Full disclosure: BenQ provided this monitor, to keep, at no cost to me, with no strings attached. Reviewing or promoting the monitor was not a requirement to receive it. The opinions in this review are 100% my own.
If you’ve involved with esports at all, it’s impossible to miss BenQ’s ZOWIE monitors pretty much everywhere. But BenQ is no one-trick pony. Their “SW” line of monitors is to photography what ZOWIE is to esports: a top-line offering aimed at letting you do your best work.
In short, the SW271 is a 4K, 27-inch monitor made for photo, video, and illustration work that demands critical accuracy in a variety of formats and color spaces.
The display boasts 100% sRGB (the traditional “web-safe” standard), 99% Adobe RGB (the standard wide gamut color space, particularly for print proofing), and 95% DCI-P3 (the standard film projection color space). DCI-P3 is also the target gamut for many of today’s flagship mobile phones, including the iPhone 8/X, Samsung Galaxy S9, and Google Pixel.
Adobe RGB vs sRGB (via Wikipedia)
The monitor features DisplayPort, HDMI, and Thunderbolt / USB-C inputs, as well as I/O for its USB 3 hub, with two USB 3 ports and an SD card reader on the left side of the monitor.
The build quality is very sturdy, and when mounted on its stand, the monitor weighs in at a hefty 20lbs. Height is adjustable in a 6” range, with the bottom of the screen between 4-10” from desk surface. I have a bad habit of slouching at my desk, so being able to raise the monitor so high helps me avoid that.
The monitor itself looks great on my desk, with minimal bezel on 3 edges. The inputs sit high enough in the back that with a couple ties, all the cables pass discreetly through the stand. Even with power, USB, and multiple input cables, they're all nearly unseen.
Oddly, my biggest complaint about the build of the SW271 is that the foot of the stand is ever so slightly rounded, meaning I have to find a new spot for things like pens and other small items on my already small desk.
Also unique to BenQ is the control “puck,” that offers full control of the OSD menus, and lets you switch between any three color modes, including those generated by custom calibrations. Compared to the rest of the SW271’s beefy build, the puck seems a bit flimsy, but it sits neatly and inconspicuously in its little nest at the base of the monitor.
Color & Calibration
The SW271 comes factory calibrated, and arrives with a calibration report in the box. The report is specific to the monitor in the box; BenQ calibrates and documents each and every SW271 they ship. While this makes the SW271 nearly plug and play, you’ll still want to calibrate for your environment.
The SW271 features hardware calibration, meaning that the calibration data is written directly to the monitor. It does require a Datacolor Spyder 4/5 or x-rite i1 device, but you should have one of those already anyway. Install the Palette Master software, connect the calibrator to the monitor, connect the monitor’s USB to your PC and calibrate away. You can store up to 3 calibrations in the monitor. I maintain two calibrations, one for sRGB and one for Adobe RGB.
As mentioned earlier, the puck has 3 shortcut buttons to select 3 modes of your choice, and also allows you to enter the OSD to select from the full list of available modes. I keep my puck set to the Adobe RGB calibration, the sRGB calibration, and the monitor’s “Darkroom” mode. Darkroom mode greatly dims the monitor while still maintaining contrast and details, even in dark images. While it’s made for dimly lit post-production rooms it’s also useful as a comfortable viewing experience, especially first thing in the morning, or late at night.
Once I had the SW271 set up and calibrated, I fired up Lightroom. If you’re coming from a lower resolution screen, one of the first things you’ll want to do is check your Standard Preview resolution and making sure it’s set to Auto, 2048px, or 2880px. It’s important to know that by moving to a higher resolution screen, Lightroom will have to render higher resolution Standard Previews. That means your CPU is working harder while importing, and your hard drive has to store/retrieve more data during Lightroom use.
Esports events are notorious for challenging lighting conditions. Lots of hard red and blue lighting, mixed color temperatures, and harsh contrast. Images almost always require tweaking in Lightroom to get the the most out of them. Esports laughs at your puny sRGB gamut.
The red highlights in the above image show parts of the images that are outside the sRGB gamut. If you’re outputting to sRGB, or viewing on an sRGB screen, those parts of the images will appear with less detail or, in the worst cases, as a solid color. With a wide gamut screen, you’ll be able to see these details in your images.
Revisiting my images on the SW271 was a moment of “wow, I have so much re-editing to do!” The laptop I had done most of my editing on in 2018 is no slouch, but seeing them in 4K and at nearly double the size felt like seeing them for the first time again.
It’s hard to sound objective here, but there’s just a certain confidence that comes with knowing what you see in front of you is accurate. The SW271’s wide gamut means I know just how far I need to edit, and being able to quickly swap to sRGB allows me to to make sure my images will look right no matter where on the web they end up.
Among the SW271’s more interesting options is a Black and White mode. BenQ sells it as a way to preview your images in B&W before making adjustments. It’s neat, but severely limiting compared to what you can do with batch editing, presets, color mixing, and simply “undoing” adjustments in your photo editor.
For general use, the crispness of 4K is striking. Text, icons, and images all have a sharpness reminiscent of a smartphone screen. And depending on how you configure your scaling, you can gain lots additional of desktop space over 1080p as well.
Let’s be perfectly clear: the SW271 is not a gaming monitor. But I’m on a single-monitor setup right now, so the SW271 is my gaming monitor, and that’s fine. My days of serious competition are long behind me.
Mouse movement and other inputs feel snappy. Motion blur is present but not muddy. The experience is adequate, and that’s good enough for me. Tom’s Hardware measured 23ms draw time (1.4 frames), and 63ms (4 frames) net input lag. Those numbers are more or less on the good side of what you’d expect from a 4k60 screen.
One feature that does stand out, however, is the SW271’s HDR support. It’s important to note that this HDR is not the same HDR visual effect in games since the early 2000’s. Modern HDR happens in the display itself, where the content (a movie, or game) defines how bright the screen is. Whites can be searing, blacks can be pitch darkness. The result is extended contrast, and color so vibrant that when I exit the game everything on my desktop looks dull in comparison.
Destiny 2 is the only game in my library that supports HDR, but the entire list of games that support HDR right now could probably fit on one page. The visuals are truly on another level, and there is no doubt in my mind that HDR will be standard in the future.
The SW271 is a good looking monitor, both on my desk and on-screen, with impeccable color accuracy and versatility for a wide variety of workflows. There are a number of features not mentioned in this review, like PiP and Gamut Duo, that make the SW271 even more attractive for uers who have to wrangle multiple input sources.
At about $1100 the SW271 isn't cheap, but BenQ takes a shot straight at top-end competition with Thunderbolt, 4K, factory calibration, and hardware LUTs -- features typically found in screens significantly more expensive. If you’re a photographer looking for a future-proof display, the SW271 is what you want. Even if the SW271 is out of your budget, BenQ's other SW-line displays offer many of the same critical features, like Adobe RGB and hardare calibration, at even lower price points.