|Introduction & Specifications|
There are two types of power users on this planet, and they consist of those who use a 30-inch monitor, and those who don't. The latter far outnumber the former, but thanks to a number of factors, this particular digital divide is growing smaller by the day. For one, 30-inch monitors are somewhat more affordable compared to a few years ago, at least in the sense that the average Joe doesn't have to sell a kidney to come up with the scratch for one (except for teens, who are more interested in trading body organs for iPads, anyway). That in itself is pretty remarkable when you consider that 30-inch monitors aren't just big, they also represent the pinnacle of display technology in terms of picture quality and, in this case, features.
It also no longer takes a herculean system to drive a 30-inch panel. Sure, if you plan to play bleeding edge games with all the eye candy maxed out on a 2560x1600 resolution, you better be rocking something more potent than integrated graphics. But if you're more of a casual gamer or are willing to tone down the graphics settings, just about any discrete-level GPU out there will drive a 30-inch display, removing one of the barriers that in years past prevented some PC users from shopping larger screen panels.
Dell's U3011 - 30 inches of precision goodness.
Of course, if you're reading this, then you've probably already decided that a 30-inch monitor would look swell in your home office or game room. The question, then, is what does Dell's UltraSharp U3011 bring to the big-screen table? Quite a bit, actually. Simply put, the U3011 is the most feature rich and flexible 30-inch panel there is right now on the market. Part of the reason for that is because the 30-inch display segment is largely ignored by too many of the major vendors, but even if that wasn't the case, the U3011 would likely still stand out. It sports a high-quality In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel, is extremely versatile with a plethora of connectivity options, and even boasts a built-in 7-in-1 media card reader, not to mention excellent On-Screen Display (OSD) controls, something that's a bit of a luxury in the 30-inch display class.
You can think of the U3011 as an enlarged version of the U2711. Both use the same panel technology and offer mostly the same features. However, the U3011 is a bit bigger with a slightly higher screen resolution (2560x1600 and 16:10 versus 2560x1440 and 16:9) and has an extra HDMI port. It's natural competitor is Hewlett-Packard's ZR30w (reviewed here), a similar 30-inch panel with fewer overall features. How does Dell's UltraSharp U3011 compare overall? Let's break it down, beginning with the spec sheet.
Everything you would expect to see in a 30-inch monitor is present and accounted for in the U3011, plus a whole bunch extra. Most notably, the U3011 has more connections than a fast-talking Hollywood agent. One of our gripes with HP's ZR30w is that connectivity options are limited to a DisplayPort and a DVI-D port. The U3011 has those as well, plus a pair of HDMI ports, a VGA connector, and component connectors. This gives you the flexibility to hook up and switch between multiple electronics, including game consoles, a Blu-ray player, and of course your PC(s).
The 7-in-1 media card is another thoughtful touch, and one that also isn't included on HP's panel. Out of the gate, it would appear the U3011 has a leg up in the 30-inch category, but we've only begun to scratch the surface.
Even though it was released a little over a year and a half ago, the UltraSharp U3011 is Dell's flagship panel and hasn't gone out of style. It's factory tuned for out-of-the-box performance and compatible with 100 percent sRGB and 99 percent AdobeRGB standards for pinpoint color accuracy.
With 30 inches of screen real estate, the U3011 is both big and heavy. It tips the scales at nearly 34 pounds and takes up 22.5 inches (H) by 27.34 inches (W) by 8.32 inches (D) of real estate when the stand is fully extended. At its lowest point, the monitor stands 18.95 inches tall. The panel itself measures 17.85 inches (H) by 27.34 inches (W) by 3.27 inches (D) and can be removed from the base.
Dell released the U3011 before glossy finishes were all the rage. As such, the monitor sports a mostly black plastic design, the upshot being you won't have to spend any time wiping away finger smudges. There's also a metal strip that runs along the bezel, presumably to add a bit of sturdiness to the overall construction while giving it a subtle aesthetic accent. A reflective logo on the bottom of the bezel in the center is the only other piece of bling on an otherwise all-business looking monitor.
As we mentioned, the panel itself uses In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology. These cost more to manufacturer than the Twisted Nematic (TN) panels found on most monitors, but what you get in return are much better viewing angles and superior color accuracy. The U3011 features a 10-bit panel which, according to Dell's documentation, is capable of 12-bit internal processing (look-up table, or LUT). What this boils down to in layman's terms is the ability to display more colors per pixel.
Compared to CRT monitors of days gone by, the U3011 is one svelte character. But next to today's super skinny LED-backlit monitors with nary a waste line, the U3011 is a porker. Then again, so are some smartphones, if that's where we're setting the bar.
The bezel width that runs along the front of the monitor is one mark shy of an inch on all four sides. Its depth is 1 and 5/8th inches if measuring just the frame itself and not the backside that holds the guts. On the left side it extends another 5/8th of an inch to accommodate the media card reader.
A solid, rectangular base holds the U3011 firmly in place. Combined with the monitor's weight, you're not going to accidentally knock the U3011 onto its side or off your desk, not unless you plow into it practicing a real-life barrel roll after seeing it done in Skyrim.
The stand allows you to make height adjustments (up to 90mm, or ~3.54 inches) to the monitor, which in this case is more about ergonomics than trying to find the ideal viewing angle. Since it's an IPS panel, you don't necessarily need a perfect line of sight, even when you're doing serious photography work. You can also make tilt (30 degrees) and swivel (3 degrees forward; 19 degrees back) adjustments, but it doesn't pivot to support portrait viewing. Drats.
Connectivity options abound on the U3011, which could very well be the deciding factor in choosing this panel over HP's ZR30w. All of the display inputs sit underneath the monitor. They include:
Other ports that run along the bottom include an AC power connector, DC power connector for attaching an optional Dell Soundbar, audio inputs, a USB upstream port, and two of the four USB downstream ports. Not pictured above is a Security Lock slot that sits on the back of the monitor, as well as mounting holes for the above mentioned Soundbar accessory.
By comparison, connectivity options on HP's ZR30w consist of a DVI-D port and a DisplayPort (as well as four USB 2.0 ports). Dell's U3011 clearly wins this round and gives you much more flexibility in terms of connecting multiple devices. You could, for example, benchmark a new PC using one of the inputs while doing work on another system and switch between them. When it's time for a mental break, you could then switch over to a connected Blu-ray player and blow your mind watching Crank 2.
The more devices you attach to the U3011 the greater the chances of creating a gnarly mess of wires, but to help wrangle them all in, there's a cable routing hole in the neck of the stand that's ready to swallow a fistful of cables.
Another advantage of the U3011 over the ZR30w is the inclusion of a 7-in-1 media card reader that Dell plopped on the left-hand side. This probably won't be a deciding factor for most people, but it's a nice bonus for users who choose this panel. The remaining two USB 2.0 ports sit next to the card reader.
|Calibration & Controls|
Dell apparently didn't buy into any of the same reasoning that prompted HP to leave out OSD controls on its ZR30w, because not only does the U3011 have them, it has them in spades. As we'll get to in a moment, the OSD options are robust, and at the same time, Dell pre-calibrates each U3011 monitor from the factory so if you'd rather not fuss with fine-grain adjustments, you can simply plug in the panel and go about your business.
The OSD buttons on the U3011 are sort of a hybrid between the touch-sensitive and physical varieties. Some will find this to be the best of both worlds. There's a physical power button to turn the monitor on and off, and five touch-sensitive buttons to scroll through the various options. What's neat about these touch-sensitive controls is they consist of little plastic protrusions that glow blue when your fingers get close. You can feel your way without looking directly at the controls, and while we generally prefer true physical controls, we found Dell's implementation to be highly responsive compared to other touch-sensitive 'buttons' we've played with, so kudos on that front.
There are a whole bunch of preset modes you can choose from:
One of our favorite features is a Picture By Picture (PBP) mode for viewing images from two separate input sources simultaneously. It's a feature with a lot of potential, though it's puzzling why Dell didn't also include picture-in-picture support.
We're now using DisplayMate for Windows (www.displaymate.com) as part of our monitor evaluation process. DisplayMate's smorgasbord of tests allow us to root out potential problems areas, such as geometry distortion and color inaccuracies, to name just two.
Dell's U3011 breezed through DisplayMate's visual benchmarks with little trouble, as most IPS panels tend to do. The monitor scored a perfect 100 in the video bandwidth test and was absolutely excellent in terms of displaying uniform color throughout the 30 inches of screen real estate, including all four corners and sides. Black levels were superb with no backlight bleed-through issues, though we noticed a minor amount of light diffusion when specifically testing for it (emphasis on minor). And if we're nitpicking, we should point out that color intensity suffered ever-so-slightly with darker hues of red and pink, though overall was quite good. We were also impressed with the U3011's ability to display small fonts clearly.
Unfortunately, we weren't using DisplayMate when we reviewed HP's ZR30w, though subjectively, these two monitors are neck and neck. If forced to pick a winner, we'd say that out-of-the-box color performance was a touch better on the ZR30w, though unlike HP's monitor, you're free to tweak Dell's U3011 to your liking. We also found that Dell's U3011 works best after a brief break-in period.
The U3011 is clearly a great choice for photo editing professionals and graphic designers. TN-based monitors tend to struggle with accurate color reproduction, backlight bleeding, and over/under saturation, but none of those issues reared their unwanted and ugly heads viewing images like this on the U3011.
While DisplayMate lays out a monitor's performance in black and white (and blue and green and red and...), we also take into consideration a subjective analysis. After all, you're not purchasing a monitor to view test patterns for hours on end. To see how the U3011 performs in the real world, we viewed a series of high definition movies and fired up a few games. Torturous, we know, but hey, you guys are worth every minute of our entertainment.
We enjoyed watching movies on the U3011 so much that we found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time testing this aspect of performance, or at least that's the excuse we kept falling back on when neglecting family and pets in favor of high definition flicks. HD content looks absolutely stunning on Dell's flagship panel, and with so much screen real estate at your disposable, it's easy to let the hours fly by doing anything but actual work. When you factor in all the input options, the U3011 is great choice not only for graphics professionals and artists, but college students living in a dorm who might be looking for a way to spend their extra grant (or parent's) money.
With an advertised response time of 7ms (gray to gray), gamers might be inclined to automatically turn their nose up at the U3011, especially with so many monitors boasting much lower numbers. That would be a mistake. The thing about response time ratings (and monitor specs in general) is that they're borderline meaningless without a universal standard. Display manufacturers can (and do) measure various aspects of performance in various ways, and it's easy to twist the results for marketing purposes.
Our point? Despite the 7ms rating on the U3011, it's a darn good panel for gaming. In our testing, the U3011 didn't succumb to obvious ghosting, streaking, or other unwanted anomalies that affect lower quality displays. If you have the horsepower, gaming on a 30-inch monitor with a 2560x1600 resolution and all the eye candy maxed out is an awesome experience.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
IPS panels are beginning to come down in price and grow in popularity (the two are related), and even though Dell's U3011 is older than some, it's one of the best performing monitors we've played with to date. We did notice a slight amount of light diffusion where a faint halo of light would appear around white squares on a black background in DisplayMate, but it was a minor issue at best and one that didn't seem to affect real-world performance. Color uniformity was splendid, white and black levels were accurate, and small sized fonts were both crisp and clear.