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Introduction

BenQ's XL gaming series of monitors has been around for over 4 years now, promoting high end specs and some of the most advanced features and extras to improve your gaming experience. Over the years the XL models have evolved in size and function and the arrival of the new 27" sized XL2730Z marks another big step in their development. This is the first model in the XL range to support a QHD 2560 x 1440 resolution, a significant step up from the 1920 x 1080 panels we've seen to date. In addition to this resolution change, BenQ have also added support for the brand new AMD FreeSync - an adaptive-sync technology much like NVIDIA's already popular G-sync which was released about a year ago.

Other top end gaming specs and features remain as well, including a 1ms G2G response time, 144Hz maximum refresh rate, Blur Reduction mode, a massive range of aspect ratio control options, Black eQualizer function, a wide range of game preset modes and a whole host of other extras which add to the experience. We will talk about all of these throughout the review. It's the first FreeSync monitor we've tested, and in fact FreeSync was only officially launched on 19th March 2015, so we will be keen to see how that technology performs.

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Specifications and Features

The following table gives detailed information about the specs of the screen:

Monitor Specifications

Size

27"WS (69 cm)

Panel Coating

Medium AG coating

Aspect Ratio

16:9

Interfaces

1x DisplayPort (version 1.2a)
D-sub, DL-DVI, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0

Resolution

2560 x 1440

Pixel Pitch

0.233 mm

Design colour

Matte black bezel and stand, some red trim in places

Response Time

1ms G2G

Ergonomics

Tilt, 140mm height, swivel and rotate

Static Contrast Ratio

1000:1

Dynamic Contrast Ratio

12 million:1

VESA Compatible

Yes 100mm

Brightness

350 cd/m2

Accessories

Power, DisplayPort, DVI, USB cables and S-switch

Viewing Angles

170 / 160

Panel Technology

AU Optronics TN Film

Weight

net: 7.5 Kg

Backlight Technology

W-LED

Physical Dimensions

(WxHxD)
663.7 x 557.4 x 226.0mm

Colour Depth

16.7m

Refresh Rate

40 - 144Hz
FreeSync support

Special Features

2x USB 3.0 ports, FreeSync, Blur Reduction mode, S-switch, headphone and microphone ports, Low Blue Light mode

Colour Gamut

Standard gamut
~sRGB, ~72% NTSC

The XL2730Z offers a very good range of connectivity options with DisplayPort, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, DL-DVI and D-sub provided. The screen is not limited to DisplayPort-only like G-sync screens are (a limitation of the current G-sync module from NVIDIA), as FreeSync allows for other connections to still be offered on the screen, even though the DisplayPort is the only one to support the actual FreeSync technology. That is certainly a pro for FreeSync over G-sync The digital interfaces are HDCP certified for encrypted content and the video cables are provided in the box for DisplayPort and DVI.

The screen has an internal power supply but comes packaged with the power cable you need. There are also 2x USB 3.0 ports located on the left hand edge of the screen. There are also plenty of other extras on this screen including (but not limited to) a Blur Reduction mode, S-switch device, headphone and microphone connections and a Low Blue Light mode. See BenQ's website for a full list of features and more detail about some of the added gaming extras they provide. We will look at a lot of the added features later on in the review.

Below is a summary of the features and connections of the screen:

Feature

Yes / No

Feature

Yes / No

Tilt adjust

DVI

Height adjust

HDMI

Swivel adjust

D-sub

Rotate adjust

DisplayPort

VESA compliant

Component

USB 2.0 Ports

Composite

USB 3.0 Ports

Audio connection

Card Reader

HDCP Support

Ambient Light Sensor

MHL Support

Human Motion Sensor

Integrated Speakers

Touch Screen

PiP / PbP

Factory Calibration

Blur Reduction Mode

Hardware calibration

G-Sync

Uniformity correction

FreeSync



Design and Ergonomics

 
Above: front views of the screen

The XL2730Z comes in an all black design with matte plastics used for the bezel, stand and base. There is a red trim in a few places, most notably on the cable tidy hole as you can see above. The bezel is reasonably thin and measures ~16.5mm along all edges. There is a matte silver coloured BenQ logo in the middle of the bottom bezel but no other writing at all anywhere. The bottom right hand edge has the power button which glows white during normal operation and amber in standby. There are then 5 pretty subtle pressable OSD control buttons above it.

 
Above: rear views of the screen

The back of the screen is finished in a combination of matte and glossy black plastic as shown above. There is a useful cable tidy hole in the back of the stand. The stand is also easily detached via a button and the screen can be VESA mounted (100 x 100mm) if required.


 


Above: rear views showing cable tidy and carry handle

A carry handle at the top of the stand makes it easier to move the screen around if needed. You may notice some red labelling on the back of the screen which identifies each input on the underside.


Above: new design of the base of the stand, vs outline of the old style


Above: view of the base. Click for larger version

The base of the stand is rectangular in shape and is a matte black plastic. It measures ~303mm width and ~145mm deep, and provides a sturdy base for the screen. You will note the change in shape of the stand compared to the old XL2720Z model as indicated in the above image. BenQ's website blurb says that it "aligns perfectly parallel to the desk surface and a monitor stand meticulously placed in golden ratio to counter balance the display, the next-generation base stand design offers a new level of stability for the steadiest game play – with stringent swivel and shock testing results to prove it. Additionally, the reduced width and depth further shortens the distance between the keyboard and the monitor, bringing you closer than ever to the game."


Above: S-switch Arc accessory

You may notice the circular indent in the base as well. This is designed to house the handy "S-switch Arc" device (provided) which we haven't seen on the XL models before but enjoyed in a similar style when we tested the BL3200PT a while back. It can act like a control for the OSD, and also has 3 quick access buttons to switch between the three gamer preset modes, however you choose to set those up. It connects easily via a mini USB connection to the back of the screen and adds an extra premium and gadgety feel to the whole package.
 


Above: side views including view of side USB /audio ports

On the left hand edge of the screen (when looking at it from the front) are 2x USB 3.0 ports, a headphone output, microphone input and a retractable headphone holder.


Above: ergonomic adjustment markings

There is a full range of ergonomic adjustments offered from the stand as well which is great to see. BenQ even provide markings on each of the adjustments which quickly and easily allow you to identify your optimum position for the screen, in case you need to move it around or use it for different people. It makes it easy to re-position everything back to your liking. A nice extra thought we felt. The BenQ website states: "To ensure that gamers can duplicate the exact same monitor set-up with the highest accuracy, efficiency and convenience, BenQ made a few additions to the XL2730Z’s Adjustment Scale Design. The adjustable height stand is now scaled with 14 height levels trackable by a moving marker. Trackable scales are also added to the screen, which tilts forward and backward to 0°, 10° and 20°, and swivels left and right to a wide range of angles."

 
Above: full range of tilt adjustment shown. Click for larger versions

The tilt function is smooth but a little stiff to move, but it does offer a wide range of angles to choose from as shown above.

     
Above: full range of height adjustment shown. Click for larger versions

Height adjustment is a little stiffer still but is smooth, offering a good range of adjustment again. At the lowest height setting the bottom edge of the screen is approximately 48mm from the edge of the desk. At the maximum setting it is ~193mm, and so there is a 145 mm total adjustment range available here.

Side to side swivel has a smooth movement but it is stiff to operate. The base does remain stable on the desk as you move the screen from side to side. The rotate function is a stiff but quite smooth to move if you want to switch into portrait mode. Overall when making adjustments to your viewing angle and position the screen has very low levels of wobble. It is sturdy during normal uses on the desk as well which is great news.

A summary of the screens ergonomic adjustments is shown below:

Function

Range

Smoothness

Ease of Use

Tilt

Yes

Smooth

A little stiff

Height

145mm

Smooth

Quite stiff

Swivel

Yes

Smooth

Stiff

Rotate

Yes

Quite Smooth

Quite stiff

Overall

Good range of adjustments and easy enough to use overall. Stable on the desk

The materials were of a good standard and the build quality felt good as well. There was no audible noise from the screen, even when conducting specific tests which can often identify buzzing issues. The whole screen remained cool even during prolonged use as well which was pleasing.


Above: rear views of the screen showing connections. Click for larger version

The back of the screen provides a connection for the power cable which is provided with the screen. There is then a single DisplayPort video connection, USB upstream and 2x USB 3.0 downstream on the back of the screen.


Above: side of the screen showing retractable headphone hook


Above: side view of connections. Click for larger version

Two easy-access USB 3.0 port are available on the left hand side of the screen which is nice to see. There are then audio connections for headphone output and microphone input. There's even a retractable metallic headphone holder hook as shown above.

 



OSD Menu


Above: OSD control buttons on the bottom right hand corner. Click for larger version

The OSD menu is accessed and controlled through a series of 5 pressable buttons located on the bottom right hand corner of the bezel, with an additional power on/off button underneath. The power LED glows white during normal operation and amber during standby.

Pressing any of the 5 buttons brings up the quick access menu as shown above. Initially there are options to access some of the gaming extras like the Black eQualizer and Blur Reduction mode, along with the "picture mode" (preset menu) and the main OSD menu. You can customise the 3 quick launch options from within the menu if there are functions you want to access more often.

The quick access menu for the preset modes is shown above for reference. Icons appear on the screen telling you what each of the control buttons will then do.

Accessing the main OSD brings up the above menu. It is split in to 4 sections down the left hand side. Next to it is a list of the options available within that given section, and if you enter the section each option shows additional controls / options to the right. The 'game settings' menu has options including the blur reduction mode, Black eQualizer and instant mode (for reducing input lag) which are useful. You can also save your current OSD settings as one of the three "gamer" preset modes which allows you to set the screen up how you want for different uses. You can also quickly and easily switch between your saved gamer modes using the provided s-switch device which is useful.

The second section for the 'picture' menu has a fair few options in it. There's access to the 'picture mode' preset menu along with the usual brightness and contrast controls. You can also change the gamma and colour temperature presets if you want, and access advanced controls for AMA (response time) and dynamic contrast ratio.

The 'display' section allows you to switch between the various video inputs and also gives you access to the wide range of aspect ratio options.

Finally the 'system' section allow you to control a few things relating to the OSD itself, including turning off the annoying beeping for the OSD buttons!

All in all there's a very big range of options to play with and the menu is pretty well laid out. Sometimes navigation gets a little confusing as there's a lot of drilling in to each section, but on the whole it's pretty decent.

 


Power Consumption

In terms of power consumption the manufacturer lists usage of <65.0W in "on mode" and <0.5W in standby/off mode. We carried out our normal tests to establish its power consumption ourselves.

State and Brightness Setting

Manufacturer Spec (W)

Measured Power Usage (W)

Default (100%)

<65.0

46.2

Calibrated (17%)

-

23.2

Maximum Brightness (100%)

-

46.2

Minimum Brightness (0%)

-

19.1

Standby

<0.5

1.0

We tested this ourselves and found that out of the box the screen used 46.2W at the default 100% brightness setting. Additional power draw in the spec must be related to having USB devices connected. Once calibrated the screen reached 23.2W consumption, and in standby it used only 1.0W. We have plotted these results below compared with other screens we have tested. The consumption is comparable actually to the other W-LED backlit displays we have tested, with larger screens (Dell U3415W, LG 34UM95) and GB-r-LED backlit displays (e.g. ViewSonic VP2772) using a bit more than most W-LED backlights.



Panel and Backlighting

Panel Manufacturer

AU Optronics

Colour Palette

16.7 million

Panel Technology

TN Film

Colour Depth

8-bit ?

Panel Module

M270DTN01.0

Colour space

Standard gamut

Backlighting Type

W-LED

Colour space coverage (%)

~sRGB, ~72% NTSC

Panel Part and Colour Depth

The BenQ XL2730Z features an AU Optronics M270DTN01.0 TN Film technology panel which is capable of producing 16.7 million colours. It is unclear whether this is a 6-bit+FRC module (as most TN Film panels are), or an 8-bit panel (as the TN Film panel in the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q is). We have been unable to confirm via a panel spec sheet, although BenQ have told some users that it is an 8-bit panel, and on reflection this seems likely given the panel in the Asus.

The panel part is confirmed when accessing the service menu as shown below. It should be noted that this is different to the panel used in the popular Asus ROG Swift PG278Q (M270Q002 V0) despite the similar specs of the two screens.

Screen Coating

The screen coating is a medium anti-glare (AG) offering. It isn't a semi-glossy coating, and isn't as light as some modern IPS type panels either. It's in keeping with other TN Film panels we've tested. Thankfully it isn't a heavily grainy coating like some old IPS panels feature, although there is some graininess noticeable. It retains its anti-glare properties to avoid too many unwanted reflections of a full glossy coating, but does not produce an too grainy or dirty an image that some thicker AG coatings can. There were no cross-hatching patterns visible on the coating


Backlight Type and Colour Gamut

The screen uses a White-LED (W-LED) backlight unit which has become very popular in today's market. This helps reduce power consumption compared with older CCFL backlight units and brings about some environmental benefits as well. The W-LED unit offers a standard colour gamut which is approximately equal to the sRGB colour space. Anyone wanting to work with wider colour spaces would need to consider wide gamut CCFL screens or the newer range of GB-r-LED type displays available now. If you want to read more about colour spaces and gamut then please have a read of our detailed article.


Backlight Dimming and Flicker

We tested the screen to establish the methods used to control backlight dimming. Our in depth article talks in more details about a common method used for this which is called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). This in itself gives cause for concern to some users who have experienced eye strain, headaches and other symptoms as a result of the flickering backlight caused by this technology. We use a photosensor + oscilloscope system to measure backlight dimming control with a high level of accuracy and ease. These tests allow us to establish

1) Whether PWM is being used to control the backlight
2) The frequency and other characteristics at which this operates, if it is used
3) Whether a flicker may be introduced or potentially noticeable at certain settings

If PWM is used for backlight dimming, the higher the frequency, the less likely you are to see artefacts and flicker. The duty cycle (the time for which the backlight is on) is also important and the shorter the duty cycle, the more potential there is that you may see flicker. The other factor which can influence flicker is the amplitude of the PWM, measuring the difference in brightness output between the 'on' and 'off' states. Please remember that not every user would notice a flicker from a backlight using PWM, but it is something to be wary of. It is also a hard thing to quantify as it is very subjective when talking about whether a user may or may not experience the side effects.


100%                                                  50%                                                  0%


Above scale = 1 horizontal grid = 5ms

At 100% brightness a constant voltage is applied to the backlight. As you reduce the brightness setting to dim the backlight a Direct Current (DC) method is used, as opposed to any form of PWM. This applies to all brightness settings from 100% down to 0%. The screen is flicker free as advertised, and as per all of BenQ's screens nowadays.

Pulse Width Modulation Used

No

Cycling Frequency

n/a

Possible Flicker at

 

100% Brightness

No

50% Brightness

No

0% Brightness

No

For an up to date list of all flicker-free (PWM free) monitors please see our Flicker Free Monitor Database.

 


Contrast Stability and Brightness

We wanted to see how much variance there was in the screens contrast as we adjusted the monitor setting for brightness. In theory, brightness and contrast are two independent parameters, and good contrast is a requirement regardless of the brightness adjustment. Unfortunately, such is not always the case in practice. We recorded the screens luminance and black depth at various OSD brightness settings, and calculated the contrast ratio from there. Graphics card settings were left at default with no ICC profile or calibration active. Tests were made using an X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter. It should be noted that we used the BasICColor calibration software here to record these, and so luminance at default settings may vary a little from the LaCie Blue Eye Pro report.

OSD Brightness

Luminance
(cd/m2)

Black Point (cd/m2)

Contrast Ratio
( x:1)

100

308.67

0.35

882

90

285.38

0.33

865

80

262.08

0.30

874

70

238.46

0.27

883

60

214.34

0.25

857

50

189.02

0.22

859

40

163.29

0.19

859

30

137.24

0.16

858

20

111.59

0.13

858

10

84.10

0.10

841

0

56.04

0.07

801

 

Total Luminance Adjustment Range (cd/m2)

252.63

Brightness OSD setting controls backlight?

Total Black Point Adjustment Range (cd/m2)

0.28

Average Static Contrast Ratio

858:1

PWM Free? 

Recommended OSD setting for 120 cd/m2

23

We conducted these tests in the 'standard' preset mode as it was far more suitable than the default FPS1 mode for general desktop use.

The brightness control gave us a very good range of adjustment. At the top end the maximum luminance reached 309 cd/m2 which was high, although lower than the specified maximum brightness of 350 cd/m2 from the manufacturer. There was a decent 253 cd/m2 adjustment range in total, and so at the minimum setting you could reach down to a low luminance of 56 cd/m2. This should be more than adequate for those wanting to work in darkened room conditions with low ambient light. A setting of 23 in the OSD menu should return you a luminance of around 120 cd/m2 at default settings in this preset mode (standard). It should be noted that the brightness regulation is controlled without the need for Pulse Width Modulation, using a Direct Current (DC) method for all brightness settings between 100 and 0% and so the screen is flicker free as advertised.

We have plotted the luminance trend on the graph above. The screen behaves as it should in this regard, with a reduction in the luminance output of the screen controlled by the reduction in the OSD brightness setting. This is a linear relationship as you can see.

The average contrast ratio of the screen was good, but not excellent for a TN Film panel with an average of 858:1. This was nice and stable across the brightness adjustment range as shown above.



Testing Methodology

An important thing to consider for most users is how a screen will perform out of the box and with some basic manual adjustments. Since most users won't have access to hardware colorimeter tools, it is important to understand how the screen is going to perform in terms of colour accuracy for the average user.

We restored our graphics card to default settings and disabled any previously active ICC profiles and gamma corrections. The screen was tested at default factory settings using the DVI interface, and analysed using an X-rite i1 Pro Spectrophotometer (not to be confused with the i1 Display Pro colorimeter) combined with LaCie's Blue Eye Pro software suite. An X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter was also used to verify the black point and contrast ratio since the i1 Pro spectrophotometer is less reliable at the darker end.


Targets for these tests are as follows:

  • CIE Diagram - validates the colour space covered by the monitors backlighting in a 2D view, with the black triangle representing the displays gamut, and other reference colour spaces shown for comparison

  • Gamma - we aim for 2.2 which is the default for computer monitors

  • Colour temperature / white point - we aim for 6500k which is the temperature of daylight

  • Luminance - we aim for 120 cd/m2, which is the recommended luminance for LCD monitors in normal lighting conditions

  • Black depth - we aim for as low as possible to maximise shadow detail and to offer us the best contrast ratio

  • Contrast ratio - we aim for as high as possible. Any dynamic contrast ratio controls are turned off here if present

  • dE average / maximum - as low as possible. If DeltaE >3, the color displayed is significantly different from the theoretical one, meaning that the difference will be perceptible to the viewer. If DeltaE <2, LaCie considers the calibration a success; there remains a slight difference, but it is barely undetectable. If DeltaE < 1, the color fidelity is excellent.



Default Performance and Setup

Default settings of the screen were as follows:

Monitor OSD Option

Default Settings

Preset Picture Mode

FPS 1

Brightness

100

Contrast

50

Gamma

2

Colour Temperature

Bluish

RGB

n/a


BenQ XL2730Z - Default Settings, FPS 1 Preset mode

  

 

Default Settings,
FPS 1 mode

luminance (cd/m2)

265

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.38

Contrast Ratio

689:1

 

Initially out of the box the screen was set in the default 'FPS 1' preset mode which is aimed at gamers. There is also a 'standard' mode for more general use which we will test in a moment. We should say up front that we know the out of the box setup for BenQ XL gaming screens is never "accurate" in the sense of these tests, since they are designed for gaming requirements primarily. So do not get too alarmed by the default settings here, the 'standard' mode would really be what you want to concern yourself with for more everyday uses.

 

In this default FPS1 mode gamma mode was set at 2, colour temperature on 'bluish', and brightness was maxed out at 100%. The screen was extremely bright, and it felt very cool and washed out. You could tell the gamma was a long way off the normal 2.2 with the naked eye. We went ahead and measured the default state with the i1 Pro. The CIE diagram on the left of the image confirms that the monitors colour gamut (black triangle) is roughly equal to the sRGB colour space. There is some minor over-coverage in green and blue shades but not by anything significant.

 

Default gamma was recorded at 1.9 average, leaving it with a 14% deviance from the target. We will re-iterate that this is aimed at gaming uses and so a large deviance from the 2.2 you'd normally want to use for desktop use is not a surprise. White point was measured at a very cool 9881k, being 52% out from the 6500k we'd ideally want for desktop use. The screen is set at the 'bluish' colour temperature level, so you can change that easily if you want to get something warmer.

 

Luminance was recorded at a bright 265 cd/m2 which is too high for prolonged general use. The screen was set at a default 100% brightness in the OSD menu but that is easy to change of course to reach a more comfortable setting without impacting any other aspect of the setup. The black depth was 0.38 cd/m2 at this default brightness setting, giving us a pretty mediocre static contrast ratio of 689:1. Colour accuracy was very poor in this mode due to the 1.9 gamma and cool white point. There was an average dE of 5.5 and maximum of 14.0.  Testing the screen with various gradients showed no major banding thankfully. There was some obvious gradation evident in darker tones.

 

Monitor OSD Option

Default Settings

Preset Picture Mode

Standard

Brightness

100

Contrast

50

Gamma

3

Colour Temperature

Normal

RGB

n/a


BenQ XL2730Z - Default Settings, Standard preset mode

 

Default Settings

luminance (cd/m2)

336

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.38

Contrast Ratio

882:1

 

Once you switch to the 'standard' preset mode you get a far more comfortable picture for general desktop use. The brightness is still at a maximum 100%, so it's too bright, but the gamma and white point feel much better. The validation process with the i1 Pro revealed that gamma was now 2.2 average with a minor 2% deviance from the target, much better than the default 1.9 average designed for gaming uses in the FPS1 preset mode. The preset gamma mode had changed from 2 to 3 which explains this difference. With the colour temperature setting now defaulting from 'bluish' (FPS1 preset) to 'normal', the white point was closer to 6500k, being warmer than before and now at 6950k (still 7% out). Colour accuracy had also improved massively, with average dE now only 1.6, an excellent result. Contrast ratio had even improved too, now at a much better 882:1. The white point still needs a bit of correcting, but other than that this 'standard' preset mode offers a far better setup for general day to day uses and should be decent enough for a lot of users.

 

 

 

Calibration

 

We used the X-rite i1 Pro spectrophotometer combined with the LaCie Blue Eye Pro software package to achieve these results and reports. An X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter was used to validate the black depth and contrast ratios due to lower end limitations of the i1 Pro device.

 

Monitor OSD Option

Calibrated Settings

Preset Picture Mode

Standard

Brightness

17

Contrast

50

Gamma

3

Colour Temperature

User Define

RGB

95, 99, 100


BenQ XL2730Z - Calibrated Settings

  
 

 

Calibrated Settings

luminance (cd/m2)

122

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.13

Contrast Ratio

917:1

 

We stuck with the 'standard' preset mode first of all since it had returned the better starting point for day to day general uses. We switched to the 'user define' colour temperature mode though which would give us access to the RGB channels, as well as the brightness and contrast settings which are available in all the modes. All these OSD changes allowed us to obtain an optimum hardware starting point and setup before software level changes would be made at the graphics card level. We left the  LaCie software to calibrate to "max" brightness which would just retain the luminance of whatever brightness we'd set the screen to, and would not in any way try and alter the luminance at the graphics card level, which can reduce contrast ratio. These adjustments before profiling the screen would help preserve tonal values and limit banding issues. After this we let the software carry out the LUT adjustments and create an ICC profile.

 

 

Average gamma was now corrected to 2.2 average with a 0% deviance, correcting the minor 2% deviance we'd seen out of the box in this standard preset mode. The white point had now been corrected nicely to 6515k, bringing it in line with the target and correcting the 7% deviance we'd seen by default where it was a little too cool. Luminance had been improved thanks to the adjustment to the brightness control and was now being measured at 122 cd/m2. This left us a black depth of 0.13 cd/m2 and gave us a good static contrast ratio (for a TN Film panel) of 917:1. Colour accuracy of the resulting profile was excellent, with dE average of 0.5 and maximum of 1.2. LaCie would consider colour fidelity to be very good overall. Testing the screen with various colour gradients showed mostly smooth transitions. There was some slight gradation in darker tones but no banding introduced due to the adjustments to the graphics card LUT from the profilation of the screen which was pleasing. You can use our settings and try our calibrated ICC profile if you wish, which are available in our ICC profile database. Keep in mind that results will vary from one screen to another and from one computer / graphics card to another.

 

 

 

 

Calibration Performance Comparisons


 

The comparisons made in this section try to give you a better view of how each screen performs, particularly out of the box which is what is going to matter to most consumers. When comparing the default factory settings for each monitor it is important to take into account several measurement areas - gamma, white point and colour accuracy. There's no point having a low dE colour accuracy figure if the gamma curve is way off for instance. A good factory calibration requires all 3 to be well set up. We have deliberately not included luminance in this comparison since this is normally far too high by default on every screen. However, that is very easily controlled through the brightness setting (on most screens) and should not impact the other areas being measured anyway. It is easy enough to obtain a suitable luminance for your working conditions and individual preferences, but a reliable factory setup in gamma, white point and colour accuracy is important and not as easy to change accurately without a calibration tool.

 

From these comparisons we can also compare the calibrated colour accuracy, black depth and contrast ratio. After a calibration the gamma, white point and luminance should all be at their desired targets.

 

 

Default setup of the screen out of the box was poor if you solely focus on using the display for general day to day desktop use. We know from having tested BenQ XL series screens in the past though that they are deliberately set this way, designed for gaming primarily and coming packaged in the FPS1 mode by default. The gamma was too low (1.9 average) and colour temp too cool (9881k) for normal uses, but we can't penalise the screen too much as it's easy to correct this with a simple change to the 'standard' preset mode. Once you've moved to the standard preset mode the gamma is corrected nicely, white point is much closer to the target (although still ~500k too cool) and dE colour accuracy has improved dramatically. That would be a far more suitable preset mode to use for day to day use, and play around with the other preset modes for gaming if you want to.

 

People may argue that the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q (an obvious competitor) has a better default setup than the XL2730Z, and it does....when comparing the default FPS1 mode on the BenQ. If you switch to the standard preset mode things are much closer and the only real difference is the cooler white point on the BenQ.

 

 

 

The display was good when it came to contrast ratio for a TN Film panel. Out of the box in the FPS 1 mode the low gamma (1.9) lead to a reduced contrast of only 689:1. Once you switched to the standard mode and a better gamma (2.2) then the contrast was better at 882:1 before calibration, 917:1 afterwards. It's a little better than some other recent TN Film models we've tested like the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q (858:1), but not by much. Of course it can't compete with VA panel types which can reach over 2000:1 easily, and commonly up to 3000:1, even close to 5000:1 in the case of the Eizo FG2421.

 


Viewing Angles


Above: Viewing angles shown from front and side, and  from above and below. Click for larger image

Viewing angles of the screen were as you might expect from a TN Film panel. Unfortunately this panel technology is inherently poor in this field, and so viewing angles are more restrictive than other competing technologies like IPS and VA variants. Although the manufacturer will quote a viewing angle of 170 / 160 (a classic indication that a TN Film panel is being used by the way if in doubt), in practice there are some obvious contrast and colour tone shifts horizontally, and especially vertically.

As you move your head from side to side in a horizontal plane, there is a contrast shift and the image becomes darker and introduces a slight green/yellow hue. As you move to a wider angle the image can become more washed out as well. Vertically the fields of view are more restrictive still. From above the image becomes pale and washed out, while from below there is a characteristic TN Film darkening of the image. Unfortunately vertically the viewing angles will introduce noticeable shifts in the contrast and colour tone of the image which mean that for any colour critical work it is not really very well suited. TN Film panels have long suffered from these restrictive viewing angles due to the nature of their pixel structure. They are still fine for a single user for general use and certainly the TN Film panels offer their advantages when it comes to pixel response times and refresh rate for gaming. If however, you were hoping to do any colour critical or photography work you may find these shifts in the appearance of the image difficult. An IPS-type panel would probably be a wiser choice if you were looking for a screen with much wider viewing angles but having said that you are probably mainly interested in gaming if you are considering this screen. Remember, the XL2730Z is specifically designed for gaming, and so you will have to live with some of the sacrifices of TN Film to get the kind of gaming performance and features offered here.


Above: View of an all black screen from the side. Click for larger version

On a black image there is a moderate pale grey tint introduced to the image when viewed from a wide angle. This isn't too severe and shouldn't present any real problems in practice. Certainly not the obvious white glow you get from most modern IPS-type panels in similar situations and fairly standard for a TN Film panel.



Panel Uniformity

We wanted to test here how uniform the brightness and colour temperature was across the screen, as well as identify any leakage from the backlight in dark lighting conditions. Measurements of the luminance and colour temperature were taken at 35 points across the panel on a pure white background. The measurements for luminance were taken using BasICColor's calibration software package, combined with an X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter with a central point on the screen calibrated to 120 cd/m2. Measurements for colour temperature (white point) were taken using BasICColor software and the i1 Pro spectrophotometer which can more accurately measure the white point of different backlighting technologies. The below uniformity diagram shows the difference, as a percentage, between the measurement recorded at each point on the screen, as compared with the central reference point.

It is worth noting that panel uniformity can vary from one screen to another, and can depend on manufacturing lines, screen transport and other local factors. This is only a guide of the uniformity of the sample screen we have for review.
 


Uniformity of Luminance

The luminance uniformity of the screen was reasonable. There was a drop in luminance in the lower left hand corner where it dropped down to 93 cd/m2 in the most extreme case (-29%). The left and right hand sides of the screen were a little darker than the central areas but not by a massive amount (10 - 12%). Around 70% of the screen was within a 10% deviance from the centrally calibrated point.


Backlight Leakage


Above: All black screen in a darkened room. Click for larger version

As usual we also tested the screen with an all black image and in a darkened room. A camera was used to capture the result. The camera showed there was very little in the way of bleeding or clouding from the backlight. The bottom corners were a little lighter, but you couldn't really spot this with the naked eye very easily. In normal uses there was no issue at all.

 


General and Office Applications

The XL2730Z feature a large 2560 x 1440 WQHD resolution which is a significant upgrade to the 1920 x 1080 offered by their previous XL models, including the last 27" XL2720Z display. The pixel pitch of 0.233 mm is quite small as a result, and by comparison a standard 16:10 format 24" model has a pixel pitch of 0.270mm and a 30" model has 0.250mm. These ultra-high resolution 27" models offer a tight pixel pitch and therefore small text as well. We found it quite a change originally coming from 21.5 - 24" sized screens back in the day, even those offering quite high resolutions and small pixel pitches. Although now we are very used to working with 27" 1440p screens all the time and find them very comfortable and a significant upgrade over 1080 / 1200p models. Some users may find the small text a little too small to read comfortably, and we'd advise caution if you are coming from a 19" or 22" screen for instance where the pixel pitch and text are much larger. The extra screen size takes some getting used to over a few days as there really is a lot of room to work with but once you do, it's excellent. For those wanting a high resolution for their work, this is a really good option. The image was very sharp and crisp and text was very clear. With its WQHD display, you enjoy 77% more desktop space than a full HD screen to spread out your windows and palettes.

The fairly thin bezel design mean that the XL2730Z could be easily integrated into a multi-screen set up if you wanted. It doesn't have a 'frameless' design like some modern screens, but it's certainly not a thick bezel. The moderate AG coating of the TN Film panel could be considered a bit grainy, especially on white office backgrounds to a lot of people. It's not as clear as modern IPS coatings or any semi-glossy solution. Still, it's not as grainy as old IPS panels and is on par with other TN Film matrices we've tested. Perhaps the main issue with this panel technology though is the restrictive viewing angles, making contrast and colour tone shifts a bit of a problem when it comes to colour critical work. They are the same here as other TN Film panels, being restrictive especially vertically. The screen is fine when viewed head on though really for office and text work, but for colour critical work or photo editing etc you'd be better off with an IPS-type panel. The default setup of the screen was pretty decent once you've switched to the 'standard' preset mode, which is definitely advised over the default gaming FPS1 mode. The standard mode offers a nice low dE, better contrast ratio and good gamma.

The brightness range of the screen was also very good, with the ability to offer a luminance between 309 and 56 cd/m2. This should mean the screen is perfectly useable in a wide variety of ambient light conditions, including darkened rooms. A setting of ~23 in the OSD brightness control should return you a luminance close to 120 cd/m2 out of the box. On another positive note, the brightness regulation is controlled without the need for the use of the now infamous Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM), and so those who suffer from eye fatigue or headaches associated with flickering backlights need not worry. There is also an additional Low Blue Light mode which we've found useful in the past at reducing the blue spectral output of the display. For those prone to eye issues related to blue light, it's a useful extra.

There was no audible noise or buzzing from the screen, even when specifically looking for it using test images with a large amount of text at once. The screen also remains cool even during prolonged use. There are a few extras provided here as well including a 2 port USB 3.0 hub (easy access on the left hand side), microphone input, headphone output and even a retractable headphone hook. There are no further extras like ambient light sensors or card readers which can be useful in office environments. This is primarily a gaming screen remember. There was a great range of ergonomic adjustments available from the stand allowing you to obtain a comfortable position for a wide variety of angles. The VESA mounting support may also be useful to some people as well.

 
Above: photo of text at 2560 x 1440 (top) and 1920 x 1080 (bottom)

The screen is designed to run at its native resolution of 2560 x 1440 and at a 144Hz recommended refresh rate. However, if you want you are able to run the screen outside of this resolution. We tested the screen at a lower 1920 x 1080 resolution to see how the screen handles the interpolation of the resolution, while maintaining the same aspect ratio of 16:9. At native resolution the text was very sharp and clear. When running at a 1080p resolution the text is still reasonably clear, with moderate levels of blurring. You do lose some screen real-estate as well of course but the image seems to be interpolated quite well from 1080p sources. That's a good sign if you need to game at a lower resolution due to the demands on your system of a high refresh rate.

 


Gaming Introduction

The BenQ XL2730Z is an interesting screen to test when it comes to gaming. This is BenQ's first 2560 x 1440 resolution gaming screen, surpassing the previous XL series models which had been limited to 1920 x 1080 maximum until now. In fact there are very few 1440p gaming screens on the market, the first one released being the extremely popular Asus ROG Swift PG278Q we tested in July last year. That was a TN Film based model with 1ms G2G response time, 144Hz refresh rate and NVIDIA's G-sync technology. BenQ have adopted a similar (not identical) panel as the Asus in this new XL2730Z display, a TN Film offering from AU Optronics. They've maintained the very low 1ms G2G response time and 144Hz refresh rate support we've gotten used to from their XL series which is of course great news for gamers.

Secondly this is the first FreeSync capable screen we have tested, and one of the first available on the market in fact. We will discuss FreeSync later on in this review, but it is basically AMD's equivalent to NVIDIA G-sync which we have already seen successfully deployed in various displays, including the aforementioned Asus ROG Swift PG278Q. It should also be noted that BenQ have added a Blur Reduction mode like some other XL models over the last couple of years. While NVIDIA's G-sync module also provides a native blur reduction mode with it (ULMB), FreeSync models do not have a blur reduction feature included. BenQ have added theirs separately which is great to see. Again, we will test that later on.

Panel technology

TN Film

Refresh Rate

144Hz

FreeSync support

Blur Reduction mode

NVIDIA 3D Vision

To make the most of this screen you will want to have a suitable AMD graphics card which supports Adaptive Sync/FreeSync. That will allow you to use one of the most interesting new features of this latest screen. One of the key selling points of FreeSync is that unlike G-sync it does not add a massive cost overhead to the display, and so actually even if you don't have a suitable graphics card to use FreeSync you can still benefit from everything else this screen has to offer. Don't forget there's a significant change when it comes to resolution compared with the older XL models here. It should be noted that the screen can also be used from NVIDIA graphics cards without issue, and there's a good range of connectivity options provided to suit whatever card you've got. Again, you won't be able to use FreeSync, but everything else should work fine.

We expect if you're looking at such a high end gaming display that you will also have a pretty high end gaming PC to run it, so 2560 x 1440 at 144Hz would of course be preferable over anything else. That will give you the highest frame rate and smoothest motion in gaming. We hope you have a system powerful enough to run this screen at its intended 2560 x 1440 resolution and 144Hz refresh rate, as really that's where you will get the optimum performance. You do need to consider the power of your graphics card though as there will be a big demand on your system for gaming at these kind of settings. Fortunately though there is also the new AMD FreeSync technology which will offer you smooth gaming even at lower frame rate outputs. Read on for more information.



Responsiveness and Gaming

Quoted G2G Response Time

1ms G2G

Quoted ISO Response Time

n/a

Panel Manufacturer and Technology

AU Optronics

Panel Part

M270DTN01.0

Overdrive Used

Yes

Overdrive Control Available to User

AMA

Overdrive Settings

Off, High, Premium

The XL2730Z is rated by BenQ as having a 1ms G2G response time, which indicates the panel uses overdrive / response time compensation (RTC) technology to boost pixel transitions across grey to grey changes. There is user control over the overdrive impulse within the OSD menu using the 'AMA' (Advanced Motion Accelerator) option. The part being used is the AU Optronics M270DTN01.0 TN Film panel. Have a read about response time in our specs section if you need additional information about this measurement.

We will first test the screen using our thorough response time testing method. This uses an oscilloscope and photosensor to measure the pixel response times across a series of different transitions, in the full range from 0 (black) to 255 (white). This will give us a realistic view of how the monitor performs in real life, as opposed to being reliant only on a manufacturers spec. We can work out the response times for changing between many different shades, calculate the maximum, minimum and average grey to grey (G2G) response times, and provide an evaluation of any overshoot present on the monitor.

We use an ETC M526 oscilloscope for these measurements along with a custom photosensor device. Have a read of our response time measurement article for a full explanation of the testing methodology and reported data.
 

Response Time (AMA) Setting Comparison

The XL2730Z comes with a user control for the overdrive impulse available within the OSD menu in the 'picture' section as shown above. There are 3 options available here under the AMA (Advanced Motion Accelerator) option in the menu for off, high and premium modes. First of all we carried out a smaller sample set of measurements in all three of the AMA response time settings. These, along with various motion tests allowed us to quickly identify which was the optimum overdrive setting for this screen.

For completeness we tested the response times in each of these AMA modes at various refresh rates, ranging from a normal 60Hz, up to the maximum 144Hz. This allowed us to establish if there were any differences in response time behaviour at each refresh rate as well. Since FreeSync will by its nature dynamically control the refresh rate, it's important to establish if there is any impact on pixel response time behaviour when it does. We will say up front now to save time that there was practically no difference in pixel response time/overshoot behaviour between each refresh rate setting. The tests shown below are at 144Hz for reference, but it made no difference really over 60Hz or anything in between.

Firstly we tested the response times with AMA set to Off. Average G2G was pretty slow for a TN Film panel at 8.5ms, with some transitions ranging up to 13 - 14ms. The overdrive impulse was turned off here and so there was at least no overshoot at all. With response times being slow though, you will almost certainly want to push for a higher setting which is common on BenQ XL screens.

We switched up to the middle 'High' setting and tested again. Response times had been improved significantly, dropping from the 8.5ms G2G average we'd seen before to 3.1ms. Some transitions reached down to as low as 1.0ms so the screen does live up to its spec as well. There were some transitions which now showed quite high levels of overshoot though, particularly those that had previously been slow and were now sped up nicely. There's therefore some trade-off if you want to improve the response times as you have to live with some moderate levels of overshoot. That's quite common on a lot of fast TN Film screens to be fair. We felt the moderate overshoot was worth it for the improved response times.

The highest 'Premium' setting improved response times a bit further down to 2.3ms G2G average. The problem is that the overshoot become much higher and far more noticeable. It was to an extent that made this AMA mode too aggressive. We would recommend sticking to the AMA high mode.


Transition: 50-150-50 (scale = 20ms), refresh rate 144Hz

The above graph shows the high level of overshoot recorded when using AMA Premium. You will see the high peak on the rise time (25.6%) and even some overshoot on the fall time (9.2%). Stick with AMA High.

If we take some test photos using the PixPerAn tool you can make some further visual comparisons between the overdrive settings. With AMA off the slower response times lead to some low levels of motion blur. It's not actually a massive amount as even with an 8.5ms G2G response time measured it's about on par with most decent IPS-type panels anyway. Once you turn the AMA setting up to High the blurring is reduced noticeably and the moving image becomes sharper and clearer. Some slight dark trailing is evident but it's not overly distracting in normal use. Higher refresh rates help to reduce any appearance as well due to the increased frame rates to the screen. If you switch up to the premium AMA setting the overshoot does become very apparent, and there's a dark and pale halo behind moving objects. Definitely better to stick with the AMA High setting.

Important - see our FreeSync section of the review regarding some limitations with AMA settings when paired with a FreeSync graphics card/driver/connection at this time.

 


More Detailed Measurements - AMA High

Having established that the AMA High mode offered the best response/overshoot balance we carried out our normal wider range of measurements as shown below. Tests were completed at the maximum 144Hz refresh rate although the refresh rate made no real difference to the response times anyway.

The average G2G response time was more accurately measured at 3.4ms which was excellent overall. Rise times were slightly slower than fall times but not by anything significant. Some measurements reached as low as the advertised 1ms figure as well.

There was some noticeable overshoot introduced unfortunately at this AMA High level. It wasn't too severe, and certainly less than if you push AMA up to the maximum Premium mode. Still, some transitions showed pretty high overshoot values. It was pretty comparable to what we've seen from other fast TN Film models including the older XL2720Z model, and the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q.

Important - see our FreeSync section of the review regarding some limitations with AMA settings when paired with a FreeSync graphics card/driver/connection at this time.



Display Comparisons

The above comparison table and graph shows you the lowest, average and highest G2G response time measurement for each screen we have tested with our oscilloscope system. There is also a colour coded mark next to each screen in the table to indicate the RTC overshoot error, as the response time figure alone doesn't tell the whole story.

The response time performance of the XL2730Z was on par with other fast TN Film screens we've tested of late. It's a little faster than the older XL2720Z but not by anything significant that would be noticeable in practice. The level of overdrive is slightly less if you compare the results between the two so we can conclude some minor improvements have been made for the new model which is always good to see. It's very comparable also to the excellent Asus ROG Swift PG278Q which is good news. The response times are very low on average (3.4ms G2G, AMA = High) but there are moderate levels of overshoot as a result. It does seem that the fastest TN Film panels achieve their low response times at the expense of some low levels of overshoot.

 

The screen was also tested using the chase test in PixPerAn for the following display comparisons. As a reminder, a series of pictures are taken on the highest shutter speed and compared, with the best case example shown on the left, and worst case example on the right. This should only be used as a rough guide to comparative responsiveness but is handy for a comparison between different screens and technologies as well as a means to compare those screens we tested before the introduction of our oscilloscope method.


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film @ 144Hz (AMA = High)

In practice the BenQ XL2730Z performed best with the AMA overdrive setting on 'High'. Motion blur was minimal and the moving image looked sharp and crisp. Motion felt very fast and fluid thanks to the 144Hz refresh rate, something which you can't really pick out with the camera in these specific tests. There was some slight overshoot detected in the form of some dark trailing but it was a moderate level, and certainly nowhere near as bad as you will see if you switch AMA up to 'Premium'.


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film @ 144Hz (AMA = High)


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film + 144Hz (AMA = High)

If we compare the new XL2730Z first of all to the previous XL2720Z mode you will notice the performance is very similar. Response times are very close as measured with our oscilloscope so we're not surprised that there's very similar levels of blur to the moving image - very low levels that is. The old XL2720Z shows a little more noticeable overshoot as the dark trail is a little more pronounced but again not by anything too significant.
 


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film @ 144Hz (AMA = High)


27" 8ms G2G LG.Display AH-IPS (Response Time = Normal)


27" 8ms G2G LG.Display AH-IPS


27" 4ms G2G AU Optronics AHVA (AMA Setting = High)


It is interesting to compare the XL2730Z against some of the other popular 27" models we have tested with 2560 x 1440 resolutions, this time with IPS-type panels. The Dell U2713HM is about as fast as you can get from a 60Hz IPS screen at the moment, with an 8.5ms G2G response time and no overshoot detected. The Dell U2715H and BenQ BL2710PT are a little slower at around 10ms G2G and so there is a more noticeable blurring to the image. Overall the XL2730Z feels snappier and faster than these other models because of its much higher refresh rate. While the response times are low enough on models like the U2713HM to produce pretty low levels of motion blur, you are still limited by the refresh rate of the screen. Once you reach levels where the response time is sufficiently low to not be a major factor in blurring, you get a far more effective elimination of motion blur by increasing the refresh rate or adding additional blur reduction techniques. If you have a look at our following sections with the pursuit camera you can see what a difference it makes bumping the refresh rate up from 60Hz to 144Hz in actual perceived motion blur. You can also see what a fantastic job the Blur Reduction mode does in reducing blur even further.

 


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film @ 144Hz (AMA = High)


27" 1ms G2G AU Optronics TN Film @ 144Hz (OD = Normal)


27" 4ms G2G AU Optronics AHVA (IPS-type) @ 144Hz (OD = Normal)


23.5" 4ms G2G Sharp MVA + 120Hz

This is where the real comparisons are! We've included a comparison above against 3 other very fast 120Hz+ compatible screens we have tested. The screens shown here are all aimed primarily at gamers and have various features and extras which make them more suitable overall for gaming. Firstly there is a comparison against the very popular Asus ROG Swift PG278Q with its 144Hz refresh rate and fast response time TN Film panel. This showed very fast pixel response times and smooth movement thanks to its increased refresh rate. You are able to reduce the motion blur even more through the use of the ULMB strobed backlight as well if you need to. In other related areas this screen also supports NVIDIA's G-sync dynamic refresh rate technology. There was some low/moderate levels overshoot noticeable on the Asus but nothing major.

Then there is a comparison against the excellent new Acer Predator XB270HU, the World's first 144Hz IPS-type panel. This had very low response times for an IPS panel, not quite as low as the TN Film screens here but offsetting that slightly higher response time is the fact that it has no overshoot at all! This screen also benefits from the high frame rates and has support for NVIDIA G-sync and ULMB as well. 

Lastly there is the MVA based Eizo FG2421 screen with a fairly fast response time (especially for the panel technology being used) and 120Hz refresh rate support. There is also an additional 'Turbo 240' motion blur reduction mode which really helps reduce the perceived motion blur in practice.

Overall the BenQ XL2730Z held its own against the fastest TN Film models like the previous XL2720Z and the popular Asus ROG Swift PG278Q. The moderate levels of overshoot were a bit of a shame, but something you have to live with on the fastest TN Film screens. The high refresh rate and additional Blur Reduction mode (which we will look at shortly) add to the experience and make it an excellent gaming option. FreeSync (when working properly, see below) should also be very useful to AMD users.
 


FreeSync

Obviously a huge part of the BenQ XL2730Z is the addition of the new AMD FreeSync technology, their branded version of the VESA standard Adaptive Sync. It's a competing technology to NVIDIA's already available G-sync and so the principles of its operation remain the same. We've discussed G-sync in our Asus ROG Swift PG278Q and Acer XB270HU reviews already in detail, but we'll take a look specifically at FreeSync here as well.

As an introduction, monitors typically operate at a fixed refresh rate, whether that is 60, 120 or 144Hz. When running graphically intense content like games, the frame rate can of course fluctuate somewhat and this poses a potential issue to the user. There are traditionally two main options available for how frames are passed from the graphics card to the monitor using a feature called VSYNC, whether Vsync is turned on or off. The first diagram below come from NVIDIA's G-sync content but we will leave them in to demonstrate how V-sync works as the same principles apply here when talking about FreeSync.

Vsync Overview

At the most basic level VSync OFF’ allows the GPU to send frames to the monitor as soon as they have been processed, irrespective of whether the monitor has finished its refresh and is ready to move onto the next frame. This allows you to run at higher frame rates than the refresh rate of your monitor but can lead to a lot of problems. When the frame rate of the game and refresh rate of the monitor are different, things become unsynchronised. This lack of synchronisation coupled with the nature of monitor refreshes (typically from top to bottom) causes the monitor to display a different frame towards the top of the screen vs. the bottom. This results in distinctive tearing’ on the monitor that really bothers some users. Even on a 120Hz or 144Hz monitor, where some users incorrectly claim that there is no tearing, the tearing is still there. It is generally less noticeable but it is definitely still there. Tearing can become particularly noticeable during faster horizontal motion (e.g. turning, panning, strafing), especially at lower refresh rates.

The solution to this tearing problem for many years has been the VSync ON’ option which essentially forces the GPU to hold a frame until the monitor is ready to display it, as it has finished displaying the previous frame. It also locks the frame rate to a maximum equal to the monitor’s refresh rate. Whilst this eliminates tearing, it also increases lag as there is an inherent delay before frames are sent to the monitor. On a 120Hz monitor the lag penalty is half that of a 60Hz monitor and on a 144Hz monitor is even lower. It is still there, though, and some users feel it disconnects them from game play somewhat. When the frame rate drops below the refresh rate of the monitor this disconnected feeling increases to a level that will bother a large number of users.  Some frames will be processed by the GPU more slowly than the monitor is able to display them. In other words the monitor is ready to move onto a new frame before the GPU is ready to send it. So instead of displaying a new frame the monitor displays the previous frame again, resulting in stutter. Stuttering can be a major problem when using the Vsync on option to reduce tearing.

During Vsync ON operation, there can also sometimes be a sudden slow down in frame rates when the GPU has to work harder. This creates situations where the frame rate suddenly halves, such as 60 frames per second slowing down to 30 frames per second. During Vsync ON, if your graphics card is not running flat-out, these frame rate transitions can be very jarring. These sudden changes to frame rates creates sudden changes in lag, and this can disrupt game play, especially in first-person shooters.

 

Variable Refresh Rate - Adaptive-Sync

To overcome these limitations with Vsync, both NVIDIA and AMD have introduced new technologies dubbed G-sync and FreeSync respectively. We've already seen G-sync used for quite a few months now with great success. The BenQ XL2730Z will be the first screen we've tested featuring AMD's version as FreeSync was only launched on March 19th 2015. The idea of both technologies is based on variable refresh rates. These technologies can be integrated into monitors allowing them to dynamically alter the monitor refresh rate depending on the graphics card output and frame rate. The frame rate of the monitor is still limited in much the same way it is without a variable refresh rate technology, but it adjusts dynamically to a refresh rate to match the frame rate of the game. By doing this the monitor refresh rate is perfectly synchronised with the GPU. You don’t get the screen tearing or visual latency of having Vsync disabled, nor do you get the stuttering or input lag associates with using Vsync. You can get the benefit of higher frame rates from Vsync off but without the tearing, and without the lag and stuttering caused if you switch to Vsync On.

G-Sync vs. FreeSync

        

Both G-sync and FreeSync operate on this principle of dynamically controlling the refresh rate. There's a few differences between how the technology is implemented though. NVIDIA G-sync requires a proprietary G-sync module to be added to the monitor, which comes at quite a high cost premium. You will notice as a result that the retail price of compatible G-sync monitors is often £100 - 200 higher than similar competitors because of this module. There is another limitation with adding a G-sync module in that it is only designed to work with a single interface currently, and so supporting monitors only offer a single DisplayPort connection. That makes those monitors somewhat restrictive when it comes to attaching any other devices of computers. The screens are also provided without a scaler, and so hardware aspect ratio control options are not offered. That's not as important as on some screens given you are restricted to a single DP interface anyway, and the PC can handle the scaling for you. It does also mean that signal processing lag is incredibly low as a result, another positive for gaming.

G-sync modules also support a native blur reduction mode dubbed ULMB (Ultra Low Motion Blur). This allows the user to opt for a strobe backlight system if they want, in order to reduce perceived motion blur in gaming. It cannot be used at the same time as G-sync since ULMB operates at a fixed refresh rate only, but it's a useful extra option for these gaming screens. Of course since G-sync/ULMB are an NVIDIA technology, it only works with specific G-sync compatible NVIDIA graphics cards. While you can still use a G-sync monitor from an AMD/Intel graphics card for other uses, you can't use the actual G-sync or ULMB functions.

On the other hand AMD FreeSync technology costs virtually nothing for a monitor manufacturer to adopt and so there is no price premium really for supporting monitors, hence the name. Most of them already had the relevant components in their supply chains, but need the right software to come along to expose latent capabilities. With the help of VESA, the DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync specification was born to do exactly that. DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync has no unique material or licensing costs, and AMD FreeSync technology builds on top of that industry standard to give gamers a benefit in all of their games. No licensing. No proprietary hardware. No incremental hardware costs. So as the name suggests, the key advantage of FreeSync really is in the cost!

Thankfully since you don't need a dedicated extra module added to the screen you can still offer multiple video inputs on the screen without problems. You can only use FreeSync over DisplayPort, but there's no issue with including HDMI, DVI, D-sub etc to offer the user multiple interface options. You're not limited to just a single DisplayPort like with G-sync. Scalers can also be provided as normal for hardware aspect ratio control although there may be additional signal processing lag added depending on the electronics and scalers manufacturers use. They will need to focus closely on reducing lag as they do with current non-FreeSync monitors. There is no native blur reduction mode coupled with FreeSync support so it is down to the display manufacturer whether they add an extra blur reduction method themselves. FreeSync can only be used from compatible AMD graphics cards, and you cannot use FreeSync from an NVIDIA card. You can still use a FreeSync monitor from an NVIDIA card without problems, just not the actual FreeSync feature.

We don't want to get in to any kind of NVIDIA vs. AMD debate here. What this really boils down to is whether you're an NVIDIA or AMD graphics user. At the moment there isn't a single standard which works from all graphics cards, so you need to pick a monitor to match your graphics choice. AMD's option is cheaper and more versatile for manufacturers to adopt but we don't feel that it will mean we will have a much larger selection of FreeSync monitors to choose from. At the end of the day the monitor manufacturers need to cater for their audience, and with such a huge market share from NVIDIA they would be mad to ignore G-sync offerings. Maybe at some point there will be a common approach between NVIDIA and AMD but with both technologies being so new at the moment, we can't see that happening for a while. G-sync may be more expensive, and limited when it comes to connection options at the moment, but there is the added benefit of the native ULMB included don't forget.

For more information from AMD on FreeSync, see their website.


FreeSync Operation

AMD FreeSync can support dynamic refresh rates between 9 and 240Hz but the actual supported ranges depend on the display. In the case of the XL2730Z the range supported is 40 to 144Hz. That means with FreeSync enabled the screens refresh rate can be dynamically controlled between 40 and 144Hz. When you connect the display to a compatible graphics card, with the relevant driver package installed the display is detected as FreeSync compatible and gives the following pop up message:

AMD kindly sent us a Club 3D Radeon R9 290 Series for testing:

Within the Catalyst Control Centre there is an added configuration option for FreeSync at the bottom as shown in the screenshot below. Once enabled, FreeSync ON is also confirmed in the OSD menu of the XL2730Z. Some features such as the Blur Reduction mode if enabled will turn FreeSync off as they are not cross-compatible. You still have access to all the normal OSD controls though.

We don't want to go into too much depth about game play, frame rates and the performance of FreeSync here as we will end up moving away from characteristics of the monitor and into areas more associated with the operation of the graphics card and its output. FreeSync is a combined graphics card and monitor technology, but from a monitor point of view all it is doing is supporting this feature to allow the graphics card to operate in a new way. We'd encourage you to read some of the FreeSync reviews online as they go into a lot more detail about graphics card rendering, frame rates etc as well.

Within the AMD press material and presentation which we were invited to, they had carried out some tests of FreeSync and noted a minor improvement in frame rates when FreeSync was enabled. We're talking extremely minor here, up to about half a frame difference at best. Still, it's better than any drop in performance! On the other hand they found a minor drop in frame rate performance when testing NVIDIA G-sync, down by a couple of frames at most. NVIDIA had acknowledged this minor performance drop in the past although said they were working on it. For those interested, there's some more information here about the test environments used by AMD.

The results obtained by AMD were as follows:


Above: AMD tests of FreeSync and G-sync Frame rates

AMD concluded from their tests that enabling FreeSync maintains a more consistent performance vs. the competition:

Really any difference here is extremely minor and won't make any practical difference to the user. Anandtech actually carried out some further tests themselves and found no discernable difference between the two solutions. Perhaps there's some very minor difference somewhere, but not something to worry about at all. We only include it here as you're likely to hear about this in any AMD vs. NVIDIA conversations.

 

In addition to these tests, AMD also checked how each solution behaves if you operate outside of the supported range. i.e. what happens if you provide a frame rate above the maximum supported 144Hz, or below the bottom end of the range supported by the monitor. With NVIDIA G-sync, the solution behaves as if you had V-sync on, capping the frame rate at 144fps maximum for instance if you exceed 144Hz. With AMD FreeSync you actually have the option as a user to either have V-sync on or off for operation above the maximum supported refresh rate. So if you have a powerful enough system you are able to output more frames if you want. Obviously you're back into the realms of possible tearing etc with V-sync off, or into the realms of some possible lag and stutter with V-sync on, but you have the choice as the user at least.

Their tests here confirm that operation, using V-sync off when out of range of FreeSync. Again test environment described here if you want more info.


It should be noted that the real benefits of variable refresh rate technologies really come into play when viewing lower frame rate content, around 40 - 75fps typically delivers the best results compared with Vsync on/off. At consistently higher frame rates as you get nearer to 144 fps the benefits of FreeSync (and G-sync) are not as great, but still apparent. There will be a gradual transition period for each user where the benefits of using FreeSync decrease, and it may instead be better to use the Blur Reduction feature discussed in the following section which is not available when using FreeSync. Higher end gaming machines might be able to push out higher frame rates more consistently and so you might find less benefit in using FreeSync. The Blur Reduction mode could then help in another very important area, helping to reduce the perceived motion blur caused by LCD displays. Keeping in mind that the XL2730Z features a large 2560 x 1440 resolution, you'd need a pretty powerful system to achieve consistently high frame rates, so we'd encourage you to try FreeSync of course to see how it affects your gaming usage. It's nice to have both FreeSync and a Blur Reduction mode available to choose from certainly. Well done BenQ!

 

FreeSync Performance and the XL2730Z Display


From original review dated 24/4/15

From a monitor point of view the use of FreeSync creates a problem at the moment on the XL2730Z at the moment. The issue is that the AMA setting does nothing when you connect the screen over DisplayPort to a FreeSync system. This applies whether you are actually using FreeSync or not, you don't even need to have the option ticked in the graphics card settings for the problem to occur. As a result, the setting appears to be in the off state, and changing it to High or Premium in the menu makes no difference to real-World response times or performance. As a result, response times are fairly slow at ~8.5ms G2G and there is a more noticeable blur to the moving image. See the more detailed response time tests in the previous sections for more information, but needless to say this is not the optimum AMA (response time) setting on this screen. For some reason, the combination of FreeSync support and this display disables the AMA function.

This only happens when you are using a FreeSync enabled graphics card, FreeSync capable drivers and the DisplayPort interface. If you switch to DVI or any other interface (which don't support the FreeSync feature) even from the same graphics card/driver then AMA behaves as it should again. If you use DisplayPort but revert to an older non-FreeSync enabled driver package then AMA works as it should. If you use a non-FreeSync supporting AMD card, or a card from NVIDIA/Intel then AMA functions as it should. It's only when all 3 things are combined that the problem seems to occur. Obviously if you eliminate one of them to make AMA work properly, you lose the advantage of FreeSync dynamic refresh rate control. The only exception is if you enable the Blur Reduction mode, where the AMA function then works properly regardless of your system configuration.

Having spoken to BenQ about it the issue is a known bug which apparently currently affects all FreeSync monitors. The AMD FreeSync command disturbs the response time (AMA) function, causing it to switch off. It's something which will require an update from AMD to their driver behaviour, which they are currently working on. It will also require a firmware update for the screen itself to correct the problem. Both are being worked on and we will aim to update this review when it is fixed, hopefully within a couple of weeks. Assuming that fixes the issue the performance when using a FreeSync system should be much better than now, as you can move from AMA Off to the better AMA High setting. At the moment if you use the FreeSync function, or even just have a FreeSync enabled system in place, the response times are slower than they should be by a fair amount, and so you will experience a moderate amount of blur. If you need to, you can always switch to DVI or another interface other than DisplayPort to benefit from the AMA setting (but lose FreeSync).

It is unclear at the moment what would be required to update an existing XL2730Z model, and what would be required in terms of new firmware. We will update this review section when we know more.
 

Update 1/6/15

BenQ have confirmed that the FreeSync/AMA issue has now been fixed. A driver update from AMD is already available and should be downloaded from their website. In addition BenQ will be releasing a firmware update for the monitor itself to fix this issue. Current stocks in distribution are being recalled and updated with retailers so future purchases should already carry this new firmware. This is expected to apply for stock purchased AFTER 1st July, as V002 firmware screens should be shipped by BenQ to distributors in late June.

For those who already have an XL2730Z if you want to, you can return it to BenQ for them to carry out the firmware update for you. This only applies if the user is experiencing issues with the performance of the screen. There is no simple way for the end user to update the firmware themselves and it is not encouraged. Users should contact BenQ support through their relevant country website for more information on how to return their screen for the update.

This only applies in Europe and we do not have any information about how this update will be handled in other countries unfortunately. We would suggest contacting BenQ support for additional help if you need more information, now that a V002 firmware is in circulation. You should be able to identify the firmware version you have by accessing the factory OSD menu (hold menu button while powering the screen on, then press menu). The Firmware version (F/W) should start with V001 or V002 and then a date. You are looking for V002 for the updated firmware.

 

 


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Blur Reduction

The XL2730Z includes BenQ's own native Blur Reduction mode, designed to help eliminate perceived motion blur in practice. We talked about the concepts of blur reduction backlights in a lot more detail in our detailed article, so we would encourage you to read that to understand more about the feature and what it is designed to do. There is a basic on/off control for the Blur Reduction mode in the OSD menu initially, and it is also available as one of the quick launch options in the menu by default.

When you enable the Blur Reduction feature a couple of new options appear in the OSD menu if you drill in to the relevant option (except when using Blur Reduction at 60Hz for some reason). One minor gripe is that these additional options don't show in the Blur Reduction quick launch menu, you have to drill in to the main OSD to change them. There is a new setting which allows you to adjust the 'intensity' which controls the pulse width. Shorter strobe lengths can help produce progressively less motion blur, but it does come at the cost of screen brightness. The second setting allows you to control the 'area', which is the timing of the strobe. This allows you to adjust where on the screen you will see strobe cross-talk, something which cannot be completely eliminated but can at least be customised by the user here. These options basically replicate those which were made available on the original XL2720Z by the addition of the BlurBusters strobe utility. They are now available natively from the screen itself which is very useful.

One thing to note is that the brightness setting you are using in your current preset mode (FPS1, Standard etc) will carry over when you enable Blur Reduction. So if you're using a 20% brightness for normal use in the standard preset mode, when you enable Blur Reduction the brightness will still be at 20%. This is then a very dark image and a lot of people will want to use a much higher brightness setting for Blur Reduction mode. We would recommend therefore setting up one of the user game preset modes to your liking for use with Blur Reduction so you can simply switch to that preset, rather than mess around with your normal-use preset all the time.
 


Operation


Backlight strobing at 60/100/120Hz refresh rate (scale = 5ms)

The Blur Reduction feature is available for refresh rates between 60 and 144Hz so we wanted to test the behaviour across each. Normally a strobe backlight would be put in sync with the refresh rate of the display, giving one strobe per refresh cycle. At 60Hz the strobing of the backlight at 60 times per second would be too slow and would produce visible and distracting flicker. As a result, the strobe is instead doubled and operates here at 120Hz, which is a fine principle. Each cycle therefore takes 8.33ms.

Oddly when using the Blur Reduction mode at 60Hz refresh rate the additional intensity and area options are not available. We know that the intensity setting is by default at a level of 10 (settings between 1 - 25), and so it's not possible to influence the luminance of the screen using that setting, only by adjusting the backlight brightness. See the following section for max and min luminance achieved while using Blur Reduction at 60Hz but it is lower than can be achieved at other refresh rates where you can lower the intensity and improve resulting luminance. Without access to the 'area' setting as well, you cannot influence the appearance of strobe cross-talk on the screen. More worrying though is that while operating at 60Hz there is a very noticeable ghosting trail to a moving image, but we're not sure what's causing it. It's very obvious and occurs regardless of which video interface you use. As a result we'd probably recommend not using Blur Reduction at 60Hz if you can help it as it doesn't seem to function correctly.
 

When you switch up to 100Hz refresh rate you would normally expect the strobe cycling to sync up at 100Hz (each strobe taking 10ms). However, for some odd reason the strobe frequency stays at 120Hz here. Here you have a frame rate refreshing every 10ms, and a strobe which is out of sync with it refreshing every 8.33ms. The ghosting issue from 60Hz is no longer there, but there is a stuttering to the moving image due to the mis-timing of the strobe and refresh rate. This was confirmed over both DisplayPort and DVI inputs.

At 120Hz refresh rate the strobe remains in sync at 120Hz as it was at 60 and 100Hz before, refreshing every 8.33ms as is the frame rate. Again you have access to intensity and area settings, but since the strobing remains identical to at 100Hz, the luminance and timing results are identical. Thankfully there is no ghosting like there was at 60Hz and the stuttering from 100Hz has gone since the strobe is now properly in sync with the refresh rate. We confirmed this to be the case using both DisplayPort and DVI inputs. This is a much better refresh rate to run Blur Reduction at as it works correctly without issue.



Backlight strobing, 144Hz refresh rate over DisplayPort (scale = 5ms)

When using DisplayPort at 144Hz the strobe is thankfully brought in sync with the refresh rate, strobing every 6.94ms with the frame rate. Again you have access to intensity and area settings, but with the strobes being slightly more frequent now than at 120 times per second, the maximum luminance is impacted slightly. The image is clear of the ghosting from 60Hz, and there's no stuttering as the strobe is in sync with the refresh rate. However, if you switch to DVI the strobe seems to revert to running at 120Hz instead, leading to the same stuttering issue we'd seen at 100Hz. The Blur Reduction on the whole seems to be pretty buggy and we've reported this to BenQ.

A summary of the Blur Reduction mode at each refresh rate. To summarise it's only usable at 120Hz; or 144Hz if you're using DisplayPort connection only. Note that enabling Blur Reduction does disable the FreeSync link between monitor and PC, so you can use the AMA function properly (stick with High) even on a FreeSync supporting system, as long as you're using Blur reduction mode. Note that FreeSync and Blur Reduction cannot be used at the same time though.

Refresh Rate

Working over DisplayPort

Working over DVI

Notes

60Hz

Ghosting apparent on moving image

100Hz

Stuttering caused by strobe operating at 120Hz

120Hz

Functions correctly!

144Hz

Over DVI the strobe reverts to 120Hz, causing stuttering

We will test the actual benefits of Blur Reduction in the following section of this review with our new pursuit camera tests.
 

Brightness Range

Refresh Rate

Max Brightness
at 100

Medium Brightness
at 50

Min Brightness
at 0

60Hz

130.7

80.2

23.2

100Hz

195.3

120.3

34.8

120Hz

195.3

120.3

34.8

144HZ

191.0

118.7

34.2

note: intensity setting at minimum of 1, except for 60Hz where option was not available (default setting 10).

We measured the min and max brightness range while using the Blur Reduction mode at each refresh rate. Where the setting was available (all but 60Hz) we reduced the 'intensity' to the minimum of 1 which produced the brightest image. You will note that at 60Hz the screen is darker since you cannot control the intensity, and it remains at its default 10 setting. We then just changed the OSD brightness control on its own. The maximum brightness achieved here was actually very good at 191 - 195 cd/m2. That is quite a lot higher than was achieved on the XL2720Z model (118.6 cd/m2 maximum) and on the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q (122.67 cd/m2). That's good news for fans of Blur Reduction modes as the brightness is often not sufficient for many users.
 

Intensity (Strobe length) Setting @ 60/100/120Hz Refresh Rate

We measured the strobe length at a variety of the 'intensity' settings, while running at each of the above refresh rates. Note that the strobe is always set at 120Hz in each of these 3 refresh rates anyway. You can adjust the setting in steps of 1, between a setting of 1 (brightest) and 25 (darkest). Each complete strobe lasts a total of 8.33ms at 120 strobes per second:

Intensity Setting (pulse width)

On period (ms)

Off Period
(ms)

Maximum Luminance (Brightness at 100)

1

2.125

6.205

195.3

5

1.750

6.580

165.7

10

1.250

7.080

126.8

15

0.875

7.455

91.1

20

0.500

7.830

53.1

25

0.125

8.205

15.0

Intensity (Strobe length) Setting @ 144z Refresh Rate

We measured the strobe length again at a variety of the 'intensity' settings, while running at 144Hz refresh rate (over DisplayPort). Each complete strobe lasts a total of 6.94ms at 144 strobes per second:

Intensity Setting (pulse width)

On period (ms)

Off Period
(ms)

Maximum Luminance (Brightness at 100)

1

1.750

5.194

191.0

5

1.500

5.444

164.8

10

1.000

5.944

126.8

15

0.750

6.194

90.2

20

0.500

6.444

51.2

25

0.125

6.819

11.7

 

Colour and Other Setup Characteristics

We wanted to test the impact on the setup of the screen when enabling the Blur Reduction feature to see whether it has a knock-on effect to white point, gamma or colour accuracy. You can see straight away that it impacts the luminance of the screen, which we've already looked at above.


BenQ XL2730Z - Calibrated Settings

  
 

 

Calibrated Settings

luminance (cd/m2)

122

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.13

Contrast Ratio

917:1

 

Above is our calibrated state from earlier on in the review, with the Blur Reduction feature turned off.

 


BenQ XL2730Z - Calibrated Settings, Blur Reduction Mode On

 

Calibrated Settings
Blur Reduction On

luminance (cd/m2)

75

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.08

Contrast Ratio

892:1

 

We turned the Blur Reduction mode on, but left the intensity option at the minimum (brightest) setting of 1 here. We left the OSD settings as they were before, including brightness and left our calibrated ICC profile active from our initial calibration. The gamma was not impacted at all which was great news, and there was only a very minor 1% skewing of the white point (now slightly too warm by 100k). Colour accuracy remained almost identical to before as well which was very positive. The only real difference when Blur Reduction was enabled was the reduced luminance, dropping it down from 122 cd/m2 to 75 cd/m2. Contrast ratio however remained basically the same at 892:1.

 

This was pleasing as we know from testing older LightBoost strobed backlight systems that they can really impact the colours and white point of a screen when enabled. There seemed to be pretty much no error introduced here by using Blur Reduction.

 



Pursuit Camera Tests

We've already tested above the actual pixel response times and other aspects of the screen's gaming performance. We wanted to carry out some pursuit camera tests as well to give an even more complete idea of the performance of this screen, and the improvements made to motion blur when using the Blur Reduction feature also.

Pursuit cameras are used to capture motion blur as a user might experience it on a display. They are simply cameras which follow the on-screen motion and are extremely accurate at measuring motion blur, ghosting and overdrive artefacts of moving images. Since they simulate the eye tracking motion of moving eyes, they can be useful in giving an idea of how a moving image appears to the end user. It is the blurring caused by eye tracking on continuously-displayed refreshes (sample-and-hold) that we are keen to analyse with this new approach. This is not pixel persistence caused by response times; but a different cause of display motion blur which cannot be captured using static camera tests. Low response times do have a positive impact on motion blur, and higher refresh rates also help reduce blurring to a degree. It does not matter how low response times are, or how high refresh rates are, you will still see motion blur from LCD displays under normal operation to some extent and that is what this section is designed to measure. Further technologies specifically designed to reduce perceived motion blur are required to eliminate the blur seen on these type of sample-and-hold displays which we will also look at.

We used the Blurbusters.com Ghosting Motion Test which is designed to be used with pursuit camera setups. The pursuit camera method is explained at BlurBusters as well as covered in this research paper. We carried out the tests at various refresh rates, with and without Blur Reduction enabled. These UFO objects were moving horizontally at 960 pixels per second, at a frame rate matching refresh rate of the monitor.


Blur Reduction mode Off, AMA setting 'High'

We conducted the above tests over the DVI connection so that we could use the optimum AMA setting of High. These tests capture the kind of blurring you would see with the naked eye when tracking moving objects across the screen. As you increase the refresh rate the perceived blurring is reduced, as refresh rate has a direct impact on motion blur. It is not eliminated entirely due to the nature of the sample-and-hold LCD display and the tracking of your eyes. No matter how fast the refresh rate and pixel response times are, you cannot eliminate the perceived motion blur without other methods (which is where Blur Reduction mode comes in).


Blur Reduction On @ 60Hz

We went ahead and tested the Blur Reduction mode to see what impact that would have on perceived motion blur. At 60Hz refresh rate we've already discussed in the previous section that it produces a noticeable and distracting ghosting to the moving image. Above is a pursuit camera capture showing this ghosting when using Blur Reduction at 60Hz refresh rate. One to avoid certainly! As we've also discussed above, running Blur Reduction at 100Hz leads to stuttering of the moving image and should also be avoided.

Thankfully if you move to 120Hz or 144Hz the blur reduction mode works properly! The ghosting issue from 60Hz has gone, and the stuttering from 100Hz is also eliminated. Thankfully the  strobe is now in time with the chosen refresh rate. Tracking of moving objects became much easier and the image looked sharper and clearer. With the 'area' setting at its default 10 we felt the location of the strobe cross-talk was optimum. It is impossible to eliminate strobe cross-talk completely due to the way they operate, but the important thing is whereabouts on the screen this manifests itself and to what level. The central region is probably the most important since that's where a lot of your gaming focus will be, where crosshairs and the likes are. We were pleased that there was low levels of cross-talk here in the central region and the image looked good. Having the ability to alter the strobe timing makes it very easy for you to tweak it to your liking if needed, moving the areas of the screen which are clearest depending on your uses. Also having the ability to alter the strobe length through the 'intensity' setting was also useful, and you could tweak it to your preference to reduce even more of the persistence if you wanted, as long as you didn't mind sacrificing some brightness. We felt that even at the lowest intensity setting of 1, the blur reduction benefits were very obvious. This also allows you to reach higher brightness levels than if you start increasing the intensity setting, for what we consider to be only marginal further gains in blur reduction. The image was slightly cleaner at 144Hz than at 120Hz due to the higher frequency of the strobe.

 


Additional Gaming Features

Aspect Ratio Control - The XL2730Z supports a massive range of aspect ratio control options through the OSD 'display mode' option as shown below. The Display Mode and Smart Scaling features allow you to change the monitor view to suit your preference and to simulate any in-game experience. Using the Display Mode function, the monitor can be easily changed between 8 different screen sizes, from 17”, 19”, 19”W, 21.5”, 22”W, 23”W, 23.6”W and 24”W.

If you’re looking to customize your screen size further, you can also take advantage of the Smart Scaling feature. The Smart Scaling feature gives you the flexibility to freely scale the screen content to any custom size. With just one monitor, you can simulate any game play and practice under different display sizes for tournaments. Use the Display Mode and Smart Scaling together to get the possible view for any application or game.

 There are options for:

  • Full - interpolation of the input image to fill the screen, no matter what the aspect ratio is of the source

  • Aspect - maintains the source aspect and fills as much of the screen as possible

  • 1:1 - maps the image source resolution to the screen with 1:1 pixel mapping

  • Defined screen sizes and aspects - a whole range of different screen sizes and aspect ratios are simulated, including options at 4:3, 16:9 and 16:10 aspect ratios of different sizes.

Good to see a defined 1:1 pixel mapping option available and a mode to automatically detect and interpolate the source aspect ratio. Looks like BenQ have thought of pretty much everything here for gaming at different preferred resolutions. Also useful for connection of external games consoles etc not running at 2560 x 1440 resolution.

Note that NVIDIA G-sync screens at this time are not provided with an internal scaler, and so having these options available here is an advantage of using AMD FreeSync instead.
 

Preset Modes - There are several preset modes aimed at gamers. These include:

  • FPS 1 and 2 - designed for playing First Person Shooter games. BenQ's documentation states: "Meet your secret winning strategy. The FPS Mode was co-developed with gaming legends to let you tap into the fundamental insights of pro gamers and view the game how a gaming legend would see it. This out-of-the-box preset automatically adjusts your monitor calibrations to provide you with optimal brightness, contrast, sharpness and colour tint. Being able to spot your enemies and track their move carefully in every situation put you at an advantage over your opponents. There are two variations to this special mode: the FPS1 mode is designed to configure and optimize the display for Counter-Strike 1.6 and the FPS2 mode for Counter-Strike Source as recommended by BenQ. The perfect combination of form and function provides gamers with the vantage point to always be one step ahead of the game."
     

  • RTS - designed for playing Real-time Strategy games
     

  • Gamer modes 1, 2 and 3 - 3 customisable preset modes which can be saved to your own personal tastes. You can then control these easily and switch between them using the provided S Switch device.


Above: S Switch for quick switching between custom gamer preset modes

Each of the FPS and RTS presets seems to boost the colours of the image displayed. They actually look to be a bit oversaturated and are set up to provide bright and vivid colours. We have already seen that the actual accuracy is poor out of the box (we tested the default FPS 1 mode) but then they are deliberately not set up for day to day accuracy, but are designed for specific gaming scenarios.

20 Level Color Vibrance

It is absolutely vital that the XL2730Z give you the flexibility you need to get the colour performance you seek. This is why BenQ built into the monitor 20 levels of Color Vibrance setting to meet gamers’ specific viewing requirements and preferences for all types of game-play. This unique feature is accessible via On Screen Display (OSD) or Display Pilot for added convenience. This is a quick and easy way to alter the colour vibrancy and it's useful to have it available quickly from the OSD menu.


Black eQualizer

According to the documentation, "poor visibility in dark scenes can cost even the most skilful gamers their game. The Black eQualizer colour engine technology is designed to offer an unprecedented level of control and visibility. Dark scenes are brightened without over-exposing the bright areas to preserve vital details, enabling gamers to spot their enemies easily in critical combat and react quickly in any situation." We have tested this feature before and found it beneficial in altering the gamma of dark grey shades and helping to bring you detail in darker content.
 

Auto Game Mode

The Auto Game Mode enables the XL2730Z to detect the genre of the game being played and switch the display setting to the corresponding game mode automatically. It is also designed to make new game mode recommendations for download. This unique feature is accessible through the On Screen Display (OSD) setting as well as the Display Pilot software or the S Switch Arc that has a quick key built in for this mode.



Lag

We have written an in depth article about input lag and the various measurement techniques which are used to evaluate this aspect of a display. It's important to first of all understand the different methods available and also what this lag means to you as an end-user.

Input Lag vs. Display Lag vs. Signal Processing

To avoid confusion with different terminology we will refer to this section of our reviews as just "lag" from now on, as there are a few different aspects to consider, and different interpretations of the term "input lag". We will consider the following points here as much as possible. The overall "display lag" is the first, that being the delay between the image being shown on the TFT display and that being shown on a CRT. This is what many people will know as input lag and originally was the measure made to explain why the image is a little behind when using a CRT. The older stopwatch based methods were the common way to measure this in the past, but through advanced studies have been shown to be quite inaccurate. As a result, more advanced tools like SMTT provide a method to measure that delay between a TFT and CRT while removing the inaccuracies of older stopwatch methods.

In reality that lag / delay is caused by a combination of two things - the signal processing delay caused by the TFT electronics / scaler, and the response time of the pixels themselves. Most "input lag" measurements over the years have always been based on the overall display lag (signal processing + response time) and indeed the SMTT tool is based on this visual difference between a CRT and TFT and so measures the overall display lag. In practice the signal processing is the element which gives the feel of lag to the user, and the response time of course can impact blurring, and overall image quality in moving scenes. As people become more aware of lag as a possible issue, we are of course keen to try and understand the split between the two as much as possible to give a complete picture.

The signal processing element within that is quite hard to identify without extremely high end equipment and very complicated methods. In fact the studies by Thomas Thiemann which really kicked this whole thing off were based on equipment worth >100,1000 Euro, requiring extremely high bandwidths and very complicated methods to trigger the correct behaviour and accurately measure the signal processing on its own. Other techniques which are being used since are not conducted by Thomas (he is a freelance writer) or based on this equipment or technique, and may also be subject to other errors or inaccuracies based on our conversations with him since. It's very hard as a result to produce a technique which will measure just the signal processing on its own unfortunately. Many measurement techniques are also not explained and so it is important to try and get a picture from various sources if possible to make an informed judgement about a display overall.

For our tests we will continue to use the SMTT tool to measure the overall "display lag". From there we can use our oscilloscope system to measure the response time across a wide range of grey to grey (G2G) transitions as recorded in our response time tests. Since SMTT will not include the full response time within its measurements, after speaking with Thomas further about the situation we will subtract half of the average G2G response time from the total display lag. This should allow us to give a good estimation of how much of the overall lag is attributable to the signal processing element on its own.

 

Lag Classification


To help in this section we will also introduce a broader classification system for these results to help categorise each screen as one of the following levels:

  • Class 1) Less than 16ms / 1 frame lag - should be fine for gamers, even at high levels

  • Class 2) A lag of 16 - 32ms / One to two frames - moderate lag but should be fine for many gamers. Caution advised for serious gaming and FPS

  • Class 3) A lag of more than 32ms / more than 2 frames - Some noticeable lag in daily usage, not suitable for high end gaming


For the full reviews of the models compared here and the dates they were written (and when screens were approximately released to the market), please see our full reviews index.
 

We have provided a comparison above against other models we have tested to give an indication between screens. The screens tested are split into two measurements which are based on our overall display lag tests (using SMTT) and half the average G2G response time, as measured by the oscilloscope. The response time is split from the overall display lag and shown on the graph as the green bar. From there, the signal processing (red bar) can be provided as a good estimation.

 

Instant Mode Off

(144Hz)

(144Hz, instant mode On)

(Measurements in ms)

60Hz

144Hz

Instant Mode

Blur Reduction

Total Display Lag (SMTT 2)

16.22

5.25

4.00

4.02

Pixel Response Time Element

1.70

1.70

1.70

1.70

Estimated Signal Processing Lag

14.52

3.55

2.30

2.30

Lag Classification

2

1

1

1

The XL2730Z like previous XL series screens features an "instant mode" setting in the OSD which is designed to bypass some internal electronics and reduce input lag. First of all we left instant mode turned off. At 60Hz refresh rate there was a total lag of 16.22ms (about 1 frame), but as soon as you switched up to a higher refresh rate it dropped significantly to only 5.25ms total display lag. We're not sure why this was the case, and this was still with instant mode turned off. Enabling instant mode reduced the overall lag slightly further to only 4ms total. With ~1.7ms of that attributed to pixel response times we can estimate a signal processing lag of ~2.3ms which is incredibly low. Blur Reduction mode didn't add anything further to the lag which was positive news. If you're a heavy gamer then we'd recommend using instant mode to offer you the lowest lag possible on the screen.

Update 16/5/16 - A note from BenQ via one of our forum members (TerminatorUK) about lag when using FreeSync. When using FreeSync, the monitor directly displays the content on the panel which the AMD FreeSync graphic card outputs to the monitor. There is no signal processing needed in the monitor itself saving lag time, because this technology runs without memory flash or RAM processing. time. This lag is not impacted by the varying refresh rates or FPS either which is good news. So the lag when using FreeSync should be pretty much non-existent or we expect close to the "instant mode" results here.



Gaming Summary

The overall gaming performance of the XL2730Z was positive, if we ignore FreeSync for a moment. Pixel response times and levels of overshoot were on par with the other fast TN Film panels we've tested, including the very popular Asus ROG Swift PG278Q. BenQ had made some marginal improvements over the older XL2720Z as well which is certainly welcome. You still have to live with some moderate levels of overshoot when running at the optimum overdrive setting, but the same can be said for other models including the Asus. Input lag was incredibly low as well which was pleasing.

One significant upgrade was the additional resolution, offering a big jump from 1080p to 1440p and bringing it up to date with a couple of other modern gaming screens with high resolutions. Make sure you have a powerful enough system to run this kind of resolution. For those who can't output 2560 x 1440 @ 144Hz the addition of AMD's FreeSync technology should be a welcome move. It does function correctly in terms of handling dynamic refresh rates and offers a very useful alternative to traditional Vsync. However, at the moment its implementation is not perfect, as it disables the AMA (overdrive) function and so leads to reduced response times. In fact at the moment for gaming we feel you are probably better using the screen from an non-FreeSync system or reverting to a pre-FreeSync driver so that you can use the AMA function properly. Once BenQ and AMD fix this issue we will update the review accordingly as it should then mean FreeSync is a real benefit.

The Blur Reduction mode, when functioning correctly, offered some obvious improvements to motion blur and worked very well. We were pleased with the very minimal impact to colours and screen appearance, and the relatively high maximum brightness was great news. The addition of controls over the strobe length and timing was a nice move, replicating the controls users liked to see added when then XL2720Z was made compatible with the BlurBusters utility. You do need to stick with 120Hz or 144Hz (DP only) for Blur Reduction to work correctly, but we suspect those are the preferred options for most people anyway.

BenQ have pulled out all the stops again to provide pretty much every conceivable extra feature for gaming. We found the Black eQualizer useful for adjusting gamma levels and bringing out detail in darker content. The new vibrance control was also a nice feature to boost colours in games. There's a huge range of preset modes  including the ability to create 3 of your own, and the provided S-switch was also a neat extra and allowed you to quickly and easily switch between settings. Without the limitations of a G-sync module, BenQ have been able to provide their familiar wide range of connectivity and hardware scaling options making the screen a viable option for external devices as well. We liked the extra thought that had gone in to things like the markings on the stand adjustments and even the retractable headphone hook. A good job by BenQ here of providing you with loads of extras to really make this a premium gaming screen.

Once the FreeSync bug has been addresses this really will be an excellent gaming screen. If you're an AMD user then it should be the best choice currently for a gaming screen once FreeSync is fixed. Even for NVIDIA/non-AMD users it still makes an excellent gaming screen if you ignore FreeSync support (which you wouldn't be able to use) as all the other features, and the screens general gaming performance make it a great option. You're not paying anything extra for the privilege of FreeSync either so it doesn't matter if you're not going to use it.



Movies and Video

The following summarises the screens performance in video applications:

  • 27" screen size makes it a reasonable option for an all-in-one multimedia screen, but being quite a bit smaller than most modern LCD TV's of course.

  • 16:9 aspect ratio is more well suited to videos than a 16:10 format screen, leaving smaller borders on DVD's and wide screen content at the top and bottom.

  • 2560 x 1440 resolution can support full 1080 HD resolution content.

  • Digital interfaces support HDCP for any encrypted and protected content

  • Good range of connectivity options provided with DisplayPort, DVI, D-sub, HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 1.4. Being FreeSync capable does not limit the connections like a G-sync screen would, so it allows you to still connect external devices if you want.

  • Cables provided in the box for DisplayPort and DVI.

  • Moderate AG coating provides reasonably clear images with no major graininess, and without the unwanted reflections of a glossy solution. Some graininess apparent as with other TN Film panels, but shouldn't present a problem in movies.

  • Wide brightness range adjustment possible from the display, including a very high maximum luminance of ~309 cd/m2 and a decent minimum luminance of 56 cd/m2. This should afford you good control for different lighting conditions. Contrast ratio remains stable across that adjustment range as well and is good for a TN Film panel. Brightness regulation is controlled without the need for PWM and so is flicker free for all brightness settings.

  • Black depth and contrast ratio are strong for a TN Film panel at 917:1 after calibration. Detail in darker scenes should not be lost as a result.

  • There is a specific 'movie' preset mode available which didn't look much different to our standard preset. Might be useful so you can set it up to your preferred settings and probably a higher brightness than every-day use on the standard mode.

  • Excellent pixel responsiveness which can handle fast moving scenes in movies without issue. Only moderate levels of overshoot. Stick with the 'High' AMA setting.

  • While the screen has a high refresh rate it is not NVIDIA 3D certified and so cannot support 3D content.

  • Viewing angles are limited due to the use of TN Film panel technology. May cause issues with gamma and contrast shift if you change your line of sight or have several people trying to see the screen at once. Not really an ideal technology for movies as a result of this viewing angle limitation.

  • No noticeable backlight leakage which is good, even in darkened room conditions.

  • Wide range of ergonomic adjustments available from the stand, allowing you to obtain a comfortable position for multiple users or if you want to sit further away from the screen for movie viewing.

  • No integrated speakers but there is an audio output connection on this monitor for headphones.

  • Excellent range of hardware aspect ratio options which should provide you any option you need.

  • Picture in picture (PiP) and Picture By Picture (PbP) are not available on this model.

     


Conclusion

There's been a lot to test on this new screen. It's the first FreeSync display we've tested and for the moment our views are mixed on its integration. On the one hand there are obvious benefits from adaptive refresh rate technologies and it really does help when it comes to gaming much like NVIDIA's G-sync does. We like the way AMD have implemented it as well, and the fact that it adds no real cost overhead means that the screen can also happily be considered by non-AMD users as well. On the other hand the current issue, which apparently affects all current FreeSync screens, is that it disables any overdrive circuit present, so it means that at the moment the XL2730Z takes a response time performance hit if you are using a FreeSync setup. Once that's fixed (keep an eye on this review for updates) it will be much better and only add to the already very pleasing results.

It's a great gaming screen right up there in performance with other fast gaming models we've tested like the Asus ROG Swift PG278Q. There's the same high 2560 x 1440 resolution, comparable response times and overshoot levels, high refresh rate support, a decent blur reduction mode (if a bit buggy at some settings) and very low lag. In fact the XL2730Z offers a lot that the ROG Swift does not, with a whole host of connectivity options, aspect ratio scaling options, loads of presets and a massive range of gaming extras which we really liked. The ROG Swift is limited somewhat by its NVIDIA G-sync module but AMD's FreeSync solution means no such limitations here.

Gaming aside, the default setup was decent once you'd switched out of the default gaming preset and on to the standard mode. It also had a decent TN Film contrast ratio and a flicker free backlight which is always welcome. You do of course have to live with the limitations of TN Film technology, most notably the restrictive viewing angles and associated gamma/colour shift, but the same can be said for nearly every gaming screen out there. Once BenQ and AMD have addressed the FreeSync/overdrive bug this will be a very good gaming screen and worth a close look regardless of whether you're a FreeSync user or not.

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Pros

Cons

Excellent gaming experience, low response times and lag

Restrictive viewing angles of TN Film technology

Loads of great gaming extras - Blur Reduction mode, S-switch, presets, Black eQualizer, stand adjustments

FreeSync currently causes problems with overdrive control (see here for info)

FreeSync support will be very useful once overdrive issue fixed. No cost overhead for providing FreeSync either

Blur Reduction mode a bit buggy at certain settings



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