. So if you're thinking Eizo, the really interesting models are the CG models for sure!).
Once again, there is no doubt that BenQ have absolutely nailed the performance vs. value equation with this model - which has been their real skill for the last few years. They've come up with a winning formula - a lot
of the quality (still not all, but enough for most) - that top end monitors offer, but at a much more palatable price. Add in the video features and for a lot of content professionals - who we're seeing now often work in both still and video domains - then the sheer versatility of the BenQ is very impressive.
It is hard not seeing this becoming the most popular model for BenQ. Personally as I work almost exclusively in fine art print, I'd still (just) rather have a PV270 or CS2730 on my desk...but there's simply not that much in it, so this is a great new option to have in the mix.
In short this model from BenQ will suit a lot of serious amateur and entry level professional colour accurate scenarios. And it represents fantastic value, having just about every feature you could want in a colour accurate monitor (and we say again - 4K is not really very important at all for image editing...colour accuracy is MUCH more important!).
So - if you're looking for a 27" colour accurate monitor, and your budget is anywhere over the $1000 mark, then this has to be very high on your short-list, for sure. Combined with the i1Display Pro, you'll have a fantastic, complete. colour accurate set up for distinctly under $2000...and once BenQ do add proper contrast control to the SW range....well, they are sure to continue their rapid growth in this market segment.
And Remember - when you buy from Image Science you're helping support content like this - and you get our legendary free product lifetime support.
Each year hundreds of people who have bought monitors from us over the years call to ask us about attaching their monitors to new computers, or new calibration scenarios etc. etc. Whatever it is, we'll be happy to support you - whether you're just starting out editing your first serious photos at home, or you're a hired gun grading content for Netflix - we'll always make sure you're getting the best out of your investment.
- Melanie M -
I meant to email yesterday and say thanks for the great print. I also really appreciate you guys picking up the mark I left on the work and doing a reprint. It's now off to the states.