by Oleg Artamonov
05/30/2011 | 10:56 AM
About a year ago I tested a NEC MultiSync EA231WMi monitor which was the first widely available model with an e-IPS matrix. Notwithstanding my positive impression about it, the EA231WMi remained a niche product. It was rather expensive and lacked response time compensation. So, while it was a good choice for people interested in high color accuracy, it could not be recommended as a versatile home monitor.
The e-IPS market has been populated with new models since then, mostly through the efforts of Dell which has released half a dozen e-IPS based products with appealing specs and price tags. I'm going to discuss them in this review.
Use the following link for a description of our testing methodology and the equipment we use as well as for a brief explanation of what the specified and tested parameters of LCD monitors mean: X-bit Labs Presents: LCD Monitors Testing Methodology In Depth. If you feel overwhelmed with the numbers and terms this review abounds in, check out an appropriate section of the Methodology for explanation.
You can also check out the Monitors section of our site if this review doesn’t cover the model you are interested in.
Dell is traditionally focused on corporate users, from the United States in the first place, who are generally conservative when it comes to their exterior design preferences. Gaudy colors and shiny surfaces are considered unserious and out of place in a professional environment.
The same goes for users who care about color accuracy. They would prefer a monitor that doesn't distract from the image on its screen, so glossy panels and bright LEDs are inappropriate for them, too.
It is no wonder then that the entire series of IPS-based monitors from Dell targeted at these two user categories comes in matte-gray, almost black, cases. Yes, that’s the way a professional monitor must look because it is selected for its technical properties, quality and reliability rather than for an eye-catching exterior. Well, I will discuss the properties and quality later on. Right now, let's talk about their ergonomics.
The five models in the series seem to differ in size only (the photographs above show only two of them but I can assure you that the rest are absolutely the same). Each has a square case made from dark-gray matte plastic. The screen is matte, too. The case stands on a solid square stand. There is a vertical line of control buttons to the right of the screen, the metallized DELL logo centered below the screen being the only embellishment.
The rear view is featureless, too, except that the silvery stand adds some variation to the color scheme.
The stand provides as many screen adjustment options as you may ask for: height adjustment (the screen can be lowered almost down to the level of the desk), rotation (the base of the stand remains motionless at that), portrait mode, and tilt adjustment. The screen turns around easily, without requiring any effort on your part.
The two cheaper models, U2211H and U2311H, have mechanic buttons lined up vertically along the right edge of the case. They click slightly when pressed. The Power button is the bottom one. It has a soft LED indicator which is blue at work and yellow in sleep mode. Take note that the buttons have no labels because their functions can be reprogrammed in the monitor's menu.
The more expensive models in the series differ a little. Their buttons are all touch-sensitive and can be found by the square pimples of their blue LED indicators. The LEDs go on when your finger gets close to a button (without actually touching it), so you can easily hit the desired button even in full darkness.
I didn’t find any difference, other than aesthetic, between the touch-sensitive and mechanical buttons. Both types are equally handy and work properly. The touch-sensitive type look more exciting with their LEDs, but that’s the only advantage I can see about them.
The more significant difference between the models is the number of inputs and outputs.
The U2211H and the U2311H only have a couple of USB ports on the left panel.
The three other models additionally have a Secure Digital reader there. I personally don’t find these features handy, though. Having monitors with side USB ports both at home and at work, I’ve never really learned to use those connectors. It just seems inconvenient for me to fumble for them or to turn the monitor around. I guess such USB ports may be useful for a permanently attached device, like a receiver of a wireless mouse, but the USB connectors of my system case are far easier to access when I want to connect a flash drive, MP3-player or something like that.
At the back panel the U2211H and U2311H have the following: a DisplayPort, a DVI connector, a D-Sub connector, connectors for an optional speaker module, one USB input, and two USB outputs which you may want to use for your keyboard and mouse.
The Dell U2410 offers two DVIs, a DisplayPort, an HDMI and a D-Sub connector, and two video inputs (component and composite). If you don’t have the optional speaker module, you can use the audio output for your headphones. The monitor doesn’t have a dedicated audio input. It receives audio via HDMI.
The 27-inch model adds more audio outputs. It has three rather than one stereo connector so you can connect a multichannel speaker system. There is still no analog audio input, so the monitor can only receive audio via HDMI or DisplayPort in PCM format (it lacks a Dolby decoder).
The top-of-the-line U3011H model adds a second HDMI to this very extensive selection of video interfaces. It lacks a composite video input but I don’t think a 30-inch monitor needs that interface with its rather low signal quality.
So, while the difference between the touch-sensitive and mechanical buttons is purely aesthetic, the selection of interfaces depends on how expensive the particular model is. The number of video inputs varies from three in the junior models to as many as seven in the senior one. Each model has a DisplayPort which is a rather new interface.
The menus of the Dell monitors I'm discussing today are all designed in the same way but differ in functionality, i.e. in setup opportunities. So, I will first describe its appearance and then will talk about the differences.
Pressing any of the control buttons (the junior models in the series have four and the senior ones have five such buttons) opens up a quick access menu which allows to change the video input, adjust Brightness and Contrast, choose one of the predefined image modes, or go to the full-featured menu. The Menu and Exit items are always the same whereas the functions of the top two (in the U2211H and U2311H) or three (in the other models) buttons can be redefined.
There are six to 10 predefined image modes, depending on the particular monitor model. I don’t think that many users will utilize more than two or three of them, though. The list of modes includes everything here: typical image enhancement technologies (Multimedia and Game), color temperature and even color gamut (for the senior models; the U2211H and U2311H only support sRGB).
Unfortunately, there are no predefined modes that would simply change the monitor’s Brightness and Contrast without touching anything else. Thus, if you don’t need to “enhance” your onscreen image, you will hardly find these modes useful.
The mini menu for regulating the monitor’s screen brightness looks standard enough. There are two sliders that run from 0 to 100.
The full-featured menu contains eight tabs with a lot of setup options in each. I don’t think it is necessary to describe them all in detail because most of them are quite obvious.
As I mentioned above, two or three control buttons, referred to as Shortcut Keys in the menu, can be redefined by the user. Each can be assigned one of the following functions: choosing a predefined image mode, Brightness & Contrast adjustment, automatic adjustment for analog input, Picture-in-Picture mode (if the monitor supports it), and switching between video inputs.
The following table makes it easy to compare the setup opportunities and functionality of the different models.
The table makes it clear that the senior models in the series differ in the functionality of their firmware. The larger (and the more expensive) a monitor is, the more firmware-based capabilities it offers. I mean the number of image interpolation variants, the number of presets, etc.
The U2410 is the only product in the series to feature Picture-in-Picture mode. The senior models can work with two video inputs simultaneously as well, but only by showing their content side by side.
Each model with support for PIP and PBP lets you select different combinations of simultaneously active video inputs. The D-Sub, DisplayPort, component and composite inputs can be used together with any other but the available DVI and HDMI ports can only work one at a time. In other words, if you have a DVI connector as the main video source, you will not be able to choose HDMI as the secondary video source for PBP mode.
The menu is overall user-friendly and quite functional for any everyday task. The biggest downside I can see is about the preset image modes. You cannot quickly change the level of screen brightness without affecting color accuracy (many users do not like the various “enhancements” that come along with preset image modes). Besides, some features, like dynamic contrast, can only be used with specific presets. So, if you like dynamic contrast but do not like what the Movie mode does to colors, you have to either give up the former or put up with the latter.
I keep on saying in my reviews that Samsung has long invented the handiest implementation of quickly selectable predefined image modes. Samsung monitors (not all of them, unfortunately) offer multiple presets that differ in Brightness and Contrast only and do not affect color reproduction otherwise. And they also have a separate preset for dynamic contrast. All color-related options, including various “intelligent color enhancement” technologies reside in a different location of Samsung monitors’ menus. I really wish that other monitor makers followed Samsung's example.
The monitors I’m discussing today all share one common feature. They are based on e-IPS matrixes which is the further development of the long-existing, time-tested but, unfortunately, too expensive S-IPS technology. It is this biggest downside of S-IPS – high manufacturing cost – that LG’s new technology is meant to address while trying to keep all the benefits of S-IPS.
The list of lows is longer than the list of highs, yet one benefit of S-IPS technology makes it competitive. S-IPS matrixes guarantee the lowest level of color distortions whereas the competing technologies (PVA, S-PVA, C-PVA and TN) cannot avoid the tonality of the onscreen image to depend on the user's angle of sight. For example, blue may acquire a distinct greenish hue when viewed from a side. TN matrixes also have very poor vertical viewing angles while PVA matrixes cannot distinguish between the darkest halftones (this effect can be corrected in the monitor settings at the expense of the high contrast ratio which is considered one of the benefits of PVA technology) and have a high response time. Thus, S-IPS matrixes seem to be the only choice for users interested in high color accuracy.
Unfortunately, the high price of S-IPS panels limits their use to professional and semiprofessional monitors which just cannot be cheap.
The problem of high price is going to be solved by the new generation of IPS matrixes which is called e-IPS. The new matrixes have a different pixel structure and higher transparency. The latter property helps lower the brightness of the backlight and, consequently, the cost and power consumption.
Clearly, this combination of highs and lows puts e-IPS based monitors into a very advantageous position in many users' eyes. Striking a balance between technical specs and price, such monitors are quite attractive for people who want to buy something better than typical TN-based products but do not have any special requirements or preferences and do not want to pay for the satisfaction thereof. While S-IPS based monitors are mostly about “I want to pay extra for high color accuracy”, e-IPS is rather “I want to pay a little bit more for a better image quality”. The latter translates into a larger market segment, of course.
In fact, e-IPS technology has only one serious and inherent drawback. Black gets lighter when the screen is viewed from a side. This effect boils down to contrast ratio degeneration typical of all LCD matrixes. It is just more conspicuous on black with e-IPS matrixes.
Irrespective of the matrix type, an LCD screen loses contrast when viewed from a side. White gets darker and black, lighter. While both effects are usually similar in their strength, the brightening of black is more conspicuous with e-IPS matrixes. Black transforms into dark gray on them even at a rather small deflection from the perpendicular line of sight.
It must be noted, however, that this effect doesn’t affect image quality much. It only shows up with black whereas the rest of colors are displayed by e-IPS matrixes without much tonal distortion which is typical of TN and PVA technologies. Even so, the viewing angles of e-IPS matrixes are much larger than those of TN matrixes which, besides the tonal shift, make the image look darker or lighter when viewed from above or from below.
There is only one usage scenario I can think of in which the abovementioned effect may be a problem. It is when you are going to buy a large monitor for watching movies at home, under dim ambient lighting. The brightening of black may be so conspicuous in movies with a lot of dark scenes that the corners of the screen will look somewhat brighter than its middle if you sit close to the monitor. Otherwise, this problem isn’t going to bother you much.
All in all, e-IPS is an excellent choice for people who want to have a monitor with higher color accuracy than what is offered by popular TN-based products but do not want to pay much or to compromise in other parameters for that.
That’s theory. Let’s now take a look at actual e-IPS based products manufactured by Dell.
First goes the 21.5-inch model but the manufacturer has habitually rounded the number off to 22 in its name (as far as I know, almost all 21.5-inch monitors selling today have the number 22 in their model name irrespective of their matrix type and brand). The native resolution is 1920x1080 pixels which is known as Full HD.
The monitor’s Brightness and Contrast are both set at 75% by default. I achieved my reference level of screen brightness, which is 100 nits (1 nit = 1 candela per square meter), by selecting 53% Brightness and 70% Contrast. I want to remind you that the 100nit brightness of the screen and the settings I achieve it with are not meant necessarily the best way of setting the monitor up. It is just a reference level, identical for all LCD monitors that I test, for checking out certain parameters and looking for certain artifacts that may show up at reduced Brightness and Contrast settings. These settings may not be optimal for your particular conditions.
The monitor regulates its brightness by pulse-width modulation of the backlight at a frequency of 180 Hz.
The maximum brightness is rather low at only 200 nits but the only practical implication is that this monitor may not be bright enough for playing games or watching movies in a brightly lit room. Otherwise, 200 nits is perfectly sufficient. For example, the recommended screen brightness for office applications is 70 to 120 nits, depending on the ambient lighting.
The contrast ratio is very good at over 700:1. The monitor is comparable to modern TN matrixes in this respect.
The blue and green color curves are close to ideal but the red curve goes higher than necessary.
The reduced Brightness and Contrast do not affect the monitor’s color rendering much.
The blue curve rises up in the Game mode, but the color rendering is overall the same.
I can see no significant changes in the Multimedia mode. I couldn’t find any difference in image quality between these modes with my own eyes, either. Moreover, their Brightness and Contrast settings are the same as in the Standard mode. So, while the Game mode has some practical value just because it is the only one that supports dynamic contrast, the purpose of the Multimedia mode is a mystery to me. The user manual doesn’t cast any light on this matter, giving me a general statement that each mode loads optimal color settings into the monitor.
The monitor’s color gamut matches the sRGB color space well enough, even though not exactly.
The white point is shifted towards greens in each of the monitor’s preset modes, and the greenish hue is quite visible. You can solve this by switching the monitor into Custom (RGB) mode and correcting the colors manually.
Otherwise, the U2211H is free from color rendering problems. It displays all halftones as they should be displayed. There is no banding in color gradients. The different levels of gray do not differ much in tonality.
The average nonuniformity of backlight brightness is 5.4% (with a maximum deflection of 18.3%) for black and 5.4% (with a maximum deflection of 14.7%) for white. This is satisfactory. The pictures above make it clear that the monitor has dark areas at the sides of the screen, a small bright area at the top and a wider bright area at the bottom. There are no critical defects in its backlighting, though.
The monitor’s response time doesn’t depend much on what halftones it switches between. The average is 8.2 milliseconds (GtG), so the U2211H is going to be good in dynamic games. Very fastidious gamers may find this monitor slow but they should instead choose their monitor among 2-millisecond TN-based products.
The RTC mechanism produces some artifacts but their average level is only 7.7% with a maximum of 35%. It is really hard to notice the artifacts unless you are looking for them purposely. For example, typical gaming TN-based monitors have an RTC miss up to 60-70%. The average RTC error of 2-millisecond TN matrixes may be as high as 20% or more!
Thus, the Dell U2211H is a versatile monitor that will be good for both home and office use. It is offered to people who are not satisfied with the image quality (the viewing angles, in the first place) of TN matrixes but are not ready to pay for expensive professional products whose functionality would be redundant for them. The U2211H is considerably more expensive than TN-based monitors but, besides the excellent viewing angles of its e-IPS matrix, it can boast a functional exterior design, DisplayPort interface, and a 4-port USB hub.
When it comes to its technical properties and setup quality, the U2211H is quite a typical midrange product. I could find a few small flaws in it, but those are either insignificant or can be easily corrected by fine-tuning it manually.
This is a very close relation of the U2211H, the only notable difference being the extra 1.5 inches of screen space diagonally. Otherwise, the two models coincide in their specs (except that the 2311H is brighter by a mere 50 nits). Let's see if they are so similar in real life.
Talking about the size of the screen, larger is certainly better when it comes to movies and games but things are trickier with productivity applications. The U2311H has the same native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels as the U2211H, so it has somewhat larger pixels. And I think it’s a plus because some people may find it hard to discern small details on the screen of the 21.5-inch model. The 23-incher is kind of more versatile in this respect, so if you are not sure which of these two screen diagonals to prefer, I'd advise you to choose the larger one.
The monitor’s Brightness and Contrast are both set at 75% by default. I achieved the 100-nit white by selecting 50% Brightness and 56% Contrast. The monitor regulates its brightness through backlight modulation at a frequency of 180 Hz.
The maximum brightness is higher than that of the U2211H by half. It is close to 300 nits, which makes this model suitable for any applications under any ambient lighting. The adjustment range is wide enough to lower the brightness of the screen to such a level that you could work or play comfortably at night with minimum lighting.
The contrast ratio is somewhat lower than that of the previous model, yet is still as high as 600:1 at the default settings. Today’s typical TN-based monitors have a contrast ratio of 600 to 700:1, too. It is PVA-based monitors that are superior to both TN and e-IPS technologies in this respect by delivering a perfect black (not without some inherent defects, though).
The gamma curves of the U2311H and U2211H are almost the same at the default settings. They are satisfactory.
The curves do not change when Brightness and Contrast are lowered in the monitor’s settings.
Rather surprisingly, the gamma curves get better in the Game mode, by getting closer to each other. The Game mode also makes the option of dynamic contrast available. It is indeed odd that the monitor’s color rendering is set up more accurately in a gaming mode than in a standard one.
The gamma curves diverge in the Multimedia mode. The purpose of this mode evades me. It looks the same as Standard, has the same Brightness and Contrast settings and no dynamic contrast. Dell must have introduced it as a kind of placebo: if the user manual claims that the image quality improves in this mode, some users will indeed get the impression of improvement.
Most surprisingly, the gamma curves are almost perfect in the manual setup mode (Custom RGB).
The monitor’s color gamut matches the sRGB color space, being smaller in reds and somewhat larger in greens.
The U2211H’s white point is shifted towards greens but not as much as with the U2211H. The greenish hue is quite conspicuous, though. Building on the correctly shaped gamma curves of the Custom mode, I selected the following values: R=100, G=94 and B=96. This eliminated the greenish hue and improved the monitor's color rendering to a very good, if not perfect, level. I want to remind you here that another sample of the same monitor model may differ (due to such factors as firmware version, LCD panel version, etc.), so you shouldn’t just blindly copy my setup. You always have to make sure with your own eyes that the image quality is good for you.
The average nonuniformity of black brightness is 6.1% with a maximum deflection of 19.7%. The average and maximum for white are 5.1% and 14.5%, respectively. The pictures above, drawn to reflect the test results, make it clear that the monitor has a brighter bottom half of the screen and the corners of the top half. These irregularities in brightness are quite normal and will not distract you in typical applications.
The response time average is 8.2 milliseconds (GtG) with a maximum of slightly over 10 milliseconds (GtG). Although the monitor doesn't set any records, it is quite fast for dynamic games. For example, the NEC MultiSync EA231WMi, based on an e-IPS Matrix without response time compensation, was twice as slow as that!
The level of RTC errors is 8.6% on average, and RTC-provoked visual artifacts (light shadows that appear behind moving objects) are mostly inconspicuous unless you are deliberately looking for them.
Comparing the U2311H with the U2211H, I should say there is no fundamental difference between them other than the size of the screen. Both offer good (but not exceptional) technical specs and setup quality and both have the same downsides which are insignificant or easily correctable. The higher maximum brightness of the U2311H won't matter much for practical applications unless you prefer to watch movies or play games in a brightly lit room. Thus, the screen size is the only factor that matters here. I personally think that the 23-inch model is more versatile in this respect but you may have a different opinion. Besides, the U2311H costs more than its smaller cousin.
While the first pair of monitors have proved to be identical in most of their specs, the U2410 hails from a different category. Besides the extra inch of screen diagonal, it has a native resolution of 1920x1200 pixels with an aspect ratio of 16:10 whereas the U2211H and U2311H have a native resolution of 1920x1080 and an aspect ratio of 16:9. Then, the U2410 offers analog video inputs (component and composite), a second DVI and an HDMI, so it can be connected to as many as five computers or to a DVD player or some other video source. Besides USB ports, there is now a Secure Digital card-reader on the side panel. The previous models' mechanical buttons are replaced with touch-sensitive ones in the U2410.
Well, I’ve already written about all that at the beginning of this review. Let’s talk image quality now, especially as the U2410 has significant differences from its smaller cousins in this respect. It features backlight lamps with improved spectrum which are meant to extend its color gamut. The monitor’s menu gives you a choice of three color profiles: AdobeRGB, sRGB and native (without software correction).
It must be noted that this monitor had some problems with the color profiles. In the first version of its firmware (version A00, you can check it out on the monitor's label), the sRGB profile was bad and produced graininess in dark halftones, like in a photo captured with a “noisy" digital camera. The problem proved to be in the firmware only, so it was easily corrected. Today, version A01 is guaranteed to be free from that problem. Some users have also reported that the latest batches of this monitor with A00 firmware do not have that graininess, either. Besides, you can update the monitor's firmware manually but you'll need to connect your U2410 to a system with another monitor via USB in order to control the update process.
The monitor's default Brightness and Contrast are both 50%. I selected 30% Brightness and 34% Contrast to achieve the 100-nit white. The monitor regulates its brightness through pulse-width modulation of its backlight at a frequency of 180 Hz.
The maximum brightness is very high at over 370 nits but the contrast ratio is rather average and typical for e-IPS technology, 600:1.
At the default settings the gamma curves all go higher than the theoretical one, producing a low-contrast, whitish image.
My reducing the monitor's Brightness and Contrast settings didn't affect the gamma curves much.
The Game mode improves the situation. Although these preset modes are still as practically useless in this model as in the two products I’ve discussed above, they do improve the monitor’s color rendering rather than otherwise.
The Multimedia mode is no different from Game. The only difference between them is that the latter supports dynamic contrast. Considering that, I can find no real purpose for the Multimedia mode.
The sRGB emulation mode improves the gamma curves, making them close to ideal.
The same goes for the AdobeRGB emulation.
My tests indicate that the monitor indeed differs from the U2211H and U2311H in terms of the color gamut. The blue corner of the triangle hasn't changed, but the U2410 delivers richer reds. Compared to those two models, the green corner of the triangle has moved leftwards in the diagram, producing richer greens. However, this very movement has worsened the rendering of yellow tones, some of which are now outside the monitor’s color gamut.
Switching to the AdobeRGB emulation shifts the red point which is now not on the border of the standard AdobeRGB color space but inside it. The U2410 is unable to deliver yellows and yellow-greens required by AdobeRGB because they are beyond its physical color gamut.
In the sRGB emulation mode the green point is shifted together with the red one. As a result, the monitor matches the sRGB color space less well than the U2311H and U2211H do for which this color space is native. The top corner of the triangle is shifted leftwards too much with the U2410, so the monitor is physically unable to display some of the sRGB yellows.
Thus, if you need your monitor to match sRGB as close as possible, the Dell U2410 may be not the best choice possible. But if you do buy it, you may want to get a hardware calibrator to create an ICC profile and use that profile in image-editing applications, keeping the monitor switched to its native color gamut. This will ensure you higher color accuracy in reds compared to the emulation of the standard color spaces.
Once again we see a Dell monitor have a tonal shift towards greens. Although the sRGB and AdobeRGB modes correct this problem, they produce an image which is much colder than the required 6500 K. You won't get a warm image in the other modes, either. The temperature is as high as 7500 K in the Warm mode even.
Users have reported that some batches of the U2410 come without this problem and the monitor produces a picture which is not that greenish and cold. It's good that the manufacturer has decided to adjust the settings but it would have been better if the monitor had been set up properly from the very beginning, without provoking users' complaints.
Like other monitors with LG's e-IPS matrixes, the U2410 may exhibit the following color defect: the right part of the screen has a slight pinkish hue whereas the left part, a greenish one. This is a defect of the LCD matrix rather than a flaw in the monitor's own settings, therefore it shows up in monitors from other brands, too. It is rarely serious but is widely discussed at forums due to its conspicuous and unusual nature. It is easy to avoid: just check out the monitor at the shop by filling its entire screen white or gray. My sample, and the rest of the monitors in this review, was free from this problem.
It is the irregular backlight that was a problem with my U2410. You can see that in the pictures above (I want to remind you that those are not photographs but pictures which are drawn basing on the test results). The nonuniformity of brightness on black is 6.3% on average and 13.7% at the maximum. For white, the average and maximum are 5.6% and 20.6%, respectively. Alas, this variation in the brightness of white between the left and right sides of the screen is quite conspicuous, even though I wouldn't say that it is very distracting.
The Dell U2410 is very fast. Its response time average is 6.6 milliseconds (GtG), which is four times as fast as the U2211H and U2311H.
The average level of RTC errors is 9.7%. The related visual artifacts are not very conspicuous.
The U2410 leaves a rather ambiguous impression. With its capabilities this model might make a professional monitor for image-processing applications but its setup quality is not above average. At the same time, the U2410 is much more expensive than the U2311H.
If you need the rich selection of video inputs and the native resolution of 1920x1200, it may really be worth its price for you. However, the U2410 doesn’t have any other significant benefits. So, if you are going to be satisfied with a 16:9 23-incher and do not need to connect more than two or three PCs simultaneously to it, the U2311H may be a more appealing option. It has a smaller screen and fewer capabilities, yet it’s much cheaper. But if you prefer the U2410 and want to have accurate colors from it, you may want to get a hardware calibrator as well.
This is a highly interesting model. Generally speaking, I do not have a fancy for 27-inch monitors. Having a native resolution of 1920x1080 or 1920x1200 pixels, their pixel pitch is too large. As a result, they are only really good for games and movies but no better than cheaper 24-inchers for productivity applications.
The U2711 is different. This 27-inch monitor has the same native resolution as 30-inch products, i.e. 2560x1440 (an aspect ratio of 16:9). The pixel pitch is very small here, only 0.233 millimeters, yet the U2711 with its price tag of about $1000 may prove to be a real bargain to you, compared to 30-inchers which cost much more, if you need to have a lot of information on your screen. I guess that users of CAD/CAM systems, page layout applications and other software of this kind will share in my enthusiasm.
The monitor’s Brightness and Contrast are both set at 50% by default. I achieved the 100-nit white by choosing 30% Brightness and 38% Contrast. The monitor regulates its brightness by modulating its backlight at a frequency of 180 Hz.
The monitor is very bright at over 350 nits at the maximum but you can easily lower it to a comfortable level. The contrast ratio is typical enough, fitting within the range of 600 to 700:1 the previous models have shown as well.
The gamma curves are somewhat higher than necessary. Without overloading this article with diagrams, I will just limit myself to reporting that the gamma curves have the same shape, producing a somewhat low-contrast image, at the reduced Brightness and Contrast as well as in the Game and Multimedia modes. The monitor displays darks and lights without problems and shows no banding in color gradients.
Like with the U2410, switching into the sRGB mode improves the shape of the gamma curve almost ideally.
The same goes for the AdobeRGB mode.
These two models are also similar in terms of the color gamut: coinciding with sRGB in blues, surpassing sRGB in reds and shifting the top of the triangle leftwards. The latter fact makes this monitor unable to display the whole range of sRGB colors. Some yellows and yellow-greens are beyond its native color gamut.
The AdobeRGB profile adjusts the position of the red point and does it in a neater way than with the U2410. It is somewhat beyond the border of the AdobeRGB space whereas the 24-inch model’s red point was within the triangle. As a result, the U2410 did not display some reds as required by AdobeRGB.
The sRGB mode also adjusts the position of the green point, so but there is no exact match because the monitor’s own color gamut does not cover sRGB, particularly in yellows.
Thus, although the U2711’s emulation of different color spaces is set up more accurately than the U2410’s, you should not expect it to deliver 100% sRGB or AdobeRGB because the monitor’s native color gamut does not encompass the emulated color spaces. If you do care about color accuracy, I’d recommend you to create a profile for this monitor with a hardware calibrator and use it in your image-editing software even when running the monitor in sRGB or AdobeRGB modes.
The sRGB and AdobeRGB modes should suffice for users who only need decent color accuracy. The neat gamma curves and the lack of serious defects in the color space emulation make the monitor’s color rendering more accurate than in the Standard mode.
The monitor produces a rather cold image in every mode. You only get 6500 K in the Warm mode, which is not really warm but neutral. The sRGB mode has a color temperature of 8000 K although it should be 6500 K (the value described in the sRGB standard).
On the other hand, the U2711 has got rid of the greenish hue typical of the Dell monitors described earlier in this review. There is a small deflection from the neutral gray curve (it’s black in the diagrams) in the Standard mode only. The other modes hit the gray curve precisely.
Like with the U2410, the backlight brightness is a gradient. The right part of the screen is somewhat darker than the left one, and there is a bright horizontal band along the center. As for the exact numbers, the average nonuniformity of black brightness is 3.3% with a maximum deflection of 10.1%, which is an excellent result. It’s worse with white: the average nonuniformity is 7.4% and the maximum deflection is 23.3%.
The response time average is 5.7 milliseconds (GtG), so the U2711 is one of the fastest IPS-based monitors I’ve ever tested.
Unfortunately, the high speed is achieved at the expense of visual artifacts which amount to 15.7% on average and 45% at the maximum. This is not as bad as with gaming TN-based monitors which can have an RTC miss of up to 70% on some transitions, yet I would prefer to have a lower level of RTC errors even at the expense of response time proper. Subjectively, the monitor wouldn’t be any slower if it had an average response time of 7 to 8 milliseconds (GtG) whereas the RTC-provoked artifacts (light shadows behind moving objects) may prove to be an unpleasant surprise for some users.
Summing everything up, I can say that the U2711 stands out among other products in some but not all ways. It is a rather inexpensive 27-inch monitor with a very high resolution of 2560x1440 pixels. There have been no such models at all until recently, although they may be very appealing for people who work with large amounts of visual information and cannot afford 30-inch monitors. On the other hand, the U2711 is no different from the other e-IPS based Dell monitors in terms of quality and setup. It has a few downsides that are not critical but annoying. The most serious of them are the poor regularity of backlight when displaying white and the rather high level of RTC errors. Neither can be corrected in the monitor’s menu.
The last monitor in this review is the 30-inch U3011 with a native resolution of 2560x1600 pixels (an aspect ratio of 16:10). Besides the large size, it features excellent functionality. A couple of years ago, when monitor processors used to be too slow to normally work with such a high-resolution video stream, 30-inchers were equipped with a single DVI input, supported two resolutions (2560x1600 and 1280x800) and had only one setting (Brightness). As opposed to them, the U3011 has the richest selection of inputs and setup options among all the Dell monitors I’m discussing today and surpasses most of lower-resolution monitors from other brands in this respect, too.
The monitor’s default Brightness and Contrast are both 50%. I achieved the 100-nit white by choosing 35% Brightness and 36% Contrast. The monitor regulates its brightness by means of pulse-width modulation of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 180 Hz.
Dell seems to have tried to make its large monitors brighter. The U3011 has a maximum brightness of almost 400 nits. The practical worth of this parameter isn’t high, though. I don’t think that anyone would want to buy a 30-inch monitor for movies because a Full-HD TV-set is going to be much cheaper whereas the resolution of 2560x1600 isn’t yet popular when it comes to movies. For productivity applications there is no scenario in which you’d need a screen brightness of over 200 nits. Fortunately, the monitor’s brightness can be lowered to comfortable levels at which it will not illuminate your room and blind your eyes.
The contrast ratio is somewhat lower than 600:1.
The gamma curves are excellent at the default settings, merging with the theoretical curve for gamma 2.2 through most of the diagram. The gamma curves retain their shape when the Contrast setting is reduced. The monitor can display the entire range of halftones, from darkest to lightest, and does not show any banding in color gradients.
The shape of the curves remains overall the same in the AdobeRGB mode except for the darkest halftones, but this part of the diagram is rather difficult for my calibrator, so there can be some inaccuracies. Moreover, this discrepancy can hardly be caught with a naked eye.
The sRGB diagram is almost identical to the previous one.
The U3011 has the same native color gamut as the two previous models. The gamut is larger than sRGB in reds and greens but does not cover the entire sRGB color space, being smaller than sRGB in yellows. Therefore we cannot expect the U3011 to exactly emulate sRGB even though the monitor has this option in its menu, along with AdobeRGB emulation.
The monitor corrects the position of the red and green points in the AdobeRGB mode, so its color gamut does not go beyond AdobeRGB. It doesn’t match AdobeRGB, either. Yellows and even reds are purer and more saturated in AdobeRGB than the U3011 can display.
The same goes for the sRGB mode: the positions of the red and green points change in such a way that the resulting color gamut does not go beyond the sRGB limits, yet the monitor is physically unable to cover the entire range of sRGB colors. No color correction program can bypass the limitations imposed by the phosphors of the backlight lamps.
Like the rest of the Dell monitors you’ve seen in this review, the U3011 has a high color temperature, producing a cold-looking image. The sRGB and AdobeRGB are as cold as 8000 K rather than 6500 K as they should be. On the other hand, there is no deflection towards greens or pinks, and the different levels of gray are close in their temperature.
By the way, you will find a paper with the results of color temperature measurements for the particular sample of a Dell monitor (top-end models only) in its box which also testifies to the neutrality of gray. It is unclear, however, why Dell’s engineers calibrate individual samples for color temperature dispersion but not for the absolute value of color temperature.
Although the irregularities in white are quite conspicuous, the monitor does not have the brightness gradient from left to right as we saw with the U2410 and U2711. Therefore this defect does not strike the eye at everyday work. As for the exact numbers, the average nonuniformity of black brightness is 4.6% with a maximum of 12.3%. For white, the maximum and average are 6.9% and 20.4%, respectively.
The U3011 does not try to set any records in terms of speed. Its response time average is 8.4 milliseconds (GtG), which should be enough for games and movies.
The RTC errors are in fact absent. They only accompany a few transitions, so the average value is as low as 0.6%. It is impossible to see the RTC-provoked artifacts on this monitor unless you use special instruments.
So, it is the 30-inch model that proves to be the best among the top three models in this series (U2410, U2711, and U3011). It has high color accuracy (except for its predilection towards cold colors), it lacks the asymmetric backlighting typical of the other two models, and it has a good response time with almost no RTC errors. Well, the U3011 is actually much more expensive than the U2711.
But if you can afford it, the U3011 will surely please you with its neat exterior design, excellent functionality, rich selection of interfaces, and accurate setup.
Dell’s monitors positioned into the medium price range, with the exception of the top-end U3011, have indeed proved to have properties and quality typical of that market category.
The two junior models, the 21.5-inch U2211H and the 23-inch U2311H, are good overall. With their user-friendly menu, sufficient setup opportunities, and neat exterior design they are going to be good for both home and work. They cost more than TN-based products, but the price difference is justified by the functional design and the e-IPS matrix which ensures large viewing angles. These two workhorse products won’t disappoint you.
Choosing between them means deciding whether you want to spend some more money for the extra 1.5 inches of the screen diagonal. There are no other significant differences between these two models. I personally prefer the U2311H, but that’s a matter of taste.
The 24-inch U2410 is rather a disappointment. It costs much more than the U2311H but only offers an extra inch of the screen diagonal and a few video outputs. Putting apart its A00 revision with bad firmware, the A01 revision still has rather poor setup: inaccurate gamma curves, irregular backlighting, a tonal shift towards greens, and imprecise emulation of sRGB and AdobeRGB color spaces. So, if you do not need the resolution of 1920x1200 (instead of 1920x1080), the extra inch of screen space and the extra video inputs, you may want to save quite a lot of money by preferring the U2311H which offers the same image quality at a much lower cost.
Although the 27-inch U2711 didn’t show a very accurate setup, it deserves a closer look because, coming at a reasonable price, it has the same resolution as the far more expensive 30-inchers, i.e. 2560x1440. This monitor can be a real bargain for people who work in CAD/CAM systems, page layout applications, etc.
Finally, the 30-inch Dell U3011 is just a good monitor which is free from most of the downsides of the junior models in the series. It is accurately set up and offers excellent functionality. This monitor is going to be a good buy if you are not taken aback by its price.
Talking about e-IPS matrixes in general, this technology looks highly promising. Despite such downsides as its rather low contrast ratio and the brightening of black when the screen is viewed from a side, e-IPS is superior to TN in terms of viewing angles and color accuracy. It can ensure the response time necessary for games and movies and, most importantly, fits into the medium price range.
However, the LCD panel maker should see to the quality of its produce. I noticed such an unpleasant effect as the irregularity of backlighting from the left to the right of the screen, and users have also complained at forums about a tonal shift towards green and pink in different parts of the screen. These are defects of the LCD panel, not of the monitor, and occur not only in Dell products but also in e-IPS based products from other brands. Of course, you can avoid such problems by carefully checking the monitor out before purchasing it, but anyway.
Once again, my overall impression from e-IPS technology is positive. Besides being competitive to TN in terms of pricing, it has stirred the entire industry into action. In my next review you will see the response of the second largest maker of LCD panels, Samsung, to e-IPS. It will be the SyncMaster SA850 monitor with a PLS matrix.