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Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD Monitor review: pricey 4K display that offers superb image quality

Designers and graphic artists love big screens, with all their many palettes and menus jostling for valuable screen space. With its 31.5in widescreen display and Ultra HD 4K resolution, Dell's UP3241Q is therefore an attractive proposition and also a competitively priced solution for viewing 4K video in all its glory. See Group test: what's the best display?

Ergonomically speaking, the display is hard to fault. While, there is a large amount of recycled plastic in the construction, it looks surprisingly smart and sleek.

The bezel is pleasantly thin and the illuminating, proximity-sensing, touch-sensitive controls contribute to an expensive overall feel and a level of build quality you'd expect from a display costing around £2000.

The monitor features a height-adjustable stand and incorporates a USB 3.0 hub with four ports, one of which supports battery charging. Inputs include one each of HDMI, DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort connections. There's no audio support as standard, but you can attach an optional soundbar, which will add a set of speakers below the screen.

The panel itself is coated with a hard, matt anti-glare coating which keeps reflections in check.

The ultra-high resolution of the UP3241Q is made possibly largely thanks to indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) semiconductor technology which replaces the millions of tiny amorphous silicon (a-Si) transistors in a typical display panel with more efficient, transparent ones. These allow more light to pass through, thereby increasing brightness (or reducing power consumption), and for increased densities enabling higher resolution panels to be created more easily.

The specified 99% Adobe RGB gamut is great for those who demand the most accurate colour, but a potential pain for those who just want to plug and play. However, sRGB mode is also available for those who don't wish to calibrate their display. Ten-bit colour is also available, enabling a palette of up to 1.074 billion colours when paired with a workstation-class graphics card such as an nVidia Quadro or AMD FirePro.

As is often the case with bleeding-edge technologies, there are a few compatibility issues you'll almost certainly run into when using this monitor.

While many modern graphics cards are able to output 4K resolutions, there are a few conditions which must be met in order to fully exploit the monitor's Ultra HD capabilities with a 60 Hz refresh rate.

To display the full 3840 x 2160 resolution at a 60 Hz refresh rate, the monitor divides its input into two 'tiles' of 1920 x 2160 pixels which are sent from your graphics card as if they were connected to two separate displays. The monitor then combines the two tiles into a single on-screen desktop.

To do this, you'll need to use DisplayPort 1.2 with Multi-Stream Transport (MST) support. Most modern graphics cards support this functionality, including nVidia GeForce series 600 and newer, AMD Radeon HD600 and above and the latest Intel integrated graphics processors.

Some competing 4K monitors, such as the Asus PQ321Q, allow you to connect a pair of HDMI inputs from a single graphics card to create your 4K desktop. This is not the case with the Dell UP3214Q, which offers only a single HDMI connection alongside those for DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort.

Even if your graphics card supports MST, you'll need to enable it on the monitor manually via the on-screen controls. This will then enable the 60 Hz refresh mode – but if this fails for some reason (and it often does) or you subsequently plug the monitor into a GPU which doesn't support MST, you'll be met by a blank screen with no access to the menu system to revert to DisplayPort 1.1.

Thankfully, Dell has provided a hidden menu option to switch it back. It's mentioned in the manual, but you'll find no indication that it exists simply by searching through the on-screen menus.

On our test PC, rebooting Windows caused the graphics card driver to ‘forget' to use DisplayPort 1.2 mode, forcing us to reset the monitor to DisplayPort 1.1 and back to version 1.2 again using the hidden reset option every time we started the PC.

Intel's most recent integrated graphics processors will support 4K mode at 60 Hz on the UP3241Q, but to make the monitor function as a single display, rather than two virtual displays side-by-side, you'll need to enable Collage Mode in the Intel graphics control panel. However, expect to fight every step of the way. We were only able to get it to work by installing the latest beta version of Intel's driver, and even then it was horribly unreliable.

Windows 8.1 itself isn't quite ready for 4K. You'll probably need to mess around with font sizes quite a lot before you get things looking consistently right – and this will involve some compromise.

At the time of writing this review, OS X doesn't support 4K operation at 60 Hz on this monitor as it isn't included in Apple's whitelist of approved displays. Although this situation may change, for now Mac users may be better served by an alternative 4K monitor such as the Sharp PN-K321 or Asus PQ321Q.

None of these issues are the fault of Dell, but this is the sort of thing you can expect to come up against when switching to a 4K display, so do make sure your system is fully compatible before you spend your monitor.

DisplayPort 1.2 does allow for 60 Hz operation without recourse to MST mode, but currently there are no monitors which support it. Until then we're stuck with this solution of combining two logical displays and the headaches which come with it.

However, once set up correctly, the UP3214Q is a revelation. Fire up Adobe Lightroom and the increase in clarity and sharpness over and above even a 2560 x 1440 display is immediately apparent. Games also take on a whole new level of detail, although you'll need very powerful graphics to run at decent frame rates. Usually a pair of high-end graphics cards will be required.

Ultra HD resolution aside, you would expect excellent picture quality from any display costing in the region of £2000. For the most part, the UP3214Q delivers just that.

Colour reproduction is superb, covering 99% of the Adobe RGB gamut (our Spyder Elite calibration rounded it up to 100%) and delivering extremely accurate results, thanks to pre-calibration in the factory. This resulted in an average colour error of less than 1.0 DeltaE.

Maximum brightness and checkerboard contrast are also commendable, peaking at 312 cd/m2 and 550:1 respectively.

If we were to find fault it would be that, if you try really hard, you can see a small amount of brightness loss at the very widest viewing angles. There were also some measurable colour uniformity issues when the display was pushed to maximum brightness. A built-in uniformity correction mode is provided to help alleviate this, but it's not recommended for use with calibration, so we left it turned off.

You can improve performance still further by purchasing an optional X-Rite i1Display Pro calibrator which works in conjunction with Dell's own calibration software.

Overall, this is a very impressive display which is a pleasure to use once correctly set up. Sadly, pleasure levels tend to tail off quite rapidly if you're unfortunate enough to run into problems running it in MST mode. You're also likely to have to spend a fair bit of time tweaking settings in Windows to achieve a comfortable desktop experience.


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