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Dell P2720D review

Contents

Pre-premise

When I rediscovered this review on 27th December 2023, it was showing as started on the 11th November 2020 and last modified on the 22nd, having started using it on the 1st. Having been using this display for three years, I decided to post it with minimal revisions. After all, display technology barely changed between 2012 and 2020 and it seems to have changed little since then either. Changes of opinion and other important deviations since the November 2020 draft are highlighted; changes to spelling, punctuation and wording are not.

Premise

Back in 2008, I purchased my first ever flat screen monitor, an LG L2000CP 20.1″ S-IPS display, providing 1600×1200 resolution at 60 Hz. Although much has been said (and sometimes continues to be said) about the superiority of CRT displays over TFT LCD, these claims only hold up with good quality products in prime condition. Having never had a brand new CRT, I cannot speak for new examples, but examples with a few years of life on them were never particularly good. Even my Mitsubishi Diamond Pro required considerable time adjusting the image shape; those with many years of experience with computers will remember the names of the various adjustments, including width, height, rotation, keystone, parallelogram, pincushion and so forth. With a multisync monitor, all of these had to be extensively retuned for every single screen resolution. The end result was generally a picture that had almost-but-not-entirely straight and perpendicular sides. The image was often in poor focus with weak colour. I threw out one CTX monitor after it become so dim and fuzzy that it was becoming too difficult to read.

To make matters worse, I am sensitive to refresh flicker at 60 Hz. To make the flicker completely imperceptible, I need a refresh rate of 75 Hz, and due to the limitations of the beam scanning hardware, you could find yourself limited: you could choose the highest resolution it could handle, or 75 Hz refresh rate, but not both. I think I ran my Macintosh at 1280×960 instead of 1280×1024 because the latter was not possible at 75 Hz.

Older LCD panels such as Dell’s exemplary E175fp from 2005 (1280×1024 in 17″) provided superior viewing angle for TN and excellent colour, but had only a 12 ms response time. This was not terrible—a far cry from the old monochrome laptop screens of the early 90s—but very noticeable. (I am fairly sure I had an E175fp but there is a non-zero possibility that it was the slightly later E176fp. The former is the older dark grey bezel and the latter is the later black bezel that I think had an inferior LCD panel. In any case, later models of Dell TN monitors were all inferior, decreasing in quality year upon year.)

I originally ordered myself two Samsung TN 17″ 1280×1024 displays in 2008 (one for the “new” PC and one for the Mac). I avoided this embarrassing mistake: I was notified that they had gone out of stock, giving me the opportunity to cancel the order to have a rethink. I discovered that there was far better product on the market: LG’s L2000CP. This brought with it an IPS panel, which promised to prevent the viewing angle limitations of TN. It also offered a much more generous 1600×1200 resolution, one that I have held as a benchmark since. (I bought a 17″ LG TN panel for the Mac.) The screen was cold-cathode backlit using six tubes, in groups of three on either side of the backlight panel. The LG.display LM201U05 S-IPS panel is rated at 8 ms GTG. The same LG.display panel was also found in the Dell 2007FP (used alongside Samsung S-PVA in the panel lottery) and the HP LP2065 (used alongside AU Optronics AMVA). Of the three, the HP model is probably the best, but LG provided a solid offering in their reference model. Both the HP and LG models suffered from rolling band interference when connected via VGA, and both were susceptible to glitches from DVI signal corruption, which with the HP model (of which I have two on my desk at work Had: since replaced with dual Dell 24″ 1920×1200 IPS) could be extreme, with the entire picture jumping several inches sideways or momentarily disappearing entirely.

The generation of IPS used in the LG.display LM201U05 panel did have other limitations. It was prone to afterimages, being a kind of temporary burn-in that would show after the screen contents had remained unchanged for too long. These were fairly faint and would soon fade, but could easily frustrate users in the same way that some people cannot tolerate the securing wires in aperture grille monitors (which never bothered me with my Diamond Pro before it met its untimely demise in 2004 from an unsupported resolution). I was warned in advance of this limitation of IPS and expected it, and paid it little heed.

The 8 ms response time was a whole two-thirds of the 12 ms of the Dell monitor at work, but in practice the response time was for the most part 0 ms. Certain conditions, such as scrolling a pattern of alternating pixel colour, would show up the inherent limitations of LCD, but otherwise the response time was far better than advertised. The CCFL backlight provided a perfect white, and the colours were so much more vivid than on my CRT that they seemed to be saturated to an impossible level. A Russian review claimed that the digital input was defective on that model, but eventually I switched from VGA to DVI-I, which cleared up the rolling bands problem and showed up no new problems.

Viewing angle was good. Dark shades would glow purple or orange off-angle, but in general the viewing angle limitations more than made up for the all-round drastic superiority over CRT. Backlight bleed, a limitation of all LCD panels, was inevitable, and not a huge problem. Panel uniformity of colour and backlight was completely even.

The L2000CP was not perfect, but it was one of the best monitors on the market at the time, and one that was seemingly overlooked by most. The only knock against LG would be the two small grey patches inside the panel. In most cases these were unnoticeable, but they could be frustrating when cleaning up a picture in Photoshop as you could be fooled into trying to paint them out. There were no long-term stuck or dead pixels, although one did go bad for a while before recovering.

Replacement

Ever since I moved into the multisync world in 1994, I have always tried to get the best resolution that I could, to have the most working space. After using the LG 2000CP for twelve years, it was clear that I needed more working space. Each new major update to Inkscape reduced the amount of available workspace due to dialog bloat, and working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been frustrating due to being reduced from dual 1600×1200 at work, to single 1600×1200 at home (for what I do at home, one monitor has been largely sufficient, and a second 1600×1200 would be hard to find in reasonable condition).

Due to my use of legacy software, my only scaling options are 100% and 200%, as anything in between leads to unacceptable blurring. 200% scale Hi-DPI is absurdly expensive and rare, and thus dream of having a high DPI display is ruled out completely. Although my site graphics are all converted to SVG, and all my thumbnails are uploaded at 150 DPI or better, my only choice is a screen that can be run at 100% scale. While I was finally willing to consider widescreen, I would not sacrifice my treasured 1200 pixels of screen height, so that narrowed the options again. This led to two choices: dual 1920×1200 (with the risk of Windows rearranging my desktop due to absurdities in the way screens are handled) or 2560×1440. I wanted to avoid the farce with how Inkscape handles dialogs on dual screen setups, and 1920×1200 would still limit my Inkscape workspace more than I would like. This left 2560×1440 (“QHD” or “WQHD”) as the only choice. Available in multiple sizes, at 27″ the pixel density would not be too small when run at 100% scale.

Since I was replacing my 8-year-old Dell OptiPlex 9010 PC at the same time (a very solid and dependable computer that still works perfectly), I chose to buy the computer, monitor and video card all from Dell. (The Samsung SSD had to be ordered separately, as I wanted a much higher-spec SSD than Dell cater for in their OptiPlex range.) This led me to the P2720D, as it was priced within a range I considered practical. The retail price in the UK from Dell directly was £238 excluding VAT; £297 would instead get you their UltraSharp U2719D, which did not seem to offer anything of interest to justify the extra expense.

Expectation

So, what does twelve years of technology improvement bring to a desktop computer monitor? OLED remains around the corner, never quite making it to the desktop. TFT Central’s article OLED Displays and the Monitor Market from June 2020 shows that OLED still fails to live up to the expectations that I have held for so long. I first read about “light-emitting polymer” (LEP) displays being developed in a laboratory in Cambridge (in England, not Massachusetts) in a computer magazine in the school library somewhere around 1995; the article carried a small photograph of Wallace and Grommit displayed on a monochrome panel. LEP was five years away at the time. We did not see LEP or OLED monitors in 2000, nor do we see them another twenty years later.

TFT LCD is not going anywhere, but the technology is improving, or so we are led to believe. The patchy orange and black off-angle glow in older S-IPS displays is a thing of the past, replaced instead by a more consistent white glow. The after-image problem is long gone too.

CCFL backlights not only dimmed with age, but faded to an ever increasingly yellow hue. LED backlights tend to be an unpleasant blue-white shade, but they should only fade with time and not discolour, although the blue-to-white phosphors inside the LEDs that convert from monochromatic LED output to full spectrum white, could still fade in a similar manner or worse. (By the time the L2000CP died after around 13 years’ use, the backlight was still bright and pure white; replacement of whatever component inside failed could have given it a considerable life extension. Conversely, the two HP LP2065 panels developed unpleasant backlight colouration early on in life and I was glad to finally replace those displays.)

Improvements that have come along since include higher refresh rates, but 60 Hz is sufficient for me. I would expect after this much time that IPS response rates—which have always trailed those of TN panels—would have dropped further, and I would expect a perfectly uniform backlight, and significantly lower backlight bleed. Effectively, the years that have passed should have brought all-round refinements to technology that was already good to begin with.

Review

My first observation with the P2720D is that the the surface texture of the display is a compromise between matte and gloss. There is not the paper-like texture of the L2000CP, yet neither is it a gloss screen. Both models claim to have an anti-glare coating with 3H hardness, but the difference is quite distinct, and the P2720D coating is much less glare-resistant. Objects such as the window frame in the background can be made out clearly on a bright day, although I cannot see my own face in the reflection. The advantage of a gloss surface is sharpness, at a cost of impeded viewing quality. Around the time that I bought my L2000CP, a friend bought an NEC widescreen display with a gloss finish. His screen was a newer IPS generation with a gentle white glow off-angle on dark shades. The gloss surface brought out more richness in colour shades and improved the sharpness, but the surface reflection was so bad that I could often only see half of the display, with the other side completely lost in glare. I was not sure what to make of the rough paper-like texture of the L2000CP, but I appreciated how tremendously glare-resistant it was.

The P2720D does suffer much worse with glare than the L2000CP, although being autumn as I write this, the outdoor sunshine levels are not at their annual peak and it is broadly tolerable. Come the summer, it may become a serious problem when sat next to a south-facing window. Another consideration is that the extra size plus the widescreen aspect means that glare that would be off the side is now visible.

The advertised response time of P2720D is 8 ms GTG in normal mode, and 5 ms GTG in fast mode. This disappointed me, as by numbers alone, IPS has not seen any improvement in all this time, despite becoming increasingly prevalent. In 2008, IPS was rare, and now it is much more common. However, I reasoned that since I am perfectly happy with an 8 ms response time, it is of no particular concern that the industry is stagnant in this respect.

In reality, P2720D’s 8 ms response time is actually worse than the L2000CP’s 8 ms. Blurring of window contents while dragging some windows or when scrolling a window slowly is more noticeable than before. This is a real disappointment, as it shows that the technology has regressed. In fast mode, the overdrive is truly horrendous. The pixels are driven so hard that the show a trail of pixels considerably brighter than white. Even at 100% brightness you get whiter-than-white trails. Only with the contrast at maximum do you get relief from it, but by this point the brightness level is far beyond a comfortable intensity. The fast mode is completely unusable and totally unfit for purpose. In practice, the standard mode 8 ms response time is generally fine, although the pathological case of scrolling a pixel-level chequer pattern is still dreadfully apparent.

Panel uniformity is a difficult one to gauge. My experience with monitors is very limited, having used almost exclusively LG.display LM201U05–based panels for years. The larger a screen gets, the more you are going to hit against the limitations of LCD, even with IPS, but the limitations of P2720D seem a little excessive even for 27″. The far left and far right sides of the picture are dimmer than the rest of the screen when viewed centrally; for reference, as I write this, I am around 67 cm away from the screen itself. This is not a serious problem, merely a disappointment. Whether this is a limitation of the size, or of excessive thinness of the overall unit, I cannot say.

The backlight hue does not always appear even, with the left side tending towards yellow, and the right side towards blue, although this seems to vary, and it is hard to get a handle on it. This seems to be inherent in the panel and not the viewing angle, as improvement seems marginal if you move your head to one side or the other. This is not only unsightly, but makes tuning the white balance awkward. This variation is subtle, enough to be a nuisance without being able to get a handle on what is actually wrong.

Over time, the non-uniformity of colour and intensity becomes unnoticeable. I guess it’s one of those things where you would notice it more if you bought a new screen with perfect uniformity.

The advertised contrast ratio is 1000:1, up from 800:1 of the L2000CP. Unlike with advertised response rates, we do have on paper a small improvement. However, backlight bleed seems to be worse, not better. With the height set with the top of the screen roughly at eye level (per ergonomic practice, and simply because it feels better not to be looking upwards at the screen) a full-screen Command Prompt window shows a clear grey glow in the lower left of the screen, and a paler and more yellowish glow at the bottom right. Moving your head so that your eyes are level with the bottom of the screen removes this problem but leaves the top of the screen noticeably darker. It is impossible to speculate how the L2000CP backlight would have extended out another seven inches or to a much greater width, but it is quite clear that, with the P2720D at least, there is little or no advancement in LCD technology where backlighting is concerned. VA panels offer lower backlight bleed, and from experience AMVA has superb colour (as seen in the Formac Gallery 1900), so possibly an AMVA panel would have been a better choice; AMVA 2560×1440 does also exist.

P2720D does not offer traditional colour temperatures. Instead, you have named presets: standard (which is excessively yellow), movie (a dull blue-grey with excessive sharpness), game (the same excessive yellow shade as the standard preset), warm (a dull orange-grey), cool (the same dull blue-grey as movie without the over-sharpened image) and ComfortView (a putrid dull yellow-green). The presets on the L2000CP made more sense: text mode maximised contrast at the complete expense of colour accuracy, and movie mode enhanced the contrast for watching video. None of the P2720D presets seem to be of any use, all of them having some manner of obnoxious colour cast. The L2000CP movie mode simply optimised the contrast for viewing pleasure (including lowering the backlight bleed and increasing colour saturation) without changing the colour; for some reason Dell figure that for movies we need exaggerated image sharpness and a blue colour cast.

Being autumn in Britain, and working from home, I have to contend with a considerable variation in ambient conditions during a working day, starting with low external light only, through to alternating low sunlight and overcast sky, to finally a mixture of indoor and outdoor illumination and then indoor illumination only. My indoor light source is a strange contraption: externally it is identical to a compact fluorescent lamp, but somehow it is LED-based. The temperature is around 6500 K, rather too cold. (When shut off, it will periodically flash dimly, for hours on end.) The confusing and endlessly-changing ambient colour and light levels mean that I genuinely have no idea to what extent the colour of the L2000CP has shifted over its twelve years of life. Earlier in the year I did finally boost the brightness and adjust the colour balance towards blue, and during the day it does often give a pure white tone.

(The L2000CP backlight may have shifted, but it still put out a lovely white light when it finally died. For room lighting, after a lot of trial and error I opted for 5000 K 2000 lumens, sticking with a single GLS LED bulb in the overhead fitting. It’s a compromise that I have come to find acceptable.) As far as calibration goes, I ended up buying a Spider, and found that their software was useless, calibrating the screen to a dull red colour. Datacolor support were disinterested and useless. Even with the third-party DisplayCAL calibrator and profile loader and a 7500 K profile, I ended up making further adjustments manually via the monitor’s own controls. I have no idea what I ended up with.

I was fearing that the P2720D would come with the typical blue-white colour cast of LED-backlit TFT, but I was hoping that out of the box I would get a nice pure white. Instead, the default colour is excessively yellow or red, and too high in contrast. I have tried three separate ways to tune the colour: the monitor’s in-built colour balance, Windows colour calibration, and the NVIDIA Control Panel. The Windows method offers actual calibration, but offers no means to revisit an existing calibration to make refinements as light conditions change. The NVIDIA Control Panel allows repeated adjustments and more control (such as global or per-channel gamma) but it was just not working out. Finally, I have reverted to the monitor’s adjustment, reducing the contrast and increasing the brightness to boost darker shades. Getting white to appear white is an endless exercise in frustration, which could have been avoided if the screen had been designed to show white as white, like you had in the days of CCFL backlighting. CCFL had the drawbacks of considerable heat output and much higher power consumption, but at least you could rely on it to deliver correct colour.

Curiously, despite using LED backlighting, the colour saturation seems higher than that of the L2000CP. This is not an improvement either, as the saturation seems excessive. However, it is not a particular concern.

Red is actually less saturated on not only this display but also the 27″ 1920×1200 Dell displays at work. A while back I chose a 24″ 1920×1080 HP IPS monitor for my father’s HP computer and while it lacks Dell’s superior aesthetics, the backlight is a perfect pure white, correct out of the box. One of the Dell displays at work had a terrible colour cast in every preset except Custom … Makes one wonder if HP is the better choice of the two, even if their computers are poorly-designed.

The power light can be set to switch off when the monitor is in use, just as with the L2000CP. However, the fact that the light is dimmer and faces downwards makes this feature a little dubious, compared to the bright cyan LED on the L2000CP. The downward-facing power light is in itself rather strange.

The left-most button of the monitor is defective: it regularly fails to click when pressed, so you cannot feel or hear whether you successfully pressed it. It will sometimes also actuate twice. This raises a concern about whether this button will remain functional over the product lifetime. In theory, I would never use any of the buttons for anything, but they are needed as part of the process of trying to tune the colour.

Alternative options

Would the extra money for the U2719D have been a better spend? Visually it looks almost identical to the P2720D. One difference is that it has a much thinner bottom frame and consistent edging around the LCD panel, which would reduce the occasional confusion where it looks like the picture on the P2720D is not reaching the edge. The back of the screen is a bright silver colour, but that is immaterial to the operator, and immaterial entirely when the unit is placed up against a wall!

How the factory colour calibration fits in with the backlight colour, is not something Dell indicate. Factory colour calibration would suggest that white pixels delivered by the computer should appear pure white in tone, not the hideous blue-white of many LED-backlit displays, or the unsightly reddish hue of the P2720D.

Other questions include whether the U2719D build quality is better, and whether it offers a more professional anti-glare coating to the P2720D.

These are questions that I cannot answer, but are worth considering before making a purchase.

As noted above, I have to also contend that an AMVA panel would have made a better choice. AMVA should bring both faster response times, and better black level. VA panels do have inferior viewing angle to IPS, something that may be more problematic in the 27–32″ range of sizes.

Conclusion

Is the P2720D terrible? No. However, it does seem that improvement in technology has slowed or stalled. For example, the single-thread Passmark score of my new Intel Core i7-10700 CPU—while pretty much the highest available—is still only 50% higher than my i7-3770 from eight years ago, at 2927 compared to 2069. (Inkscape remains steadfastly single-core outside of filters, and Tracker have consistently resisted all my requests for years to make use of multi-threading in PDF-XChange Editor, although version 9 will restore the multi-thread support that used to exist and broke. Hence, single-thread performance was my target, not the score across all cores.)

Dell’s P2720D likewise is just not where I expected displays to be after so many years, the longest time that I have ever retained any piece of kit in active use. (My Filco Majestouch keyboard will overtake it in a couple of years.) I didn’t keep the L2000CP because I was too cheap to replace it. I kept it because of a distaste for widescreen, and because it truly is a superb monitor. It’s still in great condition and still perfectly usable; I just needed more workspace than it offered.

I had a number of concerns about how I would cope with it. I feared that, as someone who habitually works maximised, that 2560×1440 would be impossible to manage. I feared that I would suffer the bug where Windows loses track of your screen resolution when the monitor is powered off or sleeps. Never for a moment did I consider that overdrive would be broken, that one of the buttons would be defective, that they would compromise on the anti-glare coating, or that the viewing angle would not hold up to the screen size following so many enhancements to IPS. Windows does play the disconnect noise when the screen is powered off but does not lose my desktop dimensions, and 2560×1440 is far easier to live with than I expected.

I have truly no idea how the P2720D stands against the competition. I simply offer some caution that we have not yet reached an age where you can buy a higher-tier monitor from a reasonably reputable manufacturer and expect them to have even got the basics right. Choose wisely.

4 out of 5 stars