There’s a lot of different factors that can improve your gaming experience, from the power of the games console to the controller in your hand, the speakers or headphones, and even the chair you sit in for hours on end. Perhaps second only to the actual console or computer is the screen you play on, and from 4K and HDR to FreeSync and G-Sync for PC gamers, the landscape is shifting.
Dell’s 27″ S2718H costs a reasonable £259, which while not the cheapest, is certainly still on the lower end of the spectrum. Yet within that, they’ve gone for a number of features that give you a taste of the premium. For one thing it’s a great looking display with just a 6mm bezel running around the edge of the screen. It’s this bezel that gives it the InfinityEdge branding, and with the screen perched on a stylish looking stand, it ensures that the image is front and centre with little to distract from it.
The panel is 27″, just on the edge of diluting its 1080p resolution a bit too far for my tastes, though this will naturally depend on how close you sit to the screen. I’d personally be looking for 1440p at this size, if not 4K, though that obviously pushes the price higher. Get too close and you can easily discern the pixels that make up words or images.
The real draw, from my point of view, is that this is the first display I’ve had the opportunity to use that features a dynamic refresh rate and adaptive sync. Brought to public attention by Nvidia with G-Sync back in 2015 and soon followed by the free alternative Freesync from AMD, which is what’s featured in this monitor, it works having the monitor wait to refresh the image when the GPU is ready to send it, instead of ticking at a rigid refresh rate. It’s the solution to slightly frame pacing, small dips in performance, and screen tearing. Of course, you don’t want the frame rate to drop too low, but it’s there to paper over the cracks.
One of the difficulties is that, while FreeSync can have wide-reaching capabilities, allied with V-sync, each display only works in a particular range of refresh rates. While some go as low as 30Hz and can reach as high as 144Hz for those that demand absolute performance, for this display, that’s between 48-75Hz, which means that it can only really accommodate quite a specific range and that any major dips in performance will be noticeable. It does work though, and does so very well.
Thankfully with modern GPUs and games that shouldn’t be much of a problem with this display. At 1080p, anything from the AMD R9 470 can generally maintain 60fps with only a few compromises, and the 48Hz lower boundary ought to have you covered. Instead you’ll be looking at the other end of the spectrum, as if the frame rate exceeds 75Hz, this can counterintuitively lead to tearing and judder returning to the game.
The monitor features only the first version of FreeSync, which has now been superseded by FreeSync 2. This offers an even wider range of frequencies, lower latency and an improved HDR pipeline for screens that offer it. This monitor is still a great look at the future of gaming, with the Xbox One X supporting adaptive sync in theory, and it being a feature that could easily become standard for TVs over the next half decade, improving the experience for those that can use it.
One of the other marquee features is the inclusion of HDR on this screen. If you’re sceptical of a £200 PC monitor having full on HDR, then you’d be right to, because this is sadly nowhere near even what I had expected. The difference in colours and dynamic range is practically imperceptible at best as all it seems to be doing is taking a HDR image and then downsampling back to SDR colours and range that the screen is capable, perhaps also adjusting the backlight for darker scenes. However, it also slathers the image with excessive sharpening that makes Windows look messy and hurts general image quality.
You can’t use Game HDR and FreeSync at the same time either, though Movie HDR does allow the combination. Given the choice, I know which of the two I’d sacrifice.
The monitor ticks a fair few boxes and it looks stylish, but you get what you pay for. The glossy coat on the screen diffuses reflections to a certain degree, mottling them and making them slightly less distinct, but the light from a window can easily disturb what you’re trying to view on screen.
Worse that that, the monitor and its stand just feel a bit tacky and flimsy. The plastic around the edges isn’t rigid and can be pried away from the side of the screen just a fraction, there’s a few places around the edge where the screen’s coating is raised as it makes contact as well, and the way the admittedly stylish stand connects to the monitor means that using the function buttons on the screen makes it wobble back and forth. Sadly, there’s no VESA support so you can’t remedy this with a sturdier stand.
The speaker that comes bundled is shaped like a wedge to fit into the stand, with a short cable that reaches up to the dedicated port for it on the monitor. It’s not going to knock your socks off with audio quality and can sound boomy and muffled, but it does the job if you don’t have any alternatives.
Even taking those flaws into account, the Dell S2718H is a nice looking monitor for the price you pay, and has a number of tricks up its sleeve with FreeSync in particular. This kind of technology is a game changer for PC gamers, and something to watch out for in future games consoles, with hardware support in the Xbox One X that could easily be brought to the fore once TV manufacturers embrace it.