IPS (In-Plane Switching) computer monitors once defined the upper end of the monitor spectrum – the appropriate choice for the colour professional, but simply too expensive for most home users to give a second thought to. With the latest batch of IPS monitors, including the U2211H reviewed herein, the line between ‘consumer’ and ‘professional’ monitor has been blurred somewhat. The Dell U2211H sits at a price that even some Twisted Nematic panels, especially 120Hz models, simply cannot touch – so what’s the catch?
In this review we take a good long look at the U2211H’s features, aesthetics and of course performance. Unlike many existing reviews of this monitor we focus on the U2211H from the home-user and entertainment perspective – it seems to be a good panel for professionals on a tight budget, but how does it handle games and movies and what difference does this IPS stuff really make to the experience?
The most obvious thing separating this from other similarly priced monitors is the e-IPS panel type. A large advantage of the new ‘enhanced’ IPS panel is that it is designed to maximise light transmission. This allows cheaper and lower power backlights to be used and therefore reduces the overall cost – clearly an advantage to the end-user in this case. The panel used in this monitor delivers 100% sRGB (72% NTSC) colour gamut coverage and excellent viewing angles. So whilst this isn’t a broad gamut model (you wouldn’t expect it to be for this price) it does offer some distinct ‘IPS advantages’. Some may be understandably put off by the 8ms grey-to-grey response time, but a number on paper says nothing about real experiences – but the PC Monitors review certainly does. You will also that the U2211H is quite heavy for a 22 inch monitor although quoted power consumption is rather good for a CCFL-backlit IPS monitor of this size.
The standout features of the U2211H have been highlighted in blue for your reading convenience.
The Dell U2211H has a very angular business look about it – with a rectangular bezel, rectangular stand, square control buttons and a square power button. The neck and centre of the stand is silver, like the shiny Dell logo, to contrast with the black surrounding it. Overall this is quite a smart aesthetic. What is also ‘smart’ is Dell’s decision to put some super-grip rubber padding at the bottom of the stand. Coupled with the U2211H’s considerable weight there really is no sliding about the desk even if you nudge the monitor (not something we’d advise).
There is no shortage of adjustment options, with the stand offering 30 degrees or so backwards tilt, slight forwards tilt, 45 degrees swivel each way and 4 inches of height adjustment. The U2211H also rotates into portrait mode; but be careful, as even at the maximum height the screen is very ‘snug’ with the stand in this mode. To avoid any damage to either the monitor or the stand and avoid unnecessary frustration, we advise that you tilt the monitor back fully before rotating the screen.
Unlike the U2410 the U2211H is just plain old black from the side view. It also lacks the memory card reader and pull-out information tab of the U2410, but it does feature two USB ports at the side. The U2211H isn’t particularly thick for an IPS monitor, either, at around 2.5 inches deep (excluding the stand).
At the back of the monitor is a large but relatively subtle black Dell logo surrounded by ventilation slits at the top and sides. At the bottom of the U2211H you find the input hub with a pretty good selection of ports – power in, audio power out, DisplayPort, DVI-D, D-sub (VGA), and two further USB ports. Some users will note the lack of HDMI port – but this really isn’t essential for PC use.
The controls of the U2211H are boring but functional square buttons. The OSD menu itself is a small, simple and well-labelled affair that allows you to perform basic adjustments such as selecting an image preset or altering brightness and contrast. The image presets include; Standard, Multimedia, Game, Warm, Cool, and Custom (RGB). The latter mode allows the levels of red, blue and green to be altered independently.
If you select ‘menu’ you can access further settings such as colour settings and picture adjustments and can even perform an ‘LCD Conditioning’. This cycles through screenfills of red, green, blue, black and white and is designed to alleviate ‘mild image retention’.
Due to the ‘professional’ nature of this panel we felt that using the Windows 7 calibration tool, as we usually would, is not appropriate. If the best colour accuracy is important to you it is always best to regularly calibrate using your own colorimeter – each particular panel and revision is different and things change over time, so it’s not always enough to copy somebody else’s settings. That being said; TFT Central provides some excellent ICC profiles that are derived from their full calibration of the screens they have tested. The panel we tested was the same revision and possibly even the very same panel that was tested by TFT Central. After applying the profile and setting the colour sliders to the appropriate settings it made relatively minor changes to the image. If anything this suggests that the colour accuracy of the U2211H is very good ‘out of the box. For desktop usage we opted for 75% brightness and 75% contrast, but due to the relatively weak backlight we bumped this up to 100% brightness and 75% contrast for games and movies.
Dell states a typical luminance of 250 cd/m2, which is pretty average for a panel of this size. They also state a fairly normal 1000:1 static contrast ratio and probably quite conservative 10,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. We tested the U2211 using the Windows 7 default calibration profile (so no ICC modifications) primarily using ‘Standard’ mode and compared the luminance of an entirely black scene to an entirely white scene. When our calibrated ICC profile was applied we tested under ‘Custom (RGB)’ mode, as this allows the red, green and blue levels to be adjusted appropriately. Unless otherwise stated assume a contrast setting of 100%.
|Monitor profile||White luminance (cd/m2)||Black luminance (cd/m2)||Contrast ratio (x:1)|
|Standard, 100% brightness
|Standard, 80% brightness
|Standard, 60% brightness
|Standard, 40% brightness
|Standard, 20% brightness
|Stadard, 0% brightness
|Standard (calibrated), 75% brightness, 75% contrast
|Standard (calibrated), 100% brightness, 75% contrast
|Multimedia, 75% brightness
|Game, 75% brightness
|Warm, 75% brightness
|Cool, 75% brightness
We achieved a peak white luminance of 274 cd/m2 using both static contrast, at 100% brightness, and dynamic contrast – really this is quite low and it seems from this value that even the 250 cd/m2 typical (i.e. not just peak white) luminance is slightly overstated. Dynamic contrast is not a feature that never really appeals to us as it is often an unwanted compromise at best or very distracting at worst. The dynamic contrast mode can be enabled under the ‘Game’ preset mode on the U2211H. The effect is rather subtle and the change very gradual – it takes just under 15 second for a transition between an all-white scene at full brightness to a dark scene at minimal brightness (and vice-versa). This delay does mean that the dynamic contrast is less distracting than a rapid and constant change, but it also makes it fairly useless in most situations. At times this gradual shift can actually be a bit of a problem. If for example you were to stay in a darkened room on a game for a while the backlight would gradually dim – but step outside and it will take 15 seconds before the desired luminance is reached. Despite these issues, for people who are interested in using the feature we recorded a contrast ratio of >27,400:1 (limited by the 0.01 lux resolution of our light meter. This exceeds the seemingly conservative 10:000:1 given in Dell’s specifications.
Even at 100% brightness blacks looked pleasingly deep overall, although there were some minor backlight bleed-through issues at both the top and bottom of the monitor. Whites look ‘polluted’ towards the top and bottom and not particularly bright. In ‘small doses’ (i.e. desktop icons and within applications) whites look far more pure, though. Reducing the brightness to around 60% would be a wise move for extended periods of desktop/work use – deep blacks and good distinctive colours, although the ‘spotlight’ bleedthrough is still apparent at the top and bottom of screen.
By using our calibrated ICC profile, setting the appropriate monitor preset and colour settings and reducing the brightness and contrast to 75% each the overall image was certainly improved. The stated contrast ratio of 1000:1 was not quite achieved using the calibrated profile but we did achieve our peak contrast ratio of 853:1 using these settings. The white luminance level of 232 cd/m2 is a little low for our liking in games so we ramped up the brightness to 100% during these tests to give a slightly more satisfying but still not particularly bright 262 cd/m2 white luminance level. There are a few good things about the relatively ‘weak’ backlight on the U2211 – it allows the panel itself to be thinner, lighter, more energy efficient and as can be seen quite clearly; cheaper. It is certainly noticeably cooler running than any IPS computer monitors we’ve used to date and also most CCFL-backlit TN panels, too.
And no onto the real meat – the contrast and brightness performance in the game and movie titles we tested. The first game we tested was Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. The game wasn’t quite as bright on the U2211H as on some monitors we’ve tested recently but was certainly nowhere near ‘dim’ looking. Explosions still looked nice and bright, particularly at night, whilst dark, shadowy and shaded areas showed very good detail levels. The U2211H handled Dragon Rising really well as far as contrast is concerned. We were also impressed by the contrast performance on Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – although certain elements of the game weren’t quite as blindingly bright as we have seen the overall brightness of explosions and glare from the sun was good and not uncomfortable to look at. The dark end, which is just as important, was also very impressive with no noticeable loss of detail at any point.
To add a bit of variation we also fired up Colin McRae: Dirt 2. Contrast was, again, very good on this title – particularly at the low end where good retail was retained even in dark areas. At the high end whites appeared pretty pure, from the headlights in particular, although they lacked that dazzling quality that some other monitors offer. We also tested the U2211H’s contrast using The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray and found a good mixture of fairly crisp and clear whites and pretty deep blacks. No loss of detail was exhibited in dark scenes whilst lights and fire at night looked pretty bright. To give you a better idea of these distinctions we also used the Lagom LCD tests. These tests are designed to highlight any weakness in a PC monitors performance even if they would not usually be noticeable in the ‘real world’ tests. For these tests, like our ‘real world’ testing, we used the calibrated profile, but did adjust various settings to see if it enhanced the results.
The U2211H did excellently on the contrast test with distinct brightness steps for each coloured bar. The top 2 red bars and bottom 2 blue bars were difficult to distinguish but elsewhere distinct brightness steps were displayed.
Performance on the black level test was not entirely perfect as the first 3 squares blended into the background. No settings adjustments would reveal the first three squares on Internet Explorer. A quick switch to Firefox revealed all of the squares and like in Internet Explorer no dithering was evident. In any mode or browser no dithering was evident, either, although some minor flickering could be seen on some of the lighter shades (possibly from the CCFL backlight).
White saturation performance was very good – all but the final square had a distinctive checkerboard pattern. Despite adjusting brightness and colour settings the final checkerboard could not be revealed. In ‘the real world’ these results are likely to have minimal noticeable impact.
The greyscale gradient was very smooth, although if you viewed it closely enough you could see subtle banding at the low end. When viewing complete images such issues did not manifest themselves.
The Dell U2211 has a standard colour gamut covering 72% of the NTSC colour space (100% sRGB). This means that for most professional image manipulation and design (etc.) purposes the U2211H should be a good choice. If you would like to know exactly how this may affect your work, check out the comprehensive TFT Central review that covers the U2211H from a ‘professional use’ perspective. For our purposes the narrow gamut does restrict the colour pallet that our games and movies will display. This may lead to less vividness, but considering most titles are produced inside the sRGB colour space at the moments things should look as the creators had intended.
Dragon Rising was the first game title we tested. In this game we are quite particular about a certain ‘natural aesthetic’ with a preference for more muted colours over heavily saturated colours. The vegetation in the region where the game is set is simply not lush and vibrant like the rainforest so we don’t want to see that! Well thankfully we didn’t – the U2211H gave us just what we were hoping for on this game. Colours looked balanced and natural but not washed out or overly vibrant. Excellent subtle khaki browns and greens were intertwined between some more vibrant oranges and reds from explosions and red marker smoke. We prefer perhaps a little more vibrancy in this area but there is no pleasing us and the U2211H did give a solid performance on this title.
On our second game title, Bad Company 2, we found that whilst the colours were not as vibrant as we like on this title the U2211H produced an image that was far from washed out. Subtle variety in greens and browns in particular brought out a level of detail in the game that you often don’t get to appreciate. Different woods, cardboard and soil patches (boring, I know) were all varied and distinctive. Vegetation also showed good variety, rather than appearing like a mass of super-saturated green.
The final game title we tested was Dirt 2. Although colours were not as vibrant as we have seen the colours throughout the game still had a vivid look to them. They also showed excellent consistency across the screen – something you can certainly thank the e-IPS panel for. Colours on the car paintjobs had an excellent rich quality to them whilst environments looked natural. We found the rally tracks in China particularly impressive in this regard.
We also fired up a couple of Blu-ray films. The first film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, looked all around very natural and we had no complaints at all. The second film title, Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder has quite the opposite aesthetic intended. This film was noticeably less vibrant than we have seen from wide-gamut IPS monitors and vibrancy is certainly welcome on this film. Equally welcome, however, are consistent colours across the screen and a good range of shades and in this regard the U2211H excelled. On a ‘poor’ panel you can see skin tones in particular change depending on the position on the screen that they are shown and subtle colour variations often look the same. On the U2211H colours of the same shade are consistent whilst there is an impressive variation in shades – pastel blues, yellows, pinks, greens, purples and reds all rendered beautifully.
It was clear from our application testing that the ‘colour shift’ that plagues TN panels was not a big issue for the U2211’s E-IPS panel. The Lagom LCD tests for viewing angles show this quite nicely. The purple block appeared completely uniform throughout. The red block appeared slightly pink towards the far left but a uniform cherry red elsewhere. The green block and blue block were both very uniform – the latter was an unmistakeable deep blue throughout.
Finally we look at the ‘Lagom text test’. This shows the degree to which a monitor’s gamma curve is viewing angle dependent. This gives an indication of how likely colours are to ‘shift’ depending on their position on the screen and your position relative to the screen. This simple test revealed that the U2211H’s gamma curve was nowhere near as viewing-angle dependent as a monitor using TN-panel technology. The background had a slight blue-grey cast to the far left but the text itself was blended grey throughout. You can see the results of this Lagom text test as well as the red block test at ‘extreme viewing angles’ in the video below but do bare in mind the video makes the shifting look a lot more noticeable than it actually is:
Ah yes responsiveness – traditionally viewed as the major disadvantage of IPS monitors. And we’ll admit that the 8ms grey to grey response time that Dell states for the U2211H looks pretty high in comparison to most new TN panels, but this really says nothing about how responsive the panel is overall on real applications. For that we entrust our well trained eyes and our favourite games and movies – well they may not be our favourite movies, but they are ones that we have seen on a wide variety of different monitors so they act as useful comparative tools.
In Dragon Rising trailing was a little more evident than we would ideally have liked, particularly when driving about. The overall feeling was still pretty smooth, though, and the U2211H gave a level of fluidity that you only get from panels with relatively low input lag. According to the recent testing of TFT Central the U2211H has an input lag of around 15ms more than a conventional CRT monitor which should make for a relatively responsive experience. Rather oddly, trailing seemed less evident on Bad Company 2 than on Dragon Rising. Due to the pace of the game and more vivid colours we usually find the opposite to be true – perhaps we were simply having too much fun destroying the environment to notice the trailing. As with Dragon Rising the trailing was most evident when driving around quickly; zipping around in an ATV (all-terrain vehicle or quad bike) produced the most noticeable trailing. The U2211H again seemed very responsive with seemingly low input lag.
Although the relatively low input lag gave a good fluid feeling to Dirt 2 we aren’t going to sugar-coat the experience. Usually we don’t take issue with trailing but on this title it was more noticeable to us than usual. Although it was by no means massively distracting it did detract slightly from the experience – undoubtedly less than high input lag would have, however.
The film titles we tested were fairly smooth. Motion in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was very smooth with no ghosting or severe trailing. Some trailing was evident during the occasional driving sequences and camera pans, however. Futurama is a particularly good test of response time as it features bold black lines and solid colours moving against one another. The U2211H gave a pretty smooth performance here but there was noticeable trailing observed at certain points during this film. Overall on the film titles and indeed game titles the U2211H provided a pretty convincing performance – but perhaps not convincing enough for fast FPS loving TN-diehards pondering their next purchase.
The Dell UltraSharp U2211H offers an affordable solution for professional users on a tight budget but is also an appealing solution for home users. A simple glance at the angular matte panel and a quick swivel of the stand is enough to tell you the intended market. But then there is the ‘full HD’ resolution and rather ‘homely’ price tag that suggests that this is a monitor that reaches out to other users. The E-IPS panel of the U2211H delivered a great variety and consistency of colours in our game tests – you start to notice subtle pastel tones and slight variations in your favourite games that you never knew existed if you were using a Twisted Nematic PC monitor. Although the vibrancy wasn’t quite as intense as some of the broad-gamut IPS monitors we’ve used we can’t fault the U2211H for displaying natural and accurate colours within the sRGB colour space. The backlight itself is not particularly powerful but this is partly why the monitor costs considerably less than most other IPS models. This meant that explosions, artificial lights and glare on games wasn’t quite as ‘stunning’ but nonetheless stood out from the rest of the scene. This is because, despite this lack of backlight power; the contrast performance was consistently good with no noticeable loss of detail in dark areas and a good range of shades. The U2211H also provided a fairly fluid experience in games, giving that responsive feel that only a panel with low input lag ever could. Trailing was at times a little more noticeable than on other panels but in the majority of cases this was minor.
The U2211H, which sits at around £250 ($280 US), is at a price-point that competes with the more expensive but often slightly larger TN-film LCD monitors that are more common in the current marketplace. For professionals on a budget and home users who want excellent colour reproduction in all their applications, the U2211H is hard to ignore. Equally hard to ignore is the fact that the U2311H, which offers similar performance and an extra inch and a half of screen space, can be had for just a smidgen more.
|Good contrast with no loss of detail at the low-end||CCFL backlit. Not flicker free or as energy efficient as an LED backlight|
|Excellent level of stand and screen ergonomic adjustability||Relatively weak backlight may not offer sufficient brightness to satisfy some gamers
|A decent array of inputs offering several connectivity options
||No HDMI inputs|
|Excellent colour reproduction
||Standard gamut means that some colours are less vibrant than some would like in games and movies
|Good viewing angles (no significant colours shift)
||Responsiveness could be a little better
|An attractive price for an IPS monitor
||The larger U2311H can be had for just a little extra|