I didn't expect the BenQ EX2780Q to remind of some quality vintage furniture at first glance, but here we are. This is a stylish monitor, offering an unusual aesthetic for a gaming panel but one that clearly displays all the excellence I've come to expect from BenQ. The 1440p brother of the brilliant 4K EL2870U, the EX2780U is a 27-inch 2K QHD monitor with an IPS display that is squarely aimed at the mid-range monitor market at around the $600 / £500 mark.
First up, what does it offer itself as a piece of hardware furniture? Well, while this monitor isn't ridiculously outlandish or outrageous, it does have one of the most original aesthetics that I've seen in a while. The panel itself is as expected, but surrounding it, with a thicker edge at the bottom, and on the stand, the monitor has a distinctly metallic look that almost appears rustic. And it's these metallic elements that give it a very cool, classic look - in a good way. However, this is likely to be a divider of opinion and acts as a bit of a double-edged sword; it's a cracking design and it really is nice to see a gaming monitor do something different, embracing a more ornamental appearance, but this will - I imagine - put a few people off as it doesn't lend itself to 'usual' gaming setups of black and silver peripherals glittering with RGB. But I like it and value it.
Elsewhere, there are slim black bezels on the top and sides, and a neat 'inner bezel' that one sees on other monitors which slightly separates the on-screen image to the hard chassis bezel. Pleasing.
Its 5ms response time is not among the quickest however, and I'd prefer that to be a bit higher. But this will only bother you if you dabble in those really fast-paced games; it's not going to affect you in the slightest when playing Red Dead Redemption 2 or Assassin's Creed Odyssey, for example. Plus, it is offset somewhat by the excellent-for-gaming 144Hz refresh rate and the presence of FreeSync.
The presence of HDR combined with an IPS panel is a boon too and makes for a great presentation of picture. It also means the EX2780Q is great for a range of viewing angles away from the norm (with its VESA 100x100 mounting compatibility, it'll be potentially great for multi-displays on arms and so on). Essentially, behind that cool aesthetic are the bones of a very competent and attractive display.
The extra wide metallic bezel does allow for some larger-than-usual-speakers that you might find in a gaming monitor as well, and they're actually pretty decent for a built-in 2.1 set up. These are built upon BenQ's treVolo technology that includes five-sound indicators as well as three pre-tuned EQ settings that you can select from. And from a decent bass end to a crisp treble peak, they do a pretty good job of offering a semi-immersive authentic audio quality and experience - considering they are just built-in, on-board monitor speakers. I mean, they don't hold a candle to the majority of gaming headsets or some cracking desktop speakers - because they can't - but if you're ever in a pickle without either one of those then these will do as very good substitutes and do offer some immersive audio in their own way. You can even hear the noise travel all the way across the front speakers (in Doom, for instance) like an audio version of Kit's lights in Knightrider. These can be controlled with the handy remote control that comes with the monitor too, by the way, but they can also be controlled by the on-board buttons. These offer access to a solid set of features with enough presets to optimise and customise your picture for those who like to get their display just so. And you'll be well-supported port-wise, no matter what device you want to optimise the monitor for: the EX2870Q has two HDMIs; a DisplayPort; and a USB-C.
Finally, there are some BenQ-exclusive features present here too, and that makes a worthwhile addition to the EX2780Q. They come in the form of the flicker-free technology, low blue light settings, and the Brightness Intelligence Plus (B.I.+). The latter is geared to automatically adapting and augmenting the on-screen picture, brightness and color warmth, depending on what is being displayed but also based on your real-life surroundings. All these features add a BenQ flavored positive to the screen and also go someway to alleviating eye strain during those longer sessions, and the effect of the B.I.+ is particularly noticeable in dimmer light settings and evenings.
Putting all of that into practice, the EX2780Q quickly demonstrates itself as an excellent gaming monitor. There is exquisite picture quality thrown straight into my eyeballs from The Division 2 where every aspect of the game from light, to material detail, to hair and movements, are tremendous. Being lucky enough to team it with a decent 2070-powered machine means I could get high graphical detail and a steady 60+ frames per second rate already, but the EX2780Q does the rest and presents it exceptionally. The colours are absolutely wonderful and a genuine joy with the monitor's HDR being good enough to be an experience-enhancer. The contrasts are lovely and the tone of each colour is rich. These factors are confirmed again in Apex Legends at a high frame rate, and although never topping out at the 144 frames per second rate to match the refresh rate, having that higher ceiling means the EX2780Q is able to match whatever is asked of it and execute it deftly.
In Assassin's Creed Odyssey, some further nuances and characteristics of the monitor are highlighted: light beams, fire, and armor sheen are a joy and everything that's colourful maintains that high bar from the other games. But, grays and blacks are a little lacking in darker areas such as caves and tunnels and, to an extent, the general night time setting (though this is punctuated by the excellent light and colour of fire and torches). This small downside is clearer still due to the screen's shiny finish and if you haven't got your (real life) room lighting quite right. More perma-inside and perma-dark games like Doom and Metro: Exodus are still joys to play and be in, though - the monitor's overall picture quality definitely increased immersion, but they're still hampered slightly by the same problems at the darker end of the spectrum.
Overall - should you buy it?
For the price, it's actually quite similar to the recently-reviewed ASUS VG27AQ, and I'd be hard pushed to choose between the two - so would probably have one of each in a multi display if I could (the IPS panel on the BenQ is great from loads of angles so having two of them would be a delight). However, there's no need to judge the BenQ EX2780Q by being compared to a rival as it very much holds its own; and its version of the IPS panel means it too could be had two or three times over to create a delectable bank of screens. And while it might remind you of some vintage furniture - in a good way - the EX2780Q really is a great gaming monitor too. It's got a great stock of gaming-focused features and specs, and it is a superb example of a monitor that does HDR well. You'd be loathe to go back to a non-HDR gaming monitor after having this fill your eyes - this might well be one of the best gaming monitors of 2019.