BenQ SW321C Monitor Review
How does the BenQ SW321C monitor stack up against the legendary EIZO CG318? Here’s my honest, no-holds-barred review.
In this video, I put the new BenQ through its paces, looking at tonal range, sharpness, uniformity and much more.
Covering the calibration process, native contrast, and other key elements, I tell you exactly what I think of this monitor.
Most importantly, I tell you how it compares with an EIZO monitor that costs more than twice as much. The answer may surprise you!
BenQ SW321C: Honest, unbiased comparison with EIZO CG318
When BenQ sent me their new SW321C monitor, they did so on the basis that I would give it an honest and unbiased review. I received no financial reward, and I even offered to send it back if my review turned out to be disappointing!
Fortunately, I was extremely impressed – as were the video editors here at Visual Education, who put the monitor through its paces for a couple of weeks.
Does it match my EIZO across the board? Not quite. But given the difference in price, the BenQ offers an exceptionally high quality display at a much lower cost.
Calibrating the BenQ SW321C for optimal results
Out of the box, the BenQ’s image quality is good but not great, so calibration is essential. The SW321C comes with its own built-in calibration software, called Pallet Master Element, which I used in conjunction my X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator.
This software has a nice, easy-to-use interface which allows you to select from small, medium and large patch sets. Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would opt for anything other than the large patch, since that’s the one most likely to give you the best results. I suppose if you’re in a hurry, the small patch might appeal, but in my opinion, sacrificing quality for the sake of speed is never a good idea.
Calibrating the BenQ using my X-Rite i1 with the large patch in the built-in Pallet Master software gave me good results – good, but not amazing. For me, there was a slight green tinge.
I then calibrated the monitor again, still using my X-Rite i1, but this time using the X-Rite calibration software. (Since you have to buy a separate calibrator anyway, or use one you already own, it makes sense to use the software that comes with the unit.) This time, the results were truly excellent – much better and warmer.
Let’s be honest: calibrating your monitor manually is a bit of a pain. You have to remember to do it, set it up, find the time to let the process run its course, and so on. The great advantage of an EIZO monitor is that it calibrates automatically when necessary. But of course, that privilege comes with a higher price tag (more on that later).
Colour and tonal range
Once calibrated, I found the monitor gave extremely pleasing tonal range. The sharpness, silkiness and overall ‘look’ were very good.
Tonally, compared to the EIZO, the BenQ display was slightly redder in the highlights, and slightly yellower/greener in the mid-tones. However, I was able to solve this issue by adjust the relevant parameters in the X-Rite software (not an option with the built-in Pallet Master software, sadly). In the shadows of a given image, the BenQ actually revealed slightly more detail than the EIZO, possibly because it has slightly lower contrast.
Overall, colours displayed very similarly across the two monitors, with both providing the quality you need for professional-level digital or print production. Though the EIZO definitely has the edge, the BenQ performs incredibly well for the price.
Resolution and sharpness
At 3840 x 2160 resolution the BenQ weighs in only very slightly below the 4096 x 2160 EIZO. To my eye, the difference was only detectable when I was viewing very small text, and even then barely.
In terms of sharpness, I was very impressed by the superb uniformity offered by the BenQ, which reaches right to the edges of the display. When I zoomed in super-close, as I would for intricate post-production work, the quality remained pleasingly excellent.
How to Calibrate Your Lens
The inputs are similar for both monitors: USBs, SS USB, HDMI, and USB C. Unusually, the BenQ also features an SD reader, which I suppose could be handy if you have no other SD reader at your disposal.
To test it, I compared the transfer speed of the built-in SD reader with the one on my MacBook. A transfer that took three seconds on my MacBook took closer to 15 seconds in the monitor. In other words, the BenQ transfer was pretty fast, but not as fast as my usual method.
Specs and profiles
Both monitors feature IPS-type panels and are LED backlit. They are very similar in size and both come with a hood. At 1000:1, the native contrast on the BenQ SW321C is slightly lower than on the EIZO, which boasts 1500:1. But the difference from a user’s point of view is negligible.
Both monitors claim 99% AdobeRGB colour accuracy, and 100% for sRGB. As for DCI-P3, the BenQ claims 95% while the EIZO comes in slightly higher at 98%. Again, for the average user working with the BenQ, this slightly lower score makes very little difference.
Profile-wise, the two monitors work with different colour-gamut standards. The BenQ offers Rec.709, the standard for high-definition TV, while the EIZO offers Rec.2020, which is geared for ultra-high definition (4K and 8K) TV. The BenQ therefore has a slightly smaller colour range, but still a perfectly acceptable one - and crucially, one that keeps costs down.
Looking at the physical interface, the BenQ has 6 small square buttons, including the power button. These look good and control a digital menu that is simple enough to use.
Alternatively, you can use the Hotkey Puck instead. This unusual little controller takes a bit of getting used to, but can be pre-programmed, which is handy. The puck allows you to designate preferred colour modes and features, such as shortcuts to key settings. It also features a dial for adjusting brightness, contrast, and volume.
BenQ SW321C price
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the difference in price between these two monitors is substantial, and a big factor in how impressed I am by the BenQ SW321C. So, let’s look at the numbers.
At the time of writing, the BenQ monitor is priced at around £1600 in the UK and $2100 in the US. The EIZO CG318 meanwhile is priced at £3500 in the UK and $4000 in the US. In other words, the BenQ monitor costs roughly half as much as the EIZO I’ve compared it to.
The difference in price becomes even greater when we consider that the EIZO CG318 has been superseded by the CG319X, which retails at closer to £4000 and $6000 respectively.
Conclusion: Excellent monitor for the price
Based on my tests, the new BenQ SW321C is extremely impressive, particularly when you factor in price. Across colour, sharpness, resolution and interface, it compares admirably with an EIZO monitor that costs twice as much.
As mentioned, calibration is essential for getting good results out of the BenQ, and must be handled manually with a calibrator bought separately. The built-in calibration software is decent enough, but not as good as other third-party options.
Overall, the SW321C isn’t perfect, but considering what it costs, it comes pretty damned close. It performs far better than I thought it would, and we’ve happily added it to our arsenal of monitors here at Visual Education.