Submitted by John S. Shelton, Fuqua School Of Business IT
Multiple monitor setups aren’t just for geeks and gamers anymore. As the price of LED flat panel displays have come down over the years, more people have realized the value of monitor real estate. My users tell me they need to work, for instance, in Word while comparing it to another document while also referencing a spreadsheet and their email. In recent years, neuro and psychological reports have suggested that trying to multi-task doesn’t make us as productive as we think and may even be a hindrance to work performance. Regardless, many work tasks are almost impossible to put into a silo. Workers have to incorporate information from multiple sources into their workflow and they spend too much of their time switching between windows.
Traditionally the answer has been larger monitors and sometimes multiple monitors. Now Dell has delivered a display designed to do the job of four. The Dell 43” Ultra HD 4K Multi-Client Monitor (P4317Q) fits the bill nicely. ($839.99 through the Duke computer store. $1199.99 retail.) I recently purchased one for a member of our faculty who wanted a multi-monitor solution.
This mega monitor can be used as one 3840 x 2160 (4K) full screen display or up to four discreet 1920 x 1080 (HD) quad displays. The four sources can be from separate systems but in our case, we ordered a Dell Precision workstation with a Nvidia Quadro K1200 video card with four Mini DisplayPort outputs. We ran all four feeds and created a seamless extended desktop, just like four separate monitors but with no bezels separating the adjoining edges.
The display quality is very good and more than suitable for all but the most specialized imaging needs. You may not want a radiologist reading your MRI on it but it’ll handle your email, browser, Office apps and most everything else like a boss. Although this monitor is large enough for some public display setups, the pixel pitch of 0.2451 mm with 104 pixels per inch indicate that Dell designed it for the desktop and the picture quality holds up nicely from a normal workstation viewing distance. This IPS display has a wide viewing angle (178o), an 8ms response time and excellent color accuracy. 4K video looks great on the full screen.
The monitor can be switched between a single full screen source and quad display by way of an on-screen menu and buttons on the bezel. Here Dell should have opted for wider, more touch-friendly buttons, flush with the bezel. Instead, the buttons are small, knobby extrusions. When you realize how many button pushes it takes to choose or change four different input sources, you start to appreciate the need for touch-friendly design. You can also choose to use only two or three sources rather than the full four but you don’t gain any more of the screen that way. Each source stays in the 1920 x 1080 resolution and screen size while the sources simply change position on the monitor.
Dell currently only offers the display with a stand that’s not height adjustable and that can be a problem ergonomically. With a monitor this large, some users sitting in front of it will find their eye level to be too low. The two lower sources will be comfortable but users may tire of tilting their heads up to use the top two sources. The monitor also doesn’t swivel though it is capable of tilting. I don’t know whether Dell was concerned with the stability of the 31 lb. monitor and therefore chose to make it so immovable but the manufacturer should seriously consider making it at least height adjustable. Just for the record, it doesn’t pivot because it’s simply too large to accommodate pivoting into portrait mode on a desktop stand. Even if the stand adjusted to allow it, the top of the monitor would be ridiculously far above eye level.
The size, weight, and static base also make it a challenge to reach the inputs tucked away on the back. Adding any connections or making any changes after it’s deployed makes for a bit of a “bull in a china shop” experience, especially if the monitor is backed into a tight workspace. Having more accessible inputs would be a plus in my opinion. And while we’re talking about size, make sure your intended workspace can accommodate this monitor. At 26” tall, it’s not going to fit under many overhead cabinets found in cubicles.
The big question for the enterprise is whether this monitor is the right choice for your end user’s workstation display, since this product is aimed directly at the desktop. Because the cost of this size monitor will fall over time, let’s take the budget aspect out of the conversation and think longer term about size. This is a real jump in workstation display size. When so many people are notoriously averse to change, will they adjust to having so much to look at? Will they feel overwhelmed by it? Do they even need this much monitor real estate? We haven’t had the Dell P4317Q long enough to draw any conclusions. All I can offer is my opinion that for generalized office work with the current means of user interface, another monitor has already found the sweet spot – the Dell Ultrasharp 34” Curved Monitor. (academic pricing: $699.99 for 1st generation, $839.99 for 2nd generation) There’s enough room for 3 large windows to be open at the same time and working with the wide aspect (21:9) is much more natural and comfortable than working in the vertical space of the 43” model. Meanwhile the bigger monitor would be an excellent choice in those specialized situations when you really need video from multiple discreet sources.