BenQ BL3201PH 4K Monitor Review
A singular, specialized tool that's all business—for better or for worse.
The BenQ BL3201PH (MSRP $1099) checks off a lot of boxes on paper. An IPS panel with 4K resolution typically offers a premium experience, but in this display's case, obvious advantages to quality are slightly offset by unexpected shortfalls in terms of contrast, color accuracy, and overall image fidelity. This means the BL3201PH excels at certain specialized tasks, but falls short in more general areas with wider appeal.
The BL3201PH is an "sRGB" monitor, meaning it's capable of standard web color production, but won't reproduce the higher saturation and vivacity of colors from wider color spaces, such as "Adobe RGB," a color space required by many print professionals and even certain web and game developers. While most basic tasks don't require a wider color space than the sRGB standard, they do require that those colors be produced accurately.
That's one area where the BL3201PH falls a little flat. Testing revealed that this BenQ tends to oversaturate green, and produced blue-tinted cyan and magenta secondary colors. While this won't be hugely obvious during basic tasks, it does mean that web designers and animators hoping to use this monitor to produce professional content will want to take the time to calibrate it, which is a hassle that many products in this price range don't introduce.
Grayscale & RGB Balance
Another area where the BL3201PH underperforms a bit compared to other IPS displays is in grayscale (white balance) production and accuracy. Monitors use an additive color model (combining three colors) to render neutral elements like grays and whites, meaning those colors must be balanced and emphasized in equal turn to produce truly neutral, color-free shades.
When traces of color are perceptible in grayscale tones, it obviously makes for problematic overall image quality. Such error is measured in a collective called DeltaE (or dE), where a dE of 3 or less is considered ideal. The BL3201PH tested with a grayscale dE of 6.23, which is quite a bit higher than we'd like to see.
While this doesn't mean that all grayscale elements bear obvious, perceptible elements of color, it does mean that the overall clarity and fidelity of the picture is worse than it could be.
If we take a closer look at the underlying RGB balance making up the grayscale, the source of the error is rather obvious. There's simply too much emphasis on blue, and conversely, not enough on green and red. A heightened blue presence can certainly increase the perceived brightness and "whiteness" of certain grayscale tones, but in this case it's simply overwrought. The result is a "coolness" to the picture that won't disrupt simply tasks like web browsing, but will cast movie/TV content in an odd light (literally) and may also disrupt detailed creative tasks.
Gamma is a measurement of how quickly (or slowly) a display adds luminance at each signal level step as it proceeds from black (minimum luminance) to reference white. Adding a lot of luminance at each step precludes a brighter viewing environment where more light is in competition with the light from the screen, whereas slower luminance allocation is better for preserving and maximizing the visibility of subtler details near minimum and peak luminance elements, as well as those right in the middle.
Gamma is measured in "standard" curves and sums, where most monitors adhere to a gamma curve of 2.2, but everything from 1.8, 2.0, 2.3, and 2.4 are utilized for various setups. The BL3201PH tested with a dark room gamma curve of 2.38, which is quite close to the 2.4 ideal for video in a theater environment. Unfortunately, this isn't exactly ideal for an office or other well-lit area, but the display's gamma can at least be adjusted if you find it's a little too dark in midtone shades.
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