Review: The BenQ PD3220U 4K HDR Thunderbolt 3 display is a good option for designers

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited August 17
The BenQ PD3220U 4K HDR monitor is a dream for designers, and with the very-high end Apple Pro Display XDR looming, we spent some time testing this powerful alternative.

BenQ PD3220U designer's monitor
BenQ PD3220U designer's monitor


The BenQ PD3220U monitor has a fairly plain design. It comes in a standard ratio, running 31.5-inches diagonally which works out to 27.45 x 15.44 inches horizontally and vertically.






Bezel width seems to be one of the larger differentiators between entry-level monitors and those destined for the professional space with higher price points. On the BenQ PD3220U bezels are very slim, which is something we wholeheartedly appreciate.

Rear ports on the BenQ PD3220U
Rear ports on the BenQ PD3220U


Around back, there is no adornment and a simple array of ports. There are two Thunderbolt 3 connections which allows for daisy chaining additional devices. The stronger of these two ports will allow up to 85W of power to your connected machine -- that's enough to very nearly fully power a 15-inch MacBook Pro which can suck up 87W at its max.

Side ports on the BenQ PD3220U
Side ports on the BenQ PD3220U


Thunderbolt aside, the BenQ PD3220U has a DisplayPort 1.4 connector, two HDMI 2.0 ports, three USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack.

We'd like fewer USB-A and more USB-C. Our workflow has largely shifted to Type-C and the USB-A ports are more hinderance than helpful for us. The best bet is to also use a Thunderbolt 3 dock to add more ports that way, though it does tack on an additional cost.

The entirety of the monitor rests on a hefty six-pound silver stand. It has a large, flat base that will stay unassuming on most desks. It can be adjusted up as well as down, and even rotated vertically if that better fits your workflow.

Controls are limited to a pair of unmarked buttons, a power button, and a multi-directional joystick found just behind the lower-right corner.

The BenQ PD3220U hotkey puck G2
The BenQ PD3220U hotkey puck G2 can be programmed for your use


One unique aspect of the monitor is the external hotkey puck G2. This can be customized to various shortcuts to each of three function keys as well as the rotation knob. For example, we use it to adjust the brightness on the display by rotation and the different shortcuts we use for switching color profiles.

Display quality

The BenQ PD3220U can be rotated vertically
The BenQ PD3220U can be rotated vertically


The display is a standard 31.5-inch panel with 4K resolution of 3840 by 2160, which yields a pixel density of 138 PPI. This is a great pixel density for the display, as any larger and objects on the display won't look as sharp. When you get to large 48-inch+ displays, it starts to look more like a 1080P display instead of the 4K it is.

It still isn't the 226 on the MacBook Pro, but outside of the much smaller LG UltraFine Thunderbolt displays. few are.

Color is absolutely outstanding here. Brightness is up to 300 nits. Ideally, we'd like more brightness, but we were very happy with color reproduction and quality.

As with the BenQ EL2870U we tested, the BenQ PD3220U is an HDR10 display, with nearly identical performance from a HDR standpoint. Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro displays are 500 nits and the Apple Pro Display XDR peaks at 1600 nits (but sustained at 1000). We don't expect this to get to 1000 nits but at least 500 would have been preferable.

The BenQ PD3220U isn't the right ratio for linear editing
The BenQ PD3220U isn't the ideal ratio for linear editing


BenQ supports multiple color profiles on this display, a feature generally reserved for very high end monitors and high price tags. Designers utilize this feature to switch between these color profiles to see how their images or videos will be across different machines. This monitor offers several color space options to go between such as Adobe RGB, DCI-P3, Display P3, and sRGB.

As far as DCI-P3 and Display P3, this monitor covers 95% of that color space and is able to reproduce 1.07 billion different colors.

The BenQ PD3220U monitor is perfectly suited for photo editing
The BenQ PD3220U monitor is perfectly suited for photo editing


From a practical use standpoint, we edited some images from a recent photo shoot on the display. It was very useful to see how the images would be portrayed across different color profiles. This isn't something we can usually observe until we transfer to a different machine.

It was easy to use the hotkey puck to alternate between these profiles.

Other than lack of more USB-C, our only other gripe is the speakers are pretty sub-par. There are dual two watt speakers embedded but the best we can say is that they are at least better than no speakers at all. Anyone who is going to spend any time listening to audio at their desk will surely upgrade to set a of dedicated speakers rather than use those in the monitor.

Designer's will love this monitor as we use our Loupedeck+ keyboard
Designer's will love this monitor as we use our Loupedeck+ keyboard

A true professional

There are features in the PD3220U that even Apple's Pro Display XDR won't have baked in, such as the inclusion of a KVM switch. A KVM switch -- or Keyboard Video Mouse switch -- allows one set of keyboard and mouse to switch between two different machines, even with multiple screens.

For designers, they may have a portable Mac they go around with and occasionally dock at their desk, but they also may have a more powerful desktop Mac like a Mac Pro hanging around there. This allows one display to be used for both with a shared keyboard and mouse.

Another useful feature is DualView mode which allows designs to be viewed in two modes side-by-side without needing a second display.

BenQ PD3220U monitor
BenQ PD3220U monitor


Quite the array of ports is found on the display not only around back, but the side as well for easy access. That combined with excellent display quality, solid inputs, this is a fantastic monitor that we are very happy to use, especially when it comes to design. The aspect ratio, feature set, and color accuracy are all tailor made for that profession.

Apple's Pro Display XDR starts at $5K -- without a stand -- but does carry a few features not found here. It is far brighter, is a higher-resolution 6K display rather than 4K, much brighter, better contrast ratio, and more. For designers who don't need that level of performance, the BenQ PD3220U is a solid alternative.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy

The BenQ PD3220U display is available at multiple retailers, including Adorama, Amazon and B&H. Retail price for the 31.5-inch monitor with Thunderbolt 3 is $1,199, but several stores offer bonus perks, such as no interest financing or sales tax savings. Here's a rundown of the deals:

BenQ PD3220U deals

Spec comparison

BenQ PD3220UApple Pro Display XDR
Resolution4K (3840 by 2160)6K (6016 x 3384)
PPI138218
Size31.5-inches32 inches
Brightness300 nits1000 nits (sustained, 1600 peak)
Contrast ratio1,000 to 11,000,000 to 1
P3 Wide Color supportYesYes
Programmable puckIncludedNo
KVM SwitchYesNo
StandIncluded$1000 additional
Thunderbolt 3 ports21
USB-C ports13
USB-A3N/A
Additional video inputsHDMI 2.0 (2X), DisplayPort 1.4N/A
Headphone jackYesNo
Price$1199$4999

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    edited August 17 dysamoriaentropysmdriftmeyerwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 16
    ...getting beyond 27" and 1440p on a mac...

    ...to quote the linked article (with thanks) "Apple’s interface design in macOS is set up so it is comfortable for most people at a density of about 110 pixels per inch for non-Retina, and about 220 pixels per inch for Retina Using a display that isn’t close to 110PPI or 220PPI means text and interface elements will either be too big, or too small"...

    ...why I still ask if a larger format WYSIWYG option @ 110dpi (1440p @ 27") of the cinema / thunderbolt displays & macOS to offer both an Apple TV (40" 4K?) and a 'for the rest of us' affordable for a larger than 27" has merit, vs all the overheads associated with 5/8K including the dpi, graphics & scaling mentioned in the article...

    A 6K rollout may bridge the gap, and perhaps time will tell...

    edited August 17
  • Reply 3 of 16
    nhtnht Posts: 4,496member
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    Enjoy your 27" 218 ppi display running a 2650x1440 desktop because running native 5120 x 2880 makes everything too small.  That why I have a 43" 4K monitor running 3200x1800.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 16
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,488member
    Are these panels made from a single slab of silicon or two pieces glued together? At least some earlier Benq 32" 4K models were two-piece and the seam was often visible, depending on the unit.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 16
    Apple's new display comes with a stand, just not the $999 version.

    That DPI is not good for the BenQ at that price point. It's nowhere near the quality of the new Apple Pro Display. So no, it's not a quality product for designers. It's more ruggedly built than the LG I'll grant you that.

    The microLED panel on the Pro Display isn't competing with these low tier designer products of IPS tech cannot compete. The viewing angles claimed to be 178 degrees on every IPS high quality panel I've bought has been a joke. Not one matches the claims.

    The XDR Reference at $4999 and it's $5999 matched nano glass etched versions will own the high end market, and Apple and the rest of the industry knows it.

    LG is making $0 off of Apple with this panel. It all comes from Japan Display with Apple having the patents on it. LG and Samsung are taking a bath and are losing the patent war with Apple and China on microLED. They went all in on OLED and it never panned out.

    Anyone surprised by Apple bailing out Japan Display really should follow the patent trail.
    edited August 17 StrangeDayswilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 16
    nht said:
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    Enjoy your 27" 218 ppi display running a 2650x1440 desktop because running native 5120 x 2880 makes everything too small.  That why I have a 43" 4K monitor running 3200x1800.
    It's called HiDPi scaling that is built into OS X, and actually works.
    StrangeDayswilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 16
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 584member
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    The problem is that the 4k resolution doesn't look right on a 27" monitor. In the native 4k resolution, the screen elements are two small on the 27" monitor. If you double-pixel, then the screen elements become two large. However, on the 32" monitor, the screen elements in the native 4k resolution are just the right size. If you want retina pixel density, 4k is the wrong resolution for you. Go for the 5k 27" displays.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 16
    sirozhasirozha Posts: 584member
    nht said:
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    Enjoy your 27" 218 ppi display running a 2650x1440 desktop because running native 5120 x 2880 makes everything too small.  That why I have a 43" 4K monitor running 3200x1800.
    Only fonts and other screen elements are double pixeled. Any graphics editing software displays images in the pixel-for-pixel manner; hence, they are displayed in the 5k resolution even if you double pixel in macOS.
    edited August 17 watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 16
    + 1 on the PPI over size argument 
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 16
    nhtnht Posts: 4,496member
    nht said:
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    Enjoy your 27" 218 ppi display running a 2650x1440 desktop because running native 5120 x 2880 makes everything too small.  That why I have a 43" 4K monitor running 3200x1800.
    It's called HiDPi scaling that is built into OS X, and actually works.
    And the desktop real estate still is smaller regardless of how well it renders.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 11 of 16
    nhtnht Posts: 4,496member
    sirozha said:
    nht said:
    smack416 said:
    The trouble with basically any other monitor other than the 27" LG Ultrafine is the PPI. This BenQ is not retina resolution, nor is it well suited to MacOS as a non-retina display (reference: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/).

    With the 27" Ultrafine, you're sacrificing a few inches of screen largeness for a noticeable amount of clarity (218PPI vs 138PPI on the BenQ), many more pixels (5120 x 2880 vs 3840 x 2160 on the BenQ), and the LG costs you just $100 more. To me, there's no contest given the value, unless extreme response time is a deal breaker for you.

    The knock on the LG monitors is that they are not great in build quality, but the screens are as good as it gets. Simply put: the 27" LG Ultrafine monitor is the only option available today if you're looking for the clarity of a retina screen, and will be the only economical option when Apple releases their pro display. At least until a competitor else releases a +200 PPI monitor. In the meantime, this BenQ monitor doesn't compare.
    Enjoy your 27" 218 ppi display running a 2650x1440 desktop because running native 5120 x 2880 makes everything too small.  That why I have a 43" 4K monitor running 3200x1800.
    Only fonts and other screen elements are double pixeled. Any graphics editing software displays images in the pixel-for-pixel manner; hence, they are displayed in the 5k resolution even if you double pixel in macOS.
    Which doesn’t matter if you have to zoom in on the image to actually edit it because it’s otherwise too small.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 12 of 16
    Apple's new display comes with a stand, just not the $999 version.

    That DPI is not good for the BenQ at that price point. It's nowhere near the quality of the new Apple Pro Display. So no, it's not a quality product for designers. It's more ruggedly built than the LG I'll grant you that.

    The microLED panel on the Pro Display isn't competing with these low tier designer products of IPS tech cannot compete. The viewing angles claimed to be 178 degrees on every IPS high quality panel I've bought has been a joke. Not one matches the claims.

    The XDR Reference at $4999 and it's $5999 matched nano glass etched versions will own the high end market, and Apple and the rest of the industry knows it.

    LG is making $0 off of Apple with this panel. It all comes from Japan Display with Apple having the patents on it. LG and Samsung are taking a bath and are losing the patent war with Apple and China on microLED. They went all in on OLED and it never panned out.

    Anyone surprised by Apple bailing out Japan Display really should follow the patent trail.
    Everything known about the Apple's XDR display indicates you're wrong.  According to Apple, the XDR display is a 32-inch IPS LCD display with oxide TFT technology.  Apple's panel has a 2D backlighting system using 576 full array local dimming zones.   All of the info on the display is available on Apple's website: https://www.apple.com/pro-display-xdr/specs/  
    I'm not really sure where (or why) you dug up your information, but whatever the source, I'd recommend not using it again.  Outside of the pricing, nearly everything else in your quote is false.   As loathe as I am to invoke the term fake news, that's exactly what you did. You cooked up fake news.  Sprinkle in enough facts - comes with stand and correct pricing - to seem legit.  Add several pinches of obfuscation by mentioning unrelated OEM's, Fold in the made up stuff about microLED.  Bake at 350 for 20-23 minutes, let cool to touch, then serve on Appleinsider.  
    edited August 18 williamlondonbigtds
  • Reply 13 of 16
    The LG is so much better and endorsed by Apple. As much as I would like an XDR, it is overkill for almost everyone.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 16
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 278member
    The display is a standard 31.5-inch panel with 4K resolution of 3840 by 2160...
    This drives me insane. Which of those numbers is 4000?
    edited August 19
  • Reply 15 of 16
    crowleycrowley Posts: 6,018member
    zimmie said:
    The display is a standard 31.5-inch panel with 4K resolution of 3840 by 2160...
    This drives me insane. Which of those numbers is 4000?
    Actually insane, or have you just rounded up?
  • Reply 16 of 16
    Apple's new display comes with a stand, just not the $999 version.
    Apple's new display comes with nothing but the screen, a power cord, a thunderbolt cable, and a polishing cloth. If you buy the display, and don't separately buy a stand, you will have to lean it up against the wall behind your desk (or use some other "creative" solution).
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