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240p, 15kHz LCD - BenQ BL702A

A cheap, modern monitor for retro gaming?

· reviews
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PVM too expensive, big or difficult to find? No space for a CRT? Your modern TV doesn't support 15kHz? Or maybe you have a retro computer with no monitor?

Most modern monitors and televisions don't support the low resolutions that retro gaming consoles and old computers output. In addition, finding modern display devices with 4:3 or 5:4 aspect ratio is even more difficult. Or was, before the retro computing community discovered that a 5:4, modern monitor with a TN panel and decent response times that come with it exists, and it has an analogue VGA input that supports 15kHz. That's the monitor we are looking at today - BenQ BL702A.

Speaking aspect ratios, there is some debate on which resolution is actually the best for retro gaming - I'm not getting into that debate here. I suggest watching "Super Nintendo Aspect Ratio" by Displaced Gamers on YouTube if you want to understand this better. For me, the difference between the two is relatively minor and some games seem to be designed with one or the other in mind.

Because this is a modern monitor, you can find the specs directly from BenQ. Its native resolution is 1280x1024, but what they do not list is the hidden ability to display resolutions lower than 640x480. If you don't want to take my word for it, look at what the Amiga community has to say.

Now, to get started with retro consoles on this monitor, you need means to plug one in. You can use a SCART-to-VGA adapter that you can make yourself with these open source instructions, courtesy of Tinkerplunk or get one ready made from me. Note that you will need the sync stripper chip that is on optional on this board.

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Oddly, my Amiga CD32 fills the screen, as does the Dreamcast, but when connected to a Mega Drive or SNES they do not. This is actually the same output, displaying a grid pattern on the SNES version of 240p test suite - on the PVM to the left we have an overscan, while the BenQ displays underscan, but maintains the BenQ native 5:4 aspect ratio. The geometry on the BenQ is flawless, as you would expect from an LCD monitor.

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The games actually look very good. There is some ghosting that I did not spot before putting it next to a CRT. There is less than 1 frame of input lag, around 10ms from what I measured. The reported response time by BenQ is 5ms.

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For a cheap TN panel, the colors are fairly good. The games look vibrant and lively, but at times a bit too dark. The games do look their best when the brightness is kept low enough, sacrificing some detail to keep the blacks black.

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Should you buy this monitor? If you have a 100 dollars in your pocket and a retro console with no means of playing it, this is probably your easiest option. It's new and comes with a three-year warranty (may vary by region), the panel is decent, it's small and light, and does the job. Same goes for retro computers, where it is even more challenging to find a display that still works and looks like it belongs on the desk.

Still, I would not replace my PVM or even my CRT TV with this. The input lag did not affect my gameplay, but the lack of scanlines did take something away from the experience for me.

Where this monitor ended up for me is on my desk, acting as a display for my Windows XP PC. Games from early 2000's were often made with 5:4 aspect ratio and 1280x1024 resolution in mind, and while the BenQ BL702A looks like it's from mid 2000's, it is a superior monitor to flat panels from that era.

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