BenQ's XL2730Z: among the first
The BenQ XL2730Z is right in the sweet spot of what I'd want out of a PC gaming display. It combines a speedy 144Hz peak refresh rate with a 2560x1440 panel that measures 27" from corner to corner. Those specs closely mirror the vitals of the ROG Swift PG278Q, one of my favorite gaming displays to date. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if these two monitors were based on the same brand and model of LCD panel.
|Panel size||27" diagonal|
|Refresh rate||40-144Hz; variable via Adaptive-Sync|
|Display colors||16.7 million|
|Max brightness||350 cd/m²|
|Peak contrast ratio||1000:1|
|Optimal viewing angles||170° horizontal, 160° vertical|
|Response time (Gray to gray)||1 ms|
|Display surface||Matte anti-glare|
|Inputs||1 x DisplayPort 1.2,
1 x DVI-DL,
1 x HDMI 2.0,
1 x HDMI 1.4,
1 x D-sub,
1 x USB 3.0,
1 x headphone,
1 x mic
|Outputs||2 x USB 3.0,
1 x headphone,
1 x mic
|Peak power draw||65W|
|Wall mount support||VESA 100 x 100 mm|
|Weight||16.5 lbs (7.5 kg)|
Aside from its support for a different variable-refresh standard, which happens exclusively through the DisplayPort connection, the XL2730Z has a whole array of conventional port types, like HDMI and DVI. Most G-Sync monitors rely solely on DisplayPort, I believe due to the limitations of Nvidia's module.
Thanks to AMD's more collaborative approach, the XL2730Z is very much BenQ's own creation, and it's packed with features that should be familiar from the company's other gaming-centric displays, things like Black eQualizer and multiple custom game profiles. As we'll see, that's kind of a mixed blessing.
Right now, the XL2730Z is selling for $629.99 at Newegg, which is indeed cheaper than the competition. The G-Sync-based Asus ROG Swift PG278Q is going for $779.99. Thing is, neither one is exactly cheap. You can pick up a 27" monitor with the same resolution based on IPS technology with a 60Hz refresh rate for under $400. If you're not paying extra for FreeSync hardware, you're still paying extra for the cachet—and for silky-smooth 144Hz refresh rates.
With that lengthy introduction out of the way, let's jump right into a look at how this FreeSync display performs in games.
The FreeSync experience
Setting up FreeSync is dead simple. You just tick a checkbox in the Catalyst Control Center enabling FreeSync, and off you go. On the XL2730Z, the display's refresh rate varies from a minimum of 40Hz to a peak of 144Hz. In other words, the intervals between frames range from 25 ms to 6.94 ms dynamically on a per-frame basis.
Once it's enabled and you're running a game, one thing is clear: AMD and BenQ have succeeded in delivering the same sort of creamy smooth animation that we know from G-Sync displays. The fluidity is easy to discern. Gaming with variable refresh is a gratifying, visceral thing—a heightened version of the core experience that makes action-oriented games so addictive. You really do have to see a fast variable-refresh display in person in order to fully appreciate it.
We can't replicate the experience in a video shown on a conventional display, but we can slow things down in order to illustrate the difference in animation smoothness. I've created a series of comparison videos, shot at 240 frames per second on an iPhone 6 and played back in slow-motion, that shows the XL2730Z in its 144Hz-peak variable refresh mode compared to other options. The first one pits this mode against a 60Hz refresh rate with vsync enabled. You may want to play the video full-screen in order to get a good look.
The difference in fluidity is dramatic, especially at the edges of the screen, where objects are moving the fastest in our example scene. There are still some occasional hitches where animation isn't perfect on the 144Hz FreeSync config. Those are likely the result of slowdowns somewhere else in the system, perhaps caused by CPU or GPU performance limitations. Slowdowns do occasionally still happen with variable refresh, but they shouldn't be the fault of the display.
Our second example, above, compares variable refresh on the BenQ XL2730Z to a 60Hz display mode with vsync disabled. Again, the 144Hz FreeSync setup looks stellar. I don't think turning off vsync makes the 60Hz display mode look much smoother, and without vsync, you can sometimes see tearing, especially in the hillside and the trees.
If you already have a 144Hz gaming monitor, adding variable refresh to the mix isn't as big a deal as it would be otherwise. The quantization effects of a seven-millisecond interval between frames aren't as dramatic as with 16.7-ms steps. Both of these slow-mo videos look quite a bit nicer than our 60Hz examples. Still, I can detect some waggle (or unevenness) in the movement of the hillside in the 144Hz vsync video that's not present with FreeSync enabled. I think we're running into some GPU limitations here, too. We've seen clearer examples of variable refresh's superiority at 144Hz in Skyrim in the past. The effect is subtle but discernible.