After being available to tablets and smartphone for a while, high DPI displays have made their way to laptops, and now to desktop computers. As you can imagine, producing a large display panel with this kind of pixel density is difficult, but as always, manufacturing improves, prices go down and we are at a point where it is possible to find 4K displays that are not completely cost-prohibitive. This monitor is at the top end of both the price range and quality.
I have used 30” displays since 2006 and you can read my Dell 3007WFP review from back then if you are curious. Interestingly I have used that exact setup (1×30” + 2×20”) for about 8 years and that 30” monitor is still doing well today. However, things have change quite a bit since…
I wanted to take a look at the latest Dell UP3214Q UltraSharp 32 which is a 4K (3840×2160) monitor which is powered by an IPS LCD panel. As 4K comes into PC and Mac computing, users should be aware of the great benefits, but also the occasional challenges they may face in order to make the best use of this wonderful visual tool.
The Dell UP3214Q monitor is a little wider than my old 3007WFP, but overall it feels almost the same. The difference is perceptible, but not enough to change most of my habits. As you can see later, I had to make some small changes, but that’s it. Since I have chosen to use this 4K screen without scaling the content (more on that later), I have moved it 4-inches closer to me to compensate for the size reduction of the icons and other user-interface (UI) elements. As it stand, my eyes are about 18 inches away from the monitor’s surface.
The front of the monitor looks pretty plain, and Dell didn’t go for a “luxurious” design or something like that. Instead, I think that its design team wanted the monitor to disappear or take a backseat. The bezels are nearly 1-inch thick, which is not the thinnest out there, but this is largely compensated and justified by the overall performance of the LCD panel. Dell has used matte black plastic in the front to avoid having distracting reflections that would have come from a “piano black” design. I think that it’s a good thing.
On the lower-right, you will find the typical Power button, which “clicks” sharply – I really like that. There are a series of 5 control buttons to navigate the monitor internal menu system: They let you select between 5 menu items, and perform action like Enter, Confirm, etc… it’s very intuitive and I did not have any trouble with that at all.
The sides of the monitor are lined with 1mm of aluminum which looks pretty neat, and possibly help dissipate the heat at the top. You can feel how warm the monitor gets at the top, but the aluminum quickly cools as you get to the sides. There are air vents everywhere and although I have not cracked it open, the cooling system looks well designed.
The monitor has plenty of inputs: 1 full-size DisplayPort, 1 mini-DisplayPort, 1 HDMI. The monitor is also a USB 3.0 HUB with 4 ports (one is in the back for a super-easy access). On the side, there is also an SD card reader, which can come in handy if you forgot the microUSB cable of your camera. Finally, there is also Kensington anti-theft connector in case you don’t want anyone running away with this beauty.
The Dell UP3214Q has no external power supply and you will connect a cable directly from the electric outlet to the monitor. This makes cable management cleaner, but this is also why the monitor is a little bigger than those with an external power source. Honestly, I’m not shopping for thinness when I buy a desktop monitor. If you do, take a closer look at the specs.
The monitor stand is surprisingly light and has a flat bottom (which takes less surface area and you can put stuff on). Dell can do this because the monitor’s center of gravity stays in one place and can me moved forward or backward, so all the weight goes straight down.
As usual, there’s a hole in the stand to allow cables to go through. The monitor just “clips” on the stand and can be released at any time by a button in the back of the screen. This makes it super easy to pack or move the monitor if you need to. Finally, the monitor is VESA compatible and I have actually used it with an arm as you can see on some photos.
Image quality / colors
The good thing with a high-end monitors like this is that it comes with great settings out of the box. That’s also true for a lot of high-end IPS displays on mobile and tablets, although I think that workstation monitors manufacturers don’t overdo the color saturation when compared to handset makers. Dell uses a set of industry standard settings called PremierColor which that means Dell will pre-calibrate the screen at manufacturing time.
"IT COMES WITH GREAT SETTINGS OUT OF THE BOX" In any case, as you as I turned it on, I noticed things like “white” is actually white and not yellow-ish or blue-ish. We have 8 monitors of various brands and prices in the office, and I have seen my share of monitors in various tradeshows and other settings, so I have a pretty decent sense for what’s good and what’s not. The Dell UltraSharp 32 UP3214Q colors look great.
The second thing that I did was to go outside and snap some photos and see how the colors looked on the monitor. Obviously, this is not the most scientific way for checking colors and if you want to, it’s possible to use a colorimeter and Dell’s calibration software (provided in the box), but I have to admit that I don’t do anything that require this level of accuracy on a professional level.
Looking at the monitor from a shallow angle, the colors will not shift to a different hue, but they will lose brightness at extreme angle. I suspect that it won’t matter much to most people, but if someone is standing next to your desk, they may see an image which is slightly dimmer than you would when looking straight on.
Dell also points out that if you press against the screen with your finger, the LCD panel is not going to create big “ripples” and that’s true. Cheaper monitors tend to be affected by pressure on the display. I don’t think that this is a critical commercial advantage, but I thought that I would mention it.
Important note to use a 60Hz refresh rate
If you are going to get this monitor, there are a few things that you should be mindful of if you want to have the best user experience.
When I first turned it on, I immediately noticed a drop in framerate in the general Windows user interface from 60+ FPS (what I expect) down to 30FPS or so (what I got). Even the Windows Modern Design interface was noticeably slow and that was weird because even on low-end systems, it’s always running at 60FPS. Having working as a video games programmer for years, it is just something that I can spot easily.
First, I thought that there was a some kind of graphics card driver issue with my NVIDIA GTX 760, so I installed a “hotfix” driver which was publicly available. It didn’t really get significantly better, so after talking to the NVIDIA support, I noticed that the panel was running at 30FPS at maximum resolution. the NVIDIA support folks pointed out that it can run at 60FPS when connected with DisplayPort 1.2. If you connect over HDMI, 30Hz is the maximum that you can get.
And just like that, I realized that DisplayPort 1.2 was disabled by default, and that was capping the refresh rate to 30Hz instead of 60Hz. Enabling it fixed it for me, and right after that everything in Windows went back to a super-smooth 60FPS. If you have a fast graphics card, don’t assume that things are slowing down because there are more pixels. Modern GPUs can easily handle 4K in 2D operations.
To enable DisplayPort 1.2: on the monitor go to Menu > Display Settings > DisplayPort 1.2
In general, you don’t really need to go into the settings, but fortunately, the user interface is quite responsive and easy to navigate if you have to. I like the responsiveness because I have seen so many monitors with a 1-second lag each time to touch something that it gets really frustrating to deal with them. Fortunately, that’s definitely not the case here. My favorite feature is the level at the upper-right which shows you how much energy you are using. This is mainly a function of the brightness, but I found that it was pretty fun to have.
Instead of describing everything, I have compiled a photo gallery for those who are really curious about what’s in the menus – enjoy (^^):
In general, I would not consider this monitor to be a “Gaming” monitor because the 12-bit color quality etc seem a little bit “overkill” to play games with color-compressed textures. It’s more likely that someone who wants 4K to get more pixels would opt for a 28″ 4K monitor instead. In any case, if you want to play games, you have to make sure that the Game Mode in the presets (Menu>Preset Modes) is enabled or you will bump into lag issues (up to 20ms or so).
As a former game developer, I’m skeptical that current games are much better in 4K versus 2560×1600 for example (and even then…). The main reason for that is that super-high resolution textures are extremely expensive to design and produce and most games are really targeted to lower display specifications. When playing on a hiDPI monitor, the graphics card will magnify and interpolate texture data which will result in a more or less fancy blur – but blur nonetheless.
Admittedly, you are still getting super-thin polygonal details, but overall the loss in framerate is not worth the gain in edge resolution – at least, for me.
Software Support in practice
Now that we have looked at the hardware side of things, how does it feel when used in the real world? I’ll cover both Mac and PC since I happen to have both with me.
I don’t have a Windows 7 system anymore since I use the Windows 8 SDK, but support should not be very different at this point. The good news is that Windows supports high DPI fairly decently in general, but the bad news is that things may break or look odd at time. I typically estimate that support is 95% good, but the 5% left can be pretty annoying. Let’s look at real use cases:
Programming in Visual Studio 2012 with a 4K display is just amazing, and I think that this extends to virtually every editor that has a text zooming capability. I also use Sublime Text and PHPStorm: they all perform great and the added readability and comfort is absolutely stunning. If you are a professional programmer and can afford to spend $3500, you should take look. If this is above your budget, there are 28” monitors that could get the job done as well, but with some caveats. More on that below…
The second thing that I have tried to to load some high-resolution photos and videos on, and wow. Again, this is superb and photographers will be amazed at how their work look with a 4K display. This is most likely the most compelling scenario that I can relate to. All the sudden photos look twice as sharp and with accurate colors, you couldn’t ask for more… until 8K I suppose.
Computer Assisted Design (CAD) workers could definitely benefit from this as well since this monitor will make wireframe meshes much finer, and it will increase the effective surface area by 4 if you use a 100% scaling (no scaling). I’m not sure about the real need for color accuracy, but if you are rendering frames this may well be justified. The good news is that if you are working in CAD, it’s likely that the price won’t stop you.
Even for simple things like web browsing or Google Docs a 4K display like this is awesome: in Google Doc, you can zoom the document to get bigger font and any kind of text will be highly readable and comfortable to look at. Internet Explorer and Firefox have great support for high DPI but Google Chrome does not officially support it, but I have published an article to show you how to enable hiDPI on Chrome.
Microsoft Office has great support for high DPI and you won’t get any problems with that one. Word looks great, but my favorite is using Excel in 4K to display four times as much data. If you deal with gigantic spreadsheets this is the ultimate setup. I’m all for multi-monitor, but nothing beats a single large work surface.
Windows 7/8/8.1 caveats
As I said, things mostly work, but on few occasions you will have apps that are not ready for high DPI (like Skype for Desktop) and they can break in two ways:
Blurry apps: apps that run with a compatibility mode for hiDPI will often appear blurry because windows renders them onto a surface then magnifies it so that it does not appear 4X smaller on the screen.
Tiny and difficult to read: apps that are not aware of hiDPI can appear very small because the resolution has double in X and Y. The app occupies the same number of pixels as before, but has visually shrunk because the pixel density of the screen has doubled. Fortunately, the 32” side of the screen is big enough to use Windows without any scaling — if your sight is very good (I have 20/20).
Windows 8/8.1 multi-monitor caveats
If you use multiple monitors, things can get more complicated. In Windows 8, you had to select a display scaling for ALL the monitors, and this would typically make everything too big on your low-DPI monitors. It’s best to disable Scaling altogether if you use a mix of low and high DPI screens.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft has allowed monitors to run on different DPIs in order to prioritize the size of things within the user interface. Thanks to that, your calculator doesn’t look huge on one screen and tiny on the other.
However, it makes low-DPI monitor mushy and blurry because it tries to adjust the scaling even by a small amount. It is not currently possible to disable/tweak the DPI scaling on a per-monitor basis. Again, this makes it pretty much unusable with the wrong mix of monitors (high + low). More information from Microsoft’s high DPI blog post.
The prefered way to use multi-monitor and DPI scaling is to have an array of hiDPI monitors. You heard that right: if you have multiple hiDPI screens with different resolution and sizes, things will look good. However, as soon as you introduce a low-DPI monitor, it won’t play nice.
Microsoft could fix this by allowing us to set the DPI scaling on a per-monitor basis, but right now, it’s not possible. In my case, I have a Samsung 27” 1080p monitor and a Dell 20” 1600×1200 monitor running alongside the Dell UltraSharp 32, so I opted to disable DPI scaling. Things can get small, but I can still read everything with relative comfort.
However, things would get way too small if I had a 28” (or smaller) 4K monitor.
Mac OS multi-monitor caveats
Out of the box, it’s fair to say that Mac OS handles high DPI much better than Windows. Most apps that I have tried just work, and no matter the scaling that I choose, things look great and in general there are no problem.
The only caveat that I have seen is when you connect a low-DPI monitor or laptop to this display. That’s because Mac OS does not let you setup the scaling “per monitor” so the low-DPI monitor will show a zoomed and blurry image which is not nice to work with. Fortunately, the next Mac OS update 10.9.3 will allow users to set Scaling for each display separately.
Again the solution to this is using only hiDPI displays. for instance, if I plug my Macbook Pro 15 Retina to the display, DPI scaling looks good on both screens and I’m quite happy with that setup.
"THE DELL ULTRASHARP 32 UP3214Q IS AWESOME" In a single monitor configuration, the Dell Ultrasharp 32 UP3214Q ($3499.99) is awesome – but it is certainly not cheap. Mac OS users will tend to have a better experience, but Windows users will have a completely usable and productive setup as well. If you read about the various corner cases that I have mentioned above, you can prepare yourself and benefit from an optimum user experience.
There are obviously smaller and less expensive 4K monitors on the market, and we will review those in time, but this model has several strengths that can’t be ignored. First, it is big and that allows you to use it with no scaling and multiply your Desktop surface area by 4. Secondly, the out of the box color quality is excellent and most of you won’t need to go through a calibration process. Those who need to certainly can.
Finally, it is a well-built, well thought out design which has plenty of connectivity and is VESA-mountable, which is not the case for lower-priced options. If you have additional questions, or if there is something that i have not covered, please leave a comment and I will try to address it ASAP while I still have the monitor around. I hope that this review has given you all the information you need to make an informed decision
Dell UP3214Q Specifications
|Video input||HDMI 1.4a|
|Video input||Mini DisplayPort|
|Colors||12bit, 1.07 billion|
|Brightness (measured)||515 nits|
|Power consumption||100W – 170W|
|Power (stand by)||1.2W|
|Panel Type||IGZO IPS|
|USB 3.0 Ports||4|