Now that all the testing and game-playing is over, have we decided on the value quotient of the XR3501? We'd have to say it's a tough call.
On the positive side, the contrast of XR3501's AMVA panel is undeniably excellent. It doesn't just have a little better contrast than the rest, it's way better. Doubling contrast at the same max output level means black levels are half-again lower. The difference between .2 and .1cd/m2 is very obvious to see. That translates into much greater depth and realism. Once you've played Far Cry 4 on a display like this, going back to a 1000:1 screen is something of a letdown.
You also get stable 144Hz operation without having to settle for a TN monitor. Refresh rates in the IPS camp have been slow to rise above 60Hz and even though image quality can be quite good with TN, IPS and its different flavors are still better thanks to their larger viewing sweet spot and more consistent gamma and screen uniformity.
The XR3501 also does very well in the color department. The default Standard picture mode offers fair performance and can easily be improved upon by switching to the sRGB preset. Once you calibrate however, all image parameters come close to professional levels. There is no shortage of bright saturated color here and thanks to great gamma and grayscale tracking, it's accurate as well.
Then there's that unique curve. Plenty of users are still asking why curved screens exist at all. And we agree they're not for everyone. Even if their prices were to suddenly drop, we doubt users would flock to them. And we were skeptical at first too, but once we tried a few, our opinion changed. It's not as if a curved screen is now a requirement for gaming enjoyment, but it sure is cool! We've enjoyed playing on every curved example we've had in the lab so far and the XR3501 is our favorite at the moment.
For strictly business tasks, we'd have to choose the 3800R curve for its non-existent distortion. The 2000R spec introduces a visible pincushion shape to on-screen windows though it has no ill effects on text. However, when editing photos, watching movies or playing games, the tighter radius covers more of the user's peripheral vision and does a better job of de-emphasizing the surrounding environment.
The decision has to come down to what you place greater importance on. If you must have G-Sync or FreeSync, the discussion is over -- go for another display. If resolution is a factor, the XR3501 offers only 1080p; but again, we'd urge you check one out in the flesh before deciding as the extra contrast might just change your mind. And don't forget that pushing fewer pixels means you can rock out high framerates with a sub-$300 video card.
In the end, BenQ's XR3501 presents something of a conundrum. It has some truly unique features that enhance image quality and gameplay, but it leaves a couple of things out and it doesn't come cheap. With monitors like Acer's XB270HU, which offers G-Sync, IPS and QHD resolution for $200 less, BenQ's new screen is facing some stiff competition. Still, its picture quality is well beyond most of the TN gaming screens out there.
If you're already a fan of the curve, you'll love this screen. And if you don't need frame-rate-matching, it serves up a fantastic image. Our recommendation: decide what features are most important to you and check one out in the flesh before pulling the trigger.
There's no denying the XR3501's superb image quality, solid build and excellent performance. For those reasons we're giving it our Tom's Editor Approved Award.
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