Dell’s new UltraSharp 4K monitors are “IPS Black”—what does that mean?
Dell puts LG Display’s new IPS sub-type into its latest USB-C UltraSharp monitors.
Dell announced two new models in its popular UltraSharp monitor lineup on Thursday. The displays have been a favorite of office workers, creatives, and—because of their USB-C connectivity—Mac users. Now, LG Display is introducing what it’s calling “IPS Black,” which will come to Dell’s lineup in the UltraSharp 32 (U3223QE) and 27 (U2723QE) 4K USB-C Hub Monitors.
What is IPS Black, and should we expect it to give the monitors an edge over the competition?
First, what is IPS?
To understand IPS Black, a new type of IPS panel, it helps to have a basic understanding of IPS, or in-plane switching. IPS is one of the three types of LED panels in PC monitors and TVs, alongside VA (vertical alignment) and TN (twisted nematic).
The three technologies work a bit differently, resulting in various pros and cons. IPS panels have better viewing angles, meaning it’s easier to see the on-screen image when looking at it from a side angle. They’re also known for their exceptional color reproduction, especially when compared to TN panels.
Simply put, IPS panels have liquid crystals aligned parallel to the glass surfaces sandwiching them. When an electric charge is applied, the crystals rotate; they maintain a parallel position but allow light to come through and create an image. The technology differs from the liquid crystals in a TN panel, which twist to 90 degrees to allow light through. TN panels have historically maintained faster refresh rates and response times, but we’re seeing IPS catch up in expensive gaming monitors.
IPS screens also differ from VA panels, which deliver better contrast ratios. VA panels have liquid crystals perpendicular to the glass substrates and tilt to let light pass through. As noted by monitor company ViewSonic, this makes them better at blocking unneeded backlight, resulting in deeper blacks and higher contrast ratios.
So what’s IPS Black?
Just as QD-OLED promises to bring better performance to OLED screens, IPS Black is a new type of IPS that claims to provide better contrast than standard IPS monitors can produce.
LG Display announced IPS Black in January but hasn’t shared much information about how the technology works. At the time, LG Display said the panels have a black level that is “35 percent deeper than existing IPS products,” and it promised that the displays would deliver “extreme clarity and precise color accuracy.”
The U3223QE and U2723QE UltraSharp monitors are the first IPS Black monitors available. Dell says the displays have a contrast ratio of 2,000:1—meaning that a black image looks 2,000 times darker than a white one. That’s two times greater than what most IPS monitors offer. For comparison, the UltraSharp 30 U3023E— also announced Thursday—uses a standard IPS panel and has a contrast ratio of 1,000:1. (All three monitors have been listed for a while, as reported by sites like Tom’s Hardware, but Dell is making its first formal announcement today.)
Further, the 31.5-inch and 27-inch IPS Black monitors each claim to cover 98 percent of the DCI-P3 color space and 100 percent of sRGB. For comparison, the 27-inch UltraSharp U2720Q, which has a high contrast ratio for an IPS monitor (1,300:1), covers 95 percent of DCI-P3 and 99 percent of sRGB.
LG Display’s IPS Black announcement also said the tech “significantly lowers the level of blue light.” Dell doesn’t say that its new UltraSharps have any low blue light-fighting advantage beyond its hardware-based ComfortView Plus, which the company introduced in 2020.
LG Display also claimed IPS Black panels would allow for “a nearly borderless design.” Considering the IPS Black-based UltraSharps continue the series’ use of teeny-tiny bezels, we’d say that checks out.
Dell won’t be the only company to use IPS Black technology. LG Display sells to various companies, and LG plans to release its own IPS Black monitors. There’s still no word on if there will be IPS Black TVs.
In terms of Dell’s newly announced UltraSharps, all three claim to hit 400 nits brightness and have a 60 Hz refresh rate. The 27-inch IPS Black monitor has an MSRP of $725, but Dell already has it on sale for $625. For comparison, Dell’s 27-inch U2720Q, with a standard IPS panel, is currently $590. The 32-inch IPS Black monitor has an MSRP of $1,150 but is currently discounted to $920. And the non-IPS Black U3023E costs $1,050 but is going for $785 as of writing.
Not to be confused with Nano IPS
To head off any confusion, let’s briefly discuss Nano IPS, also known as Fast IPS. However it’s marketed, it’s another type of IPS panel from LG Display that the company says is an improvement over standard IPS. Nano IPS is all about improving speed and color.
Gaming monitors, like the LG 27GL850 and Dell S2721GF, have used Nano IPS since 2019 to achieve lower response times than those seen in the typical IPS display, with gray-to-gray response times as low as 1 ms.
According to LG, Nano IPS uses IPS technology and “nanometer-sized particles” applied to the LED. The particles “absorb excess, unnecessary light wavelengths” for improved color, with coverage claims of up to 98 percent of DCI-P3 and 135 percent of sRGB. That’s higher than some standard IPS panels, but DCI-P3 coverage is the same as with IPS Black.
And Nano IPS monitors have a contrast of 1,000:1 compared to IPS Black’s 2,000:1.
Why does contrast matter?
Dell’s IPS Black monitors’s biggest benefit over standard IPS monitors is the doubled contrast ratio. That matters because contrast is arguably the most important factor in image quality. Here’s a succinct explanation from ViewSonic:
“Contrast ratio is the measured difference between the darkest blacks and the brightest whites a monitor can produce. This measurement provides information about the amount of grayscale detail a monitor will deliver. The higher the contrast ratio, the more visible the detail.”
Movies, games, and images appear more saturated and have more pop when viewed on a screen with a high level of color reproduction. Higher contrast ratios, on the other hand, pull out more details, making for a more realistic and three-dimensional image.
You can expect a good IPS monitor to have a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, while lesser LEDs, especially TN panels, often have lower contrast ratios. It’s rare to see an IPS monitor surpass 1,200:1 (Dell’s 1,300:1 UltraSharp U2720Q is one exception), but again, Dell’s IPS Black monitors claim 2,000:1. Of course, we’ll have to test them out, but if contrast is truly doubled, and if an accurate color gamut is maintained, we can expect images with more depth.
But even with lower black levels, IPS Black still isn’t on par with VA, which delivers the best contrast ratios among LED panel types. You can find VA panels with static contrast ratios of 3,000:1.
Monitors with Mini LED (rather than LED) backlights can have even better contrast, especially when paired with a VA panel, since Mini LED monitors have smaller LEDs for improved backlight control. And you can’t top OLED, which is able to turn off individual pixels for the blackest of blacks and super high contrast ratios.
If you’re into HDR, contrast is a key consideration because elevated contrast levels are what make HDR content look different from SDR content. However, IPS Black monitors still can’t compare to HDR on Mini LED and OLED displays. And because Dell’s IPS Black UltraSharp monitors carry VESA’s lowest-tier HDR certification, DisplayHDR 400, we’re not expecting to be blown away with their HDR performance.
Of course, depending on how you use your monitor, you may want to prioritize other things like speed, color coverage, or color accuracy over contrast ratio. It’s all about choices.