BenQ XR3501 Curved 35″ 144Hz Monitor Review
Date: January 16, 2016
Product Name: XR3501
Part Number: XR3501
Warranty: 3 Years
Last year, curved gaming monitors became all the rage with multiple releases from numerous companies. While Gamers naturally jumped at the opportunity to increase their immersion factor with a wrap-around high resolution screen, the cost of entry was high and the panels offered limited use for photo editors or semi-professional tests. We’ve actually looked at some from very different ends of the spectrum; the Acer XR341CK and the LG 34UC87C. Both had their own respective strengths and weaknesses but one thing remained constant: the display itself. The BenQ XR3501 doesn’t attempt to change this equation all that much but its approach is actually quite different.
To distinguish their gaming monitor from the rest of the field, BenQ has thought outside the box to say the least. Instead of using the same LG-based IPS panel as many other curved displays, simply overclocking the panel, sprinkling in FreeSync as a distinguishing feature, slapping their own OSD on it, and sticking it in a ‘custom’ chassis, BenQ has actually used an entirely different panel. Whereas many utilize that aforementioned LG panel that’s basically limited to 60-75Hz refresh rate, what we’re seeing with the XR3501 is a full 144Hz native screen refresh rate.
BenQ understandably felt that 75Hz is a step backwards considering so much of the gaming market has moved on to 120Hz and 144Hz panels. To counteract this perceived limitation, and help distinguish the XR3501 utilizes A-MVA technology.
A-MVA panels (or Advanced Multi-Domain Vertical Alignment) are not nearly as popular they once were. On the one hand A-MVA does offer better color fidelity than entry level IPS displays, but loses out to higher grade, newer generation IPS panels. On the other hand TN (Twisted Nematic) panels can typically offer significantly higher refresh rates with lower amounts of blur which made them perfect for gaming. This left MVA stuck in the middle as a compromise design that few manufacturers felt was worth the effort to improve upon.
BenQ on the other hand have used MVA for a long time, and have improved upon the underlying technology. The end result is one of the first 35-inch monitors that can offer a 144Hz refresh rate and a wide enough color pallet to satisfy some of the more demanding buyers.
This however is only the start of the changes BenQ has made. Not only is the panel technology different but the so the layout and even the resolution takes a pretty radical departure from the average 34-inch monitor. This does take a bit of explaining.
Most 34” monitors are 3440X1440 with a slight curve. Basically they start with a typical ‘1440P’ monitor, tack on an extra 880 pixels to the width and bend the panel inwards slightly. BenQ on the other hand has started with a 1920×1080 panel and tacked on an extra 640 pixels to the width (giving the XR3501 a 2560X1080 resolution) and bent the ever living crap out of it. The result is what BenQ calls their “2000R Ultra Curve Technology”.
2000R is actually an industry standard since it represents the radius in millimeters (2 meters in this case) of the curvature if it made a complete circle. Compared to other competing displays which typical use 4000-4500R (4 to 4.5m) the difference is rather noticeable. In other words, this is not a typical 21:9 monitor since it endeavors to boost immersion even more.
The XR3501 may be 144Hz but is not FreeSync nor G-SYNC compatible. Driving a typical 3440×1440 (4,953,600 pixels) resolution monitor to 144Hz is actually quite difficult and requires a massive investment in video card horsepower. BenQ on the other hand believes there’s a market for slightly lower resolution curved displays since existing higher end setups should be able to drive it without too much of a problem. Essentially, if you have enough GPU overhead to reach 144FPS on a typical 27-inch monitor there will be more than enough left in the tank to feed the XR3501 since it has 33% fewer pixels.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as a free lunch and less pixels spread across a larger 35” screen does lead to a lower dot pitch and DPI ratio. To be precise this monitor has a rather lackluster 79.39DPI, which is low compared to the typical 34-inch models (109.68DPI) or even to 2560×1440 27-inch models (108.79DPI).
With all of this being taken into account, BenQ may have a hard sell on their hands. Despite the impressive 144Hz rating and ultra curvature, the XR3501 has a lower resolution when compared against other curved “gaming” displays and it lacks that key feature of adaptive sync be it through G-SYNC or FreeSync. Meanwhile it costs about as much as many other competing displays which include some or all of those elements.
The reason for the increased curve is to warp even more of the screen into your peripheral vision, make games even more immersive and supposedly provide an even better visual experience. Right now there is no ‘right’ answer to how much of a curve is optimal, but BenQ has taken a page from the movie industry for their standard. Basically the XR3501 has the same curve as what IMAX uses…and as IMAX spent a lot of money researching optimal curvature this was probably a very smart move by BenQ.
The first thing you will notice about this monitor is its drop dead gorgeous design which stands out from every other 34-inch monitor we have looked at in the past. The combination of a black / gray panel with a silver stand and with red highlights really does set the stage for making one heck of a first impression.
This monitor has been in our possession for longer than usual so a few issues have reared their head. For example the aesthetics of that silver stand are very transient. As you can see after 3 weeks the ‘chrome’ started to tarnish and rust after normal manipulation. Obviously the glue BenQ is using is extremely corrosive and consumers may want to use soapy water to remove any residue…before it eats the chrome right off the stand.
On the positive side there’s an extremely good list of I/O ports that include both mini and a full sized DisplayPorts, two HDMI 1.4 ports as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. The only issue is you will not find USB hubs, nor are the DisplayPort inputs 2.0 compliant. Instead they are DP 1.2. This is not that large a deal and offering consumers both HMDI and DP is a great way to making all owners happy. Nothing is more annoying than trying to set up a new monitor only to realize that an adapter is needed to connect it to the system’s video card.
Balancing out the good input selection is the fact that while the stand itself is rather striking and drop dead gorgeous, it is a touch lacking in the abilities department. Much like a fashion model, if you expect this stand to do more than stand there and look pretty you are going to be disappointed. Basically this stand offers tilt adjustment only (20degrees / -5 to +15), and does not offer height or swivel adjustments.
BenQ has also included multiple physical input buttons along the bottom edge of this monitor which should make adjustments easier. This certainly is a good thing as BenQ has carried over numerous gaming features found on their smaller XR-class monitors. These features include a ZeroFlicker backlight and the Black eQualizer that modifies the Gamma settings in real time so that darker areas of the screen remain so without going into black crust territory. There’s also a 20-level color vibrancy control to make colors pop in every game, and even low Blue level adjustment to reduce glare and eye fatigue in darkened gaming environments.
Are all these feature enough to make up for the lack of tear free gaming granted by G-SYNC and FreeSync? BenQ certainly thinks so and that is why this monitor is priced right in the same ballpark as FreeSync-totting alternatives.