I just wrapped up a lengthy evaluation of BenQ’s EW3280U, a 32-inch premium computer monitor. Thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown, this was a much longer review period than usual. And thanks to the lockdown resulting in my wife working from home, and our three teenagers being stuck in the house, the 4K HDR monitor got an extensive workout. I have to say, everyone who used it — whether for parsing through massive Excel spreadsheets, watching a streaming video, or playing a game — had nothing but good things to say.
Makes a Strong Visual Impression
There’s no impact on how it performs, but I have to start this review by pointing out that the BenQ EW3280U is a looker.
It may be a matter of taste, but if you’re tired of the usual black (or on the gaming side, black with flair) look of typical computer monitors, this one is a breath of fresh air. The color is described as “metallic brown.” Depending on the light, that can be almost bronze. There are thin bezels on the sides and top, but until the display is turned on they are all but invisible — it looks like an uninterrupted sheet of matte glass. The chin is has a perforated metallic speaker grill running its length. On the bottom left, a volume dial can be seen peeking out. The metal stand is minimalist, but solid. There’s no swivel, but it can tilt. If wall-mounting is your thing, it is VESA-compatible.
It’s a very tasteful, and premium looking package. As an “entertainment monitor” that was a smart move. The idea is that this monitor could actually replace a TV in situations where space is at a premium. With the BenQ EW3280U as the focal point of an all-in-one entertainment set-up, it’s going to look sophisticated and stylish instead of a slapped together compromise.
Connectivity Options + Controls
BenQ offers multiple connectivity options. There are dual HDMI 2.0 ports, DisplayPort and a powered USB-C port. During testing, I connected a MacBook Air using DisplayPort, and a Google Pixelbook Go using USB-C. That USB-C port provides 60W of power, so it serves the dual purpose of charging devices.
The multiple inputs also let you connect multiple video sources — which is an important feature for an entertainment monitor.
On the back is a small joystick style controller for navigating through the considerable screen optimization menus. That bottom-mounted volume dial is a nice touch. Instead of having to wade through menus or feel around for a rocker switch, it’s satisfying easy to reach over and spin the dial.
Continuing the entertainment monitor theme, a remote control is also included in the box. You can sit back on a couch and tweak settings from there, just like a TV.
As mentioned, over the course of several months, my family really put this monitor through the wringer in terms of testing. It’s big, so it spent much of that time on our dining room table…
Before touching on specifics, the EW3280U’s HDRi technology needs to be discussed. HDRi is a proprietary feature to BenQ. The basic effect is that the onscreen picture is completely optimized for both the type of content, and the ambient room lighting.
How it gets there involves a lot of high-tech wizardry. There’s an ambient light sensor, a panel with HDR10 support, a high native contrast ratio and 95% DCI-P3 color gamut, plus some serious processing power. The end results were always fantastic, regardless of how bright or dim the room lighting was. With source content that was not mastered to support HDR, BenQ’s HDRi simulates the effect very convincingly — images always pop. You can manually tweak the picture, but I never felt the need to do so.
My accountant wife was working from home and we connected her MacBook Air for some extensive Excel spreadsheet action. Even though she was accustomed to a dual-monitor setup at her office, the 32-inch panel and 4K resolution was more than sufficient for productivity. In addition, the BeQ monitor’s suite of Eye-Care technology went a long way toward preventing eye fatigue. She found the tilt was sufficient, but did wish the stand supported rotating as well.
My teenagers connected their gaming laptops on several occasions. The EW3280U isn’t on par with the responsiveness of higher end dedicated gaming monitors (the maximum refresh rate is 60Hz compared to the 144Hz and up that many gaming monitor offer), but it does include AMD FreeSync support and a gaming mode. And there’s a lot to be said for the big screen view, along with the HDRi optimization going on. The experience is definitely superior to what you’ll get on a general purpose PC monitor.
Watching streaming video was another showcase for the EW3280U’s capabilities. 4K movies were eye-popping, with picture quality that rivalled my (considerably more expensive) 4K HDR TV. The monitor supports not just 4K video with HDR10 support, but also at a movie-friendly 24P cinematic frame rate.
In a dorm, office, or den where there is room for only one screen, the 32-inch BenQ EW3280U would make a great substitute for a TV. Just plug in the streamer of your choice…
It’s worth spiking out the BenQ EW3280U’s audio performance. Most computer monitors I’ve tested have been middling at best when it comes to audio — there’s a reason why so many companies make PC audio systems. However, the EW3280U is billed as an entertainment monitor and that raises expectations.
Happily BenQ is up to the task. A few years back, I reviewed the company’s treVolo S portable Bluetooth speaker. This was an impressive piece of audio technology, marrying a pair of traditional cone woofers with folding electrostatic panels. The company has incorporated its advanced audio capabilities in this monitor, which is equipped with an integrated 2.1 channel treVolo sound system. This consists of a pair of 2W drivers paired with a 5W woofer and its own DSP.
The results are quit impressive. Games, movies, and music are accompanied by crisp, clear sound with a satisfying degree of bass punching things up. There are settings optimized for different purposes, including Cinema, Game and Rock/Party.
It’s not surround sound and can’t compare to a good sound bar, but it’s also good enough that you may not feel the need to upgrade to an external sound system. There aren’t many computer monitors that can make that claim.
BenQ EW3280U Key Specs:
- 32-inch LED backlit IPS panel
- 3840 x 2160 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio
- 1000:1 native contrast
- 350 cd/m2 brightness in SDR Mode and 400 cd/m2 in HDR mode
- HDRi with integrated sensor
- 178 degree viewing angle, tilt -5 to 15 degrees
- 5ms response time, 60Hz refresh rate
- AMD FreeSync
- 24P cinematic frame rate
- 95% DCI-P3 color gamut
- 2x HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort, USB-C (60W powered)
- treVolo 2.1 channel audio with DSP, dual 2W speakers, 5W woofer
- Headphone jack
- Eye-Care including TUV-certified flicker-free, low blue light, and ePaper mode
- Metallic brown
- 28.6 x 20.6 x 8.0-inches, weighs 17.86 pounds
- VESA wall-mountable
- Includes remote control, cables
At $799.99, the BenQ EW3280U isn’t cheap, whether you think of it as a PC monitor or a TV. However, after having seen it in action on a near-daily basis over the past several months, it would be at the top of my list if I were in the market for a big screen monitor. This was a painful one to send back…
Yes, it’s more expensive than basic 4K monitors of a similar size. But it outperforms a “basic” 4K monitor in virtually every regard, from its very effective HDRi tech, to immersive 2.1 channel treVolo audio and AMD FreeSync support for gaming. Add in the eye-catching style and this monitor is tough to resist, despite the premium price tag.
And if you find yourself needing both a computer monitor and a reasonably-sized TV, then the BenQ EW3280U is even easier to justify.