BenQ XL2720Z Gaming Monitor Review
The latest XL Series monitor offers a new take on blur reduction.
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The XL2720Z ($529) is the newest XL Series gaming monitor from BenQ, and it became available to consumers earlier this month.
The 27-inch 20Z model brings a lot of features to the table—including the new Motion Blur Reduction—plus 144Hz capability, Nvidia 3DVision support, and the usual claim of a 1ms G2G response time.
While mapping a 1920 x 1080 resolution to a 27-inch TN LCD panel might not make for the sharpest and most colorful appearance, it's still a very viable solution if you need low latency and a larger-than-average screen. Buy this for its features and refresh rate, not if you're looking for an elegant design or a particularly attractive picture.
Hardware & Accessories
No departure from tradition, but we're not complaining
As we said, the XL2720Z is essentially just a bigger version of BenQ's 24-inch XL Series displays. This monitor boasts the same black/red design and BenQ's unique build additions, such as an integrated headphone hook and a handle for mobility purposes.
In the box, you'll find the:
- LCD panel
- Stand and base
- Protective cover (dust cover)
- CD-ROM disc (drivers and manual)
- Quick start guide
- S. Switch
- Power cord
- D-sub (VGA) cable
- DVI-D cable
- USB A-B cable
Once assembled, the XL2720Z makes for a fairly handsome product. The biggest draw here is the finish: Except for the rear of the panel, the 20Z is almost entirely matte-black plastic with red highlights. The stand allows the panel to rotate to portrait orientation, raise and lower by about five inches, swivel to the left and to the right upon the base, and tilt forward/backward by about -5°/15°, respectively.
As one might expect from a gaming monitor, the XL2720Z exudes an angular and aggressive air. The wedge-shaped base and defined planes of the backplate help it stand out, whether it's sitting on a desk at home or lined up amongst similar monitors in a tournament setting. The stand's built-in cable guide and headphone hook are both a vibrant red—the same color as the etching and scroll wheel on the included S. Switch.
The S. Switch (or Swift Switch) is a controller that's included with all of BenQ's XL Series monitors. This wedge-shaped, mouse-like device is meant to offer quick, easy profile recall and selection for different gaming scenarios.
The monitor's entire UI can be accessed and controlled via the S. Switch, but its primary function is to map profiles to selection buttons labeled 1, 2, and 3. Settings such as aspect ratio, Black eQualizer intensity, and FPS or RTS modes can be saved for game-specific profiles—for example, both FPS and FPS2 modes are optimized for specific versions of Counter-Strike.
Finally, the XL2720Z is outfitted with a decent amount of video connection options. Raising the panel and rotating it to portrait gives the user access to USB (downstream), USB B (upstream), HDMI, DVI-D, VGA (D-Sub), DisplayPort, and S. Switch ports. On the left side of the display is a small hub containing two more USB (downstream) ports and a headphones input. The monitor's touch-responsive power and control buttons line the right bezel in a vertical string.
Software & Features
Strobing lights: not just for dancing anymore!
As the newest XL Series entry—while we all wait on the G-sync one, anyway—the XL2720Z carries over the full feature set we've seen on previous iterations, plus one new addition.
The new feature is a technology that BenQ calls "Motion Blur Reduction." Sticking with the XL2720Z's primary focus on gaming, this feature is essentially an efficient strobing backlight that works similarly to Nvidia's LightBoost technology, or the scanning backlight used in many premium HDTVs.
To reduce motion blur, the pixels in liquid crystal displays must be able produce a particular color, and then quickly shift to either another color, or to a neutral state, in time with the movement of an object on screen.
But some colors are trickier to depict than others, meaning sometimes pixels lag in a sub-optimal state during refresh cycles—caught with their pants down, as it were. While all of this happens on a millisecond-to-millisecond basis, your eyes can still detect it. Please, take a moment to think about how special you are.
How necessary is the Motion Blur Reduction? It depends on what game you're playing: Very fast-paced, action-oriented titles often put extraordinary demands on a display in terms of motion performance. When a pixel is still "holding" a particular orientation after the end of a given refresh cycle—about 0.0008 seconds—the result is motion blur. In other words, said pixel can't keep up. And that's where the Motion Blur Reduction comes in: The XL2720Z's strobing backlight helps reduce the perceptibility of blur by eliminating your ability to perceive the "unprepared" pixels.
The feature has its drawbacks, however—namely, a major reduction in overall light output, which adversely effects contrast ratio and color fidelity. However, as you'll see in the next section, being the brightest and most-colorful display is something better left to the realm of IPS panels. The XL2720Z's job is to offer low latency and reduce motion blur, and the Motion Blur Reduction feature does what it should.
The hallmark XL Series features are still in tow, as well: Low Blue Light, a feature that reduces the monitor's output of certain hues of blue light—those closest to UV rays—to work against the eyestrain and eye damage that can happen over time; GROM (Gaming Refresh rate Optimization Management), an algorithm that attempts to synchronize the monitor's refresh rate with the nominal FPS of the game at hand; Black eQualizer, which artificially lightens shadowy areas of the screen to provide heightened visibility; and, finally, BenQ's signature FPS/FPS2/RTS picture modes, which are specialized for First-Person Shooters and Real Time Strategy games.
The XL2720Z's menu operations are not the most intuitive, if only because the monitor's display options and features are so customizable and specialized. Like most things related to gaming, some knowledge of GPU/CPU and monitor functionality are assumed.
Operation is simple enough, however, as the touch controls are responsive and well-mapped to the OSD. Certain functions, such as adjusting horizontal and vertical geometry, are only available via particular video inputs. Other functions, like Black eQualizer and GROM, can only be adjusted within custom picture modes. Needless to say, this product is not a plug-and-play solution, but it does offer a very high degree of customization to familiar users.
Not this display's strong point, nor is it meant to be
When it comes to computer monitors, picture quality is often something you pay a lot for: IPS panels—which generally have the best color accuracy and viewing angles—tend to be the most expensive kind of LCD. Further, professional graphics monitors are often factory-calibrated, or at least capable of the AdobeRGB color space. Thus, the XL2720Z's value comes not from its picture quality, but in the form of its refresh rate and gaming-forward features.
From a dynamic output perspective, this display is pretty average. Expect around 300 nits total brightness, with a little less in Eco mode and a little more in Standard mode.
The same can be said of the 20Z's black level, it's a little better than average, but nothing to shout about. Since a very high dynamic range can actually be detrimental to gray-to-gray response time, this is the expected (and necessary) result. Ultimately, this monitor is a little better suited for Starcraft II than it is for The Last Of Us.
The XL2720Z utilizes the same TN (twisted nematic) panel as the other XL Series monitors, meaning its color accuracy is palatable, but won't wow anyone. The 20Z covers about 72% NTSC, or roughly the sRGB color space, and follows a standard gamma curve. At the end of the day, you're not going to notice any glaring errors, but it's never going to look as flashy and "polished" as an IPS display of the same size.
So, how does this BenQ earn its stripes? By managing a response time of about 1ms, which is much faster than any IPS-paneled display will ever be capable of—IPS engineering just can't match that.
Combined with the built-in motion blur reduction, and yielding an adjustable refresh rate up to 144 Hz, the XL2720Z is just as well-suited to gaming as the other XL Series monitors. Gamers, especially those competing in very fast-paced FPS (first person shooter) games or detail-intensive RTS (real time strategy) games will benefit the most from this technology, but it's useful anywhere there might be tearing, blurring, or ghosting resulting from panning and fast movement.
Bigger and better than its predecessors
You are paying for one of the more highly specialized gaming monitors on the market, however. The XL2720Z is replete with useful features unique to BenQ—the Motion Blur Reduction feature, which utilizes backlight strobing, is one of only a handful like it on the market. Were the resolution any higher or the panel of a finer quality, the XL2720Z wouldn't be affordable, and many of the features would not function optimally.
This monitor, as always, has been lovingly crafted to suit the needs of serious gamers—it's something of a formula race car that's wasted on more casual roads.
Behind the Screens
From a pure picture quality perspective—color fidelity, color depth, and contrast—the XL2720Z ($529) can't go toe-to-toe with the best professional graphics monitors on the market. It lacks the viewing angle and color depth attributed to IPS displays, and the black level and contrast efficacy of VA displays—picture quality is not the point here, to put it bluntly.
However, amongst the XL Series itself, the XL2720Z deserves some accolades by way of performance. Sporting more features and special modes than its forebears, the 27-inch 20Z still looks just as good, despite adding a few inches to its diagonal screen size. If you're a fan of this series already and you're concerned about how well the resolution holds up at larger sizes, check one out in person first.
The BenQ XL2720Z should adhere to the sRGB color gamut, essentially a color map that tells it what its red, green, and blue points should look like. While meeting the sRGB standard is par for the course these days, it wasn't always, and TN panels still struggle to make it happen sometimes.
While the errors in color production aren't enough to make you go all Oedipus on your own eyes, they were certainly notable by our test equipment. The color gamut errors don't hurt the XL2720Z's performance as a gaming monitor, but people questing after quality might want to think about getting the 20Z calibrated. The biggest issue we found was with the 20Z's production of green, which is both oversaturated and skewed towards yellow, which adversely affects the rest of the primary and secondary colors.
Our assessment of the XL2720Z's gamut luminance balance revealed common LCD color fidelity issues. This BenQ tends to over-emphasize the luminance of blue, cyan, and white even in its sRGB picture mode. This error is reduced when the Low Blue Light feature is enabled—we recommend using it.
Grayscale & RGB Balance
We tested a relatively high DeltaE (collective error) of 5.77 within the XL2720Z's grayscale, which is caused by improperly emphasized sub-pixels. The transition from 0 to 10 IRE showed problems, though this step is mostly imperceptible to human vision, but the more perceptible steps of 50 IRE up through 100 IRE showed continuous noticeable error. This means a gradually increasing blue tinge will affect the grayscale.
A closer look at this monitor's RGB balance revealed the cause of the grayscale error. Across the luminosity input, the blue sub-pixel is gradually over-emphasized until it dominates the signal, tinging whites and grays with blue. To humans, this simply looks like brighter whites—think "bleach," but digital bleach. Yet on a sub-pixel level this adversely affects brightness transfer and color clarity, marring the overall image where detail really counts.