Alienware 34" (AW3423DW) Gaming Monitor Review: Oh My QD-OLED
Alienware’s New 34-Inch QD-OLED Gaming Monitor Is Gorgeous In Every Way
In the past, gamers treating their eyes right meant maybe a 27-inch 16:9 or 34-inch 21:9 IPS or VA display was in order. Most of these models typically have a refresh rate of 144 to 165Hz, G-SYNC and FreeSync compatibility, and some sort of backlight strobing like NVIDIA's ULMB to combat ghosted images. Even on some top-end monitors, there are compromises like black smearing and reduced viewing angles on many VA panels, or backlight bleed and lower contrast ratios on IPS displays.
It seems that OLED has been the technology of the future for PC displays for a while now, with its vibrant colors, infinitely deep black levels, and complete lack of ghosting. Dell's Alienware gaming brand says the future is now. In fact, OLED—specifically Quantum Dot OLED—is here on my desk. It's real, and it's spectacular. Let's meet the Alienware AW3423DW, announced at CES in January, which is the first ultrawide 21:9 OLED gaming monitor that the company has brought to market.
QD-OLED Is Here To Combat Traditional OLED Burn-InObviously, the star of Dell's show is a 34.18-inch 21:9 QD-OLED panel with a native resolution of 3,440x1,440. Quantum dot technology isn't exactly new and it's not exclusive to OLED, but let's talk about how it works in this instance. A thin layer of nanoparticles of semiconductor material as small as just two nanometers in length are applied to the film that covers the OLEDs (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) within the panel. These materials are sensitive to light at particular frequencies and become electrically excited very briefly. When that excited state ends, the materials give off different colors of light. In this case, that's blue light from blue OLEDs, where all the other colors of the rainbow rely on this QD material layer's light-responsive qualities.
Samsung, the inventors of QD-OLED technology, says this process should result in more vibrant colors, lower energy consumption, brighter light levels and improved reliability. The hope, or at least the design of QD-OLED, is that getting away from a reliance on white OLEDs prevents colors washing out at extreme angles, too. But that improved reliability claim also caught our attention. Will Quantum Dot tech really help monitors avoid the dreaded burn-in? Alienware seems to think so; the company has endowed the AW3423DW with a three-year warranty, and specifically notes that the warranty does indeed cover image retention damage. That's a big plus in our book.
And how do the QD-OLED viewing angles work out in this case? In the photos above, we're looking at some pretty extreme left and right side angles of this display, and the image retention is pretty incredible, with just a few reflections disrupting the picture. On just about every VA display, and even most IPS displays at this steep angle, the colors will shift and wash out to some degree. However, that's just not the case with the AW3423. Viewing angles are incredible, and colors stay bright and vibrant all the way around. Even in this photo below where we look at the display from the top down, there's just not any shifting to speak of.
Even from high above, extreme viewing angles are not a challenge for the AW3423DW
All of this probably sounds expensive and, well, it is. The best things in life are sometimes free, but not in this case. However, despite all the work and painstaking detail that goes into applying the quantum dots to the display, pricing on the AW3423DW is $1,299, which is on the high-end for sure, competitively. That's more than a 48" LG C1 OLED TV, but there's a whole lot more to this display than just its pretty OLEDs.
Alienware's AW3423DW display can also hit a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits. This peak brightness level is limited to HDR mode and can't be set manually in the OSD, but when the display needs to, it can pump out some light in short bursts. On the other hand, Alienware quotes a typical brightness of 250 nits for this display. However, with what Dell calls an "infinite contrast" ratio of 1 million to 1, this panel can drive a true 0 black point with bright whites in HDR content, so that typical brightness spec is relative.
Lest you be worried about image retention (commonly referred to as burn-in), Alienware has equipped the AW3423DW with two different refresh modes: one that refreshes the whole panel, and one that addresses individual pixels. This second one is a new feature of QD-OLED, since Samsung has enabled tracking each individual pixel's behavior and can apply targeted refreshes.
On a quick side note, before we move on; there's some controversy around QD-OLED, as Samsung's partner Nanoco sued the company over allegedly trying to steal the technology. While that lawsuit was filed nearly two years ago now, it's still ongoing. Samsung petitioned the United States Patent and Trademark office for a review in November of 2020. The organization is still holding hearings, the latest of which is happening in the middle of March. Whoever owns QD-OLED technology, it hasn't stopped Samsung for pushing forward, as progress stops for nobody.
Additional Alienware AW3423 Key Features And SpecsBack to the AW3423DW, this display has quite a few advantages over a similarly-priced (but larger) OLED TV. First of all is NVIDIA's G-SYNC Ultimate, which enables variable-rate refresh in a very wide range, all the way from 1 to 175Hz. At first, NVIDIA's dedicated image processor was the only way to fly, but more recently AMD's FreeSync has caught up considerably. Still, FreeSync monitors have to rely on Low Framerate Compensation (LFC) and re-draw images if they don't come fast enough. The effect is the same, either way, but the most important consideration is that 175Hz refresh rate.
Unfortunately there is one downside to G-SYNC Ultimate: the maximum refresh rate is only available over DisplayPort. Alienware says that NVIDIA's scalers do not support HDMI 2.1, so the pair of HDMI ports on this monitor are HDMI 2.0 only. That means that its native resolution can only be driven at 100Hz rather than 170. Maybe it's our eyes playing tricks on us, but we feel like we can detect a rather stark difference in smoothness between 100 and 175Hz. At any rate, be sure to use a DisplayPort connection from PC with this display.
Consoles, which so far only support 16:9 aspect ratios, are further constrained. The Xbox Series X will require 4:2:2 color (24-bit depth) at 1440p to hit 120Hz, and the PlayStation 5 still doesn't support 1440p at all so it'll have to be 1080p upscaled. Since 24-bit color is the default on Xbox, technically there's no downside to HDMI 2.0 for a PC and console experience. Multi-PC users, however, can't connect two PCs (say, a gaming PC and a work machine) to this monitor and get the smoothest experience out of both, without plunking down more cash for a KVM. As good as FreeSync Premium Pro is these days, we might have preferred that if it meant HDMI 2.1 here.
Speaking of HDMI 2.0, let's talk about the ins and outs. The AW3423DW has a pair of those HDMI 2.0 ports, but also a DisplayPort input that supports the full 175Hz refresh rate of the display. There's also a built-in USB 3.2 Gen 1 hub with four total USB ports, two of which are right under the edge of the monitor and ideal for things like USB thumb drives that you add and remove more frequently. Many monitors in this price range have USB-C with DisplayPort functionality but that's not here, and neither is the KVM switch capabilities found on some monitors, such as Gigabyte's Aorus M32Q that I use as a daily driver. For audio, the AW3423DW has no built-in speakers, which typically sound thin and tinny anyway, but it does have a line-out jack and a separate headphone input in between those two front-mounted USB ports, both of which can be controlled with the volume setting in the OSD.
Alienware AW3423DW Gaming Monitor Industrial DesignErgonomically, the AW3423DW is fantastic. The included stand provides a bit more than 4.3 inches (110 millimeters) of height adjustment that results in the bottom of the screen being anywhere from just under two and a half inches off the desk to nearly seven inches. Moving the display up and down feels effortless, yet it stays exactly where you leave it. Swivel and rotate are also supported, as well. There's even a VESA 100x100 adapter in the box, if you'd rather go your own way.
In keeping with the Legend design language of Alienware's notebook and desktop PCs, the AW3423DW has some RGB LED lighting, which can be controlled right from the OSD. There's a downward-facing strip in the center that lights up the desk right below the display, and a ring LED surrounding the stand mount. Both of these can be disabled right in the menu if you don't care for them. And in fact, the whole display and monitor follow Alienware's updated Legend 2.0 industrial design, which first appeared on that sexy Alder Lake Aurora R13 we reviewed in November. We kind of wish we'd been able to hang onto that system until now; the two would look mighty fine next to each other.
Cable management is extremely good with this display as well. Like many monitors, the stand makes use of a hole that groups cables together and routes them through the vertical neck and out the back. Unlike most monitors, it's not just a simple hole, and at first we missed it. The tunnel actually runs at a 45-degree angle, with the rear outlet between the base of the legs and out the back. If you're not looking for cables, you just don't see them. It's really nice.
Alienware went farther than just that with cable management, though. Below each recessed port is plenty of space to route the cable, with guides that push all of the cables towards the center of the display and to the tunnel in the stand. Alienware actually includes a plastic shield that covers all of the ports. Once the monitor is set up, and as long as you don't constantly plug and unplug devices, it's extremely well concealed. As long as the cables are routed properly, the shield glides into place easily and pops off without much force. If the cables get in the way, however, installing it can be kind of tricky.
The only thing we're not totally wild about is the thickness and lack of width in the stand's legs. The base may consume a fair amount of real estate in the middle of your desk and needs a fair amount of depth as well. It's not the end of the world, and it probably won't bother very many users, but the stand isn't quite perfect in this regard. Fortunately, that doesn't have to be a deal-breaker for anybody that would be inclined to use the included VESA mount. Just attach that to the mount point and slap any ol' 100x100-mm compatible mount on there.
Next up let's take a look at the on-screen display and see how we can configure the AW3423DW.