The new curved Dell Ultrasharp U3415W Monitor and its 21:9, nearly 4K display could well be the monitor you've always dreamed of.
Quite honestly, it's a marvel of engineering. And that's just the box. I've seen more complex cardboard structures (like the boxes Sony professional camcorders typically come in), but this package somehow manages to store and protect a 34" screen that's not just big, but also curved.
It's actually not the worst box to pull apart and put back together again. It's relatively easy to design a box that practically explodes into a million pieces when you open it (this is what I imagine would happen if I ever attempted surgery), but it's much harder to make one that goes back together as easily as it came apart.
When the screen did come out of the box, I nearly dropped it, for the simple reason that, as an object, it is absolutely gorgeous.
There's something about the proportions of it. It doesn't seem real. The subtle curve and the extreme wideness make it unfeasibly beautiful, like an alien artefact. In fact, you could imagine this on the set of Avatar.
Curved and nearly immersive
You could argue that it's just a bigger monitor with the top chopped off. That would give you the same shape. However, there's more to it than that. There's something delicate, yet purposeful about the shape of this monitor. You really need be in front of it to understand what I mean.
I must admit I've always dreamed about a monitor like this. One with plenty of resolution, but, vitally, very wide. And equally vitally, somewhat curved. I've had 34" monitors before, with an even higher resolution than this (true 4K UHD) and I did have an issue with them. Because of the extremely high resolution, you have to sit pretty close. But that means that if your eyes are in focus in the centre of the screen, they'll be blurry at the edges. As an editor (of the publishing type) I always have loads of documents open on my screen, right into the corners. To change focus every few seconds is fatiguing and feels unnatural. This screen solves that instantly, just by being curved. Every part of the screen is the same distance from your eyes.
It's really quite hard to explain what a revelation it is having a screen that covers such a wide field of view. It's almost total immersion, yet it feels natural. It's ergonomic and it's efficient. It's a wonderful workspace for an NLE or a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), but for me, it's a natural-feeling place to have the myriad of documents and programs that I need to work, all open in front of me and all equally accessible. And if that isn't enough for you, the thin bezels on the UltraSharp 34 mean that you can put two of them side-by-side for an almost absurdly wide screen experience.
I was anticipating a long session with a screwdriver when I lifted the screen out of the box. The stand looked like it was going to need some serious engineering to attach it to the curved display. But what actually happened was I turned the screen around so that I was looking at the back of it and just lowered it on to the mounting plate on the stand. It clicked securely into place. I wasn't expecting that and it meant that I actually spent more time lying on my back trying to get the HDMI cable into its hole than fixing the monitor to its stand.
I was also expecting a battle to get my Macbook Pro to work with the screen. My previous experiences with getting 4K monitors to show the correct resolution with MacBooks weren't great. It's doable, but annoyingly fiddly. This isn't a full 4K UHD screen, but even so, it's an odd shape and resolution. But the simple act of plugging it in was all it took for the Macbook to output a signal with the right number of pixels. Kudos to Apple for making it work like this, although I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised, having noticed that my four year old Macbook Air can power a full 4K UHD screen, albeit only for a few minutes before it overheats. I suspect that OS X Yosemite is a bit more intelligent with very high resolution screens.
An ideal workstation display?
The Dell's aspect ratio is 21:9. We've long argued that this is a much better shape for screens. As we've just seen, it's an ideal workspace. For TV, films and video, it allows wide aspect ratio films to be seen as close as is realistically possible in their native form.
The screen has a resolution of 3440 x 1440, which, while not natively 4K (UHD 4K is 3840 x 2160), is plenty of pixels for every day use and a massive improvement over the typical 1920 x 1080 of Full HD.
This isn't a lab test, but it was very bright and the colours looked realistic. It's an IPS panel, which means that in addition to deep, saturated colours, it has an extremely wide viewing angle. Other more lab-oriented reviews suggest that colours are accurate and that the grey scale performance is very good too.
The monitor is positively festooned with ports, with 2 x full size display ports (so that you can cascade two monitors), MHL (for connecting mobile phones!), HDMI 2.0 (ideal for handling higher frame rates - although my Macbook Pro couldn't manage a high enough rate to stop mouse movements from looking slightly course) and a total of 6 x USB ports.
All of the ports are on the back of the monitor, facing downwards. They're not easy to get at, but aesthetically it's probably the best place for them.
At a price of £686 excluding VAT, this isn't going to be an impulse buy, but when you see it in the flesh, it's as much sculpture as monitor.
I'm biassed, in the sense that I've always wanted a monitor like this. But the Dell UltraSharp U3415W doesn't disappoint. It's a very credible monitor at a reasonable price. The moment you try it, you realise that having two monitors on your desk belongs to a previous era.