Software Compatibility, Wrap Up: Buy Now or Wait?

Software Compatibility and Content

Since DPI scaling is a practical necessity, applications need to take advantage of it. Thankfully, many software titles act, look and scale well enough but there are certainly those which do not.

Microsoft’s own applications generally fared well under Windows 8’s DPI scaling: all areas of Windows 8 (e.g. command prompt, Wordpad, Calculator, Mail, Windows Explorer) as well as Internet Explorer 11 and Microsoft Office 2010 exhibited sharply rendered and proportionately-sized UI elements. Additionally, they produced appropriate font sizes and operated expectedly.

Windows 7 fared nearly as well. Windows 8 was a bit more consistent overall, but many of Windows 7’s built-in features and UI scaled fine. Some applications, like Evernote, WinRAR and LibreOffice (not OpenOffice though) also looked clean and sharp. Graphical elements (e.g. icons, buttons, tabs) in Firefox and Paint.net’s interfaces were blurry, but their text-based elements were crisp and well proportioned.

Software which handled DPI scaling flawlessly were hard to find, but the vast majority of software out there is perfectly usable. Blurrily upscaled menus, icons, themes and text were almost ubiquitous problems. Affected programs include Google Chrome, Opera, Picasa, iTunes, Steam, Irfanview, OpenOffice, Adobe Reader and Trillian... just to name a few.

The worst offenders though didn’t fully respect Windows’ DPI scaling, leaving users with more problems than just icky text and graphics. Some of these issues included miniscule text (Postbox, Adobe CS4), disproportionately sized UI elements (Quicken 2013) or sometimes both. Accessing the test machine @ 2160p via TeamViewer frequently crashed the iPhone client app. When it did load up, quirks like a corrupted mouse cursor weren’t unusual. Overall though, these types of issues were rare and relegated to lesser-known and older applications.

The overwhelming issue here is one of clarity (i.e. blurriness) and not necessarily usability (e.g. crashing, clipped text, inaccessible elements, layout issues, pixelated bitmaps). Google Chrome is a solid example of this with its blurry UI, annoying font anti-aliasing and unaffected usability. It’s worth pointing out that Chrome’s own scaling feature (zooming) renders sharp text at any size, but only while Windows’ DPI scaling is disabled. Turn DPI scaling on, and Chrome no longer aliases fonts well. Chrome’s “Windows 8 Mode” seems to solve these shortcomings, but its alternate touchscreen-friendly persona is less than enticing for desktop users. Currently, Chrome’s Canary build (i.e. public beta) doesn’t address this issue either, suggesting it may be some time before Chrome and Windows play together nicely in this regard.

Interestingly, Chrome also became downright confused by an odd ball combination of Windows 8 and two mismatched displays: one 3840 x 2160p and one 1920 x 1080p. The browser wouldn’t create tabs past a certain point horizontally and the program would occasionally wig out while vertically scrolling. After ditching the secondary 1080p display though, Chrome worked fine. These are the kinds of errata that early adopters can expect on rare occasion, particularly ones with unusual habits or uncommon software. For the most part though, sailing was smooth.

Although scarce, UHD content is not entirely absent. A set of supplied 4K UHD videos look eye-poppingly surreal, but also weigh in around 1GB per minute of footage. With a quad-core Intel Core i5 @ 3.1GHz, Windows Media Player and Quicktime both choked up a bit on the demos, exhibiting unfavorably slow playback and intermittent unresponsiveness. VLC handled the task better, but still consumed 60-80 percent CPU.

YouTube offers a small amount of UHD video, however it all seems quite experimental. In fact, a few weeks ago the 4K/UHD videos I scoped out didn’t actually have an official “UHD” quality option at all. Instead, viewers would have to choose “View Original” to stream these videos at 2160p. During this time, YouTube’s 2160p videos would hang or even crash Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox on the test system (Intel Core i5 3.1GHz with 16GB RAM). While working on this review though, YouTube actually added an official “2160p” quality option and those same instability-causing videos now play smoothly... well, if we ignore buffering.

By the way, a 30Mbps cable Internet connection wasn’t good enough to stream many of YouTube’s 2160p videos without some interruptions.

Warranty

To help patrons feel more comfortable parting with 3.5 grand, Dell has taken the unusual step of bundling its UP3214Q with a “Premium Panel” guarantee. This zero dead/stuck pixel policy ensures your pricey investment arrives with a pristinely manufactured panel and stays that way for up to two years. Additionally, the display includes a three-year advanced replacement warranty. This should provide buyers some pleasant peace of mind.

Wrap Up: Buy Now or Wait?

In one sentence, the UP3214Q is a beautiful display for wealthy early adopters who don’t mind occasional quirks and only require DisplayPort connectivity. More specifically though, content creators (e.g. designers, developers, media gurus) who value workspace and image quality above all else are destined to fall in love with this display. It really is visually and physically impressive.

For the “average” person though, my recommendation is to wait. Wait for non-tiled 4K displays. Wait for HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3. Wait for falling prices. Wait for more UHD content, better UHD compatibility and wider UHD support. It won’t be long before the time is right, but now is not the time. The UP3214Q is a first-generation product and by the time v2.0 rolls out, most hesitations should dissolve. And remember: whatever you do, don’t give in and buy a 30Hz model to save money. It’s not worth it.

If you’re considering a $3,500 monitor though, you are decidedly not an “average” person. Odds are, you have been thoroughly seduced by 4K UHD. You probably want the best and you’re willing to spend a significant amount of disposable income to have it. Yes, this UltraSharp may in fact be best of its kind. So, if your priorities include a huge high quality panel, 4K UHD @ 60Hz and DisplayPort connectivity, put the UP3214Q at the top of your list.

With that said, the UP3214Q suffers a number of imperfections that might make you reconsider plopping $3,500 down on a display. The tiled design both limits alternate resolutions and (currently) produces mildly erratic behavior. Connectivity options are few and the ones it does have (HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2) are already obsolete -- HDMI 2.0 is already in the wild and DisplayPort 1.3 will arrive this year. I would have loved to see an HDMI 2.0 port on this thing, but DP will cater to most. Unfortunately, the muggle world still hasn’t warmed up to 4K yet either, meaning content befitting a wizard is unfavorably sparse (mildly put). And let’s not forget about gaming: ultra high-def gaming is painfully expensive, but with no option for lower resolutions, owners don’t have a choice but to pay up for decent frame rates at high quality settings. Screen-hungry professionals who lead double lives as casual gamers might think twice, as a result.

If you can look past these issues though, there is little question that Dell’s 32-inch 4K UHD display is a seductive piece of gear.

Pricing Update: It was brought to our attention that Newegg is selling the monitor with a hefty discount, down to $2,500.

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Pros: An early adopter's dream. Huge screen + 4K. When software is not an issue, the UP3214Q shines making this possibly the most impressive monitor we've ever looked at. Strong hardware feature set, factory calibration and attention to detail.

Cons: Software is not completely there yet. Hardware bound to be updated in the next year or so. Expensive affair reserved for deep wallets.