Dell U2713H monitor
Performance monitors aren't all about FPS. For lovers of fine color and resolution, Dell makes some of the best pro displays for budget-minded broadcast or image editors -- after all, competitive models from Eizo and others can cost twice as much. The company's latest offering is the U2713H, running about $750 on Amazon and designed to replace the U2711, which we thought highly of when it first came out. But if you've decided to treat yourself to a high-end monitor, are a billion colors and a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel count worth double the price of a decent 8-bit-per-pixel screen?
First off, the IPS screen looks great, and the stand is amazingly ergonomic. It's widely adjustable, too, and can even be rotated 90 degrees to portrait view. As with the U2711, there's every source input imaginable, including dual-link DVI-D, DisplayPort 1.2, Mini DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI -- though the U2711 had an extra DVI-D port that is sadly missed. Image-wise, the newer model is nicer to stare at for hours than its predecessor, as it uses a less aggressive coating that eliminates the graininess many customers complained about on the U2711. As for those vaunted 10-bit-per-pixel graphics, the U2713H is actually an 8-bit + FRC and not a true 10-bit panel like what you'll find on the sublime U3011 model. That lets it dither its way to a billion colors, but visually speaking the effect is nearly identical to a proper 10-bit display. However, unless you have a graphics card that supports deep color like the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 I'm using, you'll only see the usual 8-bits per color (16 million hues). On top of that, you'll need software that supports it, like the apps in Adobe's CS6 Creative Suite.
If you're able to check all those boxes, what does it get you? The sRGB color range is a full 100 percent, giving you smoother transitions between black-and-white and color gradients, which allows for more accurate image adjustments and grading. That requires an equally accurate color setup, so Dell strives to calibrate each screen correctly before shipping them, and mine was nearly exact out of the box, with a factory report to prove it. I certainly couldn't tune it more accurately by eye (using color bars), meaning a dead-on setup would require an external calibration device and plenty of spare time. That makes it ideal for someone like myself who needs precise, but not dead-perfect colors straight out of the box or pro colorists and graphic designers who could easily tweak it the rest of the way. As for gamers and other casual users? Response times are middling, but if you want to make sure Desmond Miles' robe is exactly the right shade of gray, then why not, if you can afford it?
-- Steve Dent
X-Arcade Dual Joystick
Ah, the joys of impulse purchasing. I've always wanted an arcade-style controller and was even considering building my own when I came across a sale on Xgaming's X-Arcade Dual Joystick. Granted, it wasn't the company's top-tier Tankstick model (which includes a trackball for games like Tempest), but at 40 percent off, I couldn't complain much. It was such a deal that I didn't even have to do any "Married Math" -- you know: the math where you round prices up or down to lessen your spouse's anger.
In fact, after I flipped my old single-person arcade joystick on eBay for $45, my out-of-pocket expense dwindled to about $30 for a controller that usually retails for $130. And what did I get for my troubles? A darn sturdy and capable plaything, that's for certain. The X-Arcade Dual Joystick (as its name implies) features two sets of arcade-style controls and compatibility with PCs, plus many game consoles (there are even some convoluted methods for attaching it to iOS and Android devices). Each side includes an eight-way, bat-top joystick. Three rows of concave-style buttons are laid out to the right of both joysticks -- the top two rows are set up in a 3 x 2, Street Fighter-style layout, while two more buttons can be found on the third row below. The left and right edges of the case also have side buttons for pinball games.
The top controls are mounted on a sturdy slab of what feels like melamine board measuring two feet across at its widest. That width feels like a good compromise, allowing enough room for two without being too ungainly. Still, one could always use more elbow room -- especially when Street Fighter bouts get a bit heated. It's worth pointing out the various adapters for use on different game consoles are all sold separately. Only PCs, Macs and Linux machines are supported out of the box. Lastly, the joysticks can be switched from eight-way to four-way modes (for use in games that don't need diagonal movement like Donkey Kong or Pac-Man). Unfortunately, converting from one to the other requires opening the bottom panel, which, thankfully, does not void your warranty. I would have loved a simpler procedure, but I can't complain too much considering the price I paid. Heck, even at full retail, the X-Arcade Dual Joystick would feel like money well spent.
-- Philip Palermo