BenQ XL2420TE Gaming Monitor Review
An indispensable gaming tool
The BenQ XL2420TE (MSRP $397) is a 24-inch LCD display with a TN (twisted nematic) panel, 144 Hz refresh rate, and a 1ms gray-to-gray response time, pegging it a tried-and-true gaming monitor. Last year, we reviewed this display's predecessor, but the 2013 iteration promises a slew of new upgrades to hardware and features—not the least of which is the ability to display 3D images. Groovy.
As a single-purpose display, the XL2420TE is a great success. From the smart matte finish and unique "S. Switch" accessory to the flawless handling of games big or small, this BenQ is poised more perfectly to a single task than almost any other monitor I've ever reviewed. It's definitely a niche product, but those who live within that niche would be wise to consider how much their current display might be holding them back by comparison.
Design & Usability
Subtly poised for a single purpose
There are many telling signs that this monitor is meant for gaming—I mean, it says it right on the box, for starters. However, close inspection reveals that as much care went into this product's outer design as into its inner workings.
The first physical characteristic we noticed was that the monitor's bezels extend about a centimeter forward from the plane of the screen. In other words, the screen is a bit depressed within its frame. This alteration of the traditional build focuses more of the screen's light forward, rather than out to the sides, while also serving to block small amounts of lateral ambient light.
Another unusual trait (within the grand scope of monitors) is the XL2420TE's headphone hook, a red plastic hanger where your headphones can rest. I suppose you could hang anything you wanted on it, but providing convenient storage for your favorite cans is the intended purpose. While this BenQ display lacks speakers, it does offer a readily accessible headphone jack on its left side, alongside two USB inputs.
By far, though, my favorite feature is one that's easy to overlook, but seems infinitely. The XL2420TE uses a touch interface to bring up its on-screen menu; the power button and four contextual controls line the right side of the screen. What's really cool is that BenQ planted a sensor in the right bezel that activates when your hand is near, automatically illuminating the otherwise invisible touch controls.
This is especially useful for anyone playing games in dim lighting or darkness... and let's be honest, that's pretty common. Just hover your hand to the right of the controls, or touch the bezel itself, and they light right up. This makes informed operation via thumb as easy as pie. Glow-in-the-dark pie, that is.
In addition to its unique build traits, the BenQ XL2420TE offers a decidedly handsome design scheme. Comprised of mostly matte-black plastic with red highlights, its angular stand and flexible panel make for a unique, striking look.
The screen raises and lowers by about five inches, swivels easily, and even rotates to portrait orientation. This vertically-inclined position gives the user easier access to the ports, which include mini USB, DisplayPort, D-Sub (VGA), DVI-D, two HDMI, and a USB B.
In the box, you'll find the panel, stand, base, protective cover, driver disc, S. Switch controller, power cord, D-Sub cable, DVI-D cable, and USB A-B cable.
Software & Accessories
The XL2420TE's menu interface is simple, visually appealing, and very customizable—especially if you're prone to game competitively. Pressing any of the touch-control buttons brings up a contextual menu. While it looks almost impoverished at first glance, there's more to the interface than meets the eye, especially once you get the hang of the S. Switch controller.
That's the third time I've mentioned that thing, so I should probably explain what it is. The S. Switch (i.e. Swift Switch) is an accessory that accompanies BenQ's XL-series gaming monitors. A mouse-like contraption, the S. Switch's main goal is to enable quick, almost instant access to different display profiles for optimizing the appearance and functionality of different scenarios—in this case, video games.
Plugging in via mini USB, the accessory fits snugly into either side of the base and allows users to map settings to one of its three function buttons. The S. Switch also houses a red scroll wheel that automatically launches and scrolls through the menu—it's much quicker than using the buttons on the bezel.
The S. Switch's numbered keys correspond to pre-loaded profiles. "Gamer1", "Gamer2", and "Gamer3" can each hold a saved display profile to be accessed on the fly. Through a process that BenQ calls "Gaming Refresh rate Optimization Management" (GROM), the XL2420TE senses multiple ideal aspect ratios and variable refresh rates to sync up with whatever game is being played.
The S. Switch's 1, 2, and 3 function keys can also be mapped to adjust brightness, contrast, smart scaling, or aspect ratio on the fly. How necessary this is seems almost impossible to objectively pinpoint, but it's certainly not detracting from the software's value in any way.
Some games will take full advantage of the monitor's native 144 Hz, whereas some will scale to 120 Hz or 100 Hz. In a similar manner, older games may not comfortably fill the 1920 x 1080 native resolution—the monitor automatically scales them to pre-set sizes: 17-inch 4:3, 19-inch 4:3, 19-inch wide 16:10, or 21.5-inch 16:9 are some of the options.
If you dig deep enough, you'll also find a number of more niche-worthy display modes—yes, it gets more geeky from here, so double-knot them readin' shoes. The XL2420TE is undoubtedly a gaming monitor, but it tends to favor first-person shooters (FPS) above other categories, especially Counter-Strike. The embedded FPS1 and FPS2 modes were allegedly co-developed with top-tier Counter-Strike players to give them a visual and kinetic advantage within that game specifically. There's also an RTS (real-time strategy) mode.
All in all, there's so much to learn, map, and customize here that taking total advantage of the XL2420TE's full range of functions is almost a game within itself—needless to say, this is not a plug-and-play situation, especially if you want to get your money's worth. However, with patience and persistence, the complex fruit of this BenQ is rewardingly sweet.
Quality & Functionality
Only as good as the source
Strange as it may sound, the XL2420TE's primary function is seemingly to remove itself entirely—during most games, you should forget it's even there. Yes, it has software and picture modes meant to give advantages within certain game types, like FPS and RTS titles, but for the most part the XL2420TE is really only as good as the game you're playing.
This is something of a double-edged sword. Many monitors fill a niche role: High-end graphics displays provide the kind of super-accurate colors needed by designers, for example. General, low-end monitors are often "all purpose," excelling at nothing, but there are limitations here as well. At about $400, the XL2420TE is not cheap, but most of its value comes in the form of customization options and a high refresh rate.
So, if you're playing a newer title like Bioshock Infinite, it's not going to make the game brighter, more colorful, or graphically more appealing—all of that is the job of your laptop or tower. I ran the aforementioned on an Alienware M17 R4 with DirectX11, and it looked terrific—because the game already looks terrific on a mobile desktop, and this BenQ leaves the source alone entirely.
I didn't notice the monitor much at all, which is the point. Perfect pixel mapping and automatically synced refresh rates mean you won't notice hiccups, tearing, motion lag, blurring, banding, or frame rate shifting—all game-changers during competitive shooters or real-time strategy. The game's impressive water physics were still awe-inducing. We also tested the monitor against Skyrim (with mods) and Starcraft II (in RTS mode) and noticed optimal performance and rendering of both. Everything ran smoothly and I was able to match the monitor's customization options to the game at hand—by far the XL2420TE's biggest draw.
From a color and contrast perspective, however, the XL2420TE only looks a little above average. Older games are not going to look any more saturated or detailed, and a low-tech PC is not going to suddenly run games like a rig equipped with liquid cooling. I feel it's important to make this distinction: This BenQ is meant to serve as an unbiased window to your content, not as a buffer or consolidator.
For that reason, the XL2420TE did not score nearly as well as some of our graphics-oriented displays. Its core performance simply doesn't qualify as "powerhouse" in any way, but neither is that its purpose. If the game you're playing looks beautiful, it will look beautiful on the XL2420TE. If it's an old game with a pixelated poise, this BenQ won't improve it. It never hinders a game in any way, but neither does it improve upon it, graphically.
If you need this, you know it already.
The XL2420TE ($397) is perhaps one of the most unique monitors on the market, if only because it's so clearly pigeonholed for a single use. It's truly been designed by people who are passionate about competitive and cooperative gaming—every inch and function is poised to add to the experience.
So, who is this for? The mouse, keyboard, and gamepad crowd. Too expensive for general use, and not nearly powerful enough for graphics functionality, the XL2420TE is a gamer's gaming monitor. It's fitted with a massive slew of useful, or at least interesting features, and handles incoming sources with the slick subtlety of a cat burglar. Potential buyers, you know who you are.