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BenQ XR3501 review - a huge 35in curved display

Chris Finnamore
7 May 2016
BenQ XR3501
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
750
inc VAT (as of 5th May)

Fantastic for games, less so for work, but the BenQ XR3501 is far too expensive

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Specifications

Screen size: 35in, Resolution: 2,560x1,080, Screen technology: AMVA, Refresh rate: 144Hz 

The BenQ XR3501 is a 35in monitor with a 2,560x1,080 resolution and 144Hz refresh rate, which puts it in a peculiarly specific monitor sub-category: huge, curved, ultra-wide, with a high refresh rate but not a particularly high resolution. These monitors are designed for gaming, where the curvature helps you feel more immersed in the game as the screen wraps around you, and the high refresh enables huge frame rates.

The XR3501 is similar to AOC’s C3583FQ, which is the same size and has the same curvature, but AOC’s screen has a slightly higher maximum refresh rate and support for AMD’s FreeSync adaptive refresh rate technology. Seeing as the BenQ monitor is both more expensive and doesn’t have the magic FreeSync tech, which can lead to smooth, tear-free gameplay at both low and high frame rates, it certainly has its work cut out for it.

First impressions are good. This is an attractive monitor, with a dark grey matt screen surround and just a bit of glitz from its shiny, silver two-pronged base. The monitor’s ports are all sited vertically on the rear, and integrated cable clips and a snap-on cable cover keep everything neat. You’re fairly well served for ports, with two HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort, but if you use HDMI you’ll be limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. There are also line-in and line-out 3.5mm ports and a headphone jack, so you can easily pipe audio to the screen over HDMI or DisplayPort and plug your headphones into the monitor.

The screen has little in the way of physical adjustment, as you can only tilt it to alter the vertical viewing angle. I noticed some colour shift as I moved my head from left to right, but nothing too drastic, and you should arguably sit in the middle of this screen anyway to experience the full wraparound effect.

As I found with the AOC 35in monitor, a display this large with only 2,560 pixels across, rather than the 3,840 I tend to see on screens this big, isn’t ideal for office work. You don’t have the scaling problems that can afflict 4K monitors, but text and icons do have a definite jagged edge, which will look out of place if you’ve been looking at a high-ppi smartphone screen all day.

BenQ XR3501 side

Despite this, I love having a 144Hz refresh rate in Windows. Everything just feels so smooth, from window maximising and minimising animations to dragging applications around your desktop. It’s also a bonus in games, especially fast-paced shooters. With a normal 60Hz screen and a powerful graphics card, you may find that your PC outputs more frames that your monitor can display, leading to tearing in the image as the monitor is caught between refreshes and shows parts of two frames at once. Turning on V-sync can fix this, but means you’ll be hobbling your PC to 60fps – which could make all the difference in twitchy first-person shooters where instantaneous reactions to mouse movements are key.

Visible tearing is far less common on a high-refresh monitor such as this, as the graphics card is less likely to be able to produce enough frames per second to catch the screen off guard. Even if there is tearing, it will be shown for a tiny amount of time before the screen refreshes. A high refresh rate also makes stutter at low frame rates less of a problem, where the monitor has to display the same frame for more than one refresh cycle as it waits for a new frame from the graphics card. As a 144Hz screen refreshes so much quicker, the duplicate frame will be shown for less time, making the stutter less visible.

These two factors mean that the BenQ monitor’s lack of FreeSync isn’t too much of a problem, as there’s not much tearing or stutter to begin with. However, the AOC C3583FQ did provide a slightly smoother gaming experience overall at both high and low frame rates with FreeSync enabled.

Refresh rates aside, this is a great screen on which to play games. With its high contrast ratio measurement of 1,623:1, the wrap-around effect really draws you in, whether you’re on a racetrack or in a warzone. Be aware that although many games, even classics such as Half-Life 2, support the screen’s super-wide 21:9 aspect ratio, some newer titles such as Fallout 4 do not; you’ll either have to put up with black bars on either side of the screen, or hack the config files and deal with a stretched head-up display.

There was one significant problem with the monitor’s gaming performance: ghosting. This is when a panel’s pixels don’t change state quickly enough, leading to a smearing effect as the camera pans around. I noticed this in first-person shooter titles, and my suspicions were confirmed in the ghosting test at testufo.com. Turning pixel overdrive (what BenQ calls AMA) up to the highest setting reduced the problem but did not eliminate it; on AOC’s screen I could eliminate ghosting completely, albeit at the cost of some image artefacts.

BenQ XR3501 front

That aside, I had no real complaints about the monitor’s image quality. Before calibration at default settings, the screen could display 99.4% of the sRGB gamut, which is an impressive result for a non-IPS monitor. Colour temperature of 7125K was a little cool, but after calibratng it with a colourimeter, I saw a near-perfect 6584K temperature and 99.7% sRGB coverage.

As is the vogue for gaming monitors, there are a number of image presets such as Racing and FPS, as well as Photo and Movie. These muck around with the colour temperature and contrast levels, but almost all had a much cooler colour temperature than the monitor’s default, and were a little blue for my liking.

The XR3501 has impressive image quality, and the large curved screen and high contrast and refresh rate make it a pleasure to use for games. Having such a large monitor without a 4K resolution means it’s compromised for general desktop use, but if you’re mainly going to use your screen for games and occasional desktop work, this isn’t a huge problem. However, the screen is just too expensive. For almost £200 less you can have the AOC C3583FQ, which has all the same advantages along with built-in FreeSync for smooth gameplay at a variety of frame rates. Buy Now from Amazon


Hardware
Screen size35in
Resolution2,560x1,080
Screen technologyAMVA
Claimed contrast ratio2,000:1
Claimed brightness300cd/m2
Refresh rate144Hz
Claimed response time4ms
Response time typegrey-to-grey
Horizontal viewing angle178
Vertical viewing angle178
Screen depth26mm
Base (WxD)190x190mm
Screen elevation120mm
Portrait modeNo
Internal speaker (power)None
Detachable cablesYes
USB hubNo
Integrated power supplyNo
Video inputs1x DisplayPort, 1x Mini DisplayPort, 2x HDMI 1.4
Audio inputs3.5mm line-in
Buying information
WarrantyThree years RTB
Detailswww.benq.co.uk
Part code9H.LE7LB.QBE

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