Setting up the monitor was really easy thanks to well-positioned ports and a portrait rotation mode that allowed us easy access to the power, USB 3.0 and audio ports. The tilt was also handy for connecting our keyboard and line in. All up, from the time we opened the box to the time we had the screen on the desk ready to go was about 10 minutes and we took our time. Both this and the BenQ XL2730Z are ridiculously easy to assemble – which is important because nobody wants to man-handle a brand new 27″ or 32″ display just to get it on a desk.
Then we sat the BL3201PT beside the 27″ XL2730Z that we were also testing and it made the 27″ display look small – in retrospect, we should have tried to fit a 24″ on the desk as well for comparison. For the record, that is a full sized keyboard in front of the BL3201PT display on the left below. (Don’t mind the cables… we had time and space constraints)
As soon as we fired up the ASUS Maximus test bench with our MSI GTX 980 and loaded the desktop on the BL3201PT we had a “Woooooaaaaw” moment. It’s hard to know where to start in terms of our first impressions. The colour reproduction, 178 degree viewing angle, crispness of the resolution and sheer size of the panel seemed to come together all at once and we just sat there for a second speechless. Static 4K images were amazing to look at and the 4K promo videos we tested also looked impressive. General desktop use, PhotoShop, internet browsing were a completely different experience to 1920×1080 or even 2560×1440. There is so much desktop space that at first, we didn’t know what to do with it. This really could replace a dual screen setup for many people – myself included.
From a productivity perspective, the screen real estate is invaluable and you really can make the most out of a powerful workstation running multiple applications at the same time on the same screen without needing to alt-tab or run a multi-screen setup. We liked the USB 3.0 hub with 3 ports on the rear, 2 ports on the right side and SD card reader built into the right side of the bezel. There is also a headphone jack as well to keep desktop clutter to a minimum.
Gaming at 4K
Gaming was always going to be interesting on the BL3201PT because 3840×2160 is a lot of pixels for a GPU to pump out at 60FPS and for the latest titles with all the eye candy on, you’re going to have to spend more on graphics cards than you will on the monitor. The BL3201PT is also rated at 4ms (GtG) response time which will immediately be an issue for those gamers used to the faster TN panels.
Most FPS games are going to struggle at UHD resolution and you also need to remember that there are limitations for HDMI and DVI at the BL3201PT native resolution in that 30Hz is the ceiling. DisplayPort is the answer here and was how we tested the screen with our graphics cards. Despite our concerns over the graphics processing grunt required, the MSI GTX980 Gaming 4G performed well enough at modest settings in most games and high settings in a few. Games like Counterstrike, Supreme Commander 2, Civilisation V, War Thunder, World of Warships, Titanfall, COD Advanced Warfare and X3: Terran Conflict looked amazing at native resolution. Battlefield 4 looked great but the framerate suffered with all the eye candy on. As expected, the 2GB graphics cards were regularly handicapped so spend extra and get as much video memory as you can afford for 4K.
We fired up some RTS titles that could make use of the 3840×2160 resolution and were gobsmacked by the experience. Rise of Nations, Supreme Commander 2 and Civilization V looked absolutely stunning and being able to zoom out meant that we could see more of what was going on. The trade-off was that we were more reliant on hot keys to do build and attack because moving the mouse down to the unit command icons took longer given the extra distance/pixels that we had to cover. In an RTS, you do tend to scan the screen looking for units, items and pathways so on a large 32″ display like this, it’s just like having a bigger workspace and the large real estate and more detailed textures work well for this genre. If you are an obsessive RTS gamer, this is very likely to be the monitor you have been waiting for.
X3 Terran Conflict felt like a new game at 3840×2160 despite being one of the oldest space sims we had in the steam library. The 32″ panel and sharp resolution really boosted the immersion and if the game itself wasn’t such a time killer, I could have started from scratch in it again.
From a practical point of view, First Person Shooters on a 32″ UHD display take a little getting used to in that it’s hard to know where to look and you need to sit back a bit because your eyes have to scan more of the panel constantly looking for threats in ‘twitch’ gaming. The textures at 3840×2160 look fantastic and it’s easy to get distracted by the eye candy – which can very quickly get you killed in-game. I found that although both my COD:AW and Battlefield 4 KDRs (Kill-Death Ratio) dropped when using the BL3201PT, dying looked pretty good just the same.
My biggest regret was that we didn’t have Homeworld Remastered in the Steam Library at the time of testing.
The BL3201PT comes well protected in a large box – in our case it was just as well because the courier didn’t seem to respect the monitor as much as we would have liked. The box arrived with some visible wear and (literally) tear but the packing kept the monitor inside safe and sound. Unpacking the monitor was straight forward in that we were able to assemble the stand, attach it to the monitor whilst it was still in its protective foam shell and then place it on the desk where we unpeeled the rest of the protective shipping protection.
Build Quality is really important to us and the BL3201PT has it in excess. We couldn’t find anything ‘cheap’ about the display and for $1200+, this is a good thing. The stand is heavy and stable, it rotates well and also has a nice recess for the alternate menu controller device. We couldn’t fault the finish of the stand either, the black brushed aluminium finish gave it a ‘premium’ feel.
The tilt and rotate mechanisms were firm enough for the screen to stay in position whilst still remaining easy to adjust with 1-2 fingers. The height adjustment makes adjusting the height a simple matter of just nudging the screen up or down. We didn’t see the monitor move or droop at all after making an adjustment so in our experience, the only time the angle or height changed was when we made a deliberate effort to change it. There are 100 x 100 VESA mounting holes on the back but it would be a crime not to use the included stand.
The screen quality in our unit was great and at about 50-60cm from the screen, we couldn’t see the pixels. We also checked the display over and didn’t find any dead / bright pixels. Colour and brightness looked to be uniform across the whole display and from a standard user perspective our sample was fine. Brightness and contrast out of the box on standard settings felt right and we didn’t see the need to make any adjustments or ‘calibrate’ the display. We looked for backlight bleed but couldn’t detect anything untoward.
The non-reflective coating is less ‘matte’ than other coatings we’ve seen and didn’t appear grainy or ‘dirty’ like some other anti-glare screen coatings we’ve seen on other displays. This shot (below) from directly in front with flash shows the reflective properties of the screen. In terms of balance between reflections and image clarity, we thought this was spot on.
We found that even with a window in the background, the BL3201PT didn’t reflect too much of the natural light and obviously significantly less than the glossy coating that we regularly see paired with other IPS panels on some other Designer grade monitors. Ideally, you should avoid light sources directly behind you in general but the BenQ BL3201PT is more forgiving of a well-lit environment.
Speaker quality was really surprising – I usually game with headphones on and use a retired home theatre set of speakers for my normal desktop. The BL3201PT has a pair of 5W speakers so I wasn’t expecting much but these performed well enough that I could easily use them instead of a dedicated set of smaller desktop speakers, saving space and keeping my workspace less cluttered.
The user interface with controller puck/orb made switching modes or settings really easy, especially when it came to volume. We really liked the USB, audio and SD card reader connectivity as it was highly functional and positioned perfectly for day to day use. SD cards are used a bit here and the card reader was a hit – given that the display is aimed at designers and other professionals (Photoshoppers etc), the SD card and USB connectivity on the right side is likely to be appreciated by owners across the board. In addition to being functional, the designers have implemented the connectivity in a way to reduce and control the desk clutter which always makes for a neater and less chaotic working (or gaming) environment.