It’s difficult sometimes to pick between monitors of the same class. The brands you see on a lot of the monitor designs — ACER, Samsung, BenQ, AOC, BenQ, etc. — aren’t actually responsible for making the panels that give you higher resolutions, better frame rates and all the things you generally buy a monitor for.
So where the brands tend to differ is mostly on price and performance. But another key feature is monitor design.
Design could be as something as simple as how easy a monitor is to put together out of the box, how accessible its ports are on the back, or the layout of its OSD. And some companies come up with surprisingly helpful additions. Samsung’s entry-level 240Hz monitor last year had a rotatable power plug, which while not fully rotatable, was a hell of a livesaver for the power point placement in my apartment.
And one area of design that most monitor manufacturers ignore is the speakers. That’s the headline feature of the BenQ EX2780Q, a 27-inch 1440p IPS Freesync Premium screen that’s targeted as an all-around productivity screen with 144Hz refresh rate support.
I’ll touch on the speakers more in a second, but what stood out to me the most were the other elements of the design. Unlike some of the newer chassis from Samsung and LG, the EX2780Q has all of its IO mounted vertically in a little cubby to the right of the monitor stand.
There’s a headphone jack, one USB-C port, one DisplayPort and two HDMI plugs, but no regular USB-A ports. Most monitors these days come with some kind of USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 passthrough, which is a lifesaver if you want to just have a corded Xbox One/PlayStation/Pro Controller in easy reach. You could use a simple USB-C to USB-A plug, although that’s not helpful for older gamepads that need USB-to-microUSB connections.
As for the screen itself, you’re dealing with a 5ms grey-to-grey response time. It’s not using the fast IPS or nano IPS technology that’s popped up in newer 144Hz, 1440p panels like LG’s 27GL850-B. The differentiator here is that BenQ’s marketing isn’t pitching this at core gamers as such: their fastest 1ms panels, particularly the TN screens targeting esports gamers, are marketed under the ZOWIE brand.
Like a lot of recent monitors, HDR support is mentioned, but it’s functionally useless. The screen hits a maximum brightness of 350nits, which doesn’t even meet the minimum DisplayHDR 400 spec. Even then, DisplayHDR 400 wouldn’t be sufficient to really get the most out of HDR movies or games; you’d want at least HDR 600, and something closer to HDR 1000 if you’re trying to replicate the HDR experience that consoles can achieve on most major TVs today.
The EX2780Q also doesn’t support height adjustment, although you can tilt the screen forward and back within a small range. The screen can’t be rotated into portrait mode, which makes a difference if you’re looking at the EX2780Q as a second screen. One could argue that you ideally wouldn’t want a 144Hz gaming monitor for that purpose, unless you’re specifically trying to get screens with matching refresh rates to avoid any issues with recording or livestreaming.
I said I’d mention the speakers, and they are genuinely impressive for what you’d get out of a screen. There’s a 5W subwoofer paired with a couple of 2W speakers. The speakers require a HDMI connection to function, but the monitor supports HDMI 2.0 so that shouldn’t be an issue. As for the sound, it’s serviceable: it’s not going to match the quality of a much more powerful 2.1ch or 5.1ch setup, but it’s totally usable for movies and third-person games if you’d prefer not to be wearing headphones all the time.
The EX2780Q’s image quality out of the box is also decent, particularly the colour-accurate Rec.709 mode. An added bonus is that BenQ’s sRGB mode doesn’t lock out options in the OSD settings.
There’s also support for BenQ’s smart eye-sensing technologies. HDRi uses a sensor built into the monitor to adjust the colour, contrast and picture based on the ambient light in your room. The monitor’s OSD can be controller by a 5-key joystick on the back right of the EX2780Q, but it also ships with a small remote for easier control. A volume knob under the front side of the screen enables easy volume control, and BenQ’s colour-changing eye-care technology returns, adjusting the brightness and colour temperature to reduce eye strain.
Another design quirk that stood out was the monitor bezel. Any screen you buy from 2019 or 2020 is going to have a very small bezel, and some will even have effectively borderless screens. BenQ’s EX2780Q is very similar, if not identical, to all the screens I’ve used over the last year in terms of the screen-to-bezel ratio. But where it differs is with a small ridge between the top edge of the monitor and the bezel.
That gap is actually large enough that gunk can get trapped in the space. When I unboxed the EX2780Q, there was a couple of hairs that had lodged themselves into the gap. That in and of itself isn’t a problem — review units aren’t straight from the factory, after all — but it does highlight one of the issues you might have with the EZ2780Q on a long-term basis. If you’re in a room that attracts a lot of dust, with a window facing or adjacent to a major street, you’re going to have to be more judicious when it comes to cleaning your monitor than you might ordinarily be.
Similarly, you’ll have to ask yourself whether the EX2780Q’s features are things that are worth sacrificing for. Not everyone uses or needs speakers in their monitor, but everyone does rely on multiple USB ports. BenQ’s auto-adjusting technologies might also not be appreciated by those who would prefer a 2.1ch audio setup with more power, or screens that have more versatility with height adjustments and USB ports.
That said, the EX2780Q is a great example of just how much the monitor market has matured. It exists in that space for that class of gamer who doesn’t want to wear headphones all the time, but they want a decent middle-ground resolution with a higher refresh rate that most PCs can comfortably achieve. It’s available from $698 at Officeworks, with most PC retailers charging $749 and higher.
If you’re someone who wears headphones most of the time, or you’re looking for a screen that’s more directly suited for fast-paced games, then this isn’t the screen for you. The 1ms 1440p offerings from MSI, LG, Gigabyte, ASUS’s TUF range, Viewsonic or the Acer Predator screens are better suited for that crowd. BenQ’s ZOWIE line also has a string of 240Hz screens specifically for players of Warzone, Counter-Strike, Valorant and other fast-paced games, although none of those support resolutions higher than 1080p.
And the amount of options indicates just how competitive the monitor market is. And things are going to get even more competitive. AU Optronics, one of the main manufacturers of the LCD panels, began mass production of 27-inch and 32-inch 240Hz IPS screens at the start of this year. Acer announced the first IPS screen with this new panel, the XV272U X, and LG is supposedly working on a similar model with HDR 600 support. Samsung’s QLED technology isn’t far off either: their upcoming G7 G-Sync monitor supports 1440p at 240Hz with HDR 600 support.
There’s no price or availability on those screens, though, and it’s a moot point if you’re hoping to buy something before the end of the month as a home office tax-write off. Still, it’s definitely worth keeping the future of screens in mind. Many PC gamers are hoping to upgrade their rigs this year, particularly ahead of or around the launch of Cyberpunk 2077. Anyone saving up for a big GPU upgrade around that time is going to want a 1440p screen that can do it all.
So the biggest challenge facing the EX2780Q is really time and versatility. For gamers that don’t rely on speakers, and prefer that their monitor settings remain locked, some of the EX2780Q’s most important features will go unused. And the design choices can be a dealbreaker, especially those who want easier access to USB ports.
Fortunately, it’s not like there’s no lack of choice for gamers. And choice always means two things: better prices, and more impetus for all companies to continue innovating and revising their designs. Monitor designs always fall by the wayside, especially when so many screens are sharing so much of the same tech. But it’s one of the biggest things that impacts what it’s like to live with a product, and it should be just as important a feature as refresh rate, DCI-P3 support, or screen size.