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Dell SP2309W 23 Inch LCD Monitor Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

For $379, the Dell SP2309W (only available direct from Dell) bundles good performance; VGA, DVI, and HDMI connections; a high 2,048×1,152-pixel resolution; an intuitive, robust and uniquely designed onscreen display; 360 degree screen rotation; and five USB ports. Compared with the $690, 24-inch Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP, the SP2309W comes up slightly short in overall performance and connection options. And for $300, the Dell S2409W offers an inch more screen real estate, but lower resolution, few ergonomic options, and slightly worse performance. The Dell SP2309W hits a sweet spot.

Design and features
The bezel of the 23-inch Dell SP2309W is a striking, glossy black that reflects everything, but it also attracts many fingerprints. The bezel measures a short 0.75 inch long on all sides, and the middle of the bottom bezel has a slightly raised silver Dell logo on it. In the top center of the bezel is an integrated 2-megapixel camera. The panel is nearly 1 inch deep. (By comparison, most 24-inch models we’ve tested have a panel depth of more than an inch). A thin, 1 centimeter strip wraps around the outer edge of the panel, bringing the panel width to 22.1 inches–average for a monitor of this screen size.

The circular footstand measures 10.25 inches in diameter and does a good job providing stability. We saw only minimal wobbling when we knocked the display from the sides.

For the $29 more that the SP2309W costs versus the Dell S2409W, the SP2309 includes several extra features. First, the display provides 360-degree screen rotation via a swivel mechanism on the footstand. In addition, the neck of the display is designed with a hinge at its base and the top. This lets the screen tilt all the way back so that it is facing directly up–not a particularly useful feature since this monitor doesn’t have a touch screen. With a touch screen facing directly up, you could interface with the computer without having to reach way down to control the mouse. The screen height is adjustable by nearly 4 inches, and the monitor includes five USB ports (four downstream and one upstream)–two of the downstream ports on the left side of the monitor with the rest on the back to the right of the video connection options.

The Dell SP2309w’s connection options include the VGA, DVI, and HDMI video connection trifecta. Although the VGA and HDMI ports are easy to reach, the DVI port sits directly behind the display’s neck, making hand cramping a possibility when attempting to connect the cable.

The Dell SP2309W’s onscreen display has a unique, label-less design: five small buttons line the lower right-hand corner of the bezel. Pressing the blinking bottom button brings up the OSD, which pops up parallel to the button array, each option corresponding to one of the five buttons. For example, pressing the button next to “inputsource” on the OSD brings up a menu for changing the input source. Once a new menu comes up, the function of the buttons change dynamically, as the top two buttons become the up and down arrow buttons used to navigate though the newly seen menu. Navigating the OSD takes a few minutes to get used to, but once we did, we found it was easier to use and more useful than the S2409W’s impressive OSD. Since the buttons light up when they have a function and any button labels are actually on the screen, calibrating the display in a dark room proved painless. OSD options include the mainstays: brightness, contrast, and various color options. There are six presets to choose from, including Standard, Multimedia, Game, Warm, Cool, sRGB, and, of course, Custom. The presets do not change anything other than the Red, Green, and Blue color balance and therefore how well each setting works will be subjective.

The Dell SP2309W’s much-touted 16:9 aspect ratio both supports a 2,048×1,152-pixel native resolution and the 1,920×1,080-pixel “Full HD” resolution. This is an interesting marketing choice in that while accurate, a 16:10 aspect on a 23-inch monitor would have an even higher native resolution of 1,920×1,200-pixels, which seems more “full.” However, Dell is not alone. More and more monitor vendors are moving toward 16:9 from 16:10 because high-definition content–in particular 1080p movies–can fit onto a 1,920×1,080-pixel screen without distorting the image.

Manufacturer’s specifications:
Resolution: 2,048×1,152-pixels
Pixel-response rate: 2ms
Contrast ratio: 80,000:1 (Dynamic Contrast Ratio; No number given for typical)
Brightness: 300cd/m2
Connectivity: HDMI, DVI, VGA
HDCP compliant? Yes
Included video cables? DVI
Performance
We tested the Dell SP2309W with its DVI connection. The display posted a composite score of 90 on CNET Labs’ DisplayMate-based performance tests. We compared it with the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp 2408WFP, which also scored a 90, and the Dell S2409W’s 87. The SP2309W has some problems with screen uniformity, which indicates that the display may have some difficulty achieving uniform backlighting–a finding supported by the Dark Screen test in which the Dell revealed a lot of backlight bleed-through along the bottom. We also noticed a slight color tracking error in the intensity and grayscale test. A color-tracking error occurs when the intensity of red, green, and blue colors do not adjust identically with signal-level changes, resulting in slight tints of color (usually red) where only gray should be seen. Otherwise, the Dell SP2309W peformed well, especially on the Low Saturation Colors and 64-256 Intensity Color Ramp tests, which look for noticeable compression or expansion at the dark and light ends of the scale. The SP2309W displayed one of the smoothest color ramps we’ve seen.

The Dell SP2309W posted a brightness score of 297 candelas per square meters (cd/m2) according to our test–right near the 300 cd/m2 maximum claimed by Dell. This beats the Dell S2409W’s 243cd/m2 brightness score, but the Dell Ultrasharp 2408WFP crushes that number with a 452 cd/m2 brightness rating. Our tested contrast ratio was lower than we expected coming in at 648:1, compared with the 2409WFP’s 891:1 and the S2409W’s 1,001:1. While its tested brightness and contrast ratio are relatively low, this did not translate into bad picture quality.

“World of Warcraft” on the Dell SP2309W looked crisp, colorful, and as darn near perfect as we’ve ever seen running at a 2,048×1,152-pixel resolution. “WoW” looks great on pretty much every monitor we test. Unfortunately, viewing the game from a lower-than-optimal viewing angle made the screen darken to the point that we couldn’t see graphic details of the game–typical of most TN panels and has nothing to do with the game’s performance.

The performance in the “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ DVD on the Dell SP2309W came very close to the quality of the stellar Apple LED Cinema Display we tested in December. The colors were vibrant and the blacks dark; however, the colors and black level on the Apple are fuller and deeper, respectively. We didn’t notice any streaking or ghosting and the screen remained sharp for a DVD.

The 1080p Blu-ray version of “House of Flying Daggers” looked great for the same reasons; however, we did not notice any quality advantage to the screen’s 16:9 aspect ratio.

We did determine, however, that the best setting for watching games and movies on the Dell SP2308W is the Standard preset mode with a contrast of 59, and the brightness set to whichever high setting your eyes can take. We settled on a 94.

The optimal viewing angle for a monitor is usually directly in front, about a quarter of the screen’s distance down from the top. At this angle, you’re viewing the colors and gamma correction as they were intended. Most monitors are not made to be viewed at any other angle. Depending on its panel type, picture quality at nonoptimal angles varies. Most monitors use TN panels, which get overly bright or overly dark in parts of the screen when viewed from nonoptimal angles. The Dell SP2309W uses a TN panel, and when they are viewed from the side angles, the screen appeared to only darken slightly. When viewed from the bottom the screen darkened immediately. Of course, when viewed from the optimal angle, we had no problems.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.