June 20, 2024


Sapiens Digital

BenQ EW3280U – Review 2020

7 min read

The 32-inch BenQ EW3280U ($799.99) is a larger, higher-resolution counterpart to the Editors’ Choice BenQ EX2780Q. They have their differences—for one, the EW3280U lacks the smaller display’s blistering pixel refresh rate that puts it in better stead for competitive gaming—but the EW3280U brings the same constellation of audio, video, and control features that makes the EX2780Q so special as an entertainment monitor. These include a surprisingly good speaker system, thanks to a subwoofer that provides crisp bass, a remote control (an all-too-rare accessory for monitors), and proficiency in handling HDR content, including with BenQ’s HDR-enhancing technology, which it calls HDRi (the i stands for “intelligence”).

BenQ EW3280U space launch

As a long-time space enthusiast, I devoted a Saturday afternoon, in the course of testing this monitor, to watching the NASA/SpaceX crewed mission that launched astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade. For the occasion, I took some care in selecting a monitor on which to view the live feed. Between my own monitors and those I’ve been testing as I work from home during the pandemic, I had close to a dozen to choose from. I picked the EW3280U for its large screen, high resolution, good video, and excellent sound quality, and I was very happy with my choice. Go Crew Dragon! Go Falcon! Go NASA! And, go BenQ EW3280U! 

The Measure of a Monitor

The 32-inch, 10-bit in-plane switching (IPS) flat panel has a native UHD (a.k.a. 4K) resolution. That’s 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, at a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Its pixel density of 138 pixels per inch (ppi) is fine for entertainment, gaming, or light photo editing. (All else being equal, the greater the pixel density, the sharper the image should be.)

The EW3280U’s frame is simple and attractive, with a matte-black cabinet and a bronze-colored bottom bezel and base. When affixed to its stand, the monitor measures 20.6 by 28.6 by 8 inches (HWD) and weighs 17.9 pounds. The stand provides tilt control, but it lacks swivel, pivot, or height adjustment. The top and side bezels are minimal, while the textured bottom bezel is 1.3 inches thick. The base is a rectangular ring, which, in addition to supporting the monitor, can serve as an enclosure in which to stash the remote and other small items.

BenQ EW3280U ports

The EW3280U’s relatively modest selection of ports includes two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort input, a USB Type-C port, and an audio-out jack. The USB-C port supports data transfer and video input through the DisplayPort Over USB protocol, as well as power delivery of up to 60 watts, which is enough to quickly charge a laptop even when simultaneously displaying content from it over the connection.

Many Ways to Navigate

There are several ways to control the EW3280U. You can navigate the onscreen display (OSD) via a miniature joystick controller on the back of the monitor, mounted near its lower right corner. Even easier to use is the included handheld remote, with which you can access the OSD menus, enable HDRi or sound modes, and control the volume with the touch of a button. There is also a volume-control wheel on the bottom of the monitor, near the left edge.

The OSD offers seven main-menu choices: Input, Picture, Color, Audio, Eye Care, Custom Key, and System. From Input, you can switch among the HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB-C inputs. The Picture menu lets you control brightness, contrast, sharpness, and the like. The Color menu lets you choose among 11 color modes, including Standard, Low Blue Light, three gaming modes, two Custom modes, and M-book. (The last is a mode tuned specifically for displaying the image from an Apple MacBook laptop.) You can also switch among HDR modes: Display HDR, Cinema HDRi, Game HDRi, and Off.

From the Audio menu, you not only can control the volume or mute the sound, but you can also switch through five audio modes: Live/Pop, Cinema, Dialogue/Vocal, Game, and Rock/Party. Eye Care offers access to the Low Blue Light setting (again) and several similar tweaks. Custom Key lets you set up two customizable color modes, and last up is the System menu, on which you control FreeSync, USB-C configuration, OSD settings (such as language), and the like.

BenQ EW3280U with stand

HDR Done Right

HDRi is BenQ’s own technology, geared to better displaying HDR content. While HDR improves the contrast and dynamic range (the ability to render subtle gradations of light or shadow) of a scene, HDRi seeks to further enhance HDR images.

HDRi has both hardware and software elements. A sensor on the monitor’s bottom bezel measures ambient light, letting the EW3280U adjust its screen brightness in response to changing conditions. In addition, HDRi generally brightens dark regions without overexposing bright areas, resulting in a more balanced image. It also automatically tweaks color balance and saturation, depending on the displayed content.

BenQ covers the EW3280U with a three-year warranty on parts, labor, and the backlight. The monitor ships with an HDMI 2.0 cable, a USB Type-C cable, and a DisplayPort-to-mini-DisplayPort cable.

Superior Audio for a Monitor

BenQ emphasizes the EW3280U’s sound system, and for good reason. For most displays, any built-in audio is at best an afterthought. If built-in speakers are even included, they tend to sound tinny, with poor low-frequency (bass) response, and distortion at higher volumes—if they can even achieve higher volumes, as many sound soft or muted even when cranked way up. We generally suggest that monitor buyers get a pair of powered external speakers if open-air audio quality is a concern. But with the EW3280U it is doubtful you will want to do that.

BenQ EW3280U rear view

Most consumers will be more than happy with the EW3280U’s twin 2-watt speakers and 5-watt subwoofer. The monitor employs digital signal processing (DSP) to offer the five audio modes mentioned above. To test the setup, I cranked up a host of songs and music videos, including many with strong bass lines, such as Stanley Clarke’s “School Days,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” and Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” The audio system has excellent bass and very good treble response, at least as good as what I heard with the BenQ EX2780Q, and the peak volume was fine for filling my apartment with rich sound. You could add external speakers through the audio-out jack, but for many consumers, the quality of the built-in sound system will be a major reason for buying the EW3280U in the first place.

BenQ EW3280U rear angle

I did our luminance, color, and contrast testing using a Klein K10-A colorimeter, a Murideo SIX-G signal generator, an X-Rite i1Basic Pro 2 color profiler, and Portrait Displays CalMAN 5 software. BenQ rates the EW3280U’s luminance (that is, the brightness per unit area) at 350 nits (candelas per meter squared) and its contrast ratio at 1,000:1; the latter is standard for an IPS panel. I measured its luminance at 207.6 nits in Standard color mode and 338 nits with DisplayHDR enabled. Its contrast ratio slightly exceeded its rating, at 1,087:1.

In our color-gamut testing, the EW3280U covered 99.9 percent of the sRGB color space. (See the chart below.) The area bounded by the triangle represents the limits of the sRGB space. According to BenQ, the EW3280U covers 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, which is designed for cinema video. (Click here to see how we test monitors.)

BenQ EW3280U sRGB

I also viewed selections from our suite of test video clips, as well as a series of photos stored on my Dell XPS 13 laptop. The EW3280U did well at handling HDR video, which was notably brighter and exhibited better contrast than when I viewed the same content in standard definition (SDR) mode. Cinema HDRi—BenQ’s HDR enhancement—was similar to DisplayHDR; at times, Cinema HDRi showed better contrast, while in other scenes DisplayHDR was better. The results were similar with photos, with both Cinema HDRi and DisplayHDR showing similar (brighter-than-SDR) results.

BenQ EW3280U left angle

The EW3280U is fine for casual gaming, but it doesn’t have a wealth of gaming-centric features. It supports AMD FreeSync adaptive-sync technology, but is limited to a refresh rate of 60Hz, unlike the BenQ EX2780Q, which supports refresh rates of up to 144Hz. Still, the EW3280U did fine in handling gameplay and some canned benchmark runs with the titles Final Fantasy XV and Far Cry 5, showing a minimum of artifacts. I switched among Game HDRi, Cinema HDRi, DisplayHDR, and SDR modes; Cinema HDRi generally showed the best contrast.

Bright Lights, Big Screen

As a high-resolution, big-screen entertainment monitor, the BenQ EW3280U is a couple of big steps forward from the BenQ EW3270U, adding a much improved sound system with good bass and treble response as well as the company’s HDR enhancement (HDRi) and a handheld remote for easy control of sound and color. It doesn’t support the high refresh rates of the Editors’ Choice BenQ EX2780Q, but it has a larger panel and higher resolution, making it a great choice for watching movies, music videos, and any content in which impactful sound and picture quality are important. It earns its own Editors’ Choice as an entertainment monitor in the 32-inch range.

BenQ EW3280U Specs

Panel Size (Corner-to-Corner) 32 inches
Native Resolution 3840 by 2160
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Screen Technology IPS
Rated Screen Luminance 350 cd/m^2
Rated Contrast Ratio 1000:1
Pixel Refresh Rate 60 Hz
Adaptive Sync AMD FreeSync
USB Ports (Excluding Upstream) 0
VESA DisplayHDR Level DisplayHDR 400
Weight 17.9 lbs
Height-Adjustable Stand? No
Tilting Stand? Yes
Swiveling Stand? No
Landscape/Portrait Pivot No
Warranty (Parts/Labor) 3 years

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