Benq PD3220U Monitor Review: Expensive, but Good Looking 4K Alternative to the Pro Display XDR

PD3220U with Macbook

I was recently contacted about reviewing Benq’s 32 inch monitor the PD3220U which they are marketing towards Mac users and I thought, why not? It is not everyday a manufacturer agrees to loan you a brand new product for over a month to have you write a review when you only write about Apple stuff.

Disclaimer: Benq only loan me the monitor, they have provided me with neither free stuff nor money to write this review. In fact, after mentioning that I was done (and getting me to add the part about the m-book mode as well as do SEO stuff), they wanted the monitor back asap and stopped corresponding the minute their deliveryman took the monitor away. *Edit: I was contacted again on 4th Feb 2020 (one or two days after I made edits to the original article after doing more research on Benq’s line up), and they have informed me that the PD3200U has suddenly seen a price jump from $1099 to $1199.

My main Mac has been an 5k iMac for the last few years, and before that, the 2007 Aluminium 24 inch iMac. With the 24 inch I had a dual monitor setup, with various monitors from a 17 inch LG to eventually a 27 inch random Korean-made no brand monitor (that was using the 27 inch iMac LG panel) with the expensive Mini Displayport to Dual-Link DVI adapter.

After buying the 5K i decided that non-retina third party monitors are not going to cut it (4K monitors during this time were still far and few, and cost a whole lot of money), so I went single screen in late 2014. But 2014 was a long time ago.

Today when you first think about external monitors for the Mac, there is the Apple-approved LG Ultrafine 5K (and also the 4K, which nobody really wants), and then there is the overkill 6K (both in resolution and in USD pricing LOL) Apple Pro Display XDR announced together with the Mac Pro months ago. Both have their pros and cons, although with the LG its reported issues when the monitor first debuted in 2016 put some Mac users off buying it (even though the second revision is reported to have fixed most, if not all of the problems).

Seriously speaking most Mac users are not going to buy first party monitors from Apple, because they are usually on the expensive side, and offer very little options for people who want to use the monitors for purposes other than just with their Macs. For example, in the past many video production houses used to buy Mac Pro towers and pair them with Dell monitors (these days it seems to be mostly a mixture of iMac Pros and iMacs) instead of buying the more expensive Apple Cinema Displays.

PD3220U Accessories

Everything else that came in the box

Back to the Benq. I took possession of the monitor in early December, so by now I have about a month’s time with it, and well, I do quite like it. Like anything else, it has its share of pros and cons, so I thought I will go over those here rather than doing some kind of overview writeup about the monitor which by now the internets are full of.

PD3220U base

The sturdy and heavy base supporting the (pretty) heavy monitor

First thing first.

According to Benq, some of the monitor’s product features are;

-Mac Compatibility
Thunderbolt 3 ports are for the Mac user. It provides compatibility for Mac users and allows for both audio and video transmission. A Thunderbolt 3 cable is included in the box for users to connect the computer to the
monitor.

-Color Precision
Work smoothly in the 95% P3, Display P3 and 100% sRGB/Rec. 709 color space from any viewing angle. High Resolution 4K resolution offers extraordinary clarity of fine details and textures for an optimal viewing and visual-intensive work experience.

-Hotkey Puck G2
The upgraded hotkey puck G2 provides the user with a convenient way to customize shortcuts to their preferred features on the OSD. With 3 single function keys as well as a rotation key, the user can designate them to three most frequently used features at work. The dial facilitates the designer to quickly go through the OSD menu and set up their preferred brightness, contrast and volume of the monitor. The hotkey puck G2 is itself a hot key which increases the designer’s work efficiency and productivity with preferred settings in one gadget.

-KVM Switch
The newly upgraded KVM is designed for the user to control 2 PCs of two different operating systems (Mac or
Windows systems) with only one set of keyboard and mouse by simple switch. With BenQ’s new KVM design,
the user is also able to switch USB and video signal simultaneously. This is to add the level of efficiency and
convenience.

-HDR 10
This monitor can support HDR10 (ST2084) which allows users to preview the HDR video. HDR mode will be
activated automatically when HDR video content is detected. (It must be HDR content and with compatible
devices such as HDR logo on PS4 /Xbox /Youtube /Netflix /TVbox/Windows10 RS3…)

-CAD/CAM Mode
-Animation Mode
-Darkroom Mode
-DualView Mode,
blah blah blah

…among others.

The PD3220U is first of all a Thunderbolt 3 monitor, which basically grants it compatibility with the majority of Macs that were released in the last two or three years. I have tried and successfully connected my 12-inch MacBook, my iPad Pro 2018, as well as my Surface Go to the PD3220U. The TB3 connection also supports USB-PD which outputs up to 85 watts of power through the TB3 ports, enabling even the 15-inch MacBook Pros to be charged when connected (however the new 16-inch MacBook Pros do require more than the 85 watts that this monitor can output). Unfortunately my main machine the 2014 5K iMac came with Thunderbolt 2, and it will not be possible to run it through the TB3 input. Which brings me to the first point.

My Setup with the PD3220U

My current main setup with the Benq PD3220U

1. The PD3220U is NOT JUST a Thunderbolt 3 monitor

It is also a DisplayPort and HDMI monitor, and comes with the respective cables. No adapter was needed to use the monitor with my 5K iMac, the Displayport to MiniDisplayPort cable that came with the monitor was all I need to get it set up in a couple of minutes. I also set up the HDMI port to my PS4 Pro so I can game on the monitor while working on my iMac without having to turn on a TV. The 31.5 inch screen is as big as the other TVs in my house, and the colors are way better. Having one monitor for a variety of needs is a very basic feature of modern monitors, but this is one feature you definitely cannot find on the LG 5K Ultrafine and the Apple Pro Display XDR. Pro tip: Benq has a non-TB3 monitor for half the price with almost the same specs (minus the good looks), the PD3200U.

iPad Pro Setup

Works with the iPad Pro right out of the box without adapters

2. The viewing angles and colors on the monitor are great, and it supports HDR 10.

Benq says it supports 95% of the DCI-P3 color space, which means it is not 100%. Most people with the exception of a couple of video editors will not need 100% P3 color space support, and these people will probably do better to buy the LG 5K Ultrafine anyway.

The monitor ships with a whole lot of color modes for professional use, including;

-Display P3
-DCI-P3
-sRGB
-Adobe RGB
-REC.709
-HDR
-CAD/CAM
-Animation
-Low Blue Light
-Darkroom
-M-book
-DICOM
-User

Many of these color profiles can be found on Macs as well, while some of the standouts (found on many other Benq monitors) are the CAD/CAM mode, which Benq says “offers superior image contrast, allowing for lines and shapes of technical illustrations to stand out. Incredible display performance is best paired with Pro/E, SOLIDWORKS, AutoCAD, CATIA and other CAD/CAM software solutions” or the Darkroom mode which “creates the optimal setting for work in darkened post-processing environments” by “adjusting image brightness and contrast for superb clarity and detail sharpness”. Low Blue Light offers four separate settings to reduce blue light (which in turns reduce the strain on your eyes) when you are using the monitor at night, something that is similar but nowhere as smart as Apple’s Night Shift. HDR10 is simply good for gaming and netflix. These days you won’t catch me buying a monitor or TV without HDR support.

Out of these, there is a M-book mode which Benq advertises to be almost indistinguishable to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air’s default P3 color profile, and when testing with both my 12-inch MacBook (which as well as my 2018 iPad Pro, the colors on the PD3220U are pretty similar to those on the MacBook and the iPad Pro, which is likely very useful for those who are running on a single laptop with monitor dual display setup. Even when I am using the monitor with the 5K iMac, M-book mode is the color profile I like to use the most, especially for viewing media and photos, and checking my video export from iMovie. (note: I added in this paragraph at the strong request of Benq, because despite the 12-inch MacBook not having the Pro’s full P3 color gamut support, to Benq the m-book mode is their standout feature of this monitor, and they have to have it in the review. To be perfectly clear the PD3220U with a matte display in m-book mode is pretty similar to the 12 inch MacBook’s color, but the glossy Ultrafine 5Ks that Apple have in their stores looked closer to the colors of all the Macs on display.)

Surface Go

And of course it works with Windows, like with the Surface Go, without any adapters

3. The balance between screen size, resolution and price is perfect

While using the 4K PD3220U with my 5K iMac will mean that fonts and photos won’t look as sharp as they will on my iMac, they are relatively sharp enough and looks better than any non-retina monitor. Furthermore, macOS does the heavy lifting of rendering output at 2X retina resolutions before downscaling on the fly to the PD3220U, making the display look as close as it can to a true retina 2X display (a technique that debuted in the iPhone 6 Plus, which then made its way onto Macs in 2015 in the first generation 12 inch MacBook). By the way, to make elements on the PD3220U the same size as those on the 5K iMac, you should select “looks like 3008 X 1692”. However, it is pretty obvious that text are not as sharp as they look on any retina 5K iMac. 4K is not 5K, and for a 32 inch display you need 6K to achieve the same PPI as that of the 5K iMac.

After years on small 27 inch screens, the 32 inch screen of the PD3220U provides relief and extra desktop space to handle everything from complex Spaces arrangements to multiple spreadsheets open at the same time.

Now you may argue that native 2X retina elements on the LG 5K or the Apple Pro Display XDR is a better solution than something scaled up then down for 4K screens, but 27 inch screens (of the LG 5K) are simply too small for me, and I am not going to pay 6000USD for the Pro Display XDR. In fact, I am seriously considering a close to base Mac Pro with 2 to 3 of the Benq PD3220U monitors as my next setup after I eventually retire the 5K iMac. Which brings me to my next point…

Slim bezels of the PD3220U

The slim bezels of the PD3220U

4. The look of the PD3220U is absolutely gorgeous.

Especially from the front.

Most, if not all monitors these days, even the Apple approved LG 5K, have their brand logo somewhere on the front bezel of their monitors, which effectively destroys any hope of a clean setup that does not invoke any non-Apple branding.

Not the Benq.

The all-black bezels are extremely small, even when compared to the LG 5K and the Apple Pro Display XDR, and nowhere on the front can I find a Benq logo. Its clean lines and slate-grey look also invokes the Space Grey look that Apple took on for its pro machines, making the PD3220U feel at home in any Apple desk setup, more than the LG 5K ever will. I can probably buy 2 of the PD3220Us and be left with a bunch of cash as compared to buying 1 Apple Pro Display XDR and therefore for anyone looking to buy a base Mac Pro instead of a iMac because they prefer a tower, the PD3220U is probably a better choice of display than the Pro Display XDR if they are not willing to spend 6000USD and insist on 32 inch displays. (Though honestly speaking the Ultrafine 5Ks are better if you can live with the 27 inch screens). If there is something to nitpick, it will be the white indicator light on the right bottom color of the bezel that is on by default. However, it can be turned off in the settings, under System>Advanced>OSD Brightness> Setting 1.

5. The Hotkey Puck G2

This thing is actually pretty useful. You can switch color profiles on the fly with the buttons, and the knob is especially good when you want to control the brightness of the monitor, since the brightness keys on any Apple keyboard will only control the main display (of the iMac)’s brightness. the buttons can be used to control the on screen display menus, change input modes, and switch to 1 of 3 configured color modes on the fly. I have Display P3 (Apple’s default color space), M-Book mode (my preferred color mode of choice,), and HDR set to the 3 buttons on the Puck as I use these the most.

Overall, the PD3320U is a fine piece of display engineering and having it for a month makes me realize I probably cannot live without a 31.5 inch secondary monitor in my desktop setup anymore. It is a decent recommendation for anyone wanting a good monitor for their Mac setup but don’t want the LG 5K and can’t afford the Pro Display XDR.

I would have loved to review this with a thunderbolt 3 Mac, but my first generation 5K iMac is still running fine, and I missed out on getting a Mac Mini when they came out in 2018, foolishly believing that there’s a chance of a refresh in 2019 (they didn’t).

To sum things up;

Pros
1. Lots of input choices, not just TB3
2. Great colors and HDR10 support
3. Balance between resolution, screen size and price is good
4. Exterior looks gorgeous
5. Hotkey Puck is a nifty accessory

Cons
1. 4K instead of 5K
2. White indicator light on bezel can be annoying as it is turned on by default, but can be disabled in settings.
3. High price difference (PD3220U at $1999 vs PD3200U at $1099*$1199 since 4th Feb 2020) from their non-thunderbolt 3, much more boring looking model PD3200U offering almost the same specs. It is also slightly more expensive than the LG Ultrafine 5K display which is at $1879.

Find out more about the PD3220U.
Purchase the PD3220U at the Benq Brand Store.

*Edit: This post was edited from an earlier version of the write-up due to my further research on Benq’s lineup, after receiving some feedback after the initial post was published.

*Edit 2: Benq contacted me on the 4th Feb 2020 to let me know that they have just increased the price of the PD3200U by another hundred dollars.


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