Dell's UltraSharp 2408WFP: A tale of woe


— 10:33 AM on April 26, 2008

The story begins one lovely spring day, with me deciding to invest in a bigger display to freshen up my aging ViewSonic vx2025wm and LG L1730B dual-monitor setup. I could definitely use the extra screen real estate, I told myself, and a display with richer connectivity options would finally allow me to purchase and use a Nintendo Wii. (Yes, I'm one of those hippies who doesn't own a television.) What better display to purchase than one of Dell's latest and greatest high-end UltraSharp offerings, praised so highly by so many in the enthusiast community?

After some research and a look at several very positive reviews (as well as some less positive but still encouraging user reviews), I bit the bullet and ordered an UltraSharp 2408WFP—the crown jewel of Dell's 24" monitor series and one of the only newer Dell displays without a low-quality TN panel. The monitor was on sale for €641, down from its regular price of €801, and Dell's zero-bright-pixel guarantee made it doubly tantalizing. I was thrilled.

I received the monitor on Wednesday. After barely two days of use, I called Dell and asked for a full refund. The display is sitting in its cardboard box as I write this, and UPS is coming to pick it up on Monday.

What went wrong? Initially, I was pretty pleased with my purchase. No dead pixels, stunning brightness, a very solid and good-looking external design (I'm a fan of the V-shaped metallic stand), and an apparently splendid picture. I say "apparently" because little problems quickly started piling up in that area. First, there was the display's input lag. I had read about it in forum threads and thought people were exaggerating, but it turned out they weren't. Moving the mouse around the monitor felt a little laggy, like I was using a cheap wireless mouse. The same happened when I typed quickly—characters took longer than usual to appear on the screen, which was a little unsettling. Determined not to let that little quirk ruin the experience, I shrugged it off and tried to get used to it.

Then, I began to notice other problems. The image was excessively sharp, which made text look aliased and turned ClearType's normally subtle sub-pixel hinting into colored blotches around some characters. Attempting to set the sharpness in the OSD gave me two options: 50%—the default—and 25%—far too blurry. I also noticed that the left half of the display was somehow brighter and redder than the right half. Displaying a dark grey image, the entire left third of the picture looked completely washed out, and on a white image, the same area looked slightly pink. This wasn't typical backlight bleeding, because it didn't show up at all on a completely black image. That issue became bothersome in everything from web browsing to gaming, but like the excessive sharpness and lag, I thought I'd forget about it eventually. After all, no display is entirely perfect, right?

Unfortunately, the problems just kept on coming. A few hours later, I became frustrated with the display's color rendering. The default "Desktop" preset just looked awful, with bluish whites and hideously oversaturated colors. Moving to the "sRGB" preset turned the saturation too far down, so browns and blues looked grey-ish. My next step was to customize the red, green, and blue settings myself, and I actually came up with something half-way decent. However, colors were still oversaturated, no matter how much I played with the contrast and color settings. I thought the over-saturation might be a subjective side-effect of using older monitors for so long, but skin tones in photos looked overly flushed, greens in pictures of vegetation looked almost fluorescent, and reds felt like they were searing off my retinas.

While fighting with the OSD to fix the saturation problems, I came across yet another problem (no, really). At certain brightness levels, the display hums. Loudly. The hum gets loudest around the 40% setting, and you have to turn up the brightness to around 60% to completely get rid of it. I make a point to keep my PC as quiet as possible, so having a display actually generate more noise is frustrating, to say the least.

Putting all the annoying issues together, I eventually had to admit that this monitor was no good and return it. Before calling Dell, I hit a few Internet forums, including Dell's own support message board, to see if other users were as unlucky as I. With dismay, I learned that they indeed were—the input lag, pink tinge, washout, and over-saturated colors seemed standard fare, and I saw multiple reports of users returning one monitor and getting another one with the exact same problems. Clearly, either this display has some serious design flaws, or it has very widespread quality control issues.

Those issues are so widespread that one Dell forum moderator actually advised a user to wait for the A01 revision of the 2408WFP to come out before returning his monitor. I contemplated doing the same, but €641 is a lot to pay for the privilege of effectively beta-testing an immature product. I could also invest in calibration equipment to fix the color issues, but come on—I shouldn't have to purchase yet another piece of equipment to make an expensive display usable. My 20.1" Viewsonic vx2025wm looked just right out of the box, and it cost around €400 two years ago. In fact, aside from the notably darker picture, it still seems to have better overall image quality than the Dell.

All in all, this experience has left me quite disillusioned. Dell monitors are supposed to be the among the best in the consumer market, and everything about this particular model was excellent—reviews on major sites, the warranty, the build quality, the connectivity, and the little extras like the USB hub and SD/CF card reader. Yet the panel looked so obviously sub-par to me that I'm left to wonder just what happened in Dell's quality control labs and what product those professional reviewers actually got.

Even more disappointing is the fact that I now don't know where to look for a good 24" display. BenQ's FP241W seems to have solid street cred, but it's expensive, and BenQ seems to be discontinuing it. Samsung's SyncMaster 245T also gets rave reviews, but it costs well over €800 here, and I've seen reports that suggest it has the same panel as the 2408WFP. Besides, neither of those manufacturers offer the same warranty as Dell with respect to stuck pixels. I may simply end up waiting for the A01 and A02 revision of the 2408WFP and checking forums to see if Dell irons out the issues, but I'm wary of getting another substandard product.

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