BenQ EW3280U 4K monitor review: 32 inches of great picture and sound

BenQ continues its tradition of excellent, vibrant monitors with the EW3280U.

Benq Ew3280u
(Image: © Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

The move to 4K across TVs and monitors over the past several years has brought with it crisp picture quality that can enhance the look of games, movies, and more. What's arguably more important than 4K, however, is the introduction of high dynamic range (HDR), which makes the colors pop and enhances the contrast between the brightest and darkest areas of a screen. When you combine the two, however, you can get some truly stunning results.

That's what BenQ has done with its new EW3280U monitor, which takes BenQ's solid track record with HDR displays and applies it to a 32-in 4K screen. BenQ has geared this panel as "great for entertainment," adding in some extra bells and whistles intended to make content consumption more pleasant. However, all of that comes at a hefty price of $800.

Is it worth it? Let's dive in.

What you'll like about the BenQ EW3280U 4K Monitor

Benq Ew3280u

Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

BenQ has already established its ability to produce an excellent quality HDR display with previous models, including its EX2780Q gaming monitor. A lot of what makes that monitor appealing applies here as well. BenQ is using the same HDR implementation, an identical (but scaled up) design, and many of the same specs.

The look of the EW3280U is premium and unobtrusive. The display itself is flanked by very thin bezels and metallic brown accents that kind of fade into the background. That's a great design choice when your main goal is focusing on the content on screen, whether it be browsing the web, streaming some video, or diving into some games.

BenQ's HDR feels like it could rival the high-end Sony television in my living room.

Even one of the monitor's best features, its forward-facing soundbar, avoids attracting attention. The speakers are integrated underneath the display and are covered by a mesh of plastic decked out in the same metallic brown color as the rest of the monitor. The only exception is the middle portion of the speaker mesh, which contains the sensors for the remote and the monitor's automatic brightness adjustment.

Turning attention to the display itself, colors are crisp and vibrant right out of the box, even without HDR enabled. Once you start interacting with HDR content, colors and contrast begin to pop even more. When working close to the screen, as most of us do with monitors, BenQ's HDR implementation feels like it could rival the high-end Sony television in my living room.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Size32 inches
Resolution4K (3840x2160)
Refresh rate60Hz
Response time5ms (grey to grey)
BrightnessHDR off 350 nits (typical)HDR on 400 nits (minimum)
PanelIPSLED backlight
Viewing angles (H/V)178°/178°
Aspect ratio16:9
Native contrast1000:1
Dynamic contrast20,000,000:1
Colors1.07 billion
Color depth10 bit
ConnectivityHDMI (2.0) x2, DisplayPort x1, USB Type-C X1 (PD10W, DP alt mode, data)
Speakers2W x 2 + 5W

Beyond basic HDR, BenQ also has several emulated HDR modes that you can cycle through. These settings essentially take content displayed in standard dynamic range (SDR) and adjust the picture to emulate it as if it was HDR content. There are different emulated HDR settings for cinema and games, as well as a display HDR mode.

The emulated HDR actually looks really, really good. It manages to make even older games, like World of Warcraft, look more lifelike with deeper contrasts and brighter colors throughout the screen. As I noted in my review of the EX2780Q, however, it can blow out highlights in some content, so it's not a full replacement for true HDR.

One thing that continues to surprise me is the quality of the speakers on BenQ's monitors. The sound here is supported by two two-watt speakers and a five-watt woofer. Simply put, these continue to be some of the best speakers I've heard on a monitor, which is typically a weak point for all displays. You may still wish to use a set of external speakers, but the EW3280U's sound is suitably loud and thumpy for what it's working with.

There are a few other little additions that make using the EW3280U a pleasant monitor to use. For gamers, there's support for AMD's FreeSync, so you can cut down on screen tearing with a compatible AMD card. BenQ has also included several different options to cut down on eye strain, including adjusting the brightness based on ambient lighting, low blue light modes, and color weakness filters for those with color blindness. There's also a unique emulation mode that makes everything on the display act as if it's being displayed on an e-ink screen.

What you'll dislike about the BenQ EW3280U 4K Monitor

Benq Ew3280u

Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

If you're a gamer, the most significant sticking point with the BenQ EW3280U is that it's limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. In a space where it's not uncommon to shoot for monitors with 144Hz refresh rates or higher, that can be a big pill to swallow. While games look great, and you'll still be able to hit smooth framerates, 60Hz is a little limiting for the price.

That said, you'd need an incredibly beefy PC to push games to the point where you'd need anything beyond 60Hz in 4K anyway. QHD (2560x1440) displays are currently the sweet spot for gaming because it's easier to push high frame rates while keeping a suitably crispy picture. Gamers on a budget, meanwhile, will likely want to stick with a 1080p panel.

Beyond the obvious refresh rate restrictions, my only major gripes with the BenQ EW3280U come down to its design. While I'm a big fan of the overall look and feel of the monitor, it has some slight problems when it comes to adjustment and cable management.

On the rear of the monitor, you'll find a cable routing tunnel built into the stand, which is excellent. However, once it's popped open, it becomes clear that there isn't much room to work with. If you have more than two cables to work about, you'll find the space quickly getting pretty cramped.

In terms of adjustability, BenQ allows you to tilt the display toward or away from you, which is always welcome. However, that's the extent of it. There's no height adjustment, nor can you shift the display side to side or rotate it from a landscape to a vertical orientation. That won't be a dealbreaker for everyone, especially considering the EW3280U already sits at a pretty comfortable height, but it's something to keep in mind.

So should you buy the BenQ EW3280U 4K Monitor?

Benq Ew3280u

Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Dan Thorp-Lancaster/Windows Central)

The BenQ EW3280U is an excellent monitor that manages to bring enough value from the combination of 4K and its HDR modes to fit its price. If you're mainly concerned with streaming video, browsing the web, and keeping eye fatigue to a minimum, this is an excellent monitor to pick up. Content is crisp, and colors are poppy, and the speakers are just the cherry on top.

Still, $800 could be a prohibitive cost for some, in which case you might want to look at other options. If BenQ's design and features appeal to you, it's worth considering an alternative like the EX2780Q. While it's five inches smaller in size, it's under $600 and includes a 144Hz display. Plus, you can access many of the same noteworthy features, like HDR emulation and excellent speakers.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl