BenQ v920

BenQ are no stranger to innovation and have been one of the first manufacturers to widely adopt and implement edge-lit LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlighting. Not only does this enhance the ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ status of a monitor by drawing less power than traditional CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp) backlighting; it also does away with mercury and other potentially harmful pollutants. BenQ claims the use of edge LED backlighting also provides a brighter and more flicker-free image – and it certainly makes the monitor thinner.

The V920 is the smallest member of BenQ’s new super-slim ‘V series’, with a screen size of only 18.5″ and a current claim to the title of ‘world’s thinnest monitor’ at only 14mm thick. We put this svelte and confident monitor through its paces in our cruel and unforgiving series of tests and find out if it’s just as thin on performance.

Specifications

You can see from the specifications that the BenQ V920 is a small, low resolution display aimed at those with a tight budget. The W-LED backlight of the V920 also makes the monitor surprisingly light and energy efficient – it also contributes to BenQ’s rather outrageous claim of 10m:1 dynamic contrast.

Screen size: 18.5 inches
Panel type: Twisted Nematic (TN) LCD
Native resolution:1366 x 768
Response time: 5ms
Refresh rate: 60Hz
Weight: 2.4kg
Contrast ratio:1000:1 (10,000,000:1 Dynamic Contrast)
Viewing angle: 170º horizontal, 160º vertical
Maximum power consumption: 18W
Backlight: W-LED (edge-lit)
Typical RRP as reviewed: £120

Features

and

aesthetics

The BenQ V920 sports an interesting and [subjectively] attractive design that was apparently inspired by Chinese Lacquerware. The intriguing aesthetic of BenQ’s new V-series was awarded an iF 2010 Design Award, which can only be a good thing. But award or no award; we have seen the source of this inspiration first hand in Hong Kong and fail to see a real resemblance between the glossy plastic fantastics of the V920 and priceless, intricately carved Chinese tableware.

If we let our imaginations roam free a bit, however; the interesting and somewhat unique stand of the V920 may just be what BenQ are referring to here. It is shaped like a saucer, gently sloping down from the back, with a concave-come-convex centre and a shiny metallic rim. It is even compatible with Windows 7 (or maybe the actual monitor is?) Either way the V920 has one up on the Chinese Lacquerware on the Windows 7 compatibility front. Like Chinese Lacquerware, however, the adjustability options of the V920 are fairly limited and you are only able to tilt the screen forwards and backwards slightly.

At first glance the neck of the V920’s stand looks unusually thin and fragile, which is another little unique intricacy of the new BenQ V series’ styling. The monitor is actually surprisingly stable on the stand, wobbling and indeed creaking only slightly if nudged from the edge. After all, the neck only has to support the 2.4kg weight of the 14mm thick ‘world’s thinnest monitor’. Although this may seem impressive, the much larger Samsung XL2370 is only 16mm thick.

The V920 is scantily clad in terms of connectivity options, baring a single DVI port, VGA port and a DC input for the supplied power adaptor. Given that the V920 is truly a budget option this is very much in line with expectation.

The power button of the BenQ V920 is forward-facing with a ring of light around it. Although the V920’s stand has rubber/foam feet at the bottom, the entire monitor slides backwards if the power button is pushed without a supporting hand at the back. This also occurs to a lesser extent when operating the OSD controls.

Perhaps more disappointing, however, is that the power LED is a boring and oldschool green (not as minty as it appears in the picture) and not the interesting yellow/orange colour that appears in most press images. There is also no illumination for the OSD labels, making the OSD difficult to operate in the dark.

As you can no doubt see in the above image there is not much screen real estate to play with on the BenQ V920. This is due not only to the small screen, but also the fairly low 1366×768 resolution. Even on such a small screen this resolution seems uncomfortably low when doing desktop tasks such as websurfing, word processing or even just staring vacantly at the desktop icons wishing they would shrink. It is something we got used to as we tested the monitor more, however, and we had just used a full 1920×1080 23-incher previously.

Although we are not used to navigating the OSD of BenQ monitors, we found the use of separate ‘enter’ and exit (‘menu’) keys slightly unintuitive. The one-touch ‘senseye 3’ preset button was also slightly frustrating as you had to cycle through the entire list until you found the mode you require. A list with the ability to scroll up and down (like Samsung’s MagicBright implementation) would have been preferable.

As well as allowing manual adjustment of the display position (something generally not required since the days of CRT monitors), can scroll along the images at the top to adjust ‘picture’, ‘picture advanced’ and ‘system’, respectively. If you enter the ‘picture advanced’ menu (above) you can adjust the Dynamic Contrast of the V920 to 5 different intensity levels if the ‘senseye’ is set to photo, movie or game mode. Really this is all a bit convoluted – if you want dynamic contrast on, you will want the full experience and should be able to switch it on in all its glory with a one-touch preset. We also found that the ‘game’, ‘movie’ and ‘photo’ modes make the entire image far too sharp (with no way of reducing this effect) and colours in the former two modes are outrageously oversaturated. Needless to say we steered clear of these modes in our testing.

Performance

Calibration

BenQ includes a nifty auto calibration utility that is supposed to calibrate the monitor once it is run and the ‘auto’ button of the V920 is pressed. We couldn’t get this to work, however, which is possibly because it only works when the monitor is in VGA mode (and connected using a VGA cable).

Nonetheless; we performed a simple calibration of the V920 using the Windows 7 ‘Display Color Calibration’ feature. Whilst this is by no means a replacement for a proper colorimeter, we felt it was more suitable to use a by-eye calibration procedure that is readily accessible to home users. Because the BenQ V920 is lit by a border of white LEDs it is not necessary to wait 30 minutes or more for the screen to ‘warm up’ prior to calibration; although it is still a good habit. It is worth remembering that the V920 is a Twisted Nematic (TN) panel, so the gamma curve is viewing angle dependent. You are therefore only calibrating specific points of the monitor from a particular viewing angle – if this is done by eye it is imperative that your head is at the height it would usually be when using the monitor.

Further information about monitor calibration can be found in this TFT Central article. If you are not familiar with the Windows 7 calibration procedure you should read this article or quickly scan over this section.

We lowered the gamma slightly to improve the results of the first test, although you could of course still see the gamma shift associated with TN panels if you moved your head slightly. We left the brightness at the default level of 100% for the second test. Even at this setting the V920 didn’t seem particularly bright compared to other LED-backlit monitors we’ve used, although you should lower it according to your preferences or if you suffer from eyestrain. We thought that BenQ were being conservative with their default contrast level of 50%, but according to the third test 40% seemed optimal. Anything much beyond 40% contrast resulted in the image becoming unacceptably bleached and saturated with white – leading to a major loss of detail. The final test showed the default colour balance of the V920 to be fairly poor. The greyscale appeared to take on a blue tinge, despite BenQ lowering the blue balance slightly by default. After lowering the blue level slider, the image then appeared too green. We actually found ourselves fiddling with all 3 sliders extensively. It wasn’t a perfect result by any means, but in the end we settled for a reduction in blue and green of 2 notches each.

Contrast

and

brightness

BenQ claims that the V920 will produce a typical brightness in the region of 250cd/m2 and a static contrast ratio of 1000:1. Although we have no reason to doubt these claims, BenQ have also stated an outrageously and frankly unbelievably high 10,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. These figures are based on the fact that the backlight intensity varies depending on the level of black and white (dark or light) on the screen if dynamic contrast is enabled, so if an entirely black screen is displayed the backlight would shut off (or very close to it) and give an extremely low black luminance level.

We decided to put BenQ’s claims to the test with our light meter and measure brightness (luminance) in an entirely white image, and entirely black image and the resulting contrast ratio. We tested this at a variety of custom and manufacturer settings – the results are shown in the table below, with significant values highlighted in blue and discussed in the proceeding section. Unless otherwise stated the contrast was set to 100% in all ‘standard’ modes tested, but varied according to ’senseye 3’ presets.

Monitor profile White luminance (cd/m2) Black luminance (cd/m2) Contrast ratio (x:1)
Standard, 100% brightness (40% contrast) 240 1.28 188
Standard, 100% brightness 310 1.32 235
Standard, 85% brightness 270 1.2 225
Standard, 75% brightness 240 1.09 220
Standard, 60% brightness (40% contrast) 150 0.92 163
Standard, 60% brightness 200 0.91 220
Standard, 40% brightness 150 0.7 214
Standard, 30% brightness 120 0.56 214
Standard, 20% brightness 100 0.46 217
Standard, 10% brightness (40% contrast) 50 0.34 147
Standard, 10% brightness 70 0.34 206
Movie 270 1.43 189
Movie (full dynamic contrast) 200 <0.01 >20000
Game 270 2.1 129
Game (full dynamic contrast) 200 <0.01 >20000
Photo 270 1.43 188
Photo (full dynamic contrast) 200 <0.01 >20000
sRGB 220 1.26 175
Eco 140 0.66 212

Although there is no discernable excess backlight bleed from the V920 it is evident from the results in the table that the V920 suffers from light leakage at mid to high luminances. Because of this, we were unable to achieve anywhere near BenQ’s stated 1000:1 static contrast ratio using any setting, which is a disappointing result.

We tested various brightness levels at both 100% and 40% contrast to see if we could lower the black luminance, but unfortunately the only significant change was a drop in white luminance and hence lowering the contrast ratio further. The highest static contrast ratio we recorded on the V920 (235:1) was on the ‘standard’ setting at 100% brightness and 100% contrast. The peak white luminance of 310 cd/m2 was also recorded at this setting – a level exceeding BenQ’s stated 250cd/m2 but considerably lower than the 440 cd/m2 we recorded on Samsung’s XL2370. We did manage to eliminate the visible purple tinge on the black screen and achieve the desirable <0.40 cd/m2 black levels required for visibly inky blacks – but this occurred at 10% brightness and under normal viewing the image is far too dim for comfortable viewing at this setting.

As we have explored previously; the game mode setting is far too sharp with wildly oversaturated colours. To add insult to injury, we measured an astounding 2.1 cd/m2 black luminance using this mode. Aside from eliminating any trace of true black, this also introduced some very disturbing dithering and flickering. This problem could be rectified, unsurprisingly, by turning on full dynamic contrast. We recorded a >20,000:1 contrast ratio using this setting – a figure limited by the 0.01 lux resolution of our light meter. Although we can’t say whether we achieved results nearing BenQ’s staggering 10m:1 contrast ratio, we can say that the dynamic contrast modes behaved similarly in ‘photo’, ‘game’ and ‘movie’ modes. In all cases the V920 was slow to react to huge changes in image brightness. The screen took around 6 seconds to properly dim for the completely black scene and another 6 seconds to reach ‘full brightness’ for the huge white square used to test luminance. We actually left it for a minute before taking the white luminance reading just as a precaution. Even then it only reached 200 cd/m2 which is nowhere near the 310 cd/m2 peak reading in standard mode. We can safely say that, as is often the case, the stated Dynamic Contrast ratio can be safely ignored.

Moving on from the figures, we tested the V920 in some more realistic scenarios and got a pretty mixed bag of results. In line with the relatively high luminances recorded using our ‘calibrated test settings’ (100% brightness, 40% contrast , standard mode) blacks were not worryingly bright but not particularly deep and inky, either. White space is all too common on desktop computer tasks such as spread sheets, word processing and internet browsing – so it is important to know what to expect in this regard. Whites on the V920 were generally quite pleasing, although they tended to take a slight cool (blue) tint towards the bottom and a progressively warmer (red) tint towards the top.

Whites also feature heavily in games; especially as reflections, bloom and specular effects are now commonly used. When we tested Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising the whites actually appeared surprisingly bright. The glare from the sun and its reflection off light metallic surfaces was captured nicely, but brief flashes of light from explosions did not have the pizazz that we have seen from some other monitors. On the dark side, so to speak, there was poor contrast at the low end. Shadow details were somewhat lacking and many colours in the game blended into a muddy mess (more on that in the proceeding review section). Increasing the contrast beyond 40% simply bleached things out like we experienced on the desktop and enabling the ‘senseye’ game mode introduced the aforementioned sharpness problems.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 told a similar story on the low end, with some loss of detail on dark textures. Whites were fairly impressive – snow in particular was mainly nice and pure and bright-looking in the sun. At times the purity of the white was less impressive, as some in-game text and snowy ground textures appeared an ever so slightly polluted red. This could be because we didn’t get the colour balance quite right, but quickly reducing red levels via the OSD didn’t really help achieve purity. The desert glare, burning fires and vehicle repair sparks were all suitably bright.

We also tested the V920 on our favourite racing game; Colin McRae: Dirt 2. Contrast was decent but it was not the best experience we’ve had on the game, in that regard. Camera flashes and artificial lights weren’t as dazzling at night as we’ve seen and blacks not as deep. Some minor detail of in dark brown and grey textures at night was also apparent, but unless you have OCD this is nothing that should stop you getting round the track.

We must now mention something unscrupulous that didn’t escape our notice, particularly in the FPS titles we tested. The loss of detail in shadows and dark textures in the like was exacerbated by rather extreme dithering. Dithering is used by a monitor to help it display small steps in brightness and in a weaker screen with a poor dithering algorithm this can become quite noticeable at times. There are two main types of dithering, both of which we experienced to varying degrees on the BenQ V920. Temporal dithering is the rapid switching between a darker and lighter shade of a colour in order to produce a shade ‘in between’. On the V920 this was particularly noticeable on gunmetal greys and the muted camo. paints that feature extensively on Dragon Rising and was such that the textures appeared to crawl in a way akin to a finer version of an old out of tune TV. Some of this is actually intentional ‘noise’ to simulate what the eye sees at night, but the effect was too extreme to be entirely intentional. The other type of dithering involves simultaneously displaying two shades of a colour in an alternating pattern so that it may appear a shade in between the two. This may have occurred on Dragon Rising, although it is difficult to tell as the texture resolution is lower than we are used to when scaling to the V920’s native 1366×768 resolution. In Bad Company 2 there appeared to be very bad static dithering and even banding (alternating bands of different colours) when looking up at the night sky – but this could again be partly texture-related. We noticed a similar effect on the James Bond: Quantum of Solace DVD when the V920 displayed dark scenes (for example, inside James Bond’s flashy car) – but this time it was certainly a fault of the monitor as the alternating horizontal grey bands extended onto the console controls of the movie player. There was also noticeable temporal dithering at times – identified as such by the fact that the crawling effect continued even when the movie was paused. Elsewhere the contrast on Quantum of Solace was fairly lacklustre. Explosions and flashes etc. didn’t really stand out and there seemed to be some loss of detail in the darker scenes throughout the film.

Phew. And now onto testing the V920’s contrast performance using a series of LCD tests provided by Lagom. These tests are specifically designed to show any weakness in a monitor’s performance, no matter how trivial it may seem.

The contrast test at first seemed very impressive, with all bars displaying distinct brightness steps. There was, however, noticeable temporal dithering at the low end – particularly for the green, light blue and yellow bars. If the high-end luminance is increased (i.e. raising the monitor’s contrast) the top end soon becomes bleached. At the default contrast setting of 50% the top two bars of yellow and red become indistinguishable and at 60% contrast the top 3-4 bars of every colour except blue bleaches. At a full 100% contrast the top quarter or so of every colour becomes a solid mass of a single shade.

Black levels again seemed very impressive at first, with distinct blocks in each case. The shades themselves were clearly influenced by vertical viewing angles, as the shades shifted if you moved your head up and down. Unfortunately; static dithering, temporal dithering and sometimes combined dithering was evident on some shades. The white block was stable, pure and flicker-free thanks in part to the LED backlight of the V920.

White saturation test results were impressive at 40% contrast. All but the final two blocks had visible checkerboard patterns (and if you lowered your head slightly so did the penultimate block). At the default 50% contrast, the final 4 blocks (whole of the bottom row) disappeared into the background. At 60% contrast only the very first block (of 12) was visible and at 90% contrast this too disappeared.

The greyscale gradient produced by the V920 was less than impressive, but by no means unusual for a TN panel. Dithering plagued the bottom third and banding around 2 thirds of the gradient, with the white at the top being the only impressive shade. This reflected the poor brightness steps and dithering issues throughout our ‘real world’ testing and other Lagom LCD tests.

Colour

reproduction

The V920 didn’t really wow us with its colour reproduction. On Dragon Rising the browns, greens and other earthy tones all blend into a muddy mess of washed out colour with the occasional patch of oversaturated yellowish green. The natural aesthetic that is intended on the game is therefore captured to some extent, but it is overall too muted and unbalanced with a loss of subtle colours. Bad Company 2 also had a somewhat muted appearance, lacking the vibrancy we have seen other monitors display on this game – particularly in the forest areas. As with Dragon Rising many colours blended into a haze of dull green and brown and there were no colourful ‘wow’ moments. We were fairly impressed by some of the reds, such as those of the berets and speed limit signs, which appeared remarkably solid and not tainted by orange. Colours were overall fairly dull on Dirt 2, especially with regards to car paints that lacked the vibrancy we have seen from other screens we’ve tested. Having said that; the environments did have a nice natural quality to them. Yes the Malaysian forests looked a bit yellowish and not a vivid and lush green, but the dusty deserts of Utah were a satisfying mix of khaki colours.

In the movie testing, Quantum of Solace showed some very pleasing skin tones without the curse of oversaturation. This is partly due to the muted colours, however, and elsewhere the film lacked vibrancy. This gave a fairly natural look to the desert, too, although in parts the sand and rocks did appear a little too orange. The ‘720p’ resolution of the V920 was well suited to the 720p Toystory 3 trailer, which is a nice test of colour range and vibrancy. Colours were not particularly vibrant, although we were impressed by the purple and lime green plastics of Buzz Lightyear and also the yellow of the trailer text.

Viewing

angles

No miracles were expected as far as viewing angles are concerned. After all, the V920 is a Twisted Nematic panel, and unless it breaks the laws of physics the viewing angles shouldn’t be too wonderful. This is certainly something to consider if you take a relaxed approach to your computer viewing (perhaps using it with a games console) or require consistent colour accuracy, perhaps for professional purposes. Given the small size and resolution of the screen we don’t think it would be too practical for such uses, anyway.

We used the viewing angle tests of Lagom to help us determine weaknesses in viewing angle. The purple block shifted between purple and pink if viewed from directly in front and flashed through an additional blue hue at times if the head was shifted. The effect under direct viewing was actually not as severe as we have seen in other TN panels, probably due to the small screen size of the V920. The red block appeared pinkish red at the top and even more pink at the bottom, with the pinkness shifting around in accordance with head movement. The block only appeared anything resembling red if you moved your head down and looked up at the image. The green block in the Lagom test appeared to take on a yellow hue at times if you bobbed your head up and down and only appeared close to a pure green if you look up at the screen with your chin at desk level. As we have mentioned if previous reviews the yellowish tinge to green is a common problem of red pollution that plagues LCD monitors. As you should expect from a decent modern LCD panel, the blue block appeared impressively solid, although the brightness shift that accompanied head movement was more marked than we have seen on other PC monitors we’ve reviewed.

Another aspect of the Lagom Viewing angle test is the ‘text test’. This is a simple and effective way to identify whether the gamma of a monitor is viewing-angle dependent. The effect that you get with the V920 in this test is shown in the video below, as is the pink shift experienced on the red colour block of Lagom’s test. Due to this colour shift, we are unable to recommend the V920 (or indeed any TN panel) to users requiring good colour accuracy; these users should look elsewhere, possibly at IPS or PVA panels. For normal desktop monitor usage (i.e. sat in front with the monitor fairly central to your field of vision), however, the viewing angles of the V920 shouldn’t be an issue.

Response

times

Response times are certainly not a weakness of the V920. Although the overall experience was not quite as smooth as the likes of 120Hz LCDs or Samsung’s exceptional XL2370; we encountered no severe problems caused by ghosting and suchlike. A slight trail was visible whilst strafing or driving in vehicles on our FPS titles, and also whilst parachuting down to earth on Bad Company 2. Camera panning and quick ninja-like movements from Daniel Craig and others on Quantum of Solace also presented some minor issues. Perhaps the worst cases of such trails could be experienced on the fast-paced driving of Dirt 2 and the Toy Story 3 trailer with its vivid and contrasting colours moving against one another. This was still not hugely distracting and shouldn’t be ringing any alarm bells.

One thing to bear in mind is that the number given by a manufacturer for the response time (in this case 5ms) should be considered in the wider context and is often understated anyway. It is really only one piece of the jigsaw as it only describes the reaction of the ‘shutter’ or colour filter inside an LCD panel and does not consider what happens prior to this stage (input lag, compensation algorithms etc).

Conclusion

The BenQ V920 is a uniquely styled and beautifully thin monitor. If you look past the charming exterior and marketing hype that covers the beast within, however, you can reveal a monitor with fairly mediocre image quality. Unlike most screens of today, the BenQ V920 trails behind with its 720p (1366×768) resolution and small 18.5” screen. Although the screen is LED backlit, making it thinner, lighter and possibly brighter than it would otherwise have been; the ludicrous contrast claims of BenQ carry little weight in reality. It was clear throughout our testing that the V920’s contrast was holding it back. Raise the contrast level beyond a squat 40% and the image becomes bleached out. Raise the brightness above a shockingly diminutive and highly impractical 10% and the black levels suffer. Add to this noticeable dithering and sometimes banding in games and movies and it is clear that the V920 is no strong contender of the ‘dark side’. Despite this lack of contrast and poor handling of dark colours, however; whites were surprisingly bright and lived up to BenQ’s flicker-free claims. This made for moments of brilliance within games that detracted from the muted and fairly lacklustre colours elsewhere.

When considering the overall package here, however, you have to remember what it is you are paying for and moreover; how much (or how little) you are paying for it. With a pleasingly low sub-£120 price tag; the BenQ V920 is clearly a budget offering that isn’t without attraction. The LED backlight reduces the power consumption of the already conservative small screen and makes it beautifully thin and light, potentially increases brightness and reduces flickering. With its thoroughly decent responsiveness and reasonable performance in all other areas the monitor is able to handle desktop tasks, gaming and movies admirably. Whilst we can’t say we are great fans of BenQ’s ‘senseye 3’ presets, their unintuitive OSD navigation system or their frankly poor button placement and labelling system, we can see a lot of potential for this screen.

If any of the following applies to you, then the BenQ V920 is worth some serious consideration:

1) You have a low budget of just over £100
2) Your graphics hardware is too outdated to handle high resolutions
3) You require a portable monitor that is very small and light and can be easily moved between different locations

If not, then we suggest you consider other options. BenQ offers a good variety of affordable LED-backlit screens, so you may also want to check out the V2220 and V2420 if you like the style and the substance but require a superior screen size and resolution. If you want to stick with V920esque dimensions and performance but want a slightly higher resolution (1440×900) then you should consider the G920WL for around £100.

Positives Negatives
LED backlighting provides better energy efficiency and higher luminance with less flicker Contrast is poor – black levels in particular and dark-shade details suffer and dithering is noticeable
Interesting and unusual styling Colours aren’t particularly vibrant and appear a little muted
Exceptionally thin and light; very portable Restrictive resolution
Low price (sub-£120) Viewing angles are restricted by TN panel technology
Really decent responsiveness makes it suitable for games and movies. Poor OSD layout, power button placement and control label illumination