Dell S3220DGF 165Hz HDR Adaptive Sync Gaming Monitor Review

Manufacturer: Dell Dell S3220DGF 165Hz HDR Adaptive Sync Gaming Monitor Review

Yes, Monitors Really Have Changed Quickly

The Dell S3220DGF 32″ VA display hits almost every checkmark on the list of features you want to see in an affordable gaming monitor including 1440p resolution, a 165Hz refresh rate over DisplayPort or 144 over HDMI, official FreeSync 2 and unofficial G-SYNC support, HDR, 10-bit sRGB colour an 1800R curve and a two port USB 3.0 hub. 

The only downfalls stem from that key word, affordable, as the monitor offers the lowest of the official spec, DisplayHDR400 and it is a mere 16:9 instead of 21:9.   At the time of review you can grab this display for US $459.99 or CAD $809.99, when I purchased it there was a discount in Canada which brought the price of the S3220DGF down to an attractive CAD $475.

Product Specifications
  • Model Number: S3220DGF
  • Device Type
    • LED edgelight LCD monitor – 32 Inch
    • Vertical Alignment (VA) Panel
    • 2560 x 1440 at 165Hz with DP
    • 2560 x 1440 at 144Hz with HDMI
    • Aspect Ratio 16:9
    • Curve Radius 1800R
  • Features
    • Adaptive Sync Freesync 2, not officially G-SYNC Compatible (but)
    • Brightness 400 cd/m2 (typical)
    • Contrast Ratio 3000: 1 (Typical)
    • Response Time 4ms grey to grey
    • Colour Support 1.07 Billion colours – 10Bit
    • DisplayHDR 400
  • Input/Output Ports
    • 2 x HDMI (ver 2.0 with HDCP 2.2)
    • 1 x DP 1.4
    • 1 x USB 3.0 upstream port
    • 1 x USB 3.0 Downstream port with BC1.2 charging
    • 3 x USB 3.0 Downstream port
    • 1 x Headphone-out jack
    • 1 x Audio Line-out jack
  • Display Position Adjustments
    • Height adjustable 150 mm
    • Tilt -5° to 21°
    • Swivel -30° to 30°
  • Physical Details
    • Dimensions with stand (WxDxH) 27.92 x 9.83 x 18.45″ to 24.34″
    • Weight 15.53 kg (34.24 lbs)
Pricing

$459.99 USD list (returns to stock in USA this month)

Manufacturer Description

“Introducing Dell’s fastest 32″ QHD curved HDR gaming monitor. Featuring strikingly realistic visuals with AMD FreeSync™ 2 HDR and 165Hz refresh rates.”

Life After Being Behind Bars

For about six years I have been staring at three ASUS VS229H-P 1080p displays fixed at 60Hz refresh, and displaying the desktop and games via AMD Eyefinity or NVIDIA Surround.  At that time it was significantly less expensive than purchasing a single large display, especially one of a 1440p or possibly 4K resolution to offer a decent looking pixel density.  This was also before the hardware to drive a game engine at 4K with reasonable frame rates was effectively available. 

AMD and NVIDIA were just starting to play with dynamic resolution features to mitigate effects enough to let you play at reasonable frame rates.  HDR was a mess back then, with no one really following any standards and as for adaptive sync?  We first saw it in person and started our investigations in early 2015, though we had been looking at screen tearing and frame times for several years.

For those reasons, a 3K display which could be easily switched to a 1080p for more demanding games made sense, especially after investing in a triple monitor mount which let you switch between portrait and landscape with a bit of work.   There were two very large drawbacks to this setup however, the first being that the cabling was not clean nor particularly simple to deal with considering the lack of gaming GPUs with three of the same output.  The other was the bars.

Many tools are available to line up the displays perfectly level and both NVIDIA and AMD offer bezel correction; even your brain helpfully tries to filter them out of your conscious but nevertheless they were still there and no triple monitor setup can match the look of a large scale display.

Setting Up And Configuring The Dell DS3220DGF

The difference in setup was jarring, there is simply no comparison between plugging in a single DP cable, one USB cable for the hub and a power cord to the set up of three monitors.  What would be a bit of time to get the displays connected, swap the cords that don’t want to reach, convincing the graphics driver where the monitors were physically and then fiddling with the mount until the displays were lined up took only seconds.

If you have up HDR monitors before, skip this bit, but I know I am not alone in taking forever to upgrade the most obvious peripheral on my system.  HDR is for gaming, if you plug it in and immediately set Windows to ‘Play HDR games and apps’ you are going to have a very dim and washed out desktop.  It is worth switching it off when you are being productive, and easy to switch back on when you take a YouTube break.  If you are going to calibrate the monitor with something like the datacolor SpiderX Pro you also need to disable HDR in Windows and on the display’s OSD in order to get a proper reading.

With that done you can see that the Dell S3220DGF lives up to the advertised 100% of sRGB though as you can see from the other results, this is a gaming monitor first and foremost and not intended to spend a lot of time helping you with your graphics design.

Bigger Does Not Always Mean Better

The 32″ Dell S3220DGF offers less screen real estate than I had with the three 22″ ASUS VS229H-P displays, especially in 48:9 ultra widescreen which, to be honest was not well received by many games and led to a rear mirror issue.  Many engines rendered the sides of my view as significantly closer than they actually were, which could be distracting when you quickly spin to deal with something you spotted out of the corner of the eye, only to have it recede as you look closer.  The landscape setup was very handy for productivity and when using it for podcasts or posting and the bezels were actually a benefit.

On the other hand, that small loss in total screen size comes with significant benefits over the old monitors and was not much of a sacrifice to make.  It is also worth mentioning that moving from In Plane Switching (IPS) to Vertical Alignment (VA) there is a serious reduction in accurate viewing angles.  I described the difference between the types many, many moons ago, if you are curious.   While you can still see text and images at the rated 178° colours fade quickly and noticeably before you are even 45° off centre while my old ASUS monitors didn’t judge you for being off kilter.  The 1800R curve of the Dell S3220DGF works very effectively to resolve this as the edges do not noticeably wash out even at the slight angle produced by a 32″ display.

The OSD is well designed and worth spending a bit of time getting to know.  Along with the obvious controls found on all monitors you will be able to tweak your response rate, HDR settings and even set up four shortcut keys if you so desire.  For those without a colourimeter there are eight preset colour modes to choose from, with three game profiles you can program and store as well as a general custom colour profile.

You have a choice of four SDR modes, Desktop, Movie HDR, Game HDR and Display HDR, with an option to turn it off which disables HDR altogether.  Honestly, I am hard pressed to determine a difference between the modes and switching between them until you are satisfied with one.  There is a Freesync toggle on the monitor which you need to enable before playing with adaptive sync in your driver, be it AMD or NVIDIA.  Along with Freesync is a option to switch between three response times, Fast, Super Fast and Extreme, which come in handy if you intend to run at 144Hz or 165Hz.  In testing it seems Fast is perfect if you are using a base 60Hz but Super Fast is the way to go with high refresh rates as I could see some hints of ghosting when set to Extreme.  You can find the full list of OSD controls in the PDF manual.

This is a Freesync 2 display and not on the list of G-SYNC compatible monitors, however it functions perfectly well in tandem with my ASUS ROG STRIX GTX 1080 GAMING Advanced.  As it is not officially supported, as you can see in the screenshot, it is inadvisable to attempt to enable the specific settings for this monitor in your driver.  Doing so resulted in black screens while gaming, sometimes permanent until exiting the game and sometimes flickering in and out, depending on the game engine.  Some have found success enabling this feature if they drop the refresh rate to 144Hz or lower but in my experience leaving this unchecked allows games to play with the monitor set to 165Hz.

 

It is also worth mentioning Game Enhance Mode, which allows you to display your what refresh rate is at the monitor itself which is helpful when you create several custom desktop resolutions, say one 144Hz and one at the overclocked 165Hz.

The 60Hz Conclusion

There are two ways to approach this monitor and they will be addressed separately for those for which the first time user scenario does not apply.  If you are gaming at 1080p, and that is most people on Steam for as of May 63.51% of users were using that resolution then there is a strong reason to upgrade your display.  Compared to 1920 x 1080, the jump to 2560 x 1440 is as noticeable as the jump from 1024 x 768, which you may or may not recall gaming at.  However, that is not the only compelling reason to upgrade to a new display like the Dell S3220DGF and indeed might be the least of the three benefits you are missing out on.

HDR is not just about god rays, blinding reflections and other in game lighting effects, the extra brightness of the back panel improves your desktop contrast, with whites and colours popping out in a way older back panel tech simply cannot manage.  It also does it in a far superior manner than cranking up your monitors brightness level to 100%.  You do need to remember to hit your display settings to turn off HDR though, otherwise your desktop is indeed quite drab.

Lastly is the high refresh rate and Freesync 2 adaptive refresh technology which offers you the biggest reason to upgrade your display.  The ASUS ROG STRIX GTX 1080 GAMING Advanced card used is not going to be able to push modern first person shooters at 165Hz without dropping the quality settings down significantly.  That is not the point however, as what this technology does is make even an average of 30FPS look significantly smoother than on a standard display.  Even with older eyes that can’t definitively pinpoint a tear on a screen due to mismatched refresh rates or a dip in frame rate, it is still registered unconsciously and you will immediately see a difference in the overall smoothness of the game.

Older shooters, RTS and turn based strategy games offered a surprise as well as you can reasonably expect performance far above 60FPS and you will see it.  Tongue firmly in cheek I fired up Sid Meier’s Civ IV BTS, and checked what my current campaign in the Caveman To Cosmos mod looked like on the Dell.  I did not expect what I was presented with, scrolling across the planet with no dips or tears which even these eyeballs could spot on my old ASUS displays, instead it was smooth as butter.

Conclusion

Dell’s S3220DGF is a great path for an upgrade to an SDR, fixed resolution display for those with a budget in mind; assuming it is on sale.  At the full price there are choices out there with better panel tech and if you don’t have a budget you should be looking at ultra wide displays meeting the DisplayHDR1000 specification.   You should also consider your intended usage before choosing between an IPS panel or a VA panel such as this Dell S3220DGF.  An IPS will offer you better viewing angles which is important on screens without a curve, however it cannot match the superior contrast ratio of the VA panel nor will it be as enjoyable in a dark room.

That said, if you are looking for a larger display to replace a current model there are reasons to pick up this specific display.  The 165Hz ceiling is simply better than the 144Hz that is more commonly found on high refresh rate displays and Freesync 2 does improve on how the display responds to input.  The fact that this display is not rated as G-SYNC compatible is not much of a worry either, as it has had no problems since properly adjusting the settings in the NVIDIA driver.

The inability to rotate your display without purchasing a mount is common to Dell displays, while the stand is very sturdy and easy to install the mount simply isn’t designed with portrait usage in mind.  The adjustable height and side rotation is more than sufficient for most setups and the mount does not have a tendancy to slowly slide down from the weight of the display.  The 1800R curvature is enough to mitigate any loss of quality at the sides of the display by keeping the angle within specifications for VA panels.

Dell’s limited warranty terms vary on what country you purchased the display and you should check your invoice for the specific length; during that coverage you will be able to return a monitor with even a single buggy pixel for a new one.  It will be shipped out to you on the very next day with no questions asked and most customers will be covered for a three year span.

If you are shopping for a display and can find Dell’s S3220DGF for under $500 in your currency of choice then this is a strong recommendation for anyone.  As for those still sitting at 60Hz @ 1080, it is time to upgrade and the Dell S3220DGF will give you great performance without the huge dent in your wallet which other gaming displays will leave.

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About The Author

Jeremy Hellstrom

Call it K7M.com, AMDMB.com, or PC Perspective, Jeremy has been hanging out and then working with the gang here for years. Apart from the front page you might find him on the BOINC Forums or possibly the Fraggin' Frogs if he has the time.

5 Comments

  1. Mirppc

    You finally got it. Great review. Thanks Jeremy!

    Reply
    • Jeremy Hellstrom

      Cheers! Turns out it was worth the wait.

      Reply
  2. Justin S

    I just got mine 2 weeks ago and it’s a fantastic upgrade. You hit upon many of the points really well. I upgraded from an Asus 24 inch IPS 1080p 60 hertz panel. I was initially hesitant to give VA panels a shot but I am definitely not disappointed. To put things in perspective, while HDR requires really expensive monitors or TVs to get the full experience, the fact that this is HDR capable allows you to enjoy greater luminance and like you said contrast when most monitors can only output 300 cd/m², and this one puts out 468 and mine tested at 518. No monitor out there is perfect; not even the one’s over $2,500. If you’re looking for an immersive experience, I think this is definitely one of the best monitors out there in terms of value features and specifications. I highly recommend it! The only audience that would be an outlier for this would be those who are more into competitive gaming then you should be looking at TN panels or smaller size monitors of 24 to 27 inch in size with higher refresh rates. Outside of that most people would be really happy with this I sure am! If your not limited by a budget then obviously the LG CX series might be the way to go. Whatever you decide best of luck to you!

    Reply
    • Jeremy Hellstrom

      Cheers, and I fully agree with your point. I went from TN to IPS, which was a big change and I also had concerns about VA, more so for the viewing angles.

      You hit it on the nose for the competitive gamers, that Asus TUF Gaming VG279QM I linked to with 1080p but a 280Hz top refresh is a better choice than this one for this price point.

      Reply
  3. Casey K.

    Thank you for another great review Jeremy. I picked up this monitor at Best Buy November of last year. I got it on sale for $349 US. Normally $449. Every once in awhile I see it go back on sale. It’s my first over 60hz monitor. I have no regrets.

    Reply

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