- Brightness and color consistency have been improved
- Connectivity through USB-C
- Hardware calibration with an accuracy of 16 bits in the LUT
- The cost isn’t prohibitively expensive
- It’s difficult to get to the main connecting bay
- To be truly useful, ‘Paper Color Sync’ needs to be improved
Review in one minute
A growing number of photographers understand the value of a dedicated picture monitor for image editing and print preparation, but the high cost of professional monitors has deterred many. BenQ has emerged as the category’s affordable champion, and the PhotoVue series SW321C is the company’s latest 32-inch 4K UHD offering. The pixel density of 137 balances greater detailing with comfortable viewing characteristics, making this an increasingly popular combination of display size and resolution.
BenQ improves the performance of their photo monitors with each successive generation, and the SW321C includes a number of major advances. There’s a new micro-fine anti-reflection coating called ‘Advanced Reflectionless Technology’ (ART) and a revision of the ‘Uniformity Technology’ to solve color and brightness variations that were previously a concern. ‘Paper Color Sync,’ a piece of software geared specifically for photographers, allows the construction of a customized color setting based on the printer model, paper type, and color space.
The 10-bit IPS-type panel on the SW321C boasts a broad color spectrum, reproducing 99 percent of the Adobe RGB color space (so, obviously, 100% of sRGB/Rec.709) and 95 percent of DCI-P3, which is the cinematographic color space that is replacing Rec.709 and has a larger color gamut. There are 13 more choices, in addition to the new ‘Paper Color Sync,’ that cover all of the major still and video color spaces, as well as ‘M Book’ (to mimic a MacBook Pro screen), B&W, HDR, a custom setting, and the ability to load up to three calibration settings.
The SW321C comes with factory calibration and then enables for hardware calibration with a 16-bit LUT to more accurately manage the subsequent color correction curves, which is independent of the computer’s video card. For video editors, the monitor features CalMAN support for LightSpace video calibration, as well as HDR10 and HLG video input for color grading in post-production.
In terms of functionality, the SW321C includes a helpful collection of connections (and four cables), including USB-C with 60W power, which means you only need one cable to connect to the computer for doing hardware calibration. You also receive a modular hood and the ‘Hotkey Puck G2,’ a wired remote controller with configurable keys that bypasses the on-panel menu buttons. The ability to quickly switch between pre-assigned color spaces is probably the most useful feature. The ‘GamutDuo’ display, which presents mirrored pictures in two different color spaces, is also useful (i.e. via two different inputs).
The SW321C’s brightness and color uniformity are the greatest we’ve seen on a BenQ photo monitor so far, and on pace with what we’d expect from a far more costly model. The new anti-reflection coating is extremely effective, ensuring that color accuracy and contrast are maximized. Physically, this is a well-built monitor with a variety of features that translate to improved operational efficiency. Upgrading to a 32-inch 4K display will never be cheap, but BenQ has just made it a lot more accessible.
Price and availability of the BenQ SW321C
In January of this year, BenQ launched the 32-inch SW321C photo monitor, and the screen began shipping soon after. In most places, it’s already available in stores for $2,000 / £1,599 / AU$3,199.
The Hotkey Puck G2, a modular shading hood, and a set of connectors (USB-C, USB 3.1, HDMI, and Display Port/mini Display Port) are all included in this pricing.
- It’s quick and simple to put together.
- Hotkey Puck (Second Generation)
- Access to the main connection bay is difficult.
The SW321C has the same dark grey colour as the rest of BenQ’s current SW series monitors, as well as an ultra-thin bezel and an easy-to-assemble stand. The base plate is actually pretty small for a 32-inch monitor, so it doesn’t take up much space on the desktop, but the screen does require some movement. You’ll need some viewing space as well, but not as much as you would without this screen’s excellent anti-reflection coating.
If you’ve been using a smaller monitor, don’t worry; it won’t take long to become used to a 32-inch display. In terms of clear reproduction of fine detailing and intelligibility of smaller text, the 4K UHD resolution is undoubtedly the’sweet spot.’
The unit comes with a seven-piece modular hood, a big set of connecting connections (including USB-C and HDMI), a two-page calibration report, and the latest G2 version of BenQ’s Hotkey Puck, which takes only a few minutes to put together after unboxing. The sturdy stand has a 15-cm height adjustment range, as well as tilting and swiveling capabilities, as well as a full 90-degree pivot for portrait orientation. Overall, the stability is really good.
BenQ’s Hotkey Puck is a circular-shaped wired remote controller that bypasses the monitor’s numerous mode buttons, enabling for better navigating of on-screen menus as well as – possibly more conveniently– faster switching between assigned color modes. It has its own recess at the base of the support arm of the stand, but it may be placed anywhere and functions similarly to a mouse, with the exception of a main rotary-type controller and three user-assignable function keys.
Dual HDMI 2.0 connectors, USB Type C and Type B, and Display Port are all found in the main connection bay on the underside of the display. This approach keeps wire lines neater – there’s even an opening in the lowest half of the stand to keep everything together – but access isn’t as simple. In practice, though, these are likely to be connections that aren’t altered very frequently.
The secondary set of ports inset on the side of the monitor – two USB 3.1 and an SD card reader – are far easier to access and are much more likely to be used frequently.
‘Paper Color Sync’ for media base tint matching BenQ’s ‘AQCOLOR’ display technology Next-generation ‘Uniformity Technology’
BenQ made its name with low-cost high-performance video and gaming monitors, but a few years ago it shifted its focus to photo displays, where it is now garnering a significant following. A few product design honors have aided the SW321C, including the most recent from the TIPA (Technical Image Press Association) for Best Professional Photo Monitor. Given how competitive this category has been in recent years, this is quite an accomplishment.
However, BenQ has worked hard to pack its latest-generation with features tailored to photographers, such as ‘Paper Color Sync,’ a valuable piece of software that simulates the basic color of inkjet media for more accurate screen-to-printer matching. This was a print-making component that has previously been difficult to successfully manage.
The SW321C also comes factory calibrated with BenQ’s AQCOLOR – a color display technology designed to improve color fidelity – and a 16-bit 3D LUT (look-up table) to manage input data and ensure screen uniformity and consistency.
Another BenQ-developed technology is at work here, and it’s termed, logically, ‘Uniformity Technology,’ despite the fact that this model is the next-generation version. It works by fine-tuning the hue and brightness of hundreds of sub-regions or locations across the panel to reduce any color changes that could otherwise appear. Similarly, there are no discernible differences in brightness.
The reduction of reflections and glare on the screen is an important feature of a dedicated photo monitor. The SW321C has a modular hood, but it’s more notable for its ‘Advanced Reflectionless Technology’ (ART), a particular micro-fine matte surface coating that deflects reflected ambient light significantly more efficiently than before.
As a result, clarity, color, and contrast are all more correctly portrayed, which BenQ believes is especially important for Paper Color Sync to work properly… considering the small and subtle differences in color and contrast involved.
In practice, we found ART to be so effective that we didn’t even need to remove the hood from the test monitor (although BenQ recommends that you do when using Paper Color Sync and we certainly would with longer-term use). In addition, the box includes a unique screen cleaning roller, which is supposedly better suited to the new surface covering.
In more detail, Paper Color Sync – which is free software that you can download to your computer – allows you to input the printer model, paper type (brand, surface finish, etc.), and color space, all of which are then adjusted into a color configuration… As a result, it’s essentially a soft proofing feature.
The list of compatible printers and papers is by no means exhaustive, as BenQ creates these profiles itself (it has to, in order to take into consideration the monitor’s features as well), however future software upgrades will add newly-released printers and media. Although Eizo’s ‘Quick Color Match’ feature is more advanced, this is still a decent start on a photo monitor at this price point. The new Paper Color Sync setting is one of 14 on the SW321C, which also contains all of the major still and video color spaces, as well as B&W, HDR, one custom setting, and the ability to load up to three calibration settings.
‘GamutDuo,’ which operates with the monitor’s picture-by-picture (PBP) display and delivers mirrored images in two separate color spaces, is another highly helpful function (i.e. via two different inputs). Each image may be adjusted separately, and this is a feature that would normally necessitate the use of two displays side by side.
CalMAN support for LightSpace video calibration and Pantone certification for graphic designers are available on the SW321C. It accepts HDR10 and HLG video sources and can display native 24/25fps video without distortion or ‘pull down’ thanks to a quicker processor (also supporting uncompressed 10-bit 4:4:4, 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 color). It can, of course, handle native 4K UHD as well.
- Internal color processing of ten bits
- With 16-bit color processing and a wide color gamut, you can achieve up to 99 percent of Adobe RGB hardware calibration.
The display of the SW321C is an IPS panel with LED backlighting, just like the other monitors in the PhotoVue series. With a display area of 708.48mm x 398.52mm and a 4K UHD resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, it boasts a pixel density of 137ppi. It contains a palette of 1.07 billion colors, leading in smoother shading, color transitions, and tone gradations. In-Plane Switching allows for a fast response time of 5.0ms and a broad viewing angle of 178 degrees, which is important for videomakers.
As previously stated, the SW321C reproduces 99 percent of the Adobe RGB color space and 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, which is a cinematographic color system. It’s displacing sRGB – or, more precisely, its video equivalent, Rec.709 – as the color standard for transmissive screens, such as tablets and smartphones.
Each SW321C monitor is individually calibrated and comes with a written factory report, although the hardware calibration – using an external colorimeter – can be done afterwards using BenQ’s Palette Master Element software (which is supplied on a CD-ROM). Hardware calibration on a photo monitor has the advantage of bypassing the computer’s video card and color management in favor of the significantly higher color precision of 16-bit processing in this case (giving 65,536 levels per color). As a result, hardware calibration is often preferred over software calibration (which also necessitates the use of a colorimeter), but the latter will still keep the monitor within specs over time.
A USB-C port is included in the monitor’s connection bay, which gives the ease of a single-cable connection to the computer while completing hardware calibration, among other things (and has 60 watts power available).
We used the Datacolor SpyderX Elite colorimeter to perform software-based calibration on this monitor to see how well it performed (which is also supported for hardware calibration in the current version of the PME software). Color gamut, tone responsiveness, white point uniformity, contrast, brightness uniformity, color uniformity, and color accuracy were all outstanding according to DisplayCal. Most significantly, the brightness and color uniformity are among the greatest we’ve seen on a BenQ photo monitor, and they’re comparable to what we’d expect from a far more costly model.
There are still some compelling reasons to edit photos on HD/QHD resolution monitors, but 4K paired with a wider color space reproduction marks a significant leap forward in terms of more accurate rendering with finer tolerances and, as a result, access to more precise editing control.
BenQ improves on this with the SW321C’s much better color and brightness uniformity – and across a large display area as well – as well as the highly effective ART anti-glare coating. Hardware calibration, USB-C connectivity, and the potential for much more from the emerging Paper Color Sync capability all add up to great repeatability and reliability.
BenQ has already stated that it intends to be a serious player in the photo monitor market, and the SW321C is the most persuasive proof of this to far. On every level, from physical build quality to display performance, it qualifies as a professional-level reference monitor, with the exception of one: it’s still reasonably priced.
Is the BenQ SW321C picture monitor worth buying?
If you want to buy it, you should…
You’re all set to switch to a color-managed workflow.
A calibrated monitor is essential for ensuring that your prints match the image you’re viewing onscreen, and the SW321C includes all of the necessary components, including Paper Color Sync.
For picture editing or video production, you’re ready to upgrade to 4K.
The SW321C’s 32-inch monitor and 4K UHD resolution are the’sweet spot’ for imaging editing, providing plenty of well-defined detailing that’s easy to assess.
You want to upgrade to a 32-inch display, but your budget is limited.
BenQ picture monitors have always been affordable, but performance is now becoming more competitive as well, with the SW321C comfortably matching its more expensive counterparts.
If you don’t want to buy, don’t.
You work in a confined space.
A 32-inch monitor not only takes up a lot of desktop real estate, but it also necessitates a lot of viewing area. If you’re short on space, choose BenQ’s 27-inch SW270C or 24-inch SW240.
You don’t do much image editing or printing, do you?
Purchasing a colorimeter to calibrate your computer’s monitor may be a better choice… Except that many of these screens have a relatively narrow color gamut, making calibration useless for print preparation.