BENQ EL2870U Monitor Review

When it come to picking your gaming hardware, there’s a deluge of choice for gamers out there. Once you’ve settled on what gaming platform you’re going to call home, you need to then equip it with all of the necessary accessories, whether that’s controllers, keyboards or headsets. For PC gamers, picking a suitable monitor is a minefield of technical specifications, and depending on your budget you may well find yourself balancing resolution or response time against HDR and viewing angles. BenQ’s latest offering, the snappily named EL2870U, manages to tick a number off a number of items that’ll be on most gamers wish lists, but it does so without much flair.

So what’s on that checklist? The EL2870U comes as a 28” screen with a 4K TN panel, boasting HDR, Freesync and a 1ms response time to boot. On top of that there’s a pair of anaemic built-in speakers, a couple of HDMI 2.0 ports, a single DVI 1.4 input and BENQ’s eye care tech for those who spend their life in front of their monitors.

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It’s an unassuming piece of kit compared with some more flamboyant gaming monitors, but its sleek lines and restrained stand will probably suit any home, with gun-metal grey and blacks liable to match any desk you decide to set it on. It does sport some slightly thick bezels which makes it look a little less cutting edge, and you can only angle it up and down without any height adjustments, but largely it’s pleasingly designed and feels solid and well built.

HDR is something of a watchword right now, and with more and more games supporting it there’s no better time to jump on the bandwagon. However, what we have here is far from dynamic. Rated at 300 nits of brightness – the maximum level the monitor is capable of – the EL2870U is barely capable of pumping out much more than an ordinary television and is shy of even the most basic industry standard for HDR support, let along the 1000 nits that are expected. At this price point that’s probably to be expected, but what isn’t is how poorly it deals with HDR content.

Whether using a PC, an Xbox One X or PlayStation 4, as soon as you enable a HDR picture any sense of accurate colour tones seems to be thrown out of the window, with horribly blown out colours across the spectrum. Simply put, the TN panel is not designed for a HDR colour space, so the monitor is merely accepting a HDR input and then trying (and failing) to map this back down to SDR. Turning the HDR signal off remedies the problem, but it means that the EL2870U is simply incapable of delivering on a headline feature . It will also have a go at emulating HDR for non-HDR content, but unsurprisingly the results also aren’t very good either, with most images sporting ugly black and grey artefacts as it attempts to overemphasise the key colours.

In essence, you can forget the notion of HDR, ignore the shiny gold button, and treat this as an SDR screen. At that point you can appreciate that you’re still getting a 4K screen, and with a 4K signal the EL2870U is capable of showing a detailed and accurate image that’s well suited to gaming or movie watching. The 1ms response time is also very useful if you’re playing games where reaction time is key, so for fans of competitive shooters or racing games BENQ’s monitor could fit the bill. Images do look a little washed out though, even after some calibration – and particularly when you compare them to a static image with HDR enabled – but they’re totally serviceable.

The inclusion of Freesync is a huge boon, and no longer just for PC gamers with AMD chipsets. The latest Xbox One update has brought Freesync compatibility to all versions of the console, and in some cases this could be a complete game changer, especially for those trying to decide which console will give them the best performance. Freesync, much like Nvidia’s proprietary G-Sync, is a technology that sees your device and your monitor work together to vary the refresh rate dynamically to eliminate screen tearing and allow for smoother frame rates, and while PC gamers have enjoyed this technology for a while, it’s completely new in the console space.

It’s a tough thing to test without specific tools, but using a highly unscientific method, I’ve run Sea of Thieves on Xbox One X with FreeSync enabled and didn’t see any of the screen tearing which was present before. Under the right circumstances FreeSync should help smooth out other games that have intermittent frame rate drops or screen tearing. The caveat here is that on PC you’re dealing with a refresh rate range of 40-60Hz, and no low frame rate compensation, meaning that you lose the benefits of FreeSync if it drops below 40fps – Xbox Ones will handle this automatically. While the EL2870U sports the original Freesync and not the newer Freesync 2, the main shift in the standard comes from adding HDR, but as we discussed above, that’s not too much of a worry.

The BENQ EL2870U is a satisfyingly robust 4K monitor with a modern look, which, while not a dedicated gaming monitor, offers performance and features that will appeal to any number of casual gamers. You should forget its HDR capabilities – they’re genuinely the worst attempt at the format I’ve come across – but for 4K on a budget coupled with a fast response time, BenQ may well have you covered.

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Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.