BenQ EX 3501R 35-inch monitor
£709 | $899 www.benq.co.uk An ultrawide monitor with HDR
While high dynamic range (HDR) – a display technology that offers higher contrast and more vivid colours – is becoming ever more commonplace in TVs it hasn’t really taken off yet in PC monitors. So when a monitor such as the BenQ EX3501R comes along boasting HDR support, you can’t help take notice. And HDR is only one of the exciting features to be found here, thanks to an ultrawide 21:9 aspect radio, AMD FreeSync support, and USB-C connectivity.
Price and availability
A 35-inch ultrawide curved monitor is never going to be cheap, but at £709 ($899), the BenQ EX3501R isn’t horrendously pricey, and compares well to the AOC Agon AG352UCG and Acer Predator X34, both of which are slightly more expensive, but with similarly impressive specs.
The BenQ is also a fair bit pricier than the LG 34UC79G-B, which costs £592 ($625). However, while LG’s screen has a 21:9 aspect ratio, its resolution is lower (2,560x1,080) than the EX3501R’s (3,440x1,440), which feels much easier to use.
Unlike monitors which are aimed at gamers and have striking designs to match, the BenQ EX3501R is positioned as a ‘video enjoyment monitor’, which means the large screen – and the content it displays – are the stars of the show here, with the rest of the monitor’s design being smart, yet sedate.
The metal stand feels sturdy, and allows for vertical adjustment of 60mm and tilt adjustment of between -5 and 20 degrees. Assembly is tool-less, which means you can attach the screen to the stand without having to dig out a screwdriver, making installation much simpler.
The bezels that surround the edges of the screen aren’t the thinnest, but they don’t add too much extra girth to this already large monitor. The bottom bezel is a fair bit larger than the others, though, since it holds buttons for navigating the on-screen menu, as well as a power button, and a light sensor – a familiar addition to BenQ monitors that feature the company’s Brightness Intelligence Plus technology.
This detects ambient light and automatically adjusts the monitor’s brightness accordingly, so helping to reduce eye strain. It’s a feature that works well, although you can turn it off if you wish.
Alongside the sensor is a USB-C port. The EX3501R also features two HDMI 2.0 ports, a DisplayPort 1.4, a USB 3.0 port for connecting to your PC to turn the EX3501R into a USB hub, and two USB 3.0 ports for connecting additional peripherals.
While any 35-inch screen and an ultrawide aspect ratio would do a good job of filling your field of
view, the curved design of the BenQ EX3501R further immerses you in your media. The curvature is 1800R, which means it’s quite pronounced – many other curved monitors and TVs have a curvature of 3000R, which is more subtle.
So 1800R makes for a more vision-filling display, but some people may not like such a deep curvature, especially when using the monitor for non-media activities. With a curvature of 1800R, 1.8 metres is the maximum recommended distance for optimum viewing, whereas for a 3000R display it’s three metres. So, since you’re more likely to sit closer to your monitor than to your TV, it could be argued that 1800R is a preferable curvature for a PC monitor sitting on your desk.
If you’re using the BenQ EX3501R with Windows 10 you’re going to have a pretty great experience, since the operating system handles a range of resolutions and aspect ratios well, and the additional desktop space you have to work with means this monitor can have a positive effect on productivity.
Some of the ready-made picture modes include HDR, sRGB and Photo, while you can also create your own custom look by tweaking brightness, contrast and other settings. Of the preset picture modes HDR and sRGB are the best, with Photo looking a bit too cold, thanks to a blue tint. The various gaming modes look a bit dull.
Straight out of the box the monitor displays the Windows 10 desktop well, however the default settings are a little too bright, leading to some images looking washed out. Turning on HDR mode produces quite a pleasant result straight away although, as the
“If you’re using the BenQ EX3501R with Windows 10 you’re going to have a pretty great experience”
on-screen display informs you, this is simply an emulated HDR effect. Turning on ‘true’ HDR is more complicated – first, you need to have the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update installed, then you need to switch on HDR in system settings. Unfortunately, the result can look rather harsh and we achieved much more pleasing picture quality using the Nvidia graphics settings app that comes with our installed Titan Xp graphics card.
Watching HDR videos is also complicated. If you want to watch Netflix in HDR you’ll need to use either Netflix’s Windows 10 app, or its website via Microsoft Edge, which is all a bit cumbersome.
All that is a world away from the experience of playing HDR-enabled games. Here, the games detect that the EX3501R is HDR-enabled and enable you to toggle on the HDR effect. Combine this with the high refresh rate, FreeSync support and an immersive aspect ratio and the BenQ EX3501R is a far better gaming monitor than a ‘video enjoyment monitor’ – and it’s a better gaming monitor than many dedicated gaming screens.
The response time of 4ms may be slightly too high if you need as little lag as possible, but we didn’t notice any delays.
When HDR works, it works well, although the colour depth is 8-bit, which won’t produce quite as pronounced results as displays capable of 10-bit HDR.
The EX3501R is a great monitor, although BenQ is doing it a bit of a disservice by not shouting about its gaming prowess – this is a brilliant gaming monitor that delivers high resolutions, immersive visuals and smooth gameplay, and the HDR in games is very good.
As a media-playing monitor it certainly has the chops, but we’d like to see better HDR support in Windows 10, especially in its video apps – when it does come, and it will, this monitor will be ready. An excellent ultrawide monitor that handles games well. It’s also great for watching films on.