BenQ has been on a bit of a roll in 2019. It might not get the limelight like Asus, Acer and others but it is quietly going about the business of producing decent monitors that won’t break the bank. The BenQ EL2870U is a 28-inch 4K HDR monitor with an attractive price point ($350 / £300 list price), and upon general appraisal is a good looking bit of kit for that cost. But is it worth the money—worth a place on our best gaming monitors list, perhaps—or is there a lack of premium features underneath that low price?
Straight out of the box, its design is immediately and obviously ordinary. And this is not necessarily a criticism but is at least useful in identifying the EL2870U as not the ideal monitor for those RGB chasers or funky design fans. The simple, almost-plain design means it looks very much like a ‘regular’ desktop PC monitor, so it will melt into any setup or room with ease. Looking closer, there are some chunky bezels around the screen and so it’s not the sleekest; it doesn’t get the same high score as others in the screen-to-bezel ratio category (though it’s good to keep in mind the price of the EL2870U here). Its lack of sleekness on the bezels as a whole is tempered somewhat by the brushed metal-gray bottom bezel, which also appears on the front ‘foot’ of the stand, which is a subtle, stylish touch. The stand is a chunky but sturdy one and the only part which requires any construction: one thumb screw to attach the foot to the leg, and then it slides in the back of the monitor and is secured by a single screw to the monitor itself. Easy.
There’s a similarly simple and clean approach to the ports where the EL2870U provides you with two HDMIs, one DisplayPort, and an audio jack. Simple. The screen is a TN panel, and while that sometimes raises eyebrows, it quickly became a forgettable feature of the monitor—particularly given the presence of the 4K resolution and HDR tech, and overall performance and other features. FreeSync is present and is reliable and solid enough to provide a base for all games. The menus offer a medium-to-good wealth of options to peruse so you should find something for you and your ideal setup.
The unique-to-BenQ features that reside within the EL2870U are the screen techs the maker incorporates into its panels. Eye-care technology in BenQ’s monitors is comprised of two parts: Low Blue Light Technology, which removes harmful blue light that can damage eyes; and Brightness Intelligence + (B.I.+), which enables the EL2870U to automatically change and alter the brightness of your on-screen images based on your surroundings and also the color temperature. This is a subtle difference and feature of the screen but it allegedly decreases eye strain and allows you to use the monitor, whatever time of day it is, for longer sessions at little ‘cost’ to your eyes or brain. Potentially they sound a bit gimmicky but I’ll say right now, they were noticeable and helpful.
Booting up fast-paced Apex Legends, I was immediately blessed with one of the most vibrant game experiences I have had the pleasure of viewing. The joyous combination of the colours of the HDR and the detailed picture quality gave me a world that was vivid and so enjoyable to traverse around. The only downside that Apex highlighted is that the EL2870U is not built for speed, and is capped at a 60Hz refresh rate. This was clear when quickly travelling through the map, or readjusting down your sights but it is by no means, a game breaker. It is compensated by the 1ms response time, but this is perhaps the biggest sticking point for hardcore players. In the grander scheme of things, the image quality and lower price more than makes up for the refresh rate, but I recognise it might still be a dealbreaker for some. It perfectly represents that tradeoff manufacturers have to address when looking at 4K monitors: speed vs quality (vs cost).
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gave the 4K and HDR in the EL2870U a thorough workout, thanks to its stunning visuals. This was probably the most enjoyable use of the monitor—a quality single player experience, designed to be taken slowly—which is saying something as this screen is consistently good. Everything looked bright and crisp; finer details such as the wispy movement of hair and blades of grass were captured brilliantly, landscape vistas were clear and beautiful as well as detailed, and even less ‘physical’, more transient in-game features such as water splashes and droplets, smoke and light were presented staggeringly well, with a painterly effect. It really was a wonderful experience, and those colors and the HDR panel that presented them continued to perform to the highest standard.
Establishing it can do very well with colors, landscapes, bright environments and the like, I turned to the Metro games to give the EL2870U a boot to the dark side. Metro Exodus was presented well in all its 2019-glory. The contrasts between the darks and colors is fine, but the detail and overall image quality is the highlight. Everything in the world down to debris edges and plant outlines, and the characters faces were all delightfully clear and well-presented. The contrasts in the darkest tunnels and close environments of Metro were good, on the whole, but presenting you with the deepest blacks is not the EL2870U’s strength—it remains mainly in colors and overall picture detail quality. This was more apparent when spending a bit of time in Metro Redux and its more perpetual dark and grimy environments—the blacks and grays aren’t so consistently deep or as detailed. That’s why Redux is still a useful test for monitors. Flipping the tone-coin, the EL2870U also did well when presenting environments at the polar opposite end of the scale with perma-white snowy environments of Skyrim and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The whites weren’t too glary or shiny and were always pleasant on the eye next to the colors of foliage, roads, buildings and rocks. Again, this is very much a monitor built for solo play in grand single player games.
As a last nod to those special BenQ eye-saving technologies, after long periods of testing, and sitting relatively close on one of the best gaming chairs, I can vouch for them. The Low Blue Light Technology and Brightness Intelligence Plus helped me to feel no eye strain or tiredness due to my screen time. As a result I’d list these as genuinely useful and welcome additions, and not just gimmicks.
I also used the EL2870U as an everyday monitor and it was equally good. The colors and vividness made almost any menial task more enjoyable and combined with the crispness of literally everything on display, this is, rather predictably, a great every-day screen. It’s worth noting that all during the monitor’s testing, even in a well-lit office it was clearly visible and clear too. There was some screen glare, however, and when the light did catch the panel it did reflect back noticeably, which became annoying.
For those wanting 4K and HDR on a budget, it’s easy to recommend the BenQ EL2870U. Team this with one of the best gaming PCs and you'll be laughing. The colors and contrasts are great, and really punchy thanks to the HDR, while there’s no bleeding of neighbouring shades into one another. Even sitting quite close to the screen there was no real blurring or lack of edge detail, too. Only occasionally did pictures appear a bit too shiny or pale, but this was never a real detractor from the overall experience, particularly given all the other qualities and the pricetag. Yeah it’s not as buttery smooth as the 144Hz monitors you could opt for instead, nor is the TN screen as sharp as an IPS, but if you’ve been considering jumping up to 4K, and aren’t too bothered about the refresh speed, then the BenQ EL2870U offers one of the options for best 4K monitors for gaming, and an excellent option that will leave you very satisfied.