The gaming monitor market is now used to the presence of a growing number of models jostling to be the best 4K monitor for gaming. While they are becoming more and more affordable, 4K monitors also try to position themselves as stand out models with other features where appropriate. The BenQ EW3280U does this by virtue of declaring itself honed and excellent for entertainment (movies and TV) as well as games. Coming in around the $800 / £700 mark, this is no bad thing as it tries to jostle for its place in the 4K market as well as stand out, offering some niche advantages.
The BenQ EW3280U has a typically BenQ-style in its design: its square base is simple and sturdy and doesn't intrude too much on the desk but its large screen size (32-inches) means it has some bulk and heft across the desk generally. While the footprint isn't massive, which is great, this panel would be more at home in a larger setup or more spacious one: having it up close and personal in a small or compact gaming or office space is not its natural habitat and is a bit overwhelming. At least initially. Put a bit of space between your eyes and the screen, however, and it's a joy. The size means there isn't a vast range of movement to the monitor - tilting is about is good as it gets - but this is acceptable. The speakers which adorn the bottom 'bezel' are great and combined with the rear one, do actually provide a suitable built-in audio option if you're not near one of the best gaming headsets, for some reason. Overall, the screen is very pleasant to look at and is a success in aesthetics; even the copper-brown style of the coloring across the base, bezels and monitor back is nice.
It's gaming speed chops are important to note but won't be too surprising. The refresh rate is the 4K TV-esque 60Hz, and the refresh rate is 5ms. In the general realm of gaming monitors, these are just OK. But the EW3280U makes it for it in different ways, mainly in terms of color and overall picture quality. First and foremost, that starts with an IPS panel, imbued with BenQ's HDR. This is lovely and while not the truest form of the color tech, it is a welcome extension of the color range and presentation one can get on a 4K IPS panel with a 95% DCI-P3 color gamut. Throw in FreeSync for smoothness here and you have the makings of a solid, picture quality-first 4K gaming monitor.
Connectivity is pretty standard but will have you well covered. On the monitor, you have two HDMIs and one DisplayPort, as well as a USB-C port too. The latter is a particular joy and makes it easier than ever to connect to a range of devices and laptops. Also on the monitor are some pretty good built-in speakers. These are genuinely decent speakers which can get you out of jail if you find yourself in a pickle, as mentioned above briefly. The front-facing soundbar and rear speakers combine to give you a 2.1 sound setup and, as built-in speakers go, these are reliably decent. The sound swishing across the front speaker, across the monitor, almost is actually pretty fun, if not the most richly packed audio profile going. Elsewhere, in terms of 'extras' its remote is handy and the onboard menu and settings are good and easy to navigate.
As with other monitors in the BenQ family, there are some fabulous BenQ-exclusive features you get for your money here. The headline acts of these are flicker-free technology, low blue light settings, and Brightness Intelligence Plus (B.I.+). This last feature automatically adapts and enhances on-screen pictures - down to brightness and color warmth - depending on what is shown on screen, but also what you have in your real-life surroundings and setup. It's really neat and does genuinely work. On top of those - which feature in other monitors like the BenQ EX2780Q I reviewed too - you also get BenQ's Color Weakness, ePaper mode, and Eye Reminder features. Respectively, these help people distinguish colors more easily, provide an easier screen for reading from - adopting a simulated e-book experience - and tracks your usage to suggest screen break times. Very handy and much more than just gimmicks, helping to alleviate eye strain and concentration lulls.
Running it with a 2060-powered machine means while I can't pump everything out at the monitor's native 4K resolution for PC gaming, I still got a treat of a show, greatly enjoying the detail and clarity by engaging different settings in games and appreciating them on the 32-inch IPS panel. Besides, the monitors gaming chops include the likes a 95% DCI-P3 color gamut implemented, a strong pixel density 138 PPI, and a 20m to one contrast ratio, prove it can present games beautifully on paper. And present them beautifully it did.
Metro Exodus's outdoor environments, picture detail, and contrasts were all a treat. Even the black levels were handled well, though not spectacular, but light sources in those darker areas were a real joy given the richness of color and quality of contrast on show. Red Dead Redemption 2's expansive, lush and gorgeous natural landscapes were captured beautifully and were a real treat on the EW3280U's 4K resolution; detailed, full of life and handling picture quality with no graininess or fractured edges, the images were as good as you'd find on one of the best gaming TVs in 4K.
The Division 2 was much the same, with its post-apocalyptic world looking more beautiful than I'd seen it in previous gaming sessions. A slight downside is that the emulated HDRi on the monitor and the extra brightness it brings did mean that there was a haze or sheen to some weather, lighting, and atmospheric elements that distracted and were noticeable.
Apex Legends was fine but very akin to playing on my PS4 and on my 4K television. The limitations of 4K monitors was, naturally, on show here, as the refresh rate will max out at 60Hz, so for a PC gamer looking for a speedy 4K monitor, this is not it. Nonetheless, given its performance in all these games and competence with Apex Legends, given the lower refresh rate, this is a great gaming monitor and will certainly prove an awesome desk-bound 4K experience that's better than many a 4K television set - which you won't be able to enjoy as closely as the BenQ EW3280U. To confirm this aspect, I tried the monitor with my PS4 too, and it was a worthy companion for console; given its qualities as a 4K TV, it naturally lends itself to console gaming, and proved very successful. Again, it's picture quality, colors, and contrasts, and depth across a range of picture types, games and genres proved a treat.
Away from games, the BenQ EW3280U is great with entertainment and movies, brilliantly showing off the focus this screen has been built with in mind. The pictures were rich and vibrant, and the quality as good as any premium TV set. Hardly a surprise but a quality confirmation of its core focus nonetheless. And as a workspace monitor, it really is a fine panel. There are so much desktop space and room, you won't know what to do with it all and while its colors have been bordering on intense throughout the other tests, the monitor also handled all the blistering whites of documents and spreadsheets pleasantly to ensure 'monitor snow blindness' is off the table.
Overall - should you buy it?
I'm a big fan of BenQ monitors and the EW3280U is no exception to this. Its speeds are OK but with the refresh rate holding the speed to 60Hz - naturally, as its 4K - then this might be a better choice for those who steer clear of the paciest and fastest shooter games or those who play competitively. While the price tag is a little high in comparison to its competitors, and it is a big bit of a kit - reasons that hold it back a little bit - this is ideal for those looking for something that's got the qualities of a great 4K TV but also has gaming pedigree and solid features. The HDRi is lovely in and of itself but falls short of a true HDR experience, though the general image quality and color experience are superb, with the monitor being a genuine joy to use regardless of function, and it does genuinely have such a rich and vibrant image that it's easy to see the BenQ EW3280U sticks its landing when it comes to the entertainment focus.
It probably does lend itself more to single-player gaming and entertainment in hard reality, and it is a bit expensive really, but if you want a monitor that can do a bit of everything in glorious 4K, then this is a fine monitor to consider. It very much holds its own gaming-wise and it is still one of the best 4K monitors for gaming we've seen, but it might just come up short in terms of being one of the absolute best gaming monitors of 2020 outright. What it is, however, is one of the best PS4 monitors we've tested this year and a great choice for console players or those with multi-device setups.