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BenQ EX3203R review: Is this the £499 HDR gaming monitor you’ve been waiting for?

Christopher Minasians
20 Aug 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
499
inc VAT

BenQ’s EX3203R combines HDR, Freesync 2 and a great set of features – but the competition is tough

Pros 
VESA DisplayHDR 400 certified
144Hz refresh rate at 1440p
Comparatively inexpensive
Cons 
Not ideal for competitive gamers
Mediocre colour gamut coverage
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It was around a year ago that we saw the world’s first HDR gaming monitor to come to market, the Samsung CHG70. This particular monitor ticked all the right boxes, but was let down by one crucial shortcoming – Windows 10 just wasn’t ready for HDR.

Much has changed in a year. Other manufacturers have leapt aboard the HDR bandwagon, and Microsoft also announced its commitment to making Windows 10 more HDR-friendly. Now, BenQ has stepped up to the plate to deliver its take on the HDR monitor formula, the EX3203R. Is this the monitor we've been waiting for?

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BenQ EX3203R review: What you need to know

The BenQ EX3203R is the company’s first HDR gaming monitor to gain both the VESA DisplayHDR 400 and FreeSync 2 certification. By definition, it achieves a minimum brightness of 400cd/m², supports a wide FreeSync range, and adheres to a low latency.

If that wasn’t enough, it has a large 32in curved VA panel, which has a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 and a refresh rate of 144Hz. It also is stunningly built, with a three-sided borderless design – which is ideal if you’re planning on a no expense spared multi-monitor setup.

And, if you have a games console such as the PS4 or Xbox One S, you won’t be left out – the BenQ is ready to play games and watch your favourite shows in HDR.

Most importantly, it's a lot more affordable than the Samsung before it. For the first time, we're being treated to a 32in 1440p HDR monitor that costs under £500.

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BenQ EX3203R review: Price and competition

You’d expect a monitor of such stature to come with a hefty price tag. Thankfully, that’s not the case, as BenQ’s pricing is spot on. At just under £500, it’s keenly competitive with its key rival.

That rival is the 32in Samsung CHG70, which costs £560. The smaller 27in model costs £480, too. As the BenQ is offering a 32in HDR panel for under £500, it’s seemingly something of a bargain.

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BenQ EX3203R review: Design, features and build quality

The EX3203R is an elegant-looking monitor. It’s far removed from the stereotypical look of a gaming monitor. There are no gaudy accents, flamboyant colours nor, as you might have feared – over the top RGB lighting strips.

Instead, the EX3203R is every bit the premium monitor. It has a robust metal stand which provides both -5° ~ 20°‎ tilt and 60mm of height adjustment. The curved 1800R panel also has three missing borders along the sides which makes it perfect for multi-monitor duties.

Around the front of the monitor, there’s a small sensor which aims to reduce eye strain by dynamically adjusting the panel to its environment. The company calls it BI+ (Brightness Intelligence Plus Technology), and it works by changing the monitor’s colour temperature.

For connectivity, there are DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0 and USB Type-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports. There are also two USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The only thing missing is an integrated set of speakers.

To access the OSD, there are a few buttons along the bottom-right-hand edge of the monitor. The OSD itself is easy to navigate and provides a wide set of features to tweak and adjust. Here, you’ll also find the monitor’s FreeSync settings, which you can set to ‘Normal’ and ‘Premium’; the latter limiting the monitor’s refresh rate to 120Hz at 1440p.

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BenQ EX3203R review: Image quality

The EX3203R’s 32in 2,560 x 1,440 VA panel makes a decent first impression. I initially delved into the on-screen display and ran tests in ‘sRGB’ mode, but was surprised to find it drastically off the mark; it displayed only 68% of the sRGB colour gamut. Switching over to ‘Normal’ mode provided much better results: sRGB coverage rose to 88.6%. By comparison, the Samsung CHG70 manages a near-perfect 99.5% sRGB coverage and does a much better job in the Adobe RGB and DCI P3 colour gamuts, too.

The EX3203R’s overall colour accuracy is excellent, however. The panel manages an average Delta E of 1.4 in ‘Normal’ mode, and thanks to the 2,617:1 contrast ratio, colours pop off the screen. It can’t match the brilliance of a class-leading IPS panel, such as the one found on the Acer XF270HUA, but it’s not far off. And as for brightness, the BenQ EX3203R manages a peak of 439cd/m², which is bright enough to help the EX3203R pass its VESA DisplayHDR 400 certification. It’s still some way off the brightness levels of proper HDR TVs, though – these routinely soar over the 1000cd/m2 mark.

Brightness uniformity is strictly par for the course. With variations of up to 16% from the monitor’s centre, there’s certainly a fair bit of room for improvement.

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BenQ EX3203R review: Gaming performance

Thanks to the 144Hz 1440p panel, the EX3203R is ready and raring for gaming duties. You’ll want to ensure you’ve got a powerful graphics card to get the best from the monitor, though, I’d suggest an AMD RX 570 or better.

You’ll also want to pick a compatible AMD graphics card (such as the RX 570) if you want to take advantage of FreeSync 2. AMD’s technology not only provides you with a tear-free gaming experience, but is also ready for HDR gaming. Better still, FreeSync 2 has something called ‘Low Framerate Compensation’ (LFC), which aims to smoothen out gameplay at 30fps or less.

I’d highly advise against an Nvidia graphics card, especially if you want to experience tear-free gaming; you’ll be limited to using standard V-Sync, which adds a lot of unwanted input lag. If you’re waiting for tear-free HDR gaming on an Nvidia setup, you’ll want to stump up for one of the forthcoming G-Sync HDR monitors instead.

Despite Microsoft’s tinkering under the hood of Windows 10, HDR support is still a tad primitive. The OS now picks up HDR a lot better than before, but still requires it to be manually enabled through Windows’ display settings. As the desktop still doesn’t support HDR, the result is that the display looks completely washed out until you launch a game. It’s only once a compatible title such as Shadow Warrior 2 fires into life that you’ll be able to see the benefits of HDR.

With HDR enabled both in Windows and the game’s settings menu, the difference is palpable. Colour reproduction is more accurate, colours become bright and full of life, and the light glinting off swords looks stunningly realistic.

As for the monitor’s responsiveness, it’s good for casual gaming and semi-competitive play. If however, you’re a competitive FPS gamer – as I am in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – you’ll find the monitor is a tad slow – even with AMA (Advanced Motion Accelerator) set to the highest level. Overshoot ghosting (which gives a tell-tale purple trail) is kept to a bare minimum, and the monitor’s input lag is low, but it’s just not responsive enough for the most demanding players.

This presents one of the key differences between the EX3203R and the Samsung CHG70. As long as you don’t mind sacrificing overall brightness, the Samsung’s quoted 1ms MPRT response time and ‘Fastest’ setting feel dramatically quicker than the BenQ in practice. The only downside is that the Samsung’s SDR brightness is limited to 250cd/m² in this mode, but I suspect most keen gamers will be happy to take that on the chin.

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BenQ EX3203R review: Verdict

Despite its flaws, the BenQ EX3203R is a tempting alternative to the more expensive Samsung CHG70. Granted, Samsung’s rival has a more responsive panel, and manages to hit a wider colour gamut thanks to its Quantum Dot panel, but BenQ has done enough to create a very capable contender.

Suffice to say, the EX3203R ia a great gaming monitor with plenty of mass appeal. Its price is competitive, it’s beautifully built and has great image quality. If you’re a casual gamer looking for a large HDR gaming monitor, this is one that deserves to make the shortlist.

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