BenQ EX3203R monitor review — All of the features with disappointing HDR

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The PC monitor market is changing rapidly. Unlike home televisions, this space has not transitioned seamlessly to 4K or HDR. That has made it difficult to commit to a new display over the last year or two. But companies are starting to figure out HDR. At the same time, 1440p at 144Hz is establishing itself as a true successor to 1080p60. And BenQ‘s new EX3203R monitor wants to win over gamers who think now is a good time to upgrade.

The EX3203R is $700. It features a 32-inch 1440p 144Hz VA panel with FreeSync 2 HDR and an 1800R curve.  If you are running an AMD video card, this monitor is essentially the total package. If you are rocking a rig with something like an AMD Radeon Vega 56 or 64, The EX32 is an ideal fit to complete your system.

What you’ll like

Great for most gamers

I’ll get into the technical aspects of the monitor’s performance in a bit, but I like to start with real-world use. After getting it set up, the EX32 worked great and was an amazing way to play most games. The colors looked crisp. The high refresh rate popped. And the FreeSync 2 was working well with the variable framerate that our Vega 64 was sending out. FreeSync 2 is especially nice if your system drops to lower framerates. This is the tech that eliminates ugly screen-tearing effects.

I don’t know how necessary FreeSync is at higher framerates — even when a game is tearing, it’s difficult to notice at 100+ frames per second. But if your game is rendering between 40-to-60 frames per second, it handles that well. That makes it an excellent monitor for the Xbox One X, which supports variable refresh rates FreeSync monitors.

I also messed around with the built-in settings, and I was initially disappointed by the look of the display. But that disappeared when I switched everything to the “Normal” color mode, which seems like the best out-of-the-box option.

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And since then, it has done great with almost every game I’ve thrown at it. I especially like the way cinematic, big-budget games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey look. They have a luscious quality to them that comes from the rich colors and excellent contrast ratio.

Minimal ghosting and strong color definition at the extreme ends

When I started digging into the EX32, it was clear why it looked so sharp. The display is excellent at handling shifts from black-to-white and white-to-black on the same pixel. Monitors that struggle with this can have a noticeable trailing or “ghost” effect where fast-moving objects appear to leave copies of themselves behind for a fraction of a second.

That ghosting normally happens because pixels need time to refresh from one extreme to another. But not the EX32. When a pixel jumps from dark to light, ghosting was virtually nonexistent. I would have to measure in nanoseconds to see it. Light-to-dark transitions were slightly slower at around 5 milliseconds. That’s faster than a single frame at 144 Hz, so it’s more than fast enough for this display.

In the most intense white-to-black (not just dark-to-light) tests, response time did jump to 12 milliseconds. But even in those circumstances, I really didn’t notice ghosting with the naked eye.

When it comes to color, it’s very easy to distinguish between all shades at the far ends of the spectrum. That means that 96 percent black is noticeably darker than 94 percent black. I saw the same thing for all colors between 0-to-20 percent and 80-to-100 percent (for example, 4 percent yellow is distinct from 6 percent yellow).

And then, in standard mode, the backlight covered the display evenly without any bleeding or washed-out colors.

What you won’t like

Disappointing HDR

HDR has had a shaky road getting to this point on PC. A recent Windows 10 update fixed many of the bugs with its HDR compatibility, but it still struggles to switch between SDR and HDR content. That’s not the fault of the EX32, though.

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When it comes to this monitor, the problem is that it uses only a basic HDR standard. The display is VESA certified for DisplayHDR 400, which is a measure of its peak brightness. At that level, the HDR is difficult to even notice. That brightness also varies heavily across the monitor. That’s likely due to a lack of enough local-dimming LEDs inside the panel.

The sub-standard local-dimming array is especially noticeable in dark scenes with one light. To illuminate that source, the monitor will turn on an LED, but then a large patch of black behind that source will glow and look off-color from the rest of the scene.

Some small coloring issues

Overall, I think the EX32 does a fine job with color, but it doesn’t quite have a wide enough gamut to handle distinctions in the middle a blue or yellow spectrum. While I can easily tell the difference between 98-percent blue and 96 percent blue, the monitor failed to produce a distinction between 40-percent blue and 50-percent blue.

The display eats up a significant chunk of both blue and yellow. This is not something I noticed in real-world gaming, but you’d probably want to see it for yourself if you’re planning to do work in Photoshop or Illustrator.

Too slow for extremely fast games

The EX32 has really low input lag. That’s a relief, and it’s one of the reasons it’s so good for most games. But that higher 13.4-millisecond response time between white-and-black is going to probably push this monitor out of the esports arena. If you are playing competitively and even a slightly delayed image response is going to kill you, that’s just a touch too long.

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Esports pros want around 8 milliseconds or quicker response times in all tests. For the rest of us, the EX32 is more than enough considering in most tests, it is below that threshold. But still, if you’re getting this to go make your fortune in Fortnite tournaments, maybe you’ll want one of the faster panels from Samsung.

Conclusion

I still think monitors are in a weird place, but I can see them starting to congeal into a coherent product category once again. But I think we are still years away from the monitor that “has it all.” Honestly, I don’t think HDR in a PC display is going to make sense until we start getting OLEDs, and those are going to take a lot of time.

So if you need a monitor now, the EX3203R from BenQ is one I can recommend. The one caveat is that you should try to get a better deal than $700 on it because that’s really close to the Samsung CHG70 that has a faster response and even better color.

The BenQ 32 is available now. BenQ provided a unit on loan for the purpose of this review.

Source: VentureBeat

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