Dell UltraSharp U2711: Quality has a Priceby Jarred Walton on January 22, 2010 2:00 AM EST
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Impressions of the U2711
If you've used a variety of LCDs, you've undoubtedly encountered some that really impress and others that you'd just as soon avoid. The U2711 belongs squarely in the first group, with bright colors, excellent viewing angles, and good features. If you're after great image quality, the U2711 ranks right up there with the best that we've tested. That said, it's not necessarily perfect, so let's discuss a few areas that you might not be entirely happy with.
First, unlike many 24" LCDs (i.e. the Dell U2410), you don't get pivot functionality so there's no portrait mode… unless you buy a VESA compatible stand that supports the feature - and one that's also tall enough for a 27" portrait LCD. It's a minor concern for most, but it's still worth a mention.
Second, another minor complaint is the aspect ratio. Depending on personal preference, you may like 16:10 widescreen displays, 4:3 standard aspect displays (a dying breed), or you might be one of those that is very happy with the trend towards 16:9 LCDs. The U2711 is in the latter category, which is supposed to make it better for widescreen movie viewing. The problem is that a lot of HD movies are even wider, so 16:9 still doesn't fit a whole bunch of widescreen movies. Does the loss of 160 pixels in vertical real estate really matter much? Probably not, especially when you consider you're still getting 240 more pixels than other 27" 1920x1200 displays, plus being 640 pixels wider.
Third, there's the issue of dot pitch. I personally use a 30" LCD at the native 2560x1600 resolution. That gives the display a dot pitch of 0.251mm. You know what? It's too small for me when I'm working with text, so I ended up setting the Windows DPI to 120 instead of the default 96. That works well for some applications, but there are a few oddities. More to the point, even at 120 DPI I still feel a lot of text is too small, so I end up running Word and my web browser with 125% magnification a lot of the time. On the other hand, working with images is great with the high resolution - there's no beating Photoshop on a 30" LCD in my view (unless you have two 30" displays….) As you can imagine, if a 30" LCD with a .251mm dot pitch can strain my eyes, the U2711 with its .233mm pitch can be even worse. If you've got great eyes, you'll love the U2711; if you're like me and have less than perfect eyesight, you'll probably need to run at a lower resolution (or with magnification).
The final potential drawback with the U2711 that we want to discuss is lag. There are actually two types of lag we noticed during testing, and neither one is likely to be a deal breaker if what you're after is high quality image. Processing lag (a.k.a. "input lag") is definitely present, and it appears to be due in part to the digital scaler. Like the Dell 3008WFP, the U2711 supports a bunch of input options, many of which can't handle the native resolution. That means it needs a hardware scaler to work with lower resolution VGA and analog inputs. The result is slightly more processing lag than what we've measured on 30" IPS displays that don't have a hardware scaler. The other type of lag we noticed is a delay in powering up the LCD and changing resolutions. The LCD takes around 3 seconds to power on, but it can take an additional 3.5 to as much as 15 seconds to sync to the current resolution. It's extremely slow compared to many other LCDs in this regard. Fire up a game that runs at a different resolution than your desktop and you might have a black screen for up to 15 seconds (3.5 to 5 seconds is more common). Depending on how often you switch resolutions, you may or may not be bothered by these delays.
That's all the bad stuff that we have to say about the U2711, and while it might seem like a lot of complaints we really need to emphasize that most of them are very minor. For me, the dot pitch is probably my greatest concern, with the slow change between resolutions being a distant second. I've used LCDs that have very noticeable processing lag (i.e. Dell's own 2408WFP), and the U2711 never bothered me in that regard. (Others may be more sensitive, of course.) The ultra high resolution is very nice for images and movies, and if you've got good eyes it works well with text as well. We also felt that the support for non-native resolutions worked very well, and the fine dot pitch makes it possible to run the LCD at 1080p for example without a lot of blurriness. Finally, we continue to appreciate Dell's flash reader on the side of the LCD; sure, you can buy your own separate reader for $25, but it's very convenient to have the reader integrated into your display bezel.
Overall, we were very impressed with the features and colors on the U2711. It performs as well as any professional monitor that we've tested, with a price tag that's significantly lower than other professional offerings (e.g. Eizo). Professional displays often go through extensive testing, but that doesn't mean the U2711 is just shipped out with little in the way Q&A or testing. The U2711 is the first LCD we've had for review that includes Delta E results from the manufacturer. Granted, the target average Delta E of less than 5.0 wasn't as low as we would have liked, but Dell guarantees that you will get such a result without the need for any hardware calibration. (Our test unit result was also much lower than 5.0; flip to the next page for specifics.) If you're after even better color accuracy, hardware calibration will help (and we do have to note that our final calibrated result wasn't quite as good as some of the 24" to 30" LCDs we've tested), but this is one of the best displays we've seen in terms of acknowledging the importance of color accuracy. And if you want oversaturated videos and games, you can still select a different color mode and get results similar to what you'll see with typical consumer LCDs. In short, there's a whole lot of goodness in this $1000 "pro-sumer" LCD.