Benq s switch. BenQ XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730)
BenQ XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730)
BenQ’s XL series is revered the world over for providing an exceptionally fluid and responsive gaming experience. Marketed as being built ‘for gamers, by gamers’ models such as the XL2420Z are favourites amongst competitive gamers. Even users who would consider themselves non-competitive gamers, but who like a bit of multiplayer action, enjoy the connected feeling that these monitors offer. But for some people the 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) resolution isn’t quite enough. For these individuals the 27” BenQ XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730), reviewed herein, may just heed their call. The resolution has been bumped up to 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) whilst a number of new features have been added. The most exciting of these is undoubtedly the use of Adaptive-Sync and therefore support for AMD FreeSync.
The monitor uses a TN panel from AU Optronics which produces colours using 8-bits per subpixel without dithering. The resolution is 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) and the refresh rate is 144Hz (variable with Adaptive-Sync). The monitor boasts a 1ms grey to grey response time which is undoubtedly achieved on a select few transitions using the ‘AMA Premium’ setting (which isn’t exactly going to be ‘artifact free’). Whichever way you cut it, this is designed to be a fast monitor specifically tailored to gaming.
For your reading convenience the key ‘talking points’ of the specification have been highlighted in blue below.
The spec. sheet does not make it clear whether an FRC stage (dithering) is used on this monitor, but BenQ have told us that it should be using a true 8-bit panel. We observed what appeared to be a small amount of dithering in places as mentioned in our analysis using Lagom, but this was nowhere near what 6-bit FRC TN panels would usually display.
Features and aesthetics
From the front the monitor adopts a fairly Smart and stylish look. The matte black plastic bezels are around 17mm (0.67 inches) thick at all edges. The stand neck has a red cable tidy ring which is either fully visible, partially visible or hidden from the front depending on the stand height and seating position. The screen surface is regular (medium) matte anti-glare as explored later.
Towards the bottom of the right bezel there are pressable buttons to control the OSD (On Screen Display) menu system and power state of the monitor. There is also an illuminated power symbol on the power button which indicates the power state. A constant white glow indicates the monitor is on, which can be intensified or disabled in the OSD according to preferences. When the monitor is in standby this glows dark amber. There is also a remote control called an ‘S-Switch Arc’ that provides intuitive navigation through the OSD and quick activation of 3 user-configured ‘Gamer’ presets. The remote sits in a recess to the far right of the stand base, with grippy rubber feet at the bottom of the remote keeping it in place. The remote attaches to the monitor by Mini USB cable and can be placed in a more convenient location. The cable allows you to place the remote up to 710mm (28 inches) or so in front of the screen.
The following video takes a look at the functionality of both control systems as well as the menu itself.
From the side the monitor is reasonably slender, without compromising on build quality or adjustability. It is around 25.40mm (1 inch) thick at thinnest point but protrudes out considerably further to around 80mm (3.15 inches) excluding the stand. There are some very nice features at the left side of the screen. From top to bottom in the image below, these are; a retractable headphone holder (‘hook’), 2 USB 3.0 downstream ports, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 3.5mm microphone jack. The second image (below) shows the headphone holder in action. It is an incredibly simple but useful addition. Although it is also nice to see a headphone jack and microphone jack here, we tested the headphone jack and found the sound quality inferior to when it was connected directly to the sound card. So we didn’t use this.
From the side you can also see the very robust fully adjustable stand. This really is very solidly built and includes an aluminium alloy coating on the stand neck, providing a really high quality (and weighty) look and feel. Ergonomic flexibility includes; tilt adjustment (5° forwards and 20° backwards), height adjustment (140mm or 5.51 inches), swivel (45° left and 45° right) and pivot (rotation 90° clockwise into portrait, as shown below). At its lowest height the bottom of the screen is ~47mm (1.85 inches) above the desk surface. In this position the top of the monitor is ~419mm (16.50 inches) above the desk surface with an additional ~35mm (1.38 inches) above this for the carrying handle.
There are some useful indicators to help you adjust the monitor or indeed multiple monitors of this type according to preferences, as shown in the following images. The first image shows the swivel adjustment markings. You rotate the outer ring so that the inward-facing red triangle corresponds to your desired swivel position. You then swivel the monitor to this position, so the other red triangle lines up. If nothing else this makes it easier to see when the screen is facing directly forwards. The second image shows a tilt indicator, which is quite straightforward. The third image shows the height adjustment scale with the number of cm above minimum height that the screen is raised. Note the small red blob on the ‘screen-stand junction’ is the marker point for this. The big red pointer is slid by the user to mark a preferred height.
The rear of the XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730) shows off the broad aluminium surface of the stand neck. There is a carry handle at the top of this and a dark red glossy plastic cable tidy ring towards the bottom. The screen itself uses glossy black plastic centrally and matte black plastic elsewhere. Towards the bottom right there is a Kensington lock socket. The stand attaches by 100mm VESA and can be removed using a quick-release button beneath the attachment point. That leaves 100x100mm VESA holes for you to use.
The ports face downwards, or in other words are down-firing. These are shown in the picture below, with the exception of the AC power input (internal power converter) which is much further to the left; 3.5mm mic jack, Mini USB (for S-Switch), Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, DP ‘1.2a’ (with Adaptive-Sync), VGA (D-Sub) and USB 3.0 upstream.
The ports face downwards, or in other words are down-firing. These are shown in the picture below, with the exception of the AC power input (internal power converter) which is much further to the left; 3.5mm mic jack, Mini USB (for S-Switch), Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, DP ‘1.2a’ (with Adaptive-Sync), VGA (D-Sub) and USB 3.0 upstream.
Subpixel layout and screen surface
The monitor uses a medium matte screen surface, which means it has a moderately roughened outer polarising layer. As explored in this article, this causes the light emitted from the monitor to be diffused somewhat which affects both the clarity and potential vibrancy of the image. This contrasts with IPS-type models that share the 2560 x 1440 resolution as they now use light matte screen surfaces, which some users would refer to as ‘semi glossy’. The XL2730Z has a slightly grainier look to the image by comparison, although fortunately it doesn’t give you the same smeared or ‘sand-papered’ look that some stronger/heavier matte surfaces can give, such as those used on older IPS panels.
The panel uses an RGB (Red, Green and Blue) stripe subpixel layout, shown above, which is the most common layout. This is the sort of subpixel layout that modern operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and MacOS are designed to handle correctly by default. MacOS users therefore shouldn’t experience fringed text and neither should Windows users, unless they have previously configured ClearType for a monitor with a different subpixel layout. You should feel free to run through the ClearType wizard to further optimise text according to taste regardless of this.
Testing the presets
The XL2730Z includes a range of different ‘Picture Mode’ presets; ‘FPS1’, ‘FPS2’, ‘RTS’, ‘Gamer 1’, ‘Gamer 2’, ‘Gamer 3’, ‘Movie’ and ‘Standard’. Rather than looking at each setting individually, we will pick a few setting combinations which we feel are of most interest or most appealing. We will also be discussing some of the additional modes and settings after the table. As explored in the OSD video the ‘Gamer’ presets (1-3) simply allow you to save and easily recall your favourite setting combinations. Unlike on most previous ‘XL’ series monitors, the full gamut of customisation options is available in each of these presets. This is a very nice thing to see, especially the ability to disable the black equaliser if you prefer an accurate image representation and lack of ‘unintended detail’ over artificially elevated visibility.
Our test system used a Club3D Radeon R9 290 royalAce FreeSync-compatible GPU connected via DP 1.2a. Windows 8.1 was used with the monitor in its ‘Plug and Play’ state – no additional drivers or image profiles were loaded as the monitor has everything it needs to function normally built into its firmware. The readings in the table below were taken using a Spyder4Elite colorimeter, with accompanying observations made ‘by eye’ using a range of applications. Unless otherwise stated assume default settings were used at a refresh rate of 144Hz. We also connected the monitor up to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 via DP 1.2 and HDMI 2.0 and observed similar image quality (including the ability to run 144Hz at the native resolution for both connections). Obviously there was no support for AMD FreeSync when using the Nvidia GPU. As noted in the previous section, DP 1.2 and HDMI 2.0 are the only connections to support 144Hz at the native resolution of this monitor, with other connections limited to 60Hz natively.
In the table above you can see that there are a range of presets and other settings available on the BenQ – and indeed there were many that weren’t mentioned. As usual the monitor comes set to ‘FPS1’ in the factory, providing an image that makes your eyes bleed and gives you an overwhelming urge to turn the screen off again. There is nothing remotely accurate or in our view pleasing about the horrendous colours displayed. The same can be said for the ‘FPS2’ preset and ‘RTS’ presets, which are much the same as on previous XL Series monitors. Feel free to refer to our previous reviews for information on how much of an eyesore they are.
There are a number of other settings that are quite ‘interesting’ on this monitor. There is a setting called ‘Black eQualizer 2.0’, which can be set in intensity between 0-20 in single unit increments. We couldn’t compare this to ‘Black eQualizer 1.0’ as we didn’t have an older XL Series model to hand, but this essentially functions in a similar way. It modifies the gamma curve to make certain shades lighter than they should be. At a low setting it works on the darkest shades (other than black), increasing visibility in dark areas by lightening the near-black shades. As you increase the setting it works its ‘magic’ on increasingly light shades. In competitive gaming this can be useful to give the player an edge at spotting enemies in dark areas, for example, but it also gives an artificial and sometimes patchy look to the image, spoils atmosphere and reveals unintended detail. We love that you can actually disable this feature entirely in the ‘Standard’ preset now and in fact have access to all of the features in every preset.
Another interesting feature is ‘Color Vibrance’, which increases or decreases the saturation of a broad range of shades. Again this is set between 0-20 in single unit increments. It doesn’t affect the colour gamut, so it can’t actually empower the monitor to display shades that are more saturated than its backlight will allow. What it does do, though, is to ‘stretch’ shades out closer to the edges of its colour gamut so that they appear more saturated than they should. This is very similar to the ‘Digital Vibrance’ control that can be accessed in the Nvidia Control Panel, but can of course be used by AMD users as well and is easy to alter ‘on the fly’ whilst running a game full screen. It is set to ‘10’ by default and if you increase this this extra saturation becomes readily apparent. Things quickly begin looking quite artificial and because naturally saturated shades towards the edge of the gamut can’t become more saturated, the variety of shades is negatively impacted. Some users may like this setting on certain game titles and it is there if you want to use it, but be aware of its limitations and use it sparingly. You can also decrease this which starts giving a washed out look all the way down to presenting everything in monochrome – which is quite funky and could be useful in some scenarios.
There is also a ‘Low Blue Light’ (LBL) setting which can be set between 0-10 in single unit increments. As explored in the table, this isn’t actually very effective even when set to its maximum value. You are much better off making manual adjustments to the blue colour channels, and if you want quick access to your custom LBL setting, saving it as one of the ‘Gamer’ modes. We certainly found the ability to store different settings as ‘Gamer1’, ‘Gamer2’ and ‘Gamer3’ and quickly recall them with the S-Switch very useful indeed. You might have one lot for normal use, one for the ‘Blur Reduction’ (BR) mode where you will likely want to use a higher brightness and perhaps some LBL settings. Having mentioned ‘Blur Reduction’, which is something we explore later on, we should at least note the basic effect it has on the image. The idea is that it strobes (‘flickers’) the backlight on and off at a frequency matching the refresh rate of the display. You can activate this function with the monitor set to a refresh rate of 60Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz or 144Hz. We documented the slight flickering and obvious dimming (but still useable brightness) yielded at 120Hz and 144Hz in the table. At 60Hz it actually strobes the monitor at 120Hz, which is good because CRT-like flicker at 60Hz is quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately there is obvious crosstalk, with apparent ghosting both preceding and proceeding the object – it just doesn’t look right at all. At 100Hz the BR mode again strobes at 120Hz, giving a ridiculous amount of stuttering that renders the mode completely unusable. We will therefore only be focusing on this setting at 120Hz and 144Hz later on in the review.
Often with these ‘XL Series’ models we find that the image can be improved somewhat by tweaking on the OSD, but really you’re always left wanting more. Yes there are limitations related to the panel type and screen surface which are explored above and throughout the review, but even with these limitations in mind there is clearly more potential left to be untapped. This monitor was a refreshing change. On our unit we simply lowered the brightness, set it to ‘Standard’ and whacked it into ‘Gamma 5’. The white point was already quite decent without any obvious tints one way or the other and indeed in this mode the gamma tracking in the centre of the screen was excellent, as shown below.
Gamma test settings
Having gamma tracking this well (in the centre of the screen) and being able to entirely turn off the ‘Black eQualizer’ in ‘Standard’ mode is something we as reviewers hugely respect. We are very happy that BenQ have made this decision and we’re sure users will see the benefits. For our test settings, which are explored below, we also made a couple of tweaks to colour channels to bring the white point even closer to the ‘6500K’ target. With the ability to gain this sort of setup with just OSD tweaks and given inter-unit variation (at least with regards to colour temperature) we will not be providing any ICC profiles for this model. As explored in that article they aren’t really designed for gaming anyway, whereas this monitor certainly is.
For our ‘Test Settings’ we opted for the ‘Standard’ setting with some tweaks to the gamma setting and colour channels. As mentioned previously this yielded a well-balanced image with good richness – not the usual eyesore we’ve seen on many similar models. Please remember that individual units can differ and these settings should only be used as a guide. Feel free to make your own adjustments, this model certainly gives you a lot of flexibility to do so. Any setting not mentioned here was left at default. We’ve also included the ‘AMA’ setting we preferred when testing the monitor.
Brightness= 36 (according to preferences and lighting)
Color Temperature= User Mode
When testing ‘Blur Reduction’ brightness was set to ‘100’ and refresh rate was set to both 144Hz and 120Hz. Other settings remained as above.
When connected to a FreeSync capable GPU (via DP) with a compatible driver installed, changing the AMA setting didn’t do anything. This occurs regardless of whether FreeSync is enabled in Catalyst Control Centre. We explore this later on and also note that it is fixed on newer revisions of the monitor.
A suggestion for relaxing evening viewing
As we found the ‘Low Blue Light’ (LBL) feature of the monitor quite disappointing, we will also make a suggestion for the kinds of settings you could use to yield a more effective blue light reduction yourself. As above, the monitor was set to 144Hz. Any monitor setting not mentioned here was left at default. We used these for our own viewing pleasure later in the evening but not for any of our testing.
Brightness= 36 (according to preferences and lighting)
Color Temperature= User Mode
Contrast and brightness
We used a KM CS-200 luminance meter to measure the brightness of white and black using a range of monitor settings. From these values a static contrast ratio was calculated. The table below shows these results and calculations with the highest white luminance, lowest black luminance and peak contrast ratio highlighted in black. The results where our test settings were employed are highlighted in blue. With the exception of our test settings, any settings not specifically noted in the table were left at default.
The average contrast ratio in ‘Standard’ mode with only brightness adjusted was a fairly respectable 952:1. The contrast dropped only very slightly to 906:1 following the adjustments made to our test setting, which is reasonably good. Activating ‘Blur Reduction’ or changing the ‘Gamma’ setting had no significant negative impact on contrast. The factory defaults, aside from being an eyesore, dropped the contrast ratio to 786:1. That was an even more significant drop off in contrast than observed with our custom ‘Low Blue Light’ setting where 828:1 was recorded. The maximum brightness of the screen in our testing was 366 cd/m, with colour channels all at ‘100’. The minimum white luminance we recorded in this table was 41 cd/m², giving a pleasing luminance adjustment range of 325 cd/m² with quite a low minimum.
There is also a ‘Dynamic Contrast’ function which can be activated independently of any other settings (apart from ‘Brightness’ or ‘Contrast’). This allows the backlight of the monitor to adjust its intensity according to the level of light and dark on the screen at any given time. The backlight is controlled as a single ‘Backlight Unit’ (BLU) and therefore can’t account for mixtures of light and dark on the screen. You can set the ‘Dynamic Contrast’ between ‘0’ (off) and ‘5’ (full effect), but even at a setting of ‘1’ we found the image far too bright unless very dark content was being displayed. We’re not fans of this sort of setting at all, which we make no secret of in all of our reviews, but it is there if you want to abuse your eyes with it.
PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)
As advertised this monitor is considered ‘flicker-free’, as it does not use PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) to regulate its backlight brightness. DC (Direct Current) modulation is used instead, at all brightness levels. That will come as welcome news to those who are sensitive to flickering or other PWM-related effects or are looking to help minimise visual fatigue. The exception to this ‘flicker-free’ state of the backlight occurs if ‘Blur Reduction’ is enabled, is this causes the backlight to strobe (flicker) in time with the refresh rate. The nature of this flickering is not the same as PWM, but some users may find it uncomfortable nonetheless.
Whilst observing a black screen in a dark room, we could see a very small amount of backlight bleed and a touch of clouding at the left of the screen. You can see from the image below, which was taken from 70cm to represent a typical viewing distance, that the screen is rather uniform when displaying black. Individual units can vary in this regard, but it was good to see our sample perform like this.
From a normal viewing distance (anything over about 30cm in fact) there is no ‘glow’ evident either, which is quite different to what you’d see on your typical IPS model. There is a silvery grey and golden sheen which appears if you view the monitor from an angle, shown in the viewing angles video later on.
To assess the uniformity of lighter colours, a Spyder4Elite was used. This measured the luminance of 9 equidistant white quadrants running from the top left to the bottom right of the screen. The following table shows the percentage deviation between each quadrant and the brightest point recorded as well as the luminance at each quadrant.
Luminance uniformity table
The luminance uniformity of the monitor was very good overall. The brightest point on the screen was ‘quadrant 4’ just left of centre (165.9 cd/m²). The maximum deviation from this occurred at ‘quadrant 3’ at the top right of the screen (147.2 cd/m² which is 11% dimmer than the brightest point). Elsewhere the screen was 2-9% dimmer than the brightest recorded point, with the central region a mere 2% dimmer (163.2 cd/m²). It is worth remembering that individual units can differ when it comes to all aspects of uniformity. Being a TN panel, the viewing angle also affects perceived brightness at different points of the screen. That doesn’t change the fact that having strong backlight uniformity as we see here is an advantage, however. For those who prefer a graphical representation, the contour map below represents the deviation with darker greys representing lower luminance (greater deviation) than lighter greys.
Luminance uniformity map
We will not be providing any analysis of colour temperature uniformity on this screen using a colorimeter. Analysing colour temperature variation on a monitor with TN panel using a colorimeter is of limited use. This faces perfectly perpendicular to the screen at zero distance, whereas your eyes subtend different sections of the screen at different angles. This gives perceived shifts which simply aren’t reflected by the colorimeter’s readings and can largely nullify much of the variation that the colorimeter may pick up.
Contrast in games and movies
The contrast performance was quite strong on Battlefield 4 (BF4). Unlike on many earlier ‘XL’ models and many gaming monitors more broadly, there were no ‘artificial gamma enhancements’. There was no ‘IPS glow’ to get in the way, either. Both of these factors meant that dark areas had an appropriate level of detail overall and created a good atmosphere without a flooded look. Shades did lose some saturation further down the screen, again due to TN viewing angle restrictions. Bright shades stood out nicely in their dark surroundings, although they also showcased a fair degree of graininess due to the screen surface.
As with BF4, Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA V) had an appropriate atmosphere overall in dark scenes. There was the same ‘fading’ of near black shades that occurs on even the best TN panels However; there was no unwanted gamma enhancement going on, nor any patchy ‘oil slick’ looks due to unintended detail in dark areas. Visibility in such areas was still good, though, with a pleasing but appropriate level of detail. Again this was maintained peripherally as well due to the lack of any sort of IPS-specific glow. Bright elements contrasted well, for example car headlights and street lights shining at night. Such elements and other lighter colours such as the sky and light building textures did look somewhat grainy due to the screen surface, but fortunately not to the extent that they would on some older models.
Dirt 3 provided a similar contrast experience. Brighter shades lacked the smoothness that they’d have on lighter screen surfaces but stood out well amongst darker surroundings. The level of detail in dark areas was good. Leather textures on car dashboards, the underside of wheel arches and tire tread patterns remained visible even in the bottom corners of the screen. This is a region of the screen that the typical ‘glow’ of an IPS panel would affect and cause a loss of such details.
On the Blu-ray movie Skyfall the contrast performance was pleasing. There was no noticeable loss of detail nor any artificially enhance ‘flooded’ look. As a result, things looked quite atmospheric and appropriate. Bright elements such as lights shining through darkness did stand out quite well, although such bright elements lacked the ‘pop’ and smoothness seen on some screen surfaces. The black depth was obviously not as good as on VA panel types, either, but it was still respectable enough to provide decent atmosphere and good distinction between light and dark.
Lagom contrast tests
We used some Lagom tests to further analyse contrast performance and highlight some weaknesses that may not be obvious during other testing. The following observations were made.
- Performance on the contrast gradients was excellent, with good brightness distinctions for all bands.
The BenQ XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730)’s colour gamut (red triangle) is compared with the reference sRGB space (green triangle) in the image below. As you can see, it offers very good coverage of the sRGB colour space with virtually no under-coverage in this 2D representation. You can also see a little extension beyond sRGB in some regions, such as green on orange on this diagram. This allows the monitor to provide a little extra vibrancy for some shades without going to the extremes of a wide gamut model.
Colour in games and movies
On BF4 the monitor produced a good palette of rich-looking colours. Natural environments had a good range of fairly deep and lush-looking greens, minty greens and earthy browns. Some of this richness was lost further down the screen, making rich brown earth look more of a clay-like colour and leaving some deeper greens looking a bit lacklustre compared to further up the screen. There were some nice vibrant oranges, reds and blues in amongst flames and fires – which are of course an important part of this game. The screen surface did hold back the ‘pop’ a bit, however.
The generally rich colours also worked nicely on GTA V. The bustling and vibrant city of Los Santos looked just that – quite vibrant overall. There was again a loss of saturation further down the screen. This was evident when observing a colourful vehicle and driving along normally in third person view, where it is displayed near the bottom of the screen. If you get out and observe that same vehicle, or shift the camera so it is displayed further up the screen you can see this comparatively less saturated look. The colours of vehicles certainly looked inviting overall, though, and were not in danger of looking ‘washed out’. There were some strong bright greens, reds and yellows shown on various car paintjobs and indeed other objects throughout the city. There were also some fairly lush deep greens of vegetation, particularly towards the top and centre of the screen.
The colour reproduction also worked well on Dirt 3. Environments looked rich and natural on the whole, with a decent variety of earthy browns and pastel greens. There were some fair lush greens as well, although the loss of saturation towards the bottom of the screen affected both the vibrancy of these shades as well as the variety of closely matching shades. There were some good strong vibrant colours visible on car liveries, despite such elements lacking the same ‘pop’ that they’d have on a screen with a lighter screen surface. Highlighter greens, bright yellows and some light blues stood out particularly well.
On the Blu-ray of Skyfall, the colour representation was largely as it should be. Environments throughout the film and the skin tones of various characters showed appropriate saturation overall. The black bars of the film at the top and bottom, which is presented in 2.40:1 (16:9 letterbox), mean that the images is kept free from the more extreme saturation shifts. The screen surface certainly restrained the ‘pop’ of some of the more vibrant colours in the film, such as the neon lights of Shanghai, but they were still presented with respectable depth and a fairly vivid look.
We also tested the Blu-ray of Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder to assess colour performance. Overall colours on this title were rich with good depth and a vivid look, where appropriate. There were some really good deep purples, neon greens and bright pinks (amongst others). The weaknesses in consistency related to the panel technology were also readily apparent, however. This title features large areas of individual shades, which have an apparent saturation gradient (appearing deeper and somewhat oversaturated towards the top of the screen, quite correct centrally and under-saturated towards the bottom. This effect meant that subtle different shades lost their ‘identity’, although the monitor did still present some of the pastel shades on the film in an appropriate way for the most part.
To analyse colour consistency and the influence of viewing angle oin a more specific way we used Lagom’s tests for viewing angle. We made the following observations from a viewing distance of 70cm, although for most ‘normal’ viewing distances (50-100cm) observations will be similar.
- The purple block appeared lilac at the top with an obvious pink hue further down and towards the sides.
We calculated input lag using a utility called SMTT 2.0. This is used alongside a sensitive camera to compare the latency of the XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730) with a range of monitors where the latency is known. Using this method we calculated 3.3ms (
Perceived blur (pursuit photography)
In this article we explore the concept of perceived blur and how it is influenced not only by the pixel responsiveness of the monitor but also the movement of our own eyes. We then go on to introduce the concept of ‘pursuit photography’, which can capture both of these aspects. This contrasts with the usual static photography that we’ve used in reviews up until now that will only show the influence of pixel responsiveness. Using the pursuit photography method described in the article, just prior to the conclusion, we captured the images below. The middle row (medium cyan background) for the UFO Motion Test for ghosting was used with the test running at 960 pixels per second with the UFO moving across the screen from left to right. The ‘reference screen’ shown in the final column is a Samsung S27A750D set to full brightness and to a response time mode that provides optimal pixel responsiveness for each refresh rate, as noted in the article. The remaining images are all taken from the XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730), set to a range of different AMA (Advanced Motion Acceleration) response time settings and with ‘Blur Reduction’ enabled for the last two rows of the image.
The ‘Blur Reduction’ mode is a strobe backlight feature designed to significantly reduce eye movement and hence reduce perceived blur. This is actually ‘Blur Reduction 2.0’ which provides two adjustment options that weren’t available through the OSD of the original ‘Z’ series models. There is ‘Intensity’ which adjusts the ‘on’ period of the strobe so that the image is brighter at the expense of motion clarity (longer ‘on’ period) or dimmer with further improved motion clarity (shorter ‘on’ period). There is also an ‘Area’ setting which changes where on the screen strobe crosstalk will appear. We were happy to use the factory defaults for our testing.
At 60Hz, shown in the top row, you can see a relatively high level of blur. This is largely accounted by eye movement, as illustrated by the reference screen where this is the only real influence. If you compare the reference with ‘AMA = Off’ you can see a moderate degree of additional ‘blur’, which is actually trailing caused by slower than optimal pixel response times. With ‘AMA = High’ the pixel responses are sped up so that this is largely eliminated and things look more like the reference. There is a faint hint of overshoot (inverse ghosting) with a slight shadow behind the UFO. With ‘AMA = Premium’ very heavy acceleration is used, introducing obvious overshoot which is visible here as an inky trail behind the UFO cockpit and a halo (bright) trail behind the UFO body.
At 120Hz, shown in the second row, there is a significant reduction in perceived blur. The reference screen shows this very nicely, with no noticeable trailing and very little overshoot – again, perceived blur from eye movement is the key factor here. With ‘AMA = Off’ you can see that the UFO itself is sharper and the details within it (such as the alien) appear less elongated. There is some trailing behind it, though, which is due to slower than optimal pixel responses. With ‘AMA = High’ the conventional trailing is as good as eliminated and things look closer to the reference. There is a bit of a ‘vapour trail’ behind the object which is a bit of overshoot. With ‘AMA = Premium’ there is obvious overshoot, with a bold inverted trail accompanying the UFO. At 144Hz, shown in the third row, things are really very similar to at 120Hz. There is no 144Hz reference here as the reference screen is limited to a 120Hz refresh rate. You only gain an extra 24fps and therefore the potential improvement in perceived blur is extremely limited, especially when comparing 60Hz to 120Hz. When using the monitor outside of this test we actually found the slight increase in ‘connectedness’ (i.e. how things ‘felt’) to be a small but noticeable improvement, whereas by way of motion blur things were very similar as shown here.
The fourth and fifth rows show the results with the monitor set to strobe at 120Hz and 144Hz, respectively. If you look at the reference image, with the S27A750D set to its ‘Frame Sequential’ mode and strobing at its maximum 120Hz refresh rate, you can see that the main object (UFO) is extremely clear. You can see a level of clarity and detail on its features that is far beyond what can be seen previously where the backlight does not strobe. There is a fairly faint trail behind this as a result of slightly slower than optimal pixel transitions. On the BenQ you can see that the main image maintains this exceptional clarity and detail level. With ‘AMA = Off’ there is some conventional trailing due to slower than optimal pixel transitions, with a moderate primary and even faint secondary trail. ‘AMA = High’ replaces these trails with some inverse ghosting, which is intensified using the ‘AMA = Premium’ setting. Note that adjusting the ‘Intensity’ or ‘Area’ settings did little to improve this inverse ghosting. In practice, as we explore later, the inverse ghosting with ‘AMA = High’ and Blur Reduction enabled was not at all obvious, whereas the potential clarity of objects during motion was. Again 120Hz and 144Hz provided similar performance really, with what you ‘feel’ rather than what you ‘see’ perhaps being the main change. Albeit still a minor one. It does appear from these images that ‘120Hz Strobe’ is clearer than ‘144Hz Strobe’, but that is simply because the photographs themselves are better (clearer).
We would like to end this section with a bit of an aside, by talking a little bit about ‘interlace-pattern artifacts’. We do not intend to go into any technical detail about these, but they are related to imperfections in the voltage control of the monitor during pixel transitions. They are very common on high refresh rate monitors in particular and do indeed occur on this one. They manifest as a faint vertical interlaced (interleaved) pattern during motion on the monitor. They can be seen in the image below, which shows a pistol recoiling upwards on Battlefield Hardline. Notice the vertical green lines on the ‘enhanced iron sights’ of the weapon. Please click to enlarge the image, otherwise the lines blend in.
You can also see them in the image below when it is enlarged. This shows a neon sign on Battlefield Hardline with the mouse moved from the bottom to top of the sign at a moderate pace. Obviously you don’t see this distinct ghost image with interlacing trailing behind the main object, but you can see the interlacing effect demonstrated here if you have a keen eye.
Please note that these artifacts don’t occur during transitions between all shades, they are generally found where fairly bright shades are involved. importantly, they are not something that most users would actually notice. We were almost reluctant to bring these up as we don’t think most users should worry about them at all, but for the sake of completeness we thought they should be mentioned.
Responsiveness in games and movies
On BF4 the experience was very fluid where the frame rate matched the 144Hz refresh rate of the monitor. You felt really connected to the game, with the monitor seeming to respond instantaneously to your inputs. The pixel responses were clearly very snappy indeed, able to make full use of the refresh rate without any conventional trailing. The level of motion blur was very low, as you’d hope for from the refresh rate. This made it that bit easier to keep track of enemies when moving rapidly on foot or in a vehicle compared to LCDs with lower refresh rates. There was a downside to these very Rapid pixel transitions, though, and that is that very ‘aggressive’ pixel overdrive is used. There was some overshoot in places, but this was generally rather light and not too obtrusive in our opinion. There was a fairly faint and short transparent (‘snail slime’) trail next to some objects, for example vehicles and buildings as you moved past them with light blue sky in the background. This didn’t generally catch the eye and was something we had to look out for. If the object was lighter, for example a white painted wall with deep blue sky in the background, the trail became a somewhat more noticeable dark grey. Not everyone will notice this inverse ghosting, but it is something that some users are sensitive to and may be bothered by. We didn’t find it as bold as on previous XL Series monitors we’ve tested, which is good.
As the frame rate dropped below this or rose above it, tearing ensued. To sensitive eyes such as ours, this was quite obvious – even if the distinct tear lines aren’t visible, it has the effect of objects appearing to ‘judder’ rather than move smoothly. With VSync enabled there was obvious stuttering if the frame rate fell even slightly below the refresh rate, which really hampered the ‘connected feel’ of the game. The level of motion blur also increased in proportion to a decrease in frame rate, as you would expect. With ‘Blur Reduction’ (BR) the stuttering was very pronounced indeed where the frame rate departed from the refresh rate. That is because there isn’t the same degree of motion blur to mask this juddering, so it appears rather distinct. Where the frame rate matched the refresh rate (be it 120Hz or 144Hz – we tested both) the clarity of motion was superb with BR on. The game world appeared exceptionally sharp and focused even if you moved your character rapidly, making moving in quick vehicles far less dizzying and making it surprisingly easy to keep track of enemies. The ‘connected feeling’ was definitely there as well, with 144Hz providing just a little bit of an edge here. As we explored previously, there are some fairly faint ‘staggered trails’ which can be observed during fast motion. These appeared as very faint repetitions behind certain objects as you moved quickly past them and couldn’t really be observed as staggered overshoot trails due to how faint they appeared. These were much fainter that we’ve observed on Nvidia’s similar ULMB (Ultra Low Motion Blur) strobe backlight solution and was something we actually had to actively seek out to notice. In many ways this was even less obtrusive than the overshoot that you get with Blur Reduction disabled and AMA enabled, so not even something that sensitive users should worry about really.
We also tested Dirt 3, which again benefited from the high refresh rate of the monitor. Where the frame rate and refresh rate matched (144fps at 144Hz) things were very fluid. We didn’t really gain much benefit in terms of ‘connectedness’ with the keyboard we used to control the vehicle, but the motion blur was pleasantly low. Other cars and environments racing past had a respectable degree of sharpness, allowing you to admire the scenery a bit more. Or perhaps concentrate on the road that bit better. There were no troublesome issues with overshoot either. It was certainly there here and there, but fainter and less obtrusive than on previous XL Series models.
The BR mode also did its thing on this game, but again required the frame rate to be laser-locked to the refresh rate to avoid extremely unpleasant stuttering and suchlike. The benefit of this was questionable in the regular game modes, where 144Hz already provided a nice fluid experience really. On the Gymkhana mode, though, the Rapid spins could be performed without the course blurring much at all. This really helped us to FOCUS on the obstacles, although we were still rubbish at Gymkhana regardless of that. We didn’t notice any obtrusive issues with trailing or object repetitions, either. They were there if you looked quite carefully, but were faint and unobtrusive really.
Finally we took a look at our Blu-ray movie test titles to assess the motion performance of the monitor on those. The pixel responsiveness did not hamper the experience in any way, with no additional trailing or inverse ghosting that we noticed. If you did happen to notice any inverse ghosting with ‘AMA’ set to ‘High’, you could always set this to ‘Off’ for movie watching. The ‘Off’ setting did not introduce any trailing in movies as the pixel responsiveness was good enough for this pace of action. The frame rate at which current Blu-rays currently run is limited to around 24fps and that limits the overall fluidity and pace of action. There was less ‘juddering’ as the refresh rate of the monitor (144Hz) divides evenly into 24fps, but the overall smoothness is still limited by the low source refresh rate. We didn’t find the ‘Blur Reduction’ feature added anything positive to the experience, either.
FreeSync – the technology and activating it
We have already explored Nvidia’s G-SYNC variable refresh rate technology, reviewing a range of monitors which use this. As with Nvidia G-SYNC, AMD’s FreeSync technology aims to smooth out the gaming experience in variable refresh rate environments by reducing stuttering, juddering and tearing. Synchronising the refresh rate of the monitor with the frame rate outputted by the GPU is an important part of delivering the smoothest gaming experience in the variable frame rate environments that are common in games. Note that network latency, ‘CPU spikes’ and other such issues can also affect smoothness, but these are not affected by variable refresh rate tech. We have explored the technical reasons for this in the G-SYNC article previously linked to and also in the ‘Variable refresh rate’ section of this article, so please refer to those article if you’re interested in such details.
G-SYNC requires the use of a proprietary ‘G-SYNC board’ integrated into the monitor, which replaces the traditional scaling hardware and assistive electronics of the monitor. This allows Nvidia to tightly control both the colour and responsiveness tuning of the monitor, but blocks off the other ports and many of the manufacturer-specific OSD features of the monitor. FreeSync on the other hand relies on the ‘Adaptive-Sync’ protocol, which is an optional DisplayPort 1.2a extension supported by VESA. On monitors that specifically support this (not all DP 1.2a ports do) you essentially retain all of the manufacturer-specific ‘goodies’ on the OSD as well as the full range of ports, although you must use the ‘DP 1.2a’ port to use the Adaptive-Sync protocol and therefore make use of FreeSync. This way of doing things generally ends up cheaper to the consumer. This is especially true when considering G-SYNC models that support ports other than DisplayPort – as they contain the traditional assistive electronics and scaler in addition to the G-SYNC board.
To enable FreeSync you need both a compatible monitor, such as the BenQ XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730) reviewed herein, and a compatible AMD graphics card. We are using the Club3D Radeon R9 290 royalAce to run FreeSync on this model other models are compatible and most if not all future GPUs by AMD should also be fully compatible. When you first connect the monitor up and get onto Windows you’re actually presented with a notification from Catalyst Control Centre (CCC) that you’ve got a FreeSync-capable display and should enable the technology. To do this you simply open CCC and navigate to ‘My Digital Flat-Panels – Properties (Digital Flat-Panel)’, ensure the checkbox at the bottom of the page is ticked and then press ‘Apply’. This page and checkbox is shown in the image below.
There are a few important things to note which are specific to FreeSync and this monitor:
1) You may find that the checkbox isn’t there on the relevant page. If you’re running ‘Blur Reduction’, note that this disables FreeSync – you can’t use these technologies together, they can only be used separately. If you aren’t running this then try turning this feature ‘On’ and then ‘Off’ in the OSD, as that should ‘re-communicate’ the fact that you’re using a compatible display to the graphics card.
2) At least on the revision of the monitor we tested, AMA is always set to ‘off’ regardless of the setting that you select in the OSD. We explore the consequences of this in the subsequent section. Newer revisions of the monitor (‘V002’) allow the user to enable and control AMA whilst using FreeSync.
3) The operating range for FreeSync is 40-144Hz on this monitor. Outside of this range the monitor will respect your choice of ‘VSync on’ or ‘VSync off’ and behave accordingly. That means that if you have ‘VSync on’ you get stuttering if the frame rate falls below 40fps a latency penalty if it tries to rise above 144fps. With ‘Vsync off’ you get tearing/juddering below or above the limits. This is a bit different to G-SYNC which at time of writing forces VSync on in both scenarios, but can still minimise stuttering below the floor of operation by setting the refresh rate to double the frame rate. If for example the game was running at 35fps, the G-SYNC monitor would set the monitor’s refresh rate to 70Hz so that the frames divides evenly into the refresh cycle of the monitor. This is now an added feature of the new ‘Radeon Software Crimson’ suite called ‘Low Frame Rate Compensation’. Regardless of this, low frame rates are still low frame rates as we explored on our G-SYNC reviews and will explore for FreeSync below.
FreeSync – the experience
Warframe is a title which generally sits at rather high frame rates, in the triple digits but rarely consistently matching the 144Hz maximum refresh rate of the monitor. As explored previously, there is considerable stuttering or tearing (and juddering) in this sort of variable refresh rate environment. Some users seem to have this notion that the sort of issues that FreeSync sets out to solve are not noticeable at high refresh rates and frame rates. That is categorically not true. Whilst these issues are certainly less significant, they are definitely there and to users who are even moderately sensitive to them they can really affect the gaming experience. With FreeSync enabled this title was very smooth, fluid and playable in these triple-digit frame rates – free from disruptive stuttering and tearing. There were some instances where frame rate dropped rather abruptly to around 50-70fps, when the action suddenly intensified massively. This sharp drop was still a shock to the system and the game lost the fluidity and connectedness that was enjoyed at higher frame rates, in addition to motion blur increasing.
We also found the pixel responsive of the monitor to be surprisingly good on this title, overall, even though AMA was forcefully disabled. There was a little extra trailing in places due to some slower than optimal pixel transitions, particularly where bright objects (such as lights or illuminated ‘powerups’ etc.) sat surrounded by darker colours. This was never severe, though, and you could definitely still observe the benefits of hugely reduced motion blur at higher refresh rates.
The technology was also tested on GTA V, which is quite a graphically demanding title on which we like to crank up the detail settings a fair bit. With the settings we like to use the frame rate generally sits at around 50-70fps. Without FreeSync this provides significant stuttering or tearing, which sensitive eyes such as ours really dislike. Whilst the game certainly didn’t have the same low levels of motion blur and overall connectedness that you would expect from higher frame rates and refresh rates, the overall smoothness was very enjoyable. It actually made the game a lot more playable, especially when driving at high speeds. Having the experience interrupted by tearing, juddering or stuttering is not only something we found annoying on this title, it was something we feel really affected the playability. So it was great to see the back of it such interruptions.
We did of course also test our staple title, BF4. This title is well known for its fluctuating frame rates and is indeed a popular title used by both Nvidia and AMD when promoting their variable refresh rate technologies. As with Warframe this generally ran with frame rates in the triple digits, but rarely stayed at 144fps for long with the settings we enjoy using. In this relatively high but variable frame rate environment, FreeSync completely eliminated the tearing and juddering that you get with VSync off and the stuttering (and indeed latency penalty) you get with VSync on. The connectedness to the game world and overall fluidity was excellent and we definitely found the game more playable without these aforementioned interruptions. There was some very occasional stuttering, but this was generally related to network latency and not anything to do with the monitor or GPU specifically. There were some instances where frame rate dropped far lower and this again interrupted the fluidity and increased motion blur, still coming as a bit of a system shock despite the lack of stuttering or tearing. These drops were few and far between, however.
We should also mention that, as with Warframe, the level of motion blur was largely linked to eye movement and the refresh rate itself rather than being too heavily influenced by pixel responsiveness. There was again a bit of trailing beyond what you’d see with AMA set to ‘High’, particularly where darker shades such as the gunmetal greys of vehicles or dark tree bark was cast against lighter shades such as blue sky or lighter patches of earth. This was fairly constrained really and didn’t really spoil our overall appreciation of the advantages brought about by the higher refresh rates and frame rates. There was again no overshoot, either, which is a bonus that some users might appreciate more than others.
To complete our game testing we tested Dirt 3. This was more a test for the effects of having AMA forcefully set to ‘Off’ when using FreeSync rather than a test for the technology itself. That is simply because this title ran quite comfortably at 144fps (144Hz) most of the time with the settings we were happy to use. There were occasional dips a little below that, so it was nice not to suffer from stuttering as a result of this. With VSync disabled it would frequently climb above this, too, and it is nice not to have any tearing. In the way of pixel responsiveness the monitor again managed to make good use of the refresh rate (up to 144Hz), despite AMA being disabled. There was some additional trailing in places, for example when passing lightly coloured road signs with darker vegetation or another backdrop in the background. These sorts slower than optimal transitions were quite common when racing at night. Again we didn’t feel that some users would mind or indeed notice this extra trailing, and indeed there was no inverse ghosting which some users dislike even more.
Interpolation and upscaling
This monitor has a native resolution of 2560 x 1440 at which it will run with optimal clarity. If you connect source (be it a PC GPU, games console or other device) that runs at a lower resolution, then the monitor will be able to use its integrated scaling functionality to display this. There are two key ways in which the monitor handles this, both of which are found in the ‘Display – Display Mode’ section of the OSD; ‘Full’ and ‘1:1’. The ‘Full’ option is used by default, and will force the monitor to use interpolation to display an image using all of its pixels. The ‘1:1’ option allows the monitor to use 1:1 pixel mapping, therefore displaying only the required number of pixels with the remaining pixels remaining unlit as a black border around the image. Both options can be seen in the relevant section of the OSD video, shown below for your convenience.
If you set the resolution to one that is lower than the native 2560 x 1440 (WQHD), such as 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), things appear soft if you use the ‘Full’ option. There is no wasted screen space, but you lose a moderate degree of sharpness compared to running that resolution on a native Full HD display of a similar size and with a similar screen surface. You can see this softening on the desktop quite readily and also when gaming. The edges of textures appear somewhat blurred as if a sort of anti-aliasing filter is applied. Textures lack the sharpness that they should have and the game environment generally looks quite soft. If you do want to use this monitor at resolutions that are lower than native then you will have to think carefully about whether you want this softening or whether you would like a large black border surrounding the image (1:1). With the latter option the image essentially appears as it would on a ~20” 1920 x 1080 monitor.
If you watch lower resolution content over the PC but keep the screen resolution set to 2560 x 1440, then upscaling is used. You might be watching a Blu-ray or Netflix movie with movie software or a web browser, for example. This upscaling is handled by the GPU or software itself and essentially makes the image look quite similar to on an otherwise similar screen with Full HD resolution. There is very slight softening, but this is not at all significant and much weaker than when the aforementioned interpolation process is used.
BenQ’s XL Series gaming monitors usually provide strong responsiveness at the expense of image quality. Regardless of the tweaking you do in the OSD, you’re left with dodgy gamma and an unbalanced image – oversaturated in some places, washed out in others. The XL2730Z (ZOWIE XL2730) was quite a refreshing change in that respect. Out of the box it was certainly an eyesore, as usual, but after a bit of tweaking quickly become well balanced. Whilst the usual TN viewing angle related inconsistencies applied, such as weakening saturation most notably towards the bottom of the screen, the overall image was rich and varied. This was complimented nicely by the 2560 x 1440 (WQHD) resolution, which is another first for the series. The screen surface didn’t provide the clarity or smoothness that you’d see on recent IPS-type models with the same resolution, though. We found setting up the monitor and indeed quickly switching between different sets of settings a breeze with the ‘S-Switch Arc’. Whilst its new design didn’t really enhance its functionality too much, we do feel it looks nicer. And the same can be said about the monitor more broadly – it is very solidly built and aesthetically speaking we found it quite appealing.
There are a lot of extra features, such as ‘Black eQualizer’ and ‘Color Vibrance’, but if you’re interested in an accurate representation of images, games and other content then it’s best to leave these alone. We certainly appreciate that the user has the flexibility to change such features through the OSD regardless of the preset mode they’re using. You can actually completely disable the ‘Black eQualizer’ and obtain accurate gamma tracking in the centre of the screen without resorting to ICC profiles or other such imperfect modifications – a real plus compared to older models in the series. As a result of this dark scenes had an atmospheric look rather than appearing flooded with strange patches of grey here and there. The overall contrast performance was quite decent, nothing spectacular but enough to provide a decent experience without any annoying issues. Except perhaps the grain of the screen surface, which we found less than ideal.
When it came to responsiveness the monitor put in a very strong performance overall. Under its normal operation it made good use of its 144Hz refresh rate, with strong grey to grey acceleration making sure those pixels were transitioning fast enough. The downside to this Rapid acceleration came in the form of overshoot (inverse ghosting), although this was somewhat reduced compared to on previous XL Series models. FreeSync worked very nicely to cut out tearing, juddering and stuttering in the variable frame rate environments that are so common in games. We really enjoyed gaming with this feature, even though it cut out ‘AMA’ completely. The overall fluidity at moderately high frame rates was still very good regardless of this and some users would like the overshoot-free experience as well. If you’re prepared to forgo FreeSync you could opt for the ‘Blur Reduction’ mode instead, which again did exactly what it should. On the upside, you get a huge reduction in motion blur which can work out really nicely for some games or situations. On the downside, you need to have your framerate laser-locked to the refresh rate of the monitor – and that’s 120Hz or 144Hz as the only two useable refresh rates with this technology. A lot is also said about the ‘flicker free’ status of the monitor, too, which does not apply with this strobe backlight technology enabled.
All in all this monitor provided a very enjoyable gaming experience. It did not compromise on image quality in quite the way we’ve come to expect from such models and also provided very strong responsiveness with a range of useful features. Overall we feel this monitor has a lot to offer for the current asking price.
BenQ Zowie XL2546 Gaming Monitor Review: Feature Rich but Slightly Flawed
If you’re in the market for a gaming monitor, you’ve probably come across a whole bunch of them at multiple price points. However, if you’re looking for a monitor that brings a ton of features, and comes in at a competitive price point, the BenQ Zowie XL2546 is probably one you would’ve seen. So, if you’re planning on buying this gaming monitor, and are doing your due diligence before making a purchase such as this, I mean, it’s priced at Rs. 37,690, we have you covered. Here is our review of the BenQ Zowie XL2546 gaming monitor.
Zowie XL2546: Specifications
Before we dive into the review, let’s get the specifications for this monitor out of the way.
Zowie XL2546: Design and Build
The Zowie XL2546 looks like most other expensive gaming monitors at first blush. It has a thick build to accommodate the plethora of ports, and things like the built-in headphone hanger, it doesn’t do a lot to hide its bulk, and it looks slightly intimidating, especially if you’re using it at work, like I am, and you’re surrounded by sleeker looking monitors.
That’s not bad though, because the Zowie XL2546 doesn’t try to make its way into fitting in at your workstation, even though, as I’ve found through my usage of this monitor over the past few weeks, it can fit in for all the work-related tasks you might need it to do. With this monitor, BenQ simply had gamers in mind, and that’s very obvious in a bunch of design aesthetics that the company went with.
One of those design aesthetics is the black and red color combination used throughout this monitor and its stand (which is included, by the way), but even so, BenQ doesn’t overdo it, and it looks nice, and adds not only a splash of color, but also some character to the set up. Then there’s the height marker running along the side of the stand. It goes all the way from 0 to 14cm, and comes with a small plastic marker so you can remember what height adjustment you prefer for gaming (and/or work). The stand also comes with tilt degrees marked on it, and the base has a set of markers to identify when the monitor is perfectly straight towards you.
What’s really good about the design here is that sheer number of configurations you can use this monitor in. It can be brought close to the desk, tilted up and down, swiveled around, and even rotated 90-degrees into a portrait orientation (that might come handy for streamers wanting to use a secondary display to show their Discord, Steam, or Twitch chat. Basically, the Zowie XL2546 is as versatile as it gets as far as configurability options are concerned, and I really like it.
There are relatively big bezels here though, which isn’t really something I personally like, but BenQ claims that it’s helpful to make gamers FOCUS on the game without getting distracted by their surroundings — something that’s also done by the included shields that attach to the sides here. That said, these aren’t massive bezels, especially when put in perspective to the size of the display itself, and after an hour or so of using the monitor, you don’t really notice them anymore, unless you’re hunting for the buttons on the bottom right to adjust a setting on the display.
over, the bezels certainly add more in the way of a sturdy construction, which is yet another thing that’s great about this display. It doesn’t feel weak or cheap; it’s made of high quality plastic and metal, and while it’s certainly a little on the heavier side, the included handle on top of the stand makes for easy portability should you need to move the monitor to a different location in your house, or, as was the case for me, in the office.
Zowie XL2546 Display and Picture Quality
This is a relatively difficult section to describe, because even though this monitor is aimed at gamers, I also used it as my daily display for work, and in those situations, this doesn’t seem to be the best display out there. Especially if you’re coming from a higher resolution laptop, such as my usual daily driver 2017 MacBook Pro with its 13-inch Retina display.
Still, since this is a gaming monitor, I’ll treat it as such, and not dock points for flaws that are really only visible when using this is a non-gaming display.
So this here is a 240Hz panel with a response time of 1ms, and those are specs you would expect from a display priced at Rs. 37,690. Does that make a big difference to games? Kind of. Does it make a big difference in daily usage — definitely. As long as your laptop or PC has a GPU that’s capable of driving 240Hz displays (and most modern GPUs will do), everything on this panel is pretty frikkin awesome. The animations are smooth, scrolling is a treat, and gaming is smooth and responsive. It’s all pretty great.
For testing this display from a gaming display point of view, I connected it to one of the many gaming laptops at our office, and yes, gaming on this display is fun. It’s definitely better than gaming on a standard laptop display, and the refresh rate and response time will certainly make a difference, especially in fast-paced shooting games like Fortnite, PUBG, or Battlefield V.
When I did connect the display to my MacBook Pro for general office-related work, I had to set the color profile to fix the otherwise washed out colors that the monitor defaulted to. However, that’s something I’ve noticed happen with a lot of displays so it’s not really something I’d attribute to this monitor itself. Other than that though, the Zowie XL2546 is a pretty solid display.
The colors here are nice, and while I do feel like the whites are a little less white than what they should be, it’s not a big difference, and general media consumption on this display is satisfying enough an experience. That said, I’d suggest staying at arm’s length from this display because a 1080p resolution on a 25-inch monitor will definitely show you pixels if you’re looking at it too close, and that can (and will) ruin your experience, even in movies, and especially if you’re using subtitles.
The one thing that I don’t like about this display are the viewing angles. Zowie claims the monitor has 170/160-degree viewing angles, but move your head even slightly off the center of the display and it takes on a yellow-ish almost sepia-like overlay which looks absolutely terrible. The only consolation to that is the fact that while gaming, you’ll not really be looking at your screen from the side, so it shouldn’t bother you while you’re engrossed in a match of PUBG.
Zowie XL2546: Ports and Connectivity
The Zowie XL2546 comes with a plentiful selection of ports on both the side, and below the bottom lip of the display. There’s quite a lot of stuff here, but mostly what you’ll be concerned with are the HDMI ports, and the USB 3.0 ports on the side.
There are 2 HDMI ports, one of which is an HDMI 1.4 port, and another an HDMI 2.0. There’s a DisplayPort, a DVI slot, a headphone jack, mic-in, USB-3.0 ports, and even a headphone hanger, which isn’t strictly a port, but it’s a handy addition to the monitor, so you can easily store your headphones when you’re done gaming, and pick them back up when you’re ready for more rounds of your favorite game.
Zowie XL2546: Features
As a gaming monitor, the XL2546 would be remiss if it didn’t offer features that are aimed specifically at gamers, and it offers quite a lot of them, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
DyAC, or Dynamic Accuracy, is a feature that works more or less to reduce motion blurring on the display, making it easier for you to aim at moving objects in games. DyAC comes in three settings: Premium, High, and Off. While Zowie claims that High and Premium are considerably different in terms of performance, I found both of them to be pretty close, but DyAC does make a big difference because turning it off results in a very observable change in the way games look and feel on the display.
No I didn’t get the capitalisation wrong there, that’s how Zowie writes Black eQualizer. Think of this as the Pixel 3 Night Sight feature but for your display… almost. With Black eQualizer, the monitor will increase the brightness in dark areas in a game, but will maintain the white areas so they don’t become over-exposed. This can come in very handy for spotting enemies hidden in the dark, and in PUBG, it definitely helped me quickly take a look inside houses without having to actually properly look and check if there was a hidden enemy in the dark somewhere.
ColorVibrance, or CV, is another feature in the Zowie XL2546 that makes colors stand out better, and can help with spotting enemies easily. Personally, other than colors becoming more saturated, CV didn’t really feel like a very helpful gaming feature to me, and I found myself leaving CV at the default value of 10 throughout my usage of this monitor.
Apart from these features, the Zowie XL2546 also comes with Flicker Free technology which reduces screen flickers, and helps avoid strain on the eyes. There’s also the Shield here, which, contrary to what you might think, is not actually meant to add a little privacy to your gaming sessions. Instead, BenQ says that this helps gamers FOCUS on the game better. Now, I’m not sure about that, but personally, after having used Shield on the monitor for a week or so, I can’t go back to using it without the Shields, so it definitely helps with concentration, and a more immersive, less distracting experience, which is awesome.
Zowie XL2546: S Switch
The Zowie XL2546 also has an additional accessory. Called the S Switch, this circular set of, well, switches, comes with 3 custom keys that you can program to quickly change the display settings on the monitor. You can simply change the settings to whatever you want, then press and hold on the 1,2, or 3 buttons on the S Switch for 3 seconds, and the setting will be saved. From there on out, you can simply press the button to switch display settings of the monitor to your liking, so you can create a setting that suitable to games like PUBG, one for something like watching movies, and yet another one for casual usage, and quickly switch between the three with just the push of a button.
I didn’t use this very often, but it was helpful to quickly be able to switch settings from game-mode, to something more suited for finishing off articles on the website. Plus, the base for the Zowie XL2546 comes with a dedicated place where you can keep the S Switch — that’s definitely a good touch, and, if you’re not using the S Switch, like I wasn’t, you can use that place on the base to keep your drinks, which is also pretty handy.
Zowie XL2546: Pros and Cons
The Zowie XL2546 definitely looks like a pretty solid gaming monitor, but as the age old adage goes, there are two sides to every coin, so lets take a quick look at the good and the bad of this monitor.
- 240Hz refresh rate
- 1ms response time
- S Switch makes it easy to switch profiles
- Built-in headphone hanger
- Viewing angles are not good
- 1080p resolution seems a little low for a big, 25-inch display, especially when using it close up.
Zowie XL2546: Worth the Money?
All things considered, the Zowie XL2546 is a pretty good gaming monitor. It’s packed with features, it comes with a 240Hz refresh rate, and 1ms response time, it brings a nice, versatile stand that can let users set up their monitor any way they want and more. However, at Rs. 37,690, the drawbacks of the Zowie XL2546, especially the shabby viewing angles, sound more jarring than they otherwise would. As a purely gaming display, the Zowie XL2546 is good, but there are other options out there. There’s the Acer Predator XB272 which is priced at Rs. 39,990 and brings 240Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and a Full HD 27-inch display. There’s also the HP 27XQ, which brings a 144Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and a 27-inch QHD display for Rs. 35,399. There are others too, and all of this just goes to show that the Zowie XL2546 has tough competition in this segment, and other than the added features that it brings to the table, major brands like HP and Acer will definitely bring the fight to it, and personally, they feel like better choices.
Buy the BenQ Zowie XL2546 from Amazon (Rs. 37,690)
BenQ Zowie XL2546 Gaming Monitor Review
BenQ has been the standard in gaming monitors for a while now. Keeping that trend, BenQ came out with the Zowie XL2546 a while back. The specific model we will be reviewing is the ZOWIE XL2546 240Hz DyAc™ 24.5 inch e-Sports Monitor. Let’s jump in.
The Design of the BenQ XL2546 is almost like a mullet. Business in the front, party in the back.
If you look straight at the monitor, it’s a very serious almost boring look for a monitor. When you start reaching for the ports or even peek at the back, you see the subtle design genius. With red accepts nicely decorating the important parts of the monitor.
You might feel let down, but I think this is actually the way things should be done. The most important aspect of the monitor is the content on the screen, so why embellish it with distracting design elements. Save it for the other places. This is exactly what BenQ has done.
The whole monitor is super sensible. From the stand, the port access, the s-remote, the connections etc. Everything just makes sense.
The BenQ XL2546 can also be mounted with two shields on the side, to prevent glare issues. The connection of these is super straightforward and also well hidden if you aren’t using it. This means a slightly modular design without loosing any design aesthetic. Great work.
As you would expect, the highest resolution on the BenQ XL2546 is 1080. This is in order to achieve the 240Hz refresh rate. This is not a surprise and most gamers are more than happy with this. In competitive gaming refresh rate resolution.
- 24.5” display
- TN panel
- 1080p resolution (FHD)
- 240 Hz Refresh Rate
- 1ms Response Time
- DyAc™ – Dynamic Accuracy – BenQ’s Motion Blur Reduction tech
- No Speakers
- No GSync or FreeSync
The monitor has a rather narrow field of view, which is not that ideal for non-game related scenarios. While watching movies alone, the viewing was fine. But if you need more than one person to watch, you will wash out the image the further away from the center you go.
The flip side of this, is the clarity you get as a gamer is pretty great. As this is a gamer focused monitor, this is actually a good thing.
Using any kind of Motion Blur tech requires fiddling and calibration in order to get just right. When DyAc is active, the backlight kicks into high gear and you can notice the difference instantly.
There are advantages to having this system on, but you will need to sacrifice the refresh rate. The exact setup can be a bit complicated, it can involve a lot of trial and error. You can also look up some guides online to help you set this up.
Just like the XL2540 that we previously reviewed (https://www.absolutegeeks.com/article/reviews/benq-zowie-xl2540-240hz-monitor-review/) the XL2546 doesn’t support G-Sync or FreeSync. It’s something that is missing, but those tend to increase blur. But it would be good to have the option for those gamers looking for the visual in a non-competitive space.
Ports and What’s in the box
The BenQ XL2546 has a pretty decent selection of ports. Here is the complete breakdown :
- Video In:
- DisplayPort 1.2 (This is what should be used for 240Hz)
- HDMI 2.1 (Does support 240Hz)
- 2 USB 3.0 ports
- 1 USB 3.0 input (connects to your PC)
- Micro-USB for the S-Switch
- 3.5mm Audio out
- Mic In
- Mic Out
In the box you get all the cables you would need; HDMI, DisplayPort and the USB 3.0 passthrough. You also get the S-Switch Remote and the Right and Left Shields.
You might notice that one thing missing is a USB-C port. For a non-competitive gamer who wants to always have the latest and greatest, this is a relatively big omission. But for gamers, this is probably not something to even consider.
You also get a cheeky little headphone stand that is hidden away inside the monitor. It is a brilliant little thing that BenQ has done better than pretty much anyone else. I love this attention to detail.
One thing missing in the monitor is a speaker, it is such a minor feature that it isn’t really worth considering. You can plug in external speakers or headphones with ease, but note that the audio doesn’t get very loud so might need some kind of amp.
The Stand of the BenQ XL2546 is perfect. You can easily bring the monitor up or down to the level you like. You can even swivel it on the base to the angle you prefer. And you can even tilt the screen.
These 3 levels of freedom give you all the flexibility needed to setup the monitor to your heart’s content. All the movements are smooth and easy to do as well.
An additional piece of brilliance are the little marks on the stand. The height has a little slider that you can set, so you can always remember the exact height you would like the monitor to be at. No longer do you have to figure out the setting you like.
On the base you get marks that allow you to precisely measure how much you want the monitor to swivel. Similarly, for the tilt of the monitor you get marks that highlight the exact angle of the tilt.
This is a level of detail that makes someone like me very happy and at ease.
The interface of the BenQ is pretty unique, in the sense that it’s the only PC Monitor that I have used with a “remote” for the settings. BenQ calls this the S-Switch, and it can be found in their eSports monitor line-up.
The menu system of the Monitor itself is pretty intuitive. Fiddle around with it for a few minutes and it will become second nature soon enough.
You can setup 3 quick actions, these are also represented as buttons on the remote. Which allows you to, with a click of a button, preset the 3 settings to a predetermined value.
The remote also has the option to navigate all the settings of the minor. This is achieved with a couple of buttons and a scroll wheel (which also clicks). This is an absolutely brilliant interface and I have to give props to BenQ for this.
The whole menu and the remote makes navigating all the settings, super quick. You have on-screen buttons, they are great and function just as you would want. But why would you ever need them?
To sum things up, the BenQ Zowie XL2546 is a brilliant monitor. You can rely on this monitor being an absolutely perfect gaming companion. You get almost the best in gaming that can give you that edge.
This monitor is unfortunately not for regular users, thanks the TN Panel, it can’t really be used for the best movies experience or any high level of graphic design needs. You also don’t get speakers, and there is no USB-C port. All are not deal breakers for standard users who want one of the best gaming monitor at a relatively good price.
[Review] Play Like the Pros: BenQ Zowie XL2546K
I think we can all agree that esports players are on a different level from us regular gamers. As such, their needs will differ from the plebs, and this is something that BenQ has taken into account when designing their Zowie XL-K series gaming monitors.
Just a month ago, BenQ unveiled the XL2546K and the XL2411K monitors, which feature small but impactful upgrades from their best-selling predecessors. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the larger XL2546K model.
Smaller base, more space to play
Esports gamers have this tendency to lean close to their monitors while gaming, like how we plebs tend to lean forward during tense moments (as if it helps us play better. or maybe it does, since pro players stick to their monitors most of the time :O). Anyway, Zowie has taken note of this common habit and reduced the size of the XL2546K’s base stand to better accommodate the positioning of gaming peripherals, so they can fit in closer to the screen.
The angular shape of the base along with the ability to pivot the screen also contributes to the ideal positioning of peripherals. There’s a running joke that only noobs play with the keyboard and mouse aligned parallel to the screen. pros have tilted keyboards for supposedly better ergonomics and bonus style points.
And of course, apart from pivoting, it has the usual range of movement, including swivel, tilt, and height adjustment. Not only does this allow you to adjust the viewing angle perfectly to your liking, it also allows for easier access to the ports on the back, which are admittedly a bit deeply set.
Quality of life design updates
Those who’ve seen the Zowie gaming monitors in action will easily recognise the detachable wings, which are supposed to act like horse blinders and allow players to FOCUS on the screen, instead of trying to kap lui / kap zai during training. Now, BenQ has ditched the screw-on mechanism and opted for a much more user-friendly slide-and-snap locking mechanism instead. Tool-free assembly, ladies and gentlemen!
Also, BenQ has corrected a major oversight from the previous generation, which is the fact that the handy built-in headset stand jutted out from the left side of the monitor, conveniently overlapping with the aforementioned monitor flap. Now, the fold-out stand has been relegated to the back, which is quite a stretch to reach, but at least it’s now functional!
Another feature that has been chucked to the back are the OSD control buttons. Apparently, BenQ claims that pro players find the buttons distracting, so they have moved it to the back for a completely clean front bezel. While I appreciate the minimalist design, personally I’d prefer having the buttons visible and within easy reach. but then again, I’m not the target audience of this product, so who cares about what I think? :’)
In case you’re not a fan of fumbling around in the dark, this is where the next feature comes in.
New and improved S-Switch
Another signature feature of Zowie monitors. the S-Switch. This little wired remote control plugs into the back of your monitor and brings all your settings within easy reach.
The buttons are pretty straightforward. top left is the ‘back’ button, top right is a programmable S-Switch key, and the bottom 3 correspond to 3 different profiles. The scroll wheel in the middle has also leveled up, and can now be used to scroll sideways, which is extremely convenient while trudging through layers of menus, which by the way, have been greatly streamlined in this model.
I also especially like the fact that the S-Switch key can be programmed to a variety of different things, including DyAc settings as well as input options, which is especially handy if you use this monitor for other things besides PC gaming. This is complemented by the generous 3 HDMI inputs, which you can use to hook up your Nintendo Switch and Playstation, which you can easily switch between using the S-Switch.
Of course, there’s also a DisplayPort 1.2 and an audio jack as well.
Display features to help you git gud
Now, we’ve arrived at the display features to help you pewpew a little better. Although it can’t fix your slow hands, it can perhaps help your eyes see things more easily. The 240Hz FHD TN panel comes with a whole host of goodies:
First up is DyAc, which stands for dynamic accuracy. Without going too deep into the technical side of things, it basically makes images less of a blur, which purportedly helps with actions like spraying in CS:GO or other FPS games.
Next is the Black eQualiser, which helps increase visibility in dark scenes without overexposing the bright areas. This means you can walk into B tunnel on Dust2 without getting snuck up on by a sneaky terrorist lurking in the corner.
Finally, you also have the Colour Vibrance setting, which increases the saturation of the display. This supposedly helps players identify enemies more easily due to the more vibrant colours.
Share your settings with others
With XL Setting to Share, you can save your display settings into a file and share them with friends, or simply bring it with you to tournaments. You can also download other players’ settings or Zowie’s recommended settings. All you have to do is download Zowie’s free proprietary software and you’re good to go!
Of course, you’ll need to have a compatible monitor for this to work; applicable models include the XL2546K (this monitor), the XL2411K, and XL2540K.
Buy or no buy?
BenQ has taken an esports staple and made it even better with numerous small improvements. It has a whole stable of features targeted at esports players, to give them an advantage, no matter how miniscule. but on the competitive stage, every tiny bit counts, right?
If you’re looking to GoPro and want the upper hand, you can pick one up at BenQ’s official Lazada store at RM2,279.