Pimp my 24" Dell widescreen monitor

If it seems like I’m writing a lot about products these days. . . well, I am. It’s the holiday season, so it’s a good time to be thinking about such things. I have been doing a lot of experimenting with my home computer setup in the past few weeks. I’ve seen a number of people write about the 24″ widescreen Dell monitors (aka Dell UltraSharp 2405FPW 24-inch Wide Aspect Flat Panel LCD monitor) and how great they are purely as monitors, but that’s only half the story. In relative terms, this is a pretty cheap monitor (do a search for “dell coupons” and you’re likely to find a big discount somewhere — I got mine for less than $900 including tax and shipping), but the price belies that fact that you can solve more problems with it than just having a big screen for your computer. I bought one recently and I have pimped it out well beyond my original intentions of just having a big monitor.

Here’s what I have hooked into the five monitor inputs:

  • my work laptop using the VGA connector
  • a G5 using the DVI connection
  • a DirecTivo satellite TV tuner hooked into the S-Video connection
  • an XBOX (the old model, not the 360) using the composite connection
  • nothing in the composite input yet

The switch on the front of the monitor allows me to switch easily across all these devices, so I can use the monitor for the computer, a satellite TV stream via my DirecTivo, the XBOX, or my work laptop without messing around with cables or other switches. It’s really convenient.

The coolest thing, though (and something that doesn’t seem to be heavily mentioned in what I’ve read about the Dell widescreen) is the picture-in-picture capability. What this means in practical terms is that I can keep a little TV window on my computer desktop while I’m working. I’m a big college basketball fan and during college basketball season, I keep up with the games and spend a lot of time at the computer looking at stats and scores. Now that can be combined on the same screen. Yay.

(I know what some people are thinking — “I don’t watch TV.” Well, this isn’t for you then! An aside on this matter: I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t watch TV — I only watch DVDs of movies and TV shows.” To me, that’s kind of like saying, “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat chicken” — something I’ve heard more than once. Ahem. In this vein, I recommend checking out “Five things (besides a television) that you could constantly remind people you won’t use” on the excellent 5ives.com site by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders fame.)

Here’s a shot of the picture-in-picture capability with my OS X desktop and CNN running in the bottom corner:

Another really nice thing about the Dell monitor is the built-in card reader that sits unobtrusively on the side of the monitor — if you weren’t looking for the card slots, you would hardly even notice them. I use a camera with an SD card, so this feature allowed me to unhook the ugly USB SD card reader device I had hanging off my computer. It doesn’t just do SD cards, though — it can read 8 other types of cards. The monitor also has a USB hub with 4 ports hanging off of it. I threw my old USB hub in a drawer when I got the Dell and the connections on my desk are much cleaner now.

Some people give Dell grief for ripping off the form factor of the new Apple Cinema Displays, but I think this monitor innovates beyond what Apple has done (and I’m no fan of Dell). None of the innovations are rocket science (the SD card reader, the multiple independent inputs including VGA), but they are small touches that make the whole monitor much greater than the sum of its parts. (see the Dell specs vs. the Apple Cinema Display specs for a comparison). Granted, this isn’t necessarily more simple than the Apple product, but it offers more features, and features that I actually needed. (Full disclosure: I don’t have access to a current Cinema Display, so let me know if I’m missing something feature-wise.)

The only (understandable) downside to the Dell monitor is that with all those video sources pumping into the screen, you need a way to handle the audio. The computer audio is easy — just use the speakers you already have hooked up to your computer. To get audio for your TV tuner and/or XBOX, you need to put a stereo receiver in the stack and run the audio output for them through it. This is kind of a drag since your computer audio will be separate.

I tried to figure out a good way to run the audio from my DirecTivo through the Mac, but just couldn’t figure it out. I’m not a total amateur at such things, so I’m surprised it didn’t work. When I ran audio out from the DirecTivo’s optical out into the G5’s optical in, the Sound control panel showed that I was getting audio levels, but the speakers wouldn’t output the audio. If anyone has any tips on how to make this happen, let me know. For now, I have my computer speakers and some regular JBL speakers hooked into a stereo receiver for the DirecTivo and the XBOX.

Despite the minor annoyance of having two sets of speakers, my new setup totally rocks. I highly recommend the Dell if you want a nice monitor — but don’t forget to check out all the other nice benefits beyond the huge display.

11 thoughts on “Pimp my 24" Dell widescreen monitor

  1. I purchased the same monitor and have been fairly pleased with it until I needed Dell support. To contact online support (FAQ or live chat) I need the Service Tag number, which are not applicable for Dell monitors. A second option is to look up the product model…nope, monitors are again not listed as an option. OK, I’ll call online support, which requires hiring a private detective to get the tech number and navigate through the voice menu’s. I was then transferred to FOUR different tech support agents. Apparently, the tech group was not made aware that Dell manufactures monitors. 1 hour and 47 minutes later, I’ve been informed by means of an automated response that I should reboot my computer, identify my nonexisting Service Tag number, and check out their online support (this congenial message is repeated for your pleasure once every 30 seconds).

    Two problems started this plead for support. First, the screen power needs to be cycled off and on approximately 60% of the time following rebooting my computer, because the screen is blurry and the auto adjust doesn’t fix it. Second, the card reader that used to boot up automatically when I put a compact flash card into the card reader, now fails to identify a card in the slot.

    I digress, FIVE. I have now been transferred to the fifth person. The other four tech agents don’t provide support for the Dell monitors. 2 hours, 8 minutes, I have now been disconnected! Arrrgggg…Long Live Dell Support!

  2. Jerry,

    this is a nice story and exactly where i find myself today. I am just trying to see if the monitor I got is new or refurbished and I cannot find a service tag nor find anyone through the voiceprompts to talk to.

    did you have success? have you figured out the maze? please let us know.

  3. I have two different systems with two 2405fpw’s each. The quick fix to the blurry monitor problem on a vga interface is to power cycle the monitor. The real fix is to use the DVI-D interface.

    I have just one of these 4 monitors on a vga (D-Sub) interface, and I have the same problem. When starting up, sometimes it gets blurry (does not sync).

    You can fix it by power cycling the monitor (easiest), sometimes by a reboot (may depend on video card and driver), and reliably by changing the color depth to 16 and back to 32 (this works I think because it causes a reset from the video card, as would for instance changing the primary monitor or other setting that would cause the monitor to go black).

    A small price to pay for such a beautiful monitor, but I have to admit I am going to go get myself a card with dual DVI-D because it is annoying.

  4. Service Tag not applicable to Dell monitors??? You got it wrong!

    I just discovered where the hell is the Service Tag on the 2405FPW monster display. It is a lonely, not-so-obvious 5-digit (XX-XXX) number that lies on the bottom-lefthand corner of the back, right after the manufacture date. To make things interesting, it’s not labeled “Service Tag” (actually, it has no label at all!), which makes finding it a real headache, especially when anyone expected more digits for a Service Tag (or at least expected the number to follow an explicit “Service Tag” label). The serial number (also unlabeled on the 2405FPW) lies on the bottom-righthand corner, and it’s a 20-digit alphanumeric sequence (yes, a longer number, er, string) either above or below the barcode. Thus, you can distinguish between the Service Tag and the Serial #: the Service Tag is the shortest number, while the Serial # is the longest one. Hope this will help you better in the future.

  5. Playing audio through the g5 you will need something like audio in (find it on vertracker.com) so that you can play the audio in. though the speakers. I also had to think it out a bit 😉

  6. Monitor is good but my problem is getitng the CF slot to work, any help would be great, I read up on itand people say it should auto run when you slide it in. It doesn’t do that, I have the latest driver for my mionitor. Anything else I should do or need?

  7. Can anyone advise what the TV viewing is like on the Dell? Is It any good full screen? I want a good picture for TV, should I look at buying a Samsung LCD display and running it as a PC screen running from my laptop when I need to?

    Have had no problems with card reader except SD sort of jammed sometimes. I got angry with it so slammed one in and a flako of plasti fell out of the slot and the problem is gone – works fine now.

  8. how does the sd card option work? once the card is in, what happens? can you use the monitor as a glorified digital picture frame or do slide shows?

  9. The comment about the Service Tag being printed right after the manufacturing date is not all correct. Mine is just a 3-digit code and was not accepted by Dell’s support site.

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