So, the Eizo S2231W went back to the store (kudos to Proline.pl for a problem-free returns policy) and my search for a new 22″ LCD continued. After some more Web research, my attention turned to the recently released Dell 2209WA. According to the well-informed posters at hardforum.com, this display is supposed to be a big deal for three reasons:
- It is a 22″ panel that doesn’t use cheap TN technology. Up to now, the only non-TN 22″ displays available had been the Eizo S2231W, the Lenovo L220x (which has ultra-tiny pixels), and the HP LP2275W.
- It uses an IPS panel. IPS panels are currently considered better than TN and PVA/MVA panels. They are supposed to have better color fidelity and better viewing angles than other panel types.
- It only costs $380 (in Poland), half the price of the Eizo S2231W!
Spurred by rave user reviews, I quickly found a store that carries these monitors in my city and made sure that the store would accept a return if I didn’t like the screen for whatever reason. Having spent the equivalent of $750 on the Eizo a few days before, I almost felt like I was getting the screen for free this time!
My expectations were pretty high. Everyone and their mother says that IPS panels are better than S-PVA, so despite the budget price of the Dell 2209WA, I expected the image quality to be close to that of the Eizo S2231W. I was concerned with quality control issues like uneven backlighting or bad pixels. But what was really on my mind was the text clarity: Would the Dell be as horrible as the S2231W? I hoped it would at least be in the same league as my trusted Eizo S1910.
As soon as I unpacked the Dell 2209WA, I placed it next to my S1910 to check how the text looked. I could barely believe my eyes. Not only was the Dell in the same league as my old display — it was actually better! All the letters looked sharper even after I dialed down the sharpening control (the default setting of 50 amounts to subtle sharpening; to disable sharpening altogether, you need to set it at 40).
The explanation for the difference in favor of the Dell 2209WA turned out to be quite simple. The subpixels on the S1910 are not rectangular. Their shape looks a bit like this: “>”. On the other hand, the Dell 2209WA has rectangular subpixels, which are better suited for the subpixel rendering used by ClearType.
Here is a photo which compares the pixel structure of the Eizo S1910 with the Dell 2209WA (sorry for the slightly out-of-focus S1910 photo):
Now that the text sharpness concern is out of the way, let’s take a look at other issues:
- Color reproduction: Side-by-side comparison with the Eizo S1910 shows that the Dell 2209WA displays slightly less saturated reds. The subjective color quality when viewing photographs in full-screen mode can only be described as very good.
- Black level: Compared with the Eizo monitors that I have owned or tested, the black level is quite poor. Dark photographs and dark scenes in movies and games appear flooded with a dark shade of grey, which makes for a washed out, bland image. Eizo monitors, while incapable of displaying true blacks, still manage a good contrast ratio when showing dark images. The Eizos show a clear difference between e.g. RGB (0,0,0) and RGB (2,2,2), so the picture retains a lot of “punch”. On the Dell, the near-black shades are still distinguishable from each other; however, the perceived contrast is lower. From my point of view, the difference between the Dell 2209WA and an Eizo (S-)PVA screen is so large that I think I would rather watch a movie on a smaller 4:3 screen with a good black level than on a 16:10 screen with a black level of the 2209WA. Perhaps I will get used to the lower quality over time, but it’s certainly a big step backwards. (If you used a TN panel before, you will likely consider it a step forward. It’s all relative.) [Added Nov 2009: I have to confess I watch movies on the Dell most of the time, despite the poor black level. It still bothers me, but it turns out I’m too lazy to move my displays around every time I want to watch a movie. Plus I like the bigger size.]
- Brightness: The display is definitely too bright. Most hardforum.com users seem to set the brightness at 15 out of 100; I set it at zero. Even at 0 brightness, I find the monitor unusable in an unlit room at night — I have to put an Ikea Grönö lamp with a 40-watt-equivalent bulb right behind it. This is a perfect example of unethical marketing trickery. Pumping up the brightness allows Dell to advertise an impressive contrast ratio, which looks good to ignorant consumers, but really means nothing in terms of picture quality. The real quality of an LCD is measured by its black level. If the black level is good, you don’t need dazzling, eye-burning whites to maintain a high contrast ratio. In fact, a critical user will quickly find two things: (1) that bright whites are very hard on the eyes, (2) that the “turbo-brightness” trick does not work anyway when dark images are being displayed.
- “Wet screen” / Sparkle effect: Visible if you take a close look. Any more of it, and it would be a problem for me. I still don’t see why manufacturers can no longer make a proper anti-glare coating like that of my Eizo S1910 (made in 2005), which displays perfectly matte solid-color areas that don’t sparkle like they are covered in hair gel.
- Color shifting: I expected my Eizo S2231W to have the infamous “Rainbow White” effect. It didn’t have it. But the Dell 2209WA seems to be a textbook example of it. The left side of the screen has a greenish tint, whereas the right side is slightly reddish. The effect was present on both the units that I tested. I don’t think it will be too much of a problem for me, but if you are sensitive to hue shifting, be warned. [A week later: I can just barely notice the color shifting, even on grey areas taking up the entire screen. I think it was more noticeable when I first tested it. Did the monitor “burn in” or something? Anyway, it didn’t bother me before, it bothers me even less now.]
- White glow / silvery shimmer: Along with the poor black level, this is a major problem with the Dell 2209WA. As I’m writing this, I’m smiling at all the people on the Internet who have written that IPS panels have better viewing angles than PVA panels. Sure, the colors don’t change as you change the viewing angle; instead, all the dark areas of the screen start to glow. For example, I normally sit about 70 centimeters from the screen. When playing a game with dark areas (e.g. BioShock or Mass Effect), I can always see bright, shimmering patches in the lower left and lower right corners of the screen. (That’s the best-case scenario after adjusting the monitor tilt.) The effect goes away only when I sit 1 meter from the monitor, but then I have to be looking at the exact center of the panel. If I move my head 3 centimeters to the left or right, the white glow reappears. When the screen is completely black, the white glow is impossible to eliminate completely, unless I sit 1.5 meters or farther from the screen. Considering the fact that the blacks on the 2209WA are pretty grey anyway, this is a screen that has serious problems displaying dark images.
- Backlight uniformity: There is a small bright patch adjacent to the top edge of the screen, about 13 cm from the right edge. I had my unit replaced because of this. The replacement unit has a slightly less visible patch in exactly the same location. I will not be replacing this unit, as it looks like this problem is present in the entire batch. Besides, this minor glitch is completely overpowered by the angle-dependent white glow described above.
- Bad pixels: No bad pixels on either of the units I’ve tested. Pretty good.
- Heat / power issues: Internet wisdom says IPS panels consume more power than PVA panels and the Dell 2209WA seems to confirm this. The back of the monitor can get quite hot in normal operation — in contrast, the back of my other display (Eizo S1910) gets barely warm. On a warm summer day, the Dell can really add to the temperature in my small room. This could be the result of the absurdly bright backlight that Dell used in this display (see above).
- Noise: This display is quite noisy. There is a pretty annoying high-pitched whine (1) right after you turn it on (for at least a few minutes), and (2) when it is displaying resolutions and refresh rates other than the native 1680 x 1050 @ 60 Hz. For example, there is a loud whine during the BIOS POST sequence, which uses character mode. During normal work in the native resolution and refresh rate, I can only hear a slight buzzing inverter noise at a distance of about 70 cm. This noise is not particularly annoying, but I can hear the buzzing go away when I turn off the monitor. This is in a quiet room at 2 am, when the loudest sound is the sound of my (quiet) hard drive and the near-silent fans in my PC (I’m a bit of a silent-PC enthusiast). While at other times of day it is a complete non-issue, I sure don’t like the fact that my new monitor is a source of noise in my system. If you use stock cooling in your PC, don’t worry about the noise — you probably won’t hear it, as long as you stick to the native resolution.
- Startup time: The backlight takes a long time to reach its proper brightness. When I turn on the Dell and my Eizo at the same time, the Dell is initially much darker than the Eizo and takes about 20 minutes to “catch up”.
- Response time: Subjectively better than my old Eizo, but not by much.
- 75 Hz refresh rate: The 2209WA supports a 75 Hz refresh rate, which means that it can display 25% more frames per second than a standard 60 Hz LCD. This makes for much more fluid motion in videogames. It really makes a difference in almost every game. However, turning on 75 Hz is tricky. You need to add a custom display mode in the nVidia control panel (if you have an nVidia card) or in Powerstrip (if you have an ATI card). Besides, when I set my monitor to anything over 60 Hz, the usual power supply noise it emits becomes much louder and turns into a high-pitched whine. It is quieter at some refresh rates than at others (in my case 73 Hz was relatively quiet), but it never completely goes away. In the end, I have decided to stick to 60 Hz.
- Input lag: I did not notice anything troubling.
- Anti-glare coating: Apart from the slight sparkle mentioned before, the anti-glare coating reflects a bit too much light. When I put it side-by-side with my Eizo, it is obvious that the Eizo is “more black”.
- Text/office work: Very good. Text is very crisp, though brightness needs to be set at close to zero for comfortable work. If you like working with the lights out, I would recommend putting a 40 watt lamp right behind the monitor. You might also need to dial down the contrast, sacrificing color quality.
- Photo viewing/editing: Satisfactory. Colors are well-reproduced and photos look basically the same as on much more expensive Eizo FlexScan LCDs. However, dark images look worse due to the combination of the mediocre black level and the white glow effect (you have to sit at a distance of 1 m or more to eliminate the latter defect).
- Movie viewing/editing: Poor. Movies have a lot of dark, moody scenes, which look washed out on the 2209WA, even if you sit far away from the screen and position the monitor carefully to avoid the white glow effect. I’m afraid grey isn’t the new black…
- Gaming: Mixed bag. Shooters and RPGs often use shadows to create atmosphere. On this monitor, these scenes have little depth. Brighter, more cheerful games look fine. On the other hand, the possibility of using a 75 Hz refresh rate (despite its relative noisiness) means that this monitor can display more fluid motion than typical LCDs.
My search for a 22-inch widescreen LCD that would match my 19″ Eizo S1910 has turned out to be a disappointment. Four years after I bought that display, there appears to exist no 22″ that is good at everything: text work, photo editing, movies and games.
That said, I will be keeping the Dell 2209WA. Why? First, I’m running out of options. The only non-TN 22″ that I have not yet tested is the HP LP2275W, but since it is equipped with an S-PVA panel, I expect it to have the same ClearType defect that made me return the Eizo S2231W.
Second, if I have to choose between a monitor that is suitable only for text work and a monitor that is only good for photos, movies and games (Eizo S2231W), I’m going to choose the former. After all, the amount of time I spend reading websites and working with documents far outweighs the combined time I spend working with Photoshop, watching movies or gaming. Last but not least, the Dell’s low price more than makes up for its shortcomings. If you cannot get a monitor that does it all, at least get an inexpensive monitor that satisfies most of your needs.