A high-end display acquisition for photography aspirations

Article By : Brian Dipert

Will the Dell UP2516D’s deep black levels and wide viewing angles impress this advanced photographer wannabe?

Speaking of ultra-high resolution displays, I thought I’d also tell you about a pair of professional computer monitors I’ve recently purchased. As I mentioned (and showed you) back in March, for a while now I’ve been tethering my Surface Pro system(s) to two Acer H226HQL external 21.5″ LCDs:

In my writeup, I referred to them as “humble” for a couple of reasons. Although they’re IPS (in-plane switching) technology-based, versus leveraging lower-quality TN (twisted-nematic) LCD elements, they’re “only” 1080p in resolution (truth be told, however, I’m not aware of any displays this size with higher resolution, save for those from Apple). And they also deliver only partial color range coverage, versus supporting a nearly-to-completely full gamut matching one-to-several modern color standards.

That latter point is important, in combination with proper calibration (a topic which I first covered a long time ago, and revisited roughly a decade later), for still (and video) photography purposes. Unless a display supports a particular color standard (a standard importantly also supported by other elements of the “chain:” the camera that takes the pictures in the first place, for example, along with your editing software, and don’t forget the printer that outputs the images), and unless your display is properly calibrated to that standard (taking into account backlight variability, along with the effects of ambient lighting conditions), you’ll have no idea whether the images you see on-screen match what the camera captured in the first place, nor what comes out the printer. Equally importantly, you’ll have no idea whether your processed image recipients, whether they’re clients, if you’re a professional, or just friends and family, will see the same images as you, either.

That’s the first reason why the now-discontinued Dell UP2516D, which originally sold for $429.99 but I saw on sale factory-refurbished for $250.79 back in mid-April, caught my long-time advanced photographer wannabe eye:

photo of the front of the Dell UP2516D display

photo of the back of the Dell UP2516D display

Here’s the summary of its color accuracy claims:

100% Adobe RGB and 100% sRGB; 100% REC 709 and 98% DCI-P3

Not too shabby, eh? Like my Acer H226HQLs, the Dell UP2516D is IPS-based for deep black levels and wide viewing angles; the UP2516D also specs a relatively speedy (for IPS, at least) 6 ms response time (gamers often stick with otherwise-inferior TN LCDs due to their fast-twitch-compatible high refresh and response rates). And the 25″ UP2516D supports a 2560×1440 “QHD” native resolution, typically not encountered until you get to 27″ and larger LCDs.

So I bought two, before inventory was depleted. One came in obviously factory-refurbished packaging, and as far as I can tell from my testing so far has zero “dead” pixels (perpetually dark, bright, or stuck at some particular sub-pixel tint). The other was packaged as if (and, I believe, actually was) brand new; it has one pixel (out of 3,686,400 total, mind you) stubbornly stuck perpetually red, a defect that’s barely noticeable in normal usage, and then only because I already know where it’s located. Even better: if you do online research on the UP2516D you’ll quickly come across lots of user complaints about various quality control-related issues with this particular series (which also includes its UP2716D “big brother”), such as backlight leakage around the display edges and non-uniformity. My two units thankfully, so far at least, exhibit none of this.

As I’ve dove into the UP2516D documentation and tried out the various features that it elucidates, other examples of niftiness have emerged. There are, for example, two USB 3 connections along the side, one of them supporting BC 1.2 high output current capability, and together suggestive of USB hub functionality built into the display itself:

photo of the side of the Dell UP2516D display

Now look closely at the back:

photo of the ports on the Dell UP2516D display

Now take off the stand and look even more closely:

photo of the ports on the Dell UP2516D display with the stand removed

You’ll see two more USB 3 A-type connectors, but you’ll also see two USB 3 B-type connectors, which Dell’s documentation refers to as “upstream ports.” As it turns out, the UP2516D also integrates KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse) and more general USB peripheral switching functionality, which I also first covered a long time ago. I can tether two different computers to the same display via the upstream USB ports and selectively connect from there to a common set of downstream USB devices via a button press.

Connecting two computers to the same monitor also requires that I selectively tell the LCD which computer’s video output to display, of course. The UP2516D offers an array of input options: dual HDMI connectors (both ports also supporting MHL, i.e. Mobile High-Definition Link charge-plus-display functionality), and both standard and mini DisplayPort. But there’s one more standard DisplayPort connector, labeled (out) and normally plugged with a piece of orange rubber, which initially confused me until I learned more about it in conjunction with the UP2516D’s DP MST (DisplayPort Multi-stream Transport) capabilities. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Multi-Stream Transport is a feature first introduced in the DisplayPort 1.2 standard. It allows multiple independent displays to be driven from a single DP port on the source devices by multiplexing several video streams into a single stream and sending it to a branch device, which demultiplexes the signal into the original streams. Branch devices are commonly found in the form of an MST hub, which plugs into a single DP input port and provides multiple outputs, but it can also be implemented on a display internally to provide a DP output port for daisy-chaining, effectively embedding a 2-port MST hub inside the display. Theoretically, up to 63 displays can be supported, but the combined data rate requirements of all the displays cannot exceed the limits of a single DP port (17.28 Gbit/s for a DP 1.2 port, or 25.92 Gbit/s for a DP 1.3/1.4 port). In addition, the maximum number of links between the source and any device (i.e. the maximum length of a daisy-chain) is 7, and the maximum number of physical output ports on each branch device (such as a hub) is 7.

In my particular situation, each UP2516D can, when enabled as such in the settings, act as a dual-port MST hub. And, if all other devices in the chain (save for the display at the end, which can optionally be “only” DP 1.1-compliant) also support MST, which thankfully seems so far to be the case here, I can connect them together using only one DP cable between each link. In my case, as I’ve previously discussed, the Surface Pro not only has an integrated DisplayPort connector (which I’m not using) but also mates to the Kensington SD7000 Docking Station via the proprietary Surface Connect interface. The SD7000 has a single DisplayPort output, which I can connect to one of the UP2516Ds. And from there, using that display’s MST hub functionality, I can then tether it to the other UP2516D.

I’ve so far only scratched the surface of the UP2516Ds’ capabilities (and inevitable limitations); for one thing, I haven’t yet calibrated them. On that note, another upside: the X-Rite i1Display Pro Colorimeter is Dell-recommended and natively supported by the Dell-branded (X-Rite-developed, actually) calibration software. It also normally costs $285 from the manufacturer.

photo of X-Rite calibration software package

Thankfully, back in mid-2014 (believe it or not) I saw it for sale for $139.95 at B&H Photo Video, and bought it on a just-in-case whim. I’m now very glad I did! Stay tuned as I report back on the UP2516Ds in future blog posts. And until then, I as-always welcome your thoughts in the comments!

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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