David Murphy Jun 24, 2008

Dell Crystal

At A Glance

Pop Rocks

Beautiful colors for a beautiful exterior; innovative, unique monitor design.

Lead Chips

Absurd glare, low grayscale range, distorting presets, fussy touch-buttons, the price.

Dell’s newest 22-inch display—one remarkable enough to win attention and awards at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show—retails for $1,200 dollars. Go figure, then, that it’s called the Dell Crystal, although the Dell Diamond works too. Because when you buy this display, you’re buying more marketing hype than functionality. You’re also paying nearly four-times the price of Dell’s $350 SP2208WFP, a carbon-copy of the Crystal’s functionality minus a hunk of Plexiglas slapped over the front.

The monitor’s artful exterior looks great on our desktop. If only the picture followed suit. Even after cranking the Crystal’s brightness to the extremes, the 1680x1050-native picture was unable to produce acceptable differences on its dark grayscales during our DisplayMate testing. This translated to a noticeable loss of quality and increased darkness levels in every real-world test we could conjure up: details escaped our pictures and movies; subtle lighting effects smudged together on our games.

This is the fuel behind the Crystal’s fiery glare issue. The display’s tempered glass lends the entire unit a mirror-like quality, more so than any glossy-panel monitor we’ve reviewed. We didn’t notice ourselves when we were working with a brighter scene, but seeing our blatant reflection during darker images, like Sweeney Todd, was more than a mere distraction. It destroyed the picture.

While the display’s presets shift the range of the monitor’s grayscales to mitigate lost details on the dark spectrum, the only two modes that could do so—gaming and multimedia—introduce a strange shimmering effect. It affects the entire quality of the image, making flesh-tones look as if they’re made of video static and reducing beautiful gaming environments into an ugly, fuzzy mess.

One place we can’t fault the Crystal is in its coloration. We loved the vivid look of the display’s reds, blues, greens, and whites. They liven up each image without over-saturating the picture, and make the monitor look far crisper overall than other displays in its size class. We’d be willing to trade the Crystal’s increased vibrancy for its reduced grayscales were the display not wracked with other flaws.

We're also happy to note the Crystal as the first display we've seen in a long while that has an accurate dynamic contrast. The feature is turned on by default, and in no way does it inhibit the picture's quality. We've grown so tired of seeing displays fade our movies in and out in a noticeable, distracting effect reminiscent of a light bulb being drained of its power. In fact, we've almost written the technology completely off. It's that hard to find a monitor whose dynamic contrast doesn't worsen the picture instead of helping it. The Crystal gives us reason to believe that dynamic contrast can be a wonderful tool in a monitor's arsenal, and we can't commend it enough for--strange as this might sound--working sans annoyance.

The Crystal comes with no functional inputs: a single cord splits into four adapters for power, subwoofer out, USB (for the included webcam), and an HDMI/DVI connection. The included speakers and touch-friendly buttons are pleasant additions to the mix, but do little to overtake the Crystal’s surprising performance issues. Did we get the Dell Zirconia edition by mistake?


Dell Crystal

Around the web