BenQ BL3201PT 32-inch Ultra HD Monitor Review

The first-generation 32-inch Ultra HD monitors came out at over $3000. They’ve dropped in price of course, but BenQ’s new BL3201PT is debuting at a more aggressive MSRP of $1100. We've even seen it selling for under $1000. Today we test its performance.

Introduction

If you want an Ultra HD monitor on the cheap, your best option right now is one of the 28-inch TN screens. We’ve reviewed six such displays so far (all currently selling for under $600), finding a couple of them to be good performers. But to take better advantage of that resolution (especially in Windows), you need a little more screen area. Thirty-two inches is an ideal size because it offers a 137ppi density. This is only a bit more than the 109ppi sweet spot we so enjoy from our 27-inch QHD screens.

The one option we still haven't seen is an affordable IPS display. The Sharp/Asus/Dell triplets employ similar technology with their IGZO panel parts, but even now they sell for at least $1500. Dell enjoys the advantage of an Adobe RGB 1998 gamut on its UP3214Q. However, the other 32-inch screens are sRGB-only. Of course, there are 24- and 27-inch IPS UHD monitors too, but all of them are just a little too small when it comes to font scaling.

BenQ is making a significant move with the BL3201PT. Not only does it use a high-quality Ultra HD IPS panel, it’s selling on the street for under $1000.

If you check out BenQ’s information on the BL3201PT, it calls the panel part AHVA. To be clear, this is not a high-contrast VA panel like the one used in the BL3200PT. In this case, the acronym stands for “Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle.” The bottom line is that it’s an IPS panel with really good off-axis image quality. When you check out our photos on page seven, you’ll see that it does indeed fare better at 45 degrees to the sides than other IPS screens we’ve reviewed.

Aside from that, the other components are fairly typical. The panel part itself is made by AU Optronics. The backlight is a white LED arrayed at the edges of the screen. And color depth is 10-bits, achieved with an 8-bit native panel using Frame Rate Conversion.

Feature-wise, the BL3201PT is packed with lots of digital inputs, five USB 3.0 ports, a slick OSD controller, an SD card reader and even a side-mounted headphone jack. It’s all presented in a high-end chassis with a solid aluminum upright and the excellent build quality we’ve come to expect from BenQ.

Of course, performance is important to the equation. At this price, we aren’t too bummed about the lack of a wide-gamut option. But hopefully the panel is fast enough to appeal to gamers. BenQ positions it as a luxury business-class machine, so it needs to be versatile and accurate as well.

Is this an affordable jumbo Ultra HD monitor that is also easy to live with? Let’s take a look.

Packaging, Physical Layout And Accessories

The BL3201PT comes in a carton that we think should be just a little deeper for such a large and heavy display. It’s well-protected by rigid Styrofoam, however. In addition to the base and solid-metal upright, you get DVI, DisplayPort and HDMI cables. There’s also an analog audio cable and a USB A-to-B connector. Finishing off the bundle is a small cable clip, a quick-start guide and a CD-based manual and support software.

Product 360

Make no mistake, this is one large monitor. The base won’t take up a ton of desktop space, but the panel is wide. Speaking of the base, it’s quite beefy with a solid-aluminum upright that exudes quality. It snaps onto the panel and screws into the base with a captive bolt.

The anti-glare layer is similar to most of the IPS monitors we’ve reviewed – lightly textured with good clarity and minimal reflections under typical office or workspace lighting. Even with such a large screen, we had no trouble seeing even the darkest content on the BL3201PT.

Along the bottom-right are touch-sensitive keys that are actuated with the perfect amount of pressure. They light up when your finger gets close, but they aren’t too touchy. An even better way to navigate the OSD is with the puck-style controller pictured below.

BenQ uses this controller on several models and we love it. It plugs into a dedicated mini-USB port and nests in the base as shown. At its center are a select key and directional buttons. Around the perimeter are three picture mode hot-keys plus a return button.

Thanks to an extremely well-engineered stand, this heavy panel is easy to position. In addition to a portrait mode, you get 90 degrees of swivel, 25 degrees of tilt and almost six inches (150mm) of height adjustment. The movements are super-smooth, with just the right amount of resistance. The BL3201PT’s stand is truly a cut above the norm.

The side view shows a panel of average thickness with a large flat surface for wall mounting. All of the inputs and USB ports are on the right side (we’ll show them in better detail below). We’re happy to see not only two USB 3.0 ports but an SD card reader and a headphone jack on the side panel. It’s hard to tell in the photo, however, the side-facing video inputs are recessed from the edge, simplifying cable management.

The BL3201PT’s back panel is smooth and only interrupted by a small polished BenQ logo. If you unsnap the upright, a 100mm VESA mount is exposed. The hole in the upright can be used for cable management or you can attach the small included plastic clip.

The built-in speakers can be seen through the top-facing vents. They sound better than most thanks to their five-watt op-amps and two-driver-per-channel configuration.

The top half of the photo shows the video inputs. You get a single DVI port along with two HDMI, a standard DisplayPort and a mini-DisplayPort connector. To operate at 60Hz, you need to use one of the DisplayPort inputs along with a heavy-gauge cable and a 1.2-compliant video card. The dual-HDMI configuration is not supported.

The second panel in the photo faces downwards, providing three more USB 3.0 ports along with the upstream jack. The mini-USB port is for the OSD controller. Finally, at the far right, there's an analog audio input. Sound can also come from the DisplayPort or HDMI signal chain.

OSD Setup And Calibration

OSD Tour

The BL3201PT’s menu system is large, but logically organized. It will be familiar to users of BenQ products.

Pressing any button on the bezel or OSD controller brings up a little menu. The first three positions can be programmed by the user for settings like brightness, contrast or picture mode. The fourth button opens the full menu.

First up are the input selector, Auto Pivot (on or off) and PIP/PBP functions. You can view two sources at once either side-by-side or windowed.

Here’s where you’ll find most of the image controls. One caveat, though. If you want full adjustability, you have to select the User picture mode from the Picture Advanced menu first.

Brightness and Contrast are available in every mode. Sharpness comes set to level 5 and should be left there for the clearest image.

There are five gamma presets, but only number three tracks 2.2. The other settings make the picture darker or lighter in the mid-tones. Set to three, however, we measured some of the best gamma numbers we’ve seen to date.

A trio of preset color temps are available, along with a User Define mode. The sliders start at their max values, which means that any adjustment will reduce contrast slightly. Luckily, they don’t need too much tweaking to achieve excellent accuracy.

The next sub-menu, Picture Advanced, is where you’ll find the 11 picture modes. Standard, sRGB and User are pretty much the same, according to our measurements. If you want the BL3201PT’s maximum light output, choose Presentation. The other modes are optimized by BenQ to be better-suited to different tasks. Using any of them is a matter of personal preference as they do not match the Rec.709 or sRGB standards.

The BL3201PT offers 11 different aspect ratio modes. They’re designed to simulate the size and shape of smaller monitors, showing your image windowed. To fill the screen regardless of input resolution, choose Full.

This option is important if you use an HDMI connection. To see the full dynamic range of a PC signal, you have to set it to 0-255. By default, it’s incorrectly set to 16-235. If you use DisplayPort, this option is grayed out and won’t affect the image.

In the Audio menu, you can adjust the speaker/headphone volume or mute the sound. You can also select the source (HDMI, DVI or analog) by choosing Auto Detect.

Custom Key refers to the first three bezel buttons that can be customized for a long list of monitor functions. The two options for DP and HDMI Auto Switch allow you to include or exclude those inputs from the source auto-detect function. We left them both on, and the BL3201PT locked onto the active signal almost immediately every time. If you want to shut the monitor off automatically, you can choose a 10-, 20- or 30-minute delay.

The second screen of System options includes odds and ends like signal information, DisplayPort version and Controller Key choices. Unlike the Custom Key option, the buttons on the OSD puck controller can only be set for different picture modes. If you switch modes often, this can be pretty handy.

The final two menus, Ergonomics and Eco, make use of a bezel-mounted light sensor to adjust image brightness or turn off the BL3201PT automatically when you leave your desk. To enable the grayed-out options, turn on the sensor in the Eco menu.

Here’s where you activate the monitor’s light sensor for the above-mentioned functions. You can also set its sensitivity, which affects the power-off feature.

Calibration

After selecting the User picture mode, we had access to all image adjustments including five gamma presets and a set of RGB sliders for white balance calibration. It didn’t take much to go from good to great in the color accuracy department. The default Standard mode is just fine. It only showed miniscule errors for both color and grayscale. Gamma tracking is superb on preset three, regardless of any other changes to image parameters. The final tweak we made was to lower the Contrast a bit for better white balance at the 100-percent brightness level. Please try our settings below if you don’t have the means to calibrate your BL3201PT.

BenQ BL3201PT Calibration Settings
Brightness
52
Contrast
46
Sharpness
5
Color Temp User
Red 98, Green 97, Blue 100
HDMI PC Range
0-255

Results: Brightness And Contrast

To read about our monitor tests in-depth, please check out Display Testing Explained: How We Test Monitors and TVs.  Brightness and Contrast testing is covered on page two.

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Uncalibrated – Maximum Backlight Level

Today’s comparison group includes three IGZO screens – Sharp’s PN-K321, Asus’ PQ321Q and Dell’s UP3214Q. We also threw in BenQ’s other 32-inch display, the QHD-resolution BL3200PT. To bring the count to six, we added Monoprice’s excellent CrystalPro 4K, the 28-inch TN-based monitor we recently reviewed.

At first glance, it looks like the BL3201PT doesn't quite meet its claimed 350cd/m2 spec. The results above are what you get from the Standard picture mode. However, in Presentation mode, output peaks at 367.4915cd/m2. The only drawback to that mode is overall contrast is around 22 percent lower. Our preferred selection is Standard unless you really need the extra brightness in an outdoor application.

The maximum black level is average for this group (and for IPS monitors in general). The best blacks come from the VA (Vertical Alignment) panel in BenQ’s BL3200PT. Combine that technology with Ultra HD and you’ll have a display that’s really hard to beat in the contrast department.

Compared to other 32-inch Ultra HD screens, the BL3201PT’s contrast is in the middle. Dell manages to squeeze a slightly better black level from its UP3214Q, hence its better result. But the BenQ beats all of its IGZO-based competition on price.

Uncalibrated – Minimum Backlight Level

Dropping the brightness control to zero nets an almost perfect (in our opinion) 56.5421cd/m2 peak white level. This is a great way to use the monitor in total darkness for movie-watching or game-playing.

Black levels are quite good for all of this group's screens. The Monoprice is a little brighter overall because its backlight doesn’t go as low. Of course, the BL3200PT is in another league altogether. Remember that the UP3214Q has a dimmer backlight and therefore a lower black level.

Minimum contrast is only a tick lower than the maximum number. Nearly every monitor we test these days shows consistent contrast at all backlight settings. That means once you calibrate, you can set the brightness to taste without compromising other image parameters like color or gamma.

After Calibration to 200cd/m2

The calibrated black level remains mid-pack in our comparison. It’s fair to say that IPS and IGZO are roughly equal in their black-rendering and contrast performance.

Calibration doesn’t affect overall contrast by a visible amount. The slight drop observed is due to us lowering the Contrast control by four clicks. This is done to improve the white balance at 100-percent brightness. You can return it to its default setting for a little more punch, but peak whites will look a little greenish.

ANSI Contrast Ratio

As you’ll see on page seven, the BL3201PT has just average screen uniformity. This affects the ANSI result negatively by dropping it around 11 percent from the calibrated on/off number, though some samples might measure better than others.

Results: Grayscale Tracking And Gamma Response

Our grayscale and gamma tests are described in detail here.

To the naked eye, there aren’t any grayscale errors in Standard mode. The chart shows a maximum DeltaE of 3.22 at 50-percent brightness. That’s only a tad over the accepted threshold of three, where grayscale errors become visible. If you don’t wish to calibrate the BL3201PT, you’ll be perfectly satisfied with its grayscale accuracy.

Calibrating the User mode yields a decent improvement in grayscale performance. To get 100 percent under the 3dE line, we lowered the Contrast four clicks to remove a visible green tint. Otherwise, BenQ's business-class monitor delivers excellent performance.

Here is our comparison group:

A result of 2.25dE is perfectly acceptable for an un-calibrated monitor. A majority of users will enjoy the BL3201PT’s image quality by simply adjusting brightness to taste in the Standard mode.

Calibration brings the average error down to 1.38dE. That's not quite as low as the rest of the group, but you won’t be able to see a difference between any of these screens without instrumented measurements. The BL3201PT doesn't perform in what we'd consider the professional class, but it's not priced like those premium products either.

Gamma Response

The most accurate gamma tracking is found on the number-three preset. Whether you calibrate or not, this is the tracking you’ll see. Our adjustments didn’t make a difference. Aside from the tiniest dip at 10 percent, we record a perfect result.

Here is our comparison group again:

The .15 number comes from the above-mentioned dip in gamma at the 10-percent brightness level. All other values are within a whisker of 2.2.

We calculate gamma deviation by simply expressing the difference from 2.2 as a percentage.

This is only the third monitor we’ve measured in the past two years displaying a perfect average gamma result of 2.2. It doesn’t get any better. Gamma this accurate easily makes up for lower contrast by providing maximum punch in all types of content.

Results: Color Gamut And Performance

For details on our color gamut testing and volume calculations, please click here.

Like our grayscale and gamma results, the BL3201PT’s chroma performance is quite good in its default Standard picture mode. Only a small spike in blue luminance stands out on an otherwise excellent chart. On the CIE graph, you can see a little over-saturation in red and a hue error in magenta. The latter should be cleared up by the grayscale calibration.

Magenta’s hue improves, though not all the way to the target. Color luminances are pretty much perfect except for blue, but it’s only a little high. The DeltaE errors go from small to miniscule.

Now we return to the comparison group:

Remember that Dell positions the UP3214Q as a professional screen, and it earns that title. BenQ hits a home run with its second-place finish in this group of mostly pricey screens. Our calibration takes the average error from 1.72 to 1.26dE, which is like going from really good to really really good. Truly, we measure a professional-grade result.

Gamut Volume: Adobe RGB 1998 And sRGB

Due to an over-saturated red primary, the BL3201PT’s sRGB gamut volume exceeds 100 percent. To take advantage of this, you’ll need to match the rest of your production chain (printer and camera). While most photographers prefer wide-gamut screens, a little bonus sRGB color can be useful too. And we’ll remind you again of the cost savings offered by this BenQ.

Results: Viewing Angles, Uniformity, Response And Lag

To learn how we measure screen uniformity, please click here.

Screen Uniformity: Luminance

We’ve reviewed quite a few TN-based Ultra HD displays lately, and their viewing angle photos always reveal detail loss and color shift. An IPS panel like this is a welcome improvement, and a monitor this big really benefits from the superior viewing angle performance. There is little light falloff to the sides and only a slight shift to blue. From above, there is an observable change in gamma, but the brightness steps are visible. You can also see a little red shift. Overall though, LCD panels don’t get much better.

Large-format displays have a tougher time posting good uniformity results. With that said, our BL3201PT sample only manages a fifth-place finish. It’s still a good showing; we only see slight hotspots in the upper-left and lower-right corners.

Here’s the white field measurement:

The white field measurement is about the same as the black field one. It looks fine to the naked eye, but our C6 meter tells us the center zone is a tiny bit brighter than the rest of the screen. Given the results of the above two tests, we have no problems with any of the displays’ uniformity.

Screen Uniformity: Color

Color uniformity is right in the middle with a 2.32dE average. Once again, our eyes can’t see a problem, though our meter finds the center to be a little closer to D65 than the surrounding zones.

Pixel Response And Input Lag

Please click here to read up on our pixel response and input lag testing procedures.

With the BL3201PT’s attractive price point, we’re confident gamers will take notice. Fortunately, its panel is a tad more responsive than the IGZO-based displays. Two milliseconds isn’t much, but when you game seriously, every bit counts.

Here are the lag results:

The Monoprice CrystalPro 4K may be tough to beat until Ultra HD monitors offer higher refresh rates. The BL3201PT takes second place behind a screen that is pretty impressive. BenQ doesn’t specifically target gamers, but if you want a jumbo IPS display and 3840x2160 resolution, it’s the fastest 32-inch UHD monitor out there right now.

BenQ BL3201PT: A 4K Price Breakthrough

The prices on Ultra HD-capable displays have fallen from once-stratospheric levels thanks to the passage of time and an increasing number of choices. With the BL3201PT now available, it seems that more expensive IGZO-based panels will have to become cheaper or start incorporating better features. Right now, only the Dell UP3214Q with its wide-gamut option is viable competition for this new BenQ.

We’ve written many times before about the importance of having the correct pixel density rather than the highest pixel density. Mac users, you don’t have to worry about this since your operating system handles high-res screens much better than Windows. In the world of Microsoft, however, going much beyond 109ppi means looking at really tiny text or using font scaling, which degrades clarity.

Performance of the BL3201PT is exemplary given its price tag. For starters, it can be used with no issue right out of the box. We know that only a small percentage of enthusiasts have the means to calibrate. If a monitor measures well in its factory default mode, we want to let you know. This is one of those screens. With an un-calibrated error of 2.25dE for grayscale and only 1.72dE for color, the only real reason to make adjustments is because you can. Topping that off is some of the best gamma performance we’ve ever recorded.

If you’re looking to game in 4K with a 32-inch UHD screen, the BL3201PT has some of the lowest input lag we’ve measured from any 60Hz display. Sixty-four milliseconds means you’d need a fast-refresh model to get significantly better performance. In fact, out of all the Ultra HD monitors we’ve tested, this BenQ ranks a very close fourth place. And guess what? The top three are all TN-based panels. Knowing BenQ’s reputation for pushing the envelope with gaming monitors, it would not surprise us to see an overclocked version of this panel running at 120Hz someday.

There will still be those who consider $1000 too much to spend on any computer monitor. And we understand that it’s still a relatively high-end price, regardless of performance or features. But BenQ is bringing the cost of jumbo Ultra HD a lot closer to realistic levels than anything else we’ve seen so far. Diversity of choice is what will continue chipping away at the 4K premium, and BenQ's BL3201PT is a really good choice.

For its excellent build quality, image quality and value, we’re giving the BenQ BL3201PT our Tom’s Hardware Editor Approved award.

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  • thomas1951
    amazon link is to the wrong monitor, BL3200PT is a 1440p 32" monitor, not 4K