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Dell UltraSharp U2312HM, 23” Monitor Review

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AkG

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In a marketplace dominated by 24” monitors, 23” models are quickly becoming niche products reserved for people who know exactly what they need and how much they want to spend. The 23” Dell U2312HM hopes to give these buyers precisely what they want. On paper the U2312HM appears to be very similar to its larger brother the U2412M, which we reviewed not all that long ago. It combines a decent IPS panel with a full feature set, good power efficiency, and it offers all of this at a price even more appealing than that of the U2412M. This is the key to why 23” models have attained such a hardcore following.

Many budget-minded consumers consider the loss of a mere inch of diagonal screen real estate in return for a significantly lower MSRP a tradeoff worth making. As this minor reduction in viewing area usually allows buyers to opt for an IPS panel instead of a TN unit, anything lost in size is gained in quality. This can be a major deciding factor for movie fans, gamers, or would-be photographers who simply cannot afford a U2412M, U2412 or Asus ProArt. Indeed, with an asking price of just $239—the same as that of a moderately priced TN monitor—there is little reason not to opt for an IPS panel these days.

In the case of the UltraSharp U2312HM, what exactly do you gain and lose by opting for this model instead of a similarly priced TN model? Is it literally just a U2412M shrunk down to a smaller form factor, or is the only thing they have in common the UltraSharp name?

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


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spec2.jpg


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AkG

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A Closer Look at the Dell U2312HM

A Closer Look at the Dell U2312HM


Dell_U2312_front.jpg

Rather than jumping straight into the aesthetics of the Dell U2312HM, let’s first address the elephant in the room: its 16:9 format. Unlike any other IPS-based monitor we have reviewed, the U2312HM does not use a 16:10 aspect ratio but rather sports a 1080P 16:9 screen. Most serious professionals and computer enthusiasts prefer a 1920x1200 resolution over 1920x1080 as it usually means a sharper picture with a smaller dot pitch. In the case of the U2312HM, this is not an issue: it has exactly the same dot pitch as the U2412M, but you get 120 less vertical pixels, reducing the viewable image space.

For the same reason that some people opt for 27” displays instead of pricier 30” models, you may be willing to give up some vertical resolution to save almost a third of the cost. For many consumers—especially those already using 16:9 monitors—$239 is a lot easier to justify than $329. We may not be fans of the 16:9 form factor, but it’s hard to argue against cold hard cash savings.

Dell_U2312_back.jpg

Unless someone had told you beforehand that the U2312HM was priced like a “budget” TN monitor, you would be hard-pressed to ascertain this based solely upon its appearance or construction. The shape may be slightly different than that of its 24” sibling, but for all intents and purposes the U2312HM is a slightly smaller facsimile of the U2412M. It has the exact same black and silver color scheme and the same durable—if conservative—look about it.

The U2312HM is a bit chunky compared to most monitors in its price range, but this is largely due to the fact that the electronics inside IPS displays take up more room than their TN counterparts do. Nevertheless, the monitor’s footprint is relatively small, and its 23” form factor makes it easy enough to integrate into confined or cluttered spaces. You will have a hard time justifying a slim TN display from a footprint point of view, especially when you take into consideration that the slightly thicker dimensions will net you huge improvements in overall performance, color fidelity, and general usability.

Dell_U2312_side.jpg

A fringe benefit of the increased thickness is that unlike most TN monitors we have looked at recently, the U2312HM has room to accommodate side-mounted dual USB ports. Having USB connectivity on your monitor may not seem like such a big deal, but it can come in handy and suggests that Dell wants the U2312HM to be taken seriously in the professional market. Unfortunately, Dell does not include a card reader next to the USB ports and in order to gain this feature, you have to move two steps up the UltraSharp ladder to the U2410M. Considering the difference in price between this monitor and its more expensive brethren, the lack of a ten dollar USB 2.0 card reader is nothing to be overly concerned with.

Dell_U2312_stand_sm.jpg
Dell_U2312_stand2_sm.jpg

The stand that accompanies the U2312HM goes a long way in compensating for the lack of a card reader. For all intents and purposes, this stand is a slightly smaller replica of the one that comes with the U2412M. This means the U2312HM has an exceptional range of movement and is simply in a different league when compared to any other sub-$250 monitor we have looked at. To be precise, it offers 45° of center-axis swing, 25° of tilt (from +4 to -21) and 130mm of height adjustment, as well as landscape- to portrait-mode rotation.

spec5.jpg


While a robust stand is nice, the feature we most like to see on any professional oriented monitor is physical buttons and this monitor delivers. As with the U2412M and P2412H, the buttons are laid out in a logical and convenient manner, which makes setup and configuration a lot easier and may even make it the most user-friendly “budget” monitor we have reviewed to date.

Dell_U2312_ports.jpg


As you can see, the input options are very good for a monitor in its price class. They may not be as impressive as what the U2410M or Asus ProArt offer, but this isn’t really a fair comparison. In fact, the inputs on the U2312HM are identical to those of the U2412M: single DVI, DisplayPort, and VGA ports and another pair of USB 2.0 ports. HDMI is conspicuous by its absence, but that’s all that is missing.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations


Considering the reasonable asking price of the U2312HM, we were pleasantly surprised to find the exact same onscreen display employed by the rest of the UltraSharp lineup, making this particular OSD the best we have seen on a budget monitor, with only Asus able to come close.

menu_sm.jpg


If you have ever used an UltraSharp monitor, this OSD’s familiar layout and design will make setup and use a breeze. If this is your first UltraSharp experience, you should have no problem adapting to its slight eccentricities. Hitting the Menu button brings up four options (three if you exclude Exit) which act as a quick access menu list. This kind of layout is convenient since the most used options are available within a few simple clicks instead of navigating layer after layer of submenus. Every basic command—from input source selection to preset modes and brightness/contrast controls—can be accessed here.

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If more customization is needed, the third (aptly labeled) “Menu” brings you to the main menu, which is once again loaded with useful things.

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The layout of the main menu is for the most part easy to use and fairly intuitive and some of the more fine-grain tweaking abilities of U2312HM are buried in the submenus. If you want to adjust the monitor’s factory color profile, for instance, you will have to dig for the RGB color calibration submenu. This is found only under Preset Mode -> Custom Color. On the positive side, much like every Dell we have seen, each of the three main colors is individually adjustable, which makes tinkering to hit that perfect 100/100/100 calibration a fairly easy task. Unsurprisingly this TN monitor does not have six color-axis control but for its class, individual RGB correction still makes it above average.

Dell has also included a handy Energy Meter which tells you in real time what kind of effect your settings have on the display’s overall power consumption.

menu3.jpg


Unfortunately—just as with the U2412M—while there are indeed seven custom modes to choose from (one less than the P241HM we recently reviewed), not a single one offers precise gamma correction beyond PC (2.20) and Mac (1.80). Given the price point of the U2312HM, the missing gamma options are tolerable; this is especially true since the default gamma is actually close enough to perfect for all but the most demanding of users. In fact, if you need to have perfect color performance—and want to make sure it stays that way over the life of the monitor—the money saved on this model over its larger brethren can easily allow you to include a decent calibration device in your budget.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)

Image Quality (Uniformity / Gamma)



Calibrated Settings

Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment, and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode: Custom Color
Brightness: 6%

All other settings left at standard defaults.

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI.


When it comes to entry-level monitors—especially in the sub-$250 category—we usually need to adjust our expectations downwards, so it is refreshing when such a step is unnecessary. Having a budget monitor outshine some downright expensive displays is our White Buffalo: it happens so rarely that when it does it has to be cherished—and maybe even stuffed and mounted. No one expects a $239 monitor to act like a $350 or $400 one, yet that is exactly what you can expect from the U2312HM: high performance without the high price tag.

With a 379.45 cd/m2 measured maximum brightness, the LED backlight can get extremely bright. Even at its default of 75% this monitor is capable of lighting up a room like a floodlight. We strongly recommend adjusting the brightness down into single digit numbers on the OSD and we found that a mere 6% output was enough to produce our comfortable gold standard of 120cd/m2. This really is the rare display that can impress budget-minded and “green” consumers, as well as professionals who demand high performance.


Panel Uniformity


In a perfect world, a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard, but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.

uniform.jpg


If the U2312HM has one major weakness, it is its highly spotty panel uniformity. When compared against the 24” models, these results are poor. But when you consider that this is a smaller screen, these results go from merely bad to downright ugly since the variation is spread across such a limited amount of space. Hopefully, this is only an aberration with our particular sample and not a systemic issue with this line.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed, which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail, or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection, however, will be noticed by just about everyone.


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We doubt anyone would notice the difference between the default value of 2.16 and a 2.20 corrected value. It is always nice when out-of-the box performance is good enough to satisfy most consumers. If you feel the need for perfection, adjusting the gamma within Windows is a fairly simple fix that should not require the use of an expensive colorimeter.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see,” the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufacturers (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described. While various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel that won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.


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As befits an IPS panel—even a 6-bit one- the U2312HM has an impressive color gamut that can easily reach all three corners of the sRGB spectrum. This is a perfect example of one of the biggest reasons to opt for IPS technology over TN, as you can never have too wide a color gamut. Once again the U2312HM offers performance that is significantly better than what we would expect in its price category.


Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED-backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green, and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image. So the closer to each of these colors is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.


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It is unfortunate that the default Blue level is so far off base, as both the Red and Green default values are quite decent. In all likelihood, this major blue downshift is a result of the LED backlighting—so-called “white-LED” be damned.

Excessive Blue level is a common issue with LED monitors but this one is a bit different since the lack of blue results in an overly warm picture. However it is still very easy to fix. More importantly we have yet to see any monitor in this price range boast out of box values that are good enough to eliminate the need for tweaking. In fact, with very few exceptions, even when you remove cost from the equation altogether, the number of monitors that don't require color correction can be counted on one hand. Given this fact, the lack of factory calibration on the U2312HM is more of an annoyance than anything worth worrying about.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Maximum Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is that this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.


ang_pic.jpg


When it’s up against any monitor we’ve reviewed in this price range, there really is no comparison: the U2312HM is in a different league. To makes things interesting, we have to compare it against higher-priced IPS monitors, and even then the U2312HM holds its own. While it may not have the widest viewing angles we have ever seen, these results are very good and are basically what you would get from a U2412M: good but not amazing (for IPS).

Viewed from both off-vertical and off-horizontal positions, the lack of panel uniformity does not seem to hinder the overall performance. At wide angles the picture does suffer slightly, but the resulting image is still reasonable, and it is only at extremes that the difference in quality is all that noticeable.

This monitor is more tolerant of off- vertical viewing than off-horizontal. We noticed a shift in contrast and color (i.e. a washing out of the image) a lot sooner from extreme right or left angles than we did looking at the screen from above or below.


Maximum Contrast Ratio


While manufacturers love to throw around “maximum” contrast ratios in the millions, the fact of the matter is that to get these high numbers they have to use "dynamic contrast" which—at best—results in overly optimistic specs. With DC turned off, the number of shades between purest white and blackest black a given monitor can display is usually in the low hundreds rather than the thousands.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better the monitor will display shades of dark and light. For IPS monitors, anything below 450:1 is unacceptable, with 500:1 or above considered optimal. For TN anything above 120:1 will be considered “good enough” for most consumers.


contrast.jpg


The contrast ratio is not overly stellar when compared against much more expensive IPS panels, but the U2312HM still posts respectable results. In fact, these results are light years ahead of what you would normally find in this price range. Entry level e-IPS or not, the U2312HM is still an IPS-based panel that is priced like an entry level TN panel.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.

power.jpg


Thanks to its LED backlight, the U2312HM is amazingly power efficient. Since we had to turn the brightness levels nearly to the lowest setting, the low calibrated power consumption results were expected. However, considering how bright this panel is when set to full intensity, a maximum power draw of only 34 watts is impressive.

We doubt many people will want to use this monitor when it’s cranked to its painfully bright maximum, but you could do it, and the U2312 would still consume less power than most IPS monitors we have looked at.
 
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AkG

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Gaming Performance / Movie Performance

Gaming Performance


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Pre-calibration​

g_correct.jpg

Post-calibration​

While the gamma is slightly off, this does not noticeably impact the overall picture quality of the U2312HM. However, what is noticeable is the poor default color profile. It may be a “warm” color setup at least (which is interesting considering the blue shift our test equipment picked up), but we do not recommend using the out-of-the-box settings as colors look incorrect at best and god-awful at worst. Even if you don’t take image quality too seriously when you game, you will want to take the few moments to fix it. Luckily, this is easily done.

g1.jpg


When corrected, the U2312HM acts much like any entry-level IPS panel sold today: it provides a crisp, clear and extremely enjoyable picture. From a gaming perspective, this UltraSharp just doesn’t behave like a cheap monitor. It may indeed be slightly smaller than any other IPS display we have reviewed to date, but the loss of one diagonal inch and a 120-pixel vertical row is really not a big deal. The reduction in size isn’t great enough to be all that noticeable in games, many of which are designed with a 16:9 aspect ratio in mind anyway.

g2.jpg


In gaming scenarios, we found this panel to be just as good as its bigger brother the U2412M. In fact, we slightly prefer it. Both have the same published response rate, but if we had to decide which one was better, our initial impression would be that the panel used in the U2312HM is actually the faster of the two. In both cases the amount of image blurring / ghosting is only moderate and you will probably only notice it if you’re looking for it, but it does stand out from time to time.

While we still would not recommend the U2312HM for hardcore gamers, for most consumers its minor to moderate ghosting is more than made up for by the massive increase in image quality. Unless your games really accentuate this issue, you will be focusing most of your attention upon the stunning picture the display creates rather than noticing the occasional hiccup.




Movie Performance


m_uncorrect.jpg

Pre-calibration​

m_correct.jpg

Post-calibration​

Although this monitor is more frugally priced than most IPS displays, the default color profile is nevertheless suboptimal. We have come to expect abysmal default color profiles from budget-priced monitors, but it is still irksome to see a great panel hobbled in such an easily avoidable way. As we keep mentioning, this is an easy oversight to correct, but it’s an oversight that should have never happened.

m1.jpg


After a few moments have been taken to apply the necessary corrections, the color palette is as impressive for movie viewing as it is for gaming and general use. IPS monitors excel in this area, and the U2312HM is no exception.

Since the U2312HM has slower response times than many TN panels, you may lose a touch of overall image quality to ghosting in fast action sequences—but IPS panels have IQ to burn. The post-calibration image is well above average and easily a match for the U2412M. Furthermore, since most high-def video is shot in 16:9 or wider, this monitor’s 1080p resolution is actually an advantage if you’re going to be watching a lot of movies on your PC.

m3.jpg


That being said, the overall image quality is not anywhere close to what a Dell U2410M or Asus ProArt pump out. However, for as less than half of the cost, you more than get your money’s worth. In fact, the more we use and test this monitor, the more we can’t believe the asking price.
 
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AkG

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Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results

Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results


In a perfect world every monitor would come factory calibrated to perfection, or every single consumer would own a decent colorimeter. We don’t live in such a world, and as such most consumers simply use the old Mark 1 Eyeball to fix any imperfections in the stock colors of their new monitor.

In order to gauge how easy this is to do for a given monitor, we have included a new set of tests. These tests will be carried out before any of our standard tests and will consist of us using a combination of the free online LCD Monitor Test Images (found here LCD monitor test images) and then if necessary the free Hex2Bit Monitor Calibration Wizard (found here Hex2Bit - Software by Mike Walters). The goal of these tests is to not only gauge how easy it is to accurately calibrate a given monitor using only the onboard monitor tools, but to see how closely we can come to what a Spyder3 Elite can do.



To obtain these results we did the following
- used “Custom Color” color mode
- ensured dynamic contrast was off
- lowered the brightness to 7 (which resulted in a 122.5 cd/m2)
- lowered Red to 85
- lowered Green to 87
- lowered Blue to 95
- adjusted Windows gamma setting to correct for gamma
- left all other settings at default levels

rgb_man.jpg


gamma_man.jpg

As the out of box gamma setting was so close to perfect, it really didn’t need to be tweaked—but we tweaked it anyways. This may have added an extra minute to the overall setup time, but the easy-to-use onscreen display coupled with those handy physical buttons means you can have your U2312HM set up in no time flat. Better still, you can do this without needing to resort to a colorimeter.

Once again this budget monitor simply does not act, look, or feel like an inexpensive product. From a setup and calibration point of view, there really is no difference between this reasonably priced unit and the U2412M. When compared against others in (and above) its price range, the U2312HM is a match for anything we have tested to date. It certainly lacks some of the more advanced features found on an Asus ProArt IPS display, but most consumers will have a hard time justifying the large increase in price in order to get a few extra features.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


In a market that’s riddled with cheap, low quality, yet budget friendly displays, we had almost given up trying to find a combination of price and performance in the sub-$300 price bracket. The U2312M however has proven to be an eye opener and it shatters the bar set by almost every one of its competitors.

The reason we like this monitor so much can be expressed in a commonsense equation: great performance + low price = great value. Why? Because the U2312M may be affordable but it just doesn’t feel like a frugal solution. It is as if the engineers forgot they had to make a “cheap” display and instead made a reasonably priced high-performance one instead.

Dell accomplished this feat by simply using an IPS panel with slightly smaller dimensions instead of a larger but lower quality TN panel. This means that while the U2312HM may not be all that expensive, it is not a cheap monitor per se. Rather, it’s just a good monitor that doesn’t cost as much as you would think it should. This is not to say that there aren’t better monitors out there—since there are—but ones that are this good, this easy to use, this power efficient, and this reasonably priced are few and far between.

It says a lot that the U2312HM is able to go toe-to-toe with its bigger, more expensive brother the U2412M, with the latter not having a clear edge over the former in anything but overall resolution. When compared against its direct competition, the U2312HM is simply in a different league and many TN-based monitors are now going to have a much harder time justifying their existence.

Unless you absolutely, positively need 24 inches of real estate, a high performance gaming monitor, or 16:10 / 1920x1200 resolution, the U2312HM deserves a long, hard look. Was it flawless? No but the issues didn’t really extend beyond the default color profile.

For its combination of excellent performance, efficiency, and ease of use, as well as a surprisingly anemic asking price, we enthusiastically award the Dell U2312HM our Dam Good Value award. It may not be perfect, but it is as close to perfection as we have seen a budget-priced monitor come in a long while.


Pros:

- Very reasonable price
- Very power efficient
- Great stand
- Good (if somewhat quirky) OSD
- Easy setup
- Physical buttons
- Decent selection of input options
- Integrated USB ports


Cons:

- Less-than-optimal default color profile
- Less-than-perfect viewing angles for an IPS monitor
- May be overlooked as it is “only” a 23” 1080P display

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