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Numbersix's BenQ XL2420TX Monitor


Overview
 
The XL2420TX is BenQ’s newest and top of the line stereoscopic gaming monitor.  It’s marketed, however, as an FPS gaming monitor due to its 120hz refresh rate and unique features targeted squarely at the FPS market – specifically CounterStrike players.

I am hardly an FPS expert and have never seen frame one of CounterStrike, so this review will focus entirely on the XL2420TX’s use in other gaming situations and in general computing.

The BenQ XL2420TX is, as you might derive from its name, a 24” monitor and sequel to the BenQ XL2410T 120hz monitor.  The TX version is sold with 3D Vision 2 glasses, although the review copy shipped with 3D Vision 1 glasses.  BenQ has sent an email assuring buyers of the early model that they’ll receive 3D Vision 2 glasses in addition to the 3D Vision 1 glasses packaged with the monitor.
  

Price

Currently marketed at $499, this price is comparable to other 3D Vision 2 (Lightboost) monitors of similar size and, as of this writing, about $20 more than a comparably-sized 3D Vision 1 monitor.  3D Vision capable 120hz monitors carry a significant price premium over passive 3D displays.  Passive 3D monitors can be had for the $300 price range.  For this price differential you get the experience of non-interlaced 3D as well as 120hz gaming when 3D is not in use.


Features

The BenQ XL2420TX ships with:
  • The monitor itself (obviously).  This features DisplayPort, two HDMI, one dual-link DVI, and one VGA (D-sub) input.  Theoretically one could use this as the centerpiece of a Radeon-based triple-screen solution;
  • A stand supporting tilt, swivel, and rotate functionality as well as height adjustment.  The stand has rather dramatic red/black coloring which looks rather garish in photographs, but in a dim gaming environment doesn’t stand out.  The rotate function will be detailed later.  While those who prefer floating monitor clamps will find this old news, it’s about as versatile as a standing desk mount can get;
  • An “S-Switch” which extends the monitor-based screen adjustment functions by allowing quick switching between three saved profiles as well as physical buttons for those who don’t prefer the capacitive buttons on the monitor proper;
  • Dual-link DVI cables and VGA cables;
  • A monitor cover to keep dust or other contaminants away.  The reviewer hasn’t tested this in practice against his three-year-old granddaughter’s capacity for chaos.
  • A 3D Vision kit.  Again, this copy shipped with a 3D Vision 1 kit, because the box’s Styrofoam packing left room for only that.  True to their promise, BenQ shipped a 3D Vision 2 kit 6-8 weeks after the monitor arrived; for the price of one monitor I've now received the monitor, 3D Vision 2 glasses, and 3D Vision 1 glasses for backup or a second viewer!


Initial impressions

Frankly, I had a bad monitor off the bat.  The 3D emitter that’s built into the monitor, well, didn’t.  A little testing with a handy 3D-capable Blu-Ray player proved it wasn’t just a Nvidia or PC setup issue; so after a few online chats with Nvidia and BenQ, an RMA followed.
BenQ XL2420TX Image Sample
This was a bit frustrating as BenQ had elected to charge my credit card immediately upon the pre-order, so after waiting for the pre-order, then the time to find available representatives at BenQ between my work time and theirs, I was a bit concerned.  One of the risks of an integrated device is that if one part breaks, the whole unit is unserviceable; and I was forced to return a perfectly good 120hz monitor because the IR emitter didn’t cooperate.

To BenQ’s credit, after receiving the return unit on a Friday, the replacement arrived half a nation away the following Thursday.  Thanks to Mr. Pasit Thammavong for efficiently handling the RMA text chat and the return without an endless series of unnecessary test procedures.  He did, of course, recheck some obvious steps that an experienced PC user might find redundant, but he was professional throughout and didn’t waste time repeating steps.  Good work!

Upon replacement, the second unit exhibited identical color, backlighting, and performance characteristics.  Readers who remember some backlighting issues with the XL2410T should put their fears to rest.
  

Monitor Characteristics

Extensive although informal (I have been trained in test protocol methods and didn’t even attempt to utilize same) experimentation with the monitor settings was used before settling on a general-purpose gaming setting.

As was previously stated, the XL2420TX is marketed as a FPS gaming monitor.  It therefore ships with default settings that the typical user will want to change.  The default “FPS” mode intentionally oversaturates colors and the “Black eQualizer” setting artificially brightens dark shades, but creates banding issues in not only greys but all color settings.  This is, actually, quite ideal for the twitch-gaming FPS gamer (so far as I understand it) because every figure in a game setting is easy to visually resolve.  However, any general-purpose user or gamer interested in realistic color reproduction will want to head straight for the sRGB setting and save that as one of the “Gamer 1,” “Gamer 2,” or “Gamer 3” presets which then are available with a single press of the S-Switch.
 
I found that a low contrast and brightness setting produced the most accurate colors based on the Lagom test set.  Only one shade of white remained indistinct after tuning in both the original and replacement set.  However, this review won’t recommend a particular setting, as the exact brightness/contrast settings differed.  I recommend that for a natural color setting the “FPS” mode be bypassed in favor of “sRGB” and all “Black eQualizer” settings be set to zero. 

The nice thing is that there are, in fact, three presets available through the S-switch, so if you happen to be a competitive FPS gamer as well as enjoying photography or general gaming, you can click between one and the other with a fingerpress.

Backlighting was fairly uniform and at least equal to other LCD monitors and TVs I has experienced.
  

General Purpose Computing

For general use, two features stand out.  Of lesser importance is the 120hz mode.  This actually does make a noticeable difference in desktop computing; it’s quite enjoyable to have a plain old mouse pointer refresh quickly and smoothly.  Compared to regular mousing or (brr) the latency in touchscreens, 120hz makes plain old browsing a joy.

For PDF reading, writing (e.g., this article), or web viewing, I very much appreciates the ease of switching the monitor to portrait (vertical, or 1080 x 1920) mode.  Doing so with an Nvidia video card requires that 3D Vision be disabled.  However, reading a detailed full-page PDF or Kindle book at 100% scale and having room left over for a browser window, spreadsheet, or other document is invaluable.


Gaming

I have not taken the time to compare latency (input lag) between a CRT monitor and the BenQ XL2420TX.  However, by default, “AMA” and “instant Mode” are “on.”  With subjective measurement the difference between this and a 5ms LCD panel is noticeable.

The effect of 120hz gaming, without 3D, really depends on the individual’s choice of game and of their hardware supporting the monitor.  If the buyer’s hardware doesn’t support their chosen game at more than 60hz, a 120hz monitor is meaningless – and by extension, after the frame rate hit for stereovision is accounted for, 3D viewing will be frustrating.  However, with the right hardware or the right games, 120hz or 3D really shines.
BenQ XL2420TX Image Sample
I spent considerable time in the ultra-realistic driving simulator “iRacing” and in the MMORPG game “Lord of the Rings Online” (LOTRO); these are very distinct experiences and provide two viewpoints on 120hz gaming.

In iRacing, one competes against real drivers, using the very latest in tire and vehicle modeling, on tracks that have been laser-scanned down to the millimeter.  If driving the rookie cars, such as the Mazda MX-5 and Legends oval racing cars, the experience is largely felt in a visual smoothness.  I experienced a small but distinct decrease in lap time due to the combination of reduced input latency and increased refresh rate.

In LOTRO 120hz mode is very subtle; subjectively it can be noticed in running and fighting animations, but there’s no game advantage to be garnered.  I would expect about the same for players of WoW, The Old Republic, or any other role-playing game.
 

3D Gaming

Well, this is the primary point to buying the XL2420TX version after all; if one only wants a 120hz monitor, several cheaper varieties are available from first-generation Viewsonic and Samsung monitors up to BenQ’s own XL2420T.
3D Vision 2 Glasses
The first thing of note is that the “Lightboost” technology of the 2nd generation 3D Vision solution is worth the price.  While several reviews of earlier 3D Vision solutions mention the darkness of the 3D viewpoint, Lightboost enhances brightness by maximizing LCD backlighting when the glasses’ shutters are open and cutting crosstalk by minimizing LCD backlighting otherwise.  The result is an image in 3D that’s nearly as bright was the 2D image.

I am not a FPS expert by any means but tested informally with the very old FPS Deus Ex, with Team Fortress 2, and with Portal 2.  RPG testing was handled by Neverwinter Nights 2 and by LOTRO.  Simulation gaming testing was courtesy of iRacing primarily and Race07 secondarily.  Unfortunately for legacy racers, I was not able to get 3D Vision working with the classic title Grand Prix Legends.

In the multiplayer mayhem of TF2, the advantage of twitch reflexes of 120hz mode overweighed the enjoyment of 3D Vision.  TF2 is not designed with a lot of exquisite 3D imagery in mind.
3D Vision 2 Glasses
Any older 3D title such as Deus Ex really shines with 3D Vision.  Although the 3D mode highlights the low geometry count of the models, there’s no effective frame rate hit on these older titles.  Especially with a robust game such as Deus Ex, 3D Vision can easily provide replay value!

I was surprised to find that Neverwinter Nights 2 was, essentially, flawless.  A full GameGrade walkthrough is pending; however, no ghosting or inadvertent rendering was evident.  In an overhead view, NWN2 is about as close to standing over a set of lead miniatures as any RPG grognard can get in a computer RPG.

LOTRO was a mixed bag.  On-screen rendering was quite good; only some water effects in DX10 mode caused obvious issues.  However, all name tags and on-screen displays were rendered at screen depth.  Having a foul yrch (that’s high elvish, or Quenya, for Orc) appear at the proper depth, but its name seem 40 meters closer, is disconcerting. I has taken to leaving nametags on when not in 3D mode, but off when 3D Vision is activated.

I noted that iRacing in triple-screen mode was used by nVidia to showcase their 3D Vision solution at CES; and no wonder.  Not only is everything rendered properly, but the in-game effect in a simulation whose team laser-scans every bump and curb at the real facilities is unnervingly real.

In game terms, having other cars rendered at 3D allows a degree of close racing that nothing else can manage.  Even 120hz mode doesn’t compare to the visceral experience of knowing exactly how far the other car is from your bumper.  The result in several races, ranging from 200mph dices in Indycars to whirling melees at Virginia International Raceway, is a safer and more enjoyable experience, and higher finishes.  As the racing saying goes:  “To finish first, first one must finish.”

The same applies to Race07 and the other SimBin titles.  These feature helmet graphics and tearoffs, although they don’t feature laser-scanned tracks.  It’s intensely immersive to have a virtual bug on your visor as you rip through the Nurburgring in a Caterham or other open-wheel car.

Flight simulations benefit as well, with the value ironically decreasing as the simulation modeled more modern combat planes.  It’s much more involving to dance in 3D with a Spitfire and 109 or Fokker Triplane and Sopwith Camel than to launch a missile BVR (beyond visual range) at a bogey.

 
HDMI Gaming / 3D BluRay

This will have to wait until later; I do have a copy of Avatar 3D provided with my BluRay player but have not had the chance to test it with the XL2420TX as 3D monitor.


Conclusions

Although 1st-generation 3D monitors were plagued by excessive ghosting, and remaining 3D Vision 1 solutions by darkness, the latest 3D Vision 2 and Lightboost technologies solve these issues. 

At a high resolution of 1080p (1920x1080) the BenQ XL2420XT is as good as it gets in the world of LCD 3D solutions.  While some DLP projectors may be better, and over-the-head goggles eliminate all ghosting, these provide less resolution at greater cost. 

The only disadvantage to the BenQ XL2420TX is finding one!  They’re currently only on order on BenQ’s site and have not, at least for US buyers, made their way to Amazon, Newegg, or other popular vendors.  For many European buyers the TX version will simply not be available, and forum threads on several sites indicate that BenQ is denying TX orders if the buyer does not show a US or UK address.