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BenQ EL2870U review: Low-lag 4K gaming on a budget

BenQ's 28-inch EL2870U delivers an incredibly sharp picture, with very low input lag and a budget-friendly price that helps compensate for its shortcomings.

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While 4K gaming on the PC is still a bit of a niche, the ever-increasing power of gaming graphics cards and the steady decline of display pricing makes jumping into the resolution of 3840x2160 easier than it’s ever been. If you are looking for a solid 4K monitor for gaming on a budget, the BenQ EL2870U offers a lot of quality for a relatively small expenditure.

The BenQ EL2870U at a glance

The EL2870U is a 28-inch monitor that makes use of a TN-style panel. It has a native resolution of 3840x2160 and a 60Hz refresh rate. It is advertised as being Freesync-compliant for variable refresh rate gaming and as being capable of displaying HDR content. It comes with a plastic stand that can tilt, but is not height adjustable. It features a VESA 100x100 pattern for monitor arm or wall mounting and offers two HDMI 2.0 ports, 1 DisplayPort 1.4 port, and a 3.5mm audio output jack. It contains a simple speaker setup within its chassis for audio playback. The package contains a basic power cord and 1 HDMI 2.0 cable.

Upon removing the EL2870U from its cardboard container, you get a look at its non-offensive styling. It is a rather plain-looking monitor with a simple non-glossy bezel. It lacks the eye-catching lines or RGB lights of its gaming monitor competition, but I found this to be a strength. It doesn’t draw attention to itself and would be a perfect fit in an office environment. The included stand offers tilt capability, but no height adjustment, so I ended up setting it on a thick book to get the height I needed. While it is not a big monitor, it is far from small, so I feel that getting it attached to a monitor arm or even a wall-mount would be optimal.

Out of the box, the EL2870U offers a very sharp, clean picture. While TN panels have offered less than ideal color reproduction in the past, the one used in the EL2870U is more than adequate for day to day use across a variety of work loads, short of print or video work. Colors and contrast take a big hit when viewed from any angle, but this is normal for TN panels. 99% of the time, you will be using this display in front of you, so it is not a huge concern. As with any TN-based monitor, it would be sub-optimal as a side display in a surround application. IPS displays are usually wanted if off-axis viewing is of high importance.

Contrast is a weak area for TN panels and the EL2870U is no different. You can expect darker grey coloring in content where things should be black. This is especially evident in letterboxed video content or in dark games. There is also noticeable light bleed, particularly on the left side of the unit I received that is much more visible during very dark content. The uniformity of full dark scenes is pretty rough, too, as the screen can look kind of splotchy. If you play games or watch Youtube or movies in a darker room, the poor contrast and uneven output could be distracting.

Getting into the game

The good news is that the EL2870U is a really solid gaming monitor. Across the various games I loaded up, it offered razor sharp detail. At no point did I notice smearing or blur, even with fast-moving scenes.  Games with a bright palette like Forza Horizon 4 and Anno 1800 often felt like I was playing a pre-rendered marking screenshot due to the clarity. At this price point, I’m not sure what other monitors can compete with the EL2870U if you value a crisp image with your gaming.

The monitor supports Freesync and offers a VRR range from 40Hz to 60Hz. I did not have a PC with a Radeon GPU handy, so I could not test this mode personally. Fortunately, the EL2870U is G-Sync compatible, provided you are using the latest drivers from NVIDIA and have a compatible GeForce GPU. Enabling G-Sync on the EL2870U was a simple affair and worked as intended during my testing. I did not witness any flickering during gameplay and the action was smooth, provided that I stayed within the designated VRR range. I used an Amazon Basics DisplayPort cable for G-Sync testing.

I do not currently have professional display testing equipment on-hand for this review, so all of my impressions are purely subjective. Everything I played on the EL2870U felt good, and this experience is backed up by testing done on this model by RTings, who measured the input lag at 8.8ms at native resolution and 9.7ms when making use of the VRR modes. The is an excellent performance from a 60Hz display.

Having realistic expectations

BenQ advertises this as an HDR-capable display, but in practice, it lacks the peak brightness, local dimming, and contrast required to offer any kind of meaningful HDR output. The monitor does properly accept HDR10 metadata sent from Windows 10 and various games, but you never see the benefits due to the panel’s low brightness capability. Highlights are non-existent, the color palette does not grow more vibrant, and the image never gains any pop. In some cases I tested, enabling HDR made the picture look worse.

The EL2870U has a button on the front of its lower right bezel that attempts to simulate the HDR look on SDR content, but I never found a situation where it improved anything. As I tested it, it appeared to be a gimmick. I did some back and forth testing with my Sony 49X900F for HDR content and the difference was night and day. The local dimming and nearly 1400nit peak brightness of the Sony panel dwarfed what the BenQ was capable of. On the other hand, the Sony is nearly triple the price of the EL2870U, so that must be considered.

Wrapping it up

Using 4K resolution on a 28-inch panel offers insanely good sharpness for gaming, but it leaves the desktop, web browsers, and office apps too small to use. Windows DPI scaling will be a must for anyone who makes the EL2870U their primary display. I settled on 200% scaling and everything looked great, though you will run into issues from time to time with apps that don’t play nice with DPI scaling (this is true for all high-res monitors).

Who is the EL2870U for? Anyone with a strict budget who wants to get into 4K gaming and can live without proper HDR support. The variable refresh rate operation via G-Sync worked well for me and playing games was very enjoyable. Buyers who require 120Hz and higher refresh rates obviously need not apply, but you can’t knock a monitor for something it’s not. As of this writing, the EL2870U has a street price of around $350. For that price, you get very low input lag, a razor sharp picture, and an all-around enjoyable experience.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
BenQ EL2780U
8
Pros
  • Very sharp picture
  • Understated looks
  • Low input lag
  • FreeSync-compatible / G-Sync-compatible
Cons
  • Advertised HDR support is worthless
  • Poor contrast
  • Dark scene uniformity is unsatisfactory
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