Is an Ultrawide Curved Monitor Right for Your Home Office?

Dell UltraSharp 34-inch Ultrawide Curved Monitor

By Paul Teich, Principal Analyst

Whether or not you are part of the gig economy, working from home (WFH) is becoming the norm for a wide swath of First World knowledge workers. You may not do it every day, but if you are reading this blog, it is likely that you WFH at least a couple of days each week.

We at TIRIAS Research operate a small but geographically distributed company. I live in Austin, Kevin Krewell lives in Silicon Valley and Jim McGregor lives somewhere in the vicinity of Phoenix. When we are not traveling, we spend a lot of time WFH, which not only includes working from our houses, but also local coffee shops and restaurants. Wherever we work from, we spend a huge amount of time on phone calls, Skype and Google Hangouts.

We have to make hard choices about where to spend money on electronics and office equipment. We can’t afford to upgrade everything every year.

Each of us has primary responsibilities for covering markets, technologies and companies. For markets, Jim provides primary coverage for embedded and Internet of Things (IoT), Kevin covers smartphones, tablets and PCs, and I cover networks and data centers. Jim and Kevin will each comment on their home office choices in later blogs.

We’ve found that there isn’t a single “most important” part of a home office. As with many aspects of life, balance is the key. Balance is also a personal assessment and is guaranteed to be different for everyone. I’ll note here that my focus on cloud technologies has definitely skewed my perspective for what I purchase.

I am a firm believer in a hybrid user experience (UX) split between my local compute clients and cloud services. I visit many offices where I am not allowed on their network (Wi-Fi or wired) and my phone doesn’t get a strong enough 4G signal to support a Wi-Fi hotspot, so I have to be able to work without an internet connection. I keep my local work files on my SP3 in a mirror of my Microsoft OneDrive (encrypted, just do it) and it automatically synchronizes whenever I am connected.

I spend most of my work time in these applications:

  • Microsoft Office 365 — Excel, PowerPoint, Word, OneDrive and now Skype
  • Google Apps — Calendar, Contacts, Drive, Hangouts, Mail, Offline Mail
  • Various web browsers — Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge
  • Web conferencing — Cisco WebEx, CitrixOnline GoToMeeting
  • Evernote Premium for clipping info and for taking notes
  • GIMP and Microsoft Windows 10 Photos for photo editing
  • Audacity for audio editing

While Kevin and Jim will upgrade to Surface Pro 4 (SP4) tablets soon, I chose a different route. In 2014 I pre-ordered a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (SP3) tablet — it is still working very well for me almost a year and a half later. None of the apps above tax the SP3 to the point that I notice much slower performance. Microsoft designed the SP3 for Windows 10. They work remarkably well together.

While I don’t use a lot of demanding apps, I do a huge amount of research — online and talking with other experts. To track and understand data, I build weirdly complex spreadsheets. I usually have at least a couple dozen windows and browser tabs open while I work.

A year ago I upgraded from a 23-inch HD monitor (1920x1080) to a “2K” 27-Inch quad resolution (2560x1440) LED IPS monitor, but I found that I still need more screen area. I had considered adding a second monitor, but was running short on desk area. I would have had to buy another monitor (sized to match my existing monitor), plus an expensive armature or stand to move both monitors off of my desk. While that would have looked cool, I elected to buy more horizontal display area without multiple monitor bezels breaking up the display area.

Last week I removed my perfectly good 27-Inch 2K monitor from my desk, in favor of a new Dell U3415W UltraSharp 34-inch Ultrawide (3440x1440) Curved Monitor. (HP sells a competitive monitor at a competitive price, as do other manufacturers.)

A “curved” display is just that — the display surface has a slight side-to-side bend, but is flat top-to-bottom:

I am not aware that there is any standard way of measuring the curvature of a monitor or TV display. While Dell advertises the curve and “panoramic view”, they do not give any kind of measurement for curvature on their website or in their detailed specs (to be fair, neither does HP).

My previous 2K and my new Dell monitor have the same pixel per inch (ppi) count — 109 ppi — both vertically and horizontally. That means that both the 27-inch and 34-inch monitors have the same display height. What I bought with the Dell UltraSharp is about eight more inches of display width at the same resolution. That adds almost the width of a printed page.

I find that I use my SP3’s display for music players and also Skype’s control panel, so I can see who is online and active during the day. I fill my U3415W’s display with email, document editors, folders, photo editors, etc. I feel more productive when I don’t have to constantly hide and unhide windows — the very large display enables me to see a lot of information without having to constantly shuffle folders and apps around the display.

After a week of use, I think that ultrawide displays need to be curved. I had already found myself using the center of my 27-inch monitor more than the edges, because the center of a large, flat display has less parallax distortion than the edges. The curve of Dell’s 34-inch monitor lets me use the sides of my display with less parallax distortion than a flat monitor. It’s a bit counterintuitive. Also, tilting a curved monitor has a huge effect on parallax distortion, it requires a little experimentation to get it right but is very rewarding when it is right.

I also lightly edit a lot of photos. I haven’t seen that a curved monitor affects my photo editing. I haven’t tried video editing yet.

While not a true 4K display, the U3415W does have close to 5 million pixels. After I installed the U3415W drivers on my SP3 and connected the display, Intel’s HD Graphics Family display drivers have infrequently (once every couple of days) blacked out my display for a second or two while Intel’s display driver crashed and then recovered. It is a little troubling, but it has not yet forced a system crash.

I bought a hand-cranked standing desk frame almost two years ago (notice the crank under the right front corner of my desktop). I now divide my work time fairly evenly between sitting and standing.

I find that I have to pay more attention to adjusting the height of my desktop after I installed my U3415W. The tilt adjustment to minimize parallax distortion means that I must crank my desk to a precise height for both sitting and standing or adjust the tilt of the monitor. It is easier to fine-tune my desk height than to reach over and adjust the tilt of a very large monitor every hour or so.

My verdict after my first week of working with this ultrawide curved monitor? It works well for me. And I haven’t yet adjusted its factory settings, I plan to do that over the next few weeks.

As you can see in the photos, I stand on a high-density foam kitchen mat and sit on a yoga ball, not a chair. It took me two or three weeks to get used to sitting on the yoga ball — it converts sitting with good posture into exercise. It’s not for everyone. I like that helps me keep my core strength from disappearing while figuratively chained to my desk. What about the towel? Chairs need to breathe; a vinyl yoga ball does not breathe. (Plus I always know where my towel is during my daily struggle against terrible odds.) My adjustable desk is a critical component of my home office balance.

There’s a lot of gear on my desktop. Most of you will consider my audio habit a bit…excessive. I’m happy to answer questions about any of it.

Gear Found in My Home Office:

Computer

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet

Keyboards

  • Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Type Cover with Fingerprint ID

Mouse

  • Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring

Dock

  • Microsoft Surface 3 Docking Station

Video

  • Dell U3415W UltraSharp 34-inch Ultrawide Curved Monitor

Audio

  • Anthony Gallo Acoustics A’Diva SE speakers with table stands
  • Dayton Audio APA150 amplifier
  • Music Hall dac25.2 USB D/A processor with tube stage

Conferencing

  • Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920
  • Plantronics Calisto P620 wireless Bluetooth speakerphone

Recording

  • Blue Yeti microphone
  • Blue Mo-Fi headphones

Printer

  • Epson WorkForce 633 All-in-One

Desk

  • Repurposed desktop
  • Manual ModTable Standing Desk Base
  • WorkRite Pinnacle2 keyboard arm and Ultrathin platform

Chair

  • 65cm Anti-Burst Exercise Yoga Ball, Grey
  • Exercise Ball Base

Standing

  • Kitchen floor mat, high density foam

Disclaimer: I purchased all of the equipment mentioned through normal consumer retail stores — physical and online, and occasionally used from consignment shops — except for the Plantronics Calisto P620 wireless Bluetooth speakerphone.