BenQ is making a really strong push to compete with the big boys — Eizo and NEC— in the high end, high resolution, large gamut monitor market segment. And they are doing so by bringing very competitive pricing to the mix. Selling for (as of mid-December 2017) $1,099.00, the BenQ SW271, is a 27” (diagonal), 16:9 aspect ratio, 4K UHD monitor with an on-board color calibration chip. It is a powerful shot across the bows of the justly acclaimed, but very expensive, Eizo ColorEdge CG and NEC PA monitor series.
Pros and Cons
- Screen space – large but not too large.
- Large color gamut.
- 10-bit color depth capable if using DisplayPort or HDMI (with HDMI 2.0 cables).
- Easy to calibrate and profile.
- Ability to create 3D 8-bit or 14 bit LUT as well as matrix profiles when using BenQ’s Palette Master Element software.
- Hot keys puck for switching between sRGB and Adobe RGB (1998) emulations and black and white mode.
- Gamut Duo function allows you to do a side by side comparison of how an image is rendered in sRGB (1998) compares to Adobe RGB (1998) before you publish it or send it to a client.
- High resolution. 3840×2169 pixels (4K) in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
- A plethora of input options: Display Port, HDMI, and USB Type-C.
- Easy to set up and adjust for the right height and viewing angle.
- Price compared to the competition.
- No Thunderbolt 3.
- Price – while a heck of lot cheaper than similar sized and featured Eizo ColorEdge CG and NEC MultiSync PA series monitors, $1,099 isn’t chump change.
Hardware – I used the BenQ 27″ 4K Adobe RGB Color Management Photographer Monitor SW271 with a 27″ 5K iMac and a MacBook Pro; X-rite i1 Pro Display Colorimeter. Printer – Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 with various papers.
Software – BENQ Palette Master Element v1.2.6; Adobe Lightroom CC Classic; Adobe Photoshop CC 2018; Final Cut Pro X; PhotoMechanic 5; CaptureOne Pro 10; and Chromix ColorThink v2.3.1.
Tech specs taken from the website listing.
Product Color Gray
LCD Size (inch) 27”
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Resolution (max.) 3840×2160
Display Area 608.8 x 355.3
Brightness (typical) 350nits
Native Contrast (typical) 1000:1
Panel Type IPS
Viewing Angle (L/R/U/D) 178/178
Vertical Refresh Rate 60Hz
Response Time 5ms (GtG)
Display Colors 1.07B
Color Gamut 100% Rec. 709 / sRGB, 99% Adobe RGB, 93% DCI- P3
Color Bit 10 bits
Palette Master Element Support OS: Win 7 32/64bit or above, Mac OS X 10.6 and
Support Calibrator: X-Rite i1 Display Pro / i1 Pro / i1 Pro 2
Datacolor Spyder 4/5
Dimensions and Weight
Dimensions with Wall Mount (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base)
Net Weight (kg) 9.3
Net Weight (kg) (without stand) H: 6.3 Pivot: 6.4
Net Weight (kg) (with shading hood) H: 10.5 Pivot: 10.6
Gross Weight (kg0 16.4
Height Adjustment 150mm
Dimensions (HxWxD mm) (with shading hood)
Dimensions (HxWxD mm) (w/o shading hood)
Dimensions with Wall Mount (HxWxD mm) (w/o Base) (with shading hood)
Gamut Duo Yes
Hardware Calibration Yes
HDCP Yes (2.2)
Black Level Yes
Flicker-free Technology Yes
Color Temperature 5000˚K / 6500˚K / 9300˚K / User Mode
Video Format Support Yes
3D-Lut Yes (14 bits 3d LUT)
Delta E ≤2 (avg)
VESA wall mounting Yes
Slim Bezel Yes
Tilt (down/up) -5˚/20˚
Swivel (left/right) 45˚/45˚
OSD Hotkey Puck Yes
Card Reader (SD) Yes
K Locker Yes
OSD Language 18 Languages
Other Accessories Shading hood, QSG, Individual Calibration Report,
Signal Cable USB Type-C cable (1m), mDP to DP 1.4 cable (1.8m),
HDMI 2.0 cable (1.8m), USB 3.1cable (Gen 1) (1.8m)
USB Type-C™ 3.1 (Gen2, no power Delivery Function) x 1
USB 3.1(Gen1) x 2 (downstream), x1 (upstream) / 2.0 x1 (only for
HDMI 2.0 x 2
DP Input 1.4 x 1
Headphone Jack Yes
Power Supply (90-264 AC) Built in
Power Consumption (Power Saving Mode) 0.5W
Power Consumption (Off Mode) 0.5W
Power Consumption (base on Energy Star0 43.38W
Voltage Rating 90-264V
Mac Compatible Yes
Windows® 7 Compatible Yes
Windows® 8 Compatible Yes
Windows® 8.1 Compatible Yes
Windows® 10 Compatible Yes
Set up and Basics
When the BenQ SW271 arrived, its relative light weight surprised me. I am a nerd about how much thought a company gives to how to best pack their products for shipping. It is a balance between maximizing protection during transit while minimizing volume and, as it is un-packed, the customer’s first physical impression of the company they are doing business with. Opening up the box revealed the components laid out in a clearly logical fashion with the assembly instructions in the universal language of pictures. Included with the display is a rectangular base with rounded corners, the column that mounts to the base and holds the monitor, the power supply, a snap-together viewing hood, and the hotkeys puck. There are cables: one for each type of connection. Within 10 minutes I had the monitor on my desk, connected to my computer via DisplayPort, and powered up.
Because no two users are the same, the SW271 has movements to account for various set ups. The columns locks into a swiveling socket in the base which lets you pan the display up to 45 degrees to the left or right while the display itself has nearly six inches of vertical travel on the column. The display can tilt up 20 degrees or five degrees down. The entire assembly weighs 20.5 pounds. BenQ claims that the viewing angle for the matte surface panel is 178 degrees (in other words almost 90˚ to either the left or right of straight on viewing) and while that is technically true, at standard viewing distances (about 18 inches) in landscape orientation there is a noticeable color shift to the red on the opposite side of the screen once off-axis viewing angle exceeds approximately 5 degrees to either side.
With the display in landscape orientation, the input connections are at the left half of the monitor’s back side. The two powered USB 3.1 ports, along with the audio port, and the SD media slot are recessed on the left side of the display for easier access. Just below the lower right corner of the screen are the power button and six more buttons used for navigating the displays controls. There is also the Hotkeys Puck facilitating fast menu navigation or changes between Adobe RGB, sRGB, and Black and White modes.
At standard viewing distances, the (very) slightly less than 24 x 14-inch screen does a pretty good job of letting me see the entire screen without needing to scan from side to side to take it all in. Along with reducing glare from ambient lighting, the included but optional screen shielding hood (some assembly required) also reduces visual distractions around the screen.
Into the Colorful Weeds
After letting the SW271 warm up I set about profiling the SW271 using the latest version of BenQ’s Palette Master Element (PME) software. I’ll cut to the chase: onboard color calibration means you can calibrate and profile the monitor separately from the color management system used by your computer’s operating system. This offers not only more control but more profile building options, and the real reason to use PME is to create a 3D 14-bit LUT. You can use either an X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter or the i1 Pro spectrophotometers as hardware. If you are a Datacolor fan feel free to use a Spyder 4 or 5. My recommendation is to go with the i1 Display Pro.
Calibrating and profiling any display or printer is a three-step foxtrot: calibration, building the profile, and validating the profile. Calibration is where you set the standards. Profile building starts with a set of target values sent to the display which are then read by the colorimeter or spectrophotometer. The software then compares the two sets of values and creates either a matrix or a Look Up Table (LUT) of mathematical adjustments which are applied to the input signal so the colors displayed match or come close to matching the target values. Validation checks the results using another set of patches. The incremental difference or distance between the target and reproduced value is known as the ∆E value. Ideally the difference after profiling is at or below ∆1 as that is the smallest difference between two colors that a healthy human eye can perceive.
Along with being able to choose between a set of presets or creating a custom set of calibration values, and to choose either a small, medium, or large set of target values, Palette Master Element offers the choice between building a matrix, 8-bit LUT, or a 3D 14-bit LUT profile. According to X-rite1
- “A matrix profile is a mathematical model made up of the three primary colorants of the device and some simple tonal curves, referred to as a 3 x 3 matrix.
- A LUT-based profile contains much more information, consisting of a table of numbers that allows you to find an input value and its corresponding output value.
In plain language, this means that for most uses a matrix based profile works fine. The next step up in quality is a system which uses a separate LUT for the red, green, and blue channels. A 3D LUT produces smoother and more precise results with the adjustments needed for each target value mapped in a single three-dimensional mathematical space where red adjustment values are defined on one axis, green adjustment values on a second, and blue on a third – the same way a precise location on a globe is specified by its longitude, latitude and altitude. A 3D 14-bit LUT defines a color with 16,384×16,384×16,384 (RxGxB) (just shy of 4.4 trillion) degrees of precision. The only downside to choosing to create a 3D 14 bit LUT is that it takes longer to build – about nine and a half minutes – but since you only have to do this every 3-4 weeks the results are worth it.
I decided that my primary profile would be built in PME’s advanced mode to the following standards; D65 white point, Adobe RGB (1998) primaries, 160 cd/m2 (brightness), L* as tone curve, and a black point of Absolute Zero. I used these settings as they provide the best screen-to-print match for me. I set this as Calibration 1 with a 14-bit 3D LUT as the Profile Type and the large 123 patch target for maximum precision. Oddly, only the Display Settings can be saved (use a fully descriptive name to keep track of your profiles) to speed the process for future profiling sessions, but the Measurement settings (Calibration preset, Profile Distribution, Bradford ICC Profile Version, Profile Type, and Patch Set Size) have to be manually entered each time. BenQ’s claim is that the SW271 is capable of displaying 100% of the sRGB color space, 99% of the Adobe RGB (1998) gamut, and for videographers and movie lovers, 93% of the DCI-P3 color space. But simple percentage values do not tell the whole story. The truth is a bit more complex, mostly in a good way.
To check gamut coverage I use Chromix’s ColorThink v2.3.12 software to visualize the profile as both 2D and 3D models to various common color spaces, namely sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998), and for video work, DCI_P3, rec.709, and rec.2020.
sRGB – No question about it: both the 2D and 3D models confirmed that the SW271 capable of producing a far larger gamut than sRGB.
Adobe RGB (1998) – According to my measurements the SW271 exceeded BenQ’s claim of 99% coverage of the Adobe RGB (1998) gamut. The 3-D model revealed that only a tiny bit of this color space’s extremely saturated green gamut would be clipped by this profile.
For color grading video work the story is a bit more complicated.
Rec. 709 – Except for some extremely bright saturated yellows, using my calibration settings the SW271 easily contains all of the color gamut in the very common Rec. 709 standard.
DCI-P3 – If your video has a lot of highly saturated reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and blues, based on my tests I’d be careful about doing color grading using the SW271, but for general work it will be fine.
Like the BenQ SW320 Pro 32″ Monitor Chris reviewed in September 2017, the SW271 is an excellent value in a very high-end monitor. I liked it so much that during my review I decided to use it as my primary display instead of my Late 2014 model 27″ 5K Retina iMac’s display. The 27” 5K Retina iMac offers higher resolution in the same screen area but the SW271’s larger color gamut won me over for both photo, processing and video editing.