Alienware AW3225QF review: dawn of a new era
Product test

Alienware AW3225QF review: dawn of a new era

Translation: Julia Graham

Finally, I’ve got the first 32-inch OLED with 4K and 240 Hz in front of me. The Alienware model costs less than the competition. Is it still worth it?

The Dell Alienware AW3225QF represents a new class of monitor: 32 inches, OLED, 4K resolution and 240 Hz frame rate. It combines a high pixel density with perfect contrast and fast response times. Alienware relies on a QD OLED panel from Samsung. Find out more here:

  • Background information

    The big monitor preview 2024

    by Samuel Buchmann

First of all, I have to address the elephant in the room. We don’t yet have the AW3225QF in our range. Why, you may ask. The answer is, I don’t know. Our product management team is working on it, but distribution policy channels are unfathomable. If you buy the monitor directly from the manufacturer, it currently costs 985 francs or 1,119 euros. Fortunately, Dell still provided me with a device to test out. Here’s the most important data at a glance:

  • Format: 31.6 inches, 16:9, 1700R curve, glossy coating
  • Resolution: 3840 × 2160 pixels, 140 ppi pixel density
  • Brightness: 250 nits (SDR), 1000 nits peak (HDR)
  • Colour space coverage: 100% sRGB, 99% DCI-P3
  • Frame rate: 240 hertz
  • Response time: 0.03 ms grey to grey
  • Signal transmission: HDMI 2.1, DisplayPort 1.4 (DSC)
  • Adaptive Sync: Nvidia G-SYNC compatible, AMD FreeSync

The Alienware AW3225QF is the first monitor of its kind that I’ve really taken a closer look at. My expectations are high, the new panel has been hyped as the messiah of monitor technology in recent months.

Design: curve as a unique selling point

The AW3225QF is an exception to the rule as the only one of all announced 4K OLEDs to be curved. Alienware bends the panel very moderately with a radius of 1700R. This means the curve corresponds to a section of a circle with a 1.7-metre radius.

The curve isn’t really necessary – there’s hardly any colour shift when viewed at an angle.
The curve isn’t really necessary – there’s hardly any colour shift when viewed at an angle.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

Do you even need this curvature? Quite frankly, no. OLED displays have such a good viewing angle stability that you don’t generally get colour shifts in 32-inch displays anyway. It’s not like it makes the experience more immersive or better in any way. The only advantage I can identify is in the context of multi-screen set-ups. Those look nicer with curved displays than with two flat ones and a break in between.

Is the curvature bothersome? Also no. It’s so subtle that after a while I don’t even notice it. All in all, I don’t see the curve as an argument for or against the Alienware AW3225QF compared to similar models.

Alienware’s design might be a bit Marmite, but I think the space for cables in the mounting stand is a good solution.
Alienware’s design might be a bit Marmite, but I think the space for cables in the mounting stand is a good solution.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

The rest of the design is typical of the brand, with the base and back made of black and white plastic. At the back, a small alien head and the number 32 light up in adjustable colours. And the cable can be looped through the stand. The finish leaves you with a solid impression, and the monitor is stable on the table.

However, the selection of ports for signal transmission is measly. Alienware keeps them to a minimum with two HDMI 2.1s and one DisplayPort 1.4. Some manufacturers equip their 4K OLEDs with USB-C and DisplayPort 2.1.

DisplayPort 2.1 supports higher data rates than version 1.4. Exactly how much depends on the standard: UHBR10 extends to 40 Gbps, UHBR13.5 to 54 Gbps and UHBR20 to 80 Gbps. Current AMD graphics cards support DisplayPort 2.1 with UHBR13.5. Such high data rates aren’t really necessary. This is because, according to most experts, the image signal can be reduced in size using Display Stream Compression (DSC) without any visible loss of quality. With DSC 3.0, the bandwidth of DisplayPort 1.4 is sufficient even for 4K at 240 Hz. Uncompressed, this signal requires UHBR20.
The required data rates of a 10-bit signal with different compression algorithms.
The required data rates of a 10-bit signal with different compression algorithms.
Source: Screenshot YouTube/TFTCentral

Image quality: not to be sneezed at

Strapped in? We’re going for a deep dive into this topic. Measurements with professional tools from Portrait Display let us objectively classify image quality. If you aren’t interested in details and diagrams, you can read the short version then scroll to the gaming section.

Here are my most important findings in brief:

  • Brightness: the new QD OLED panel is no brighter than previous generations, but still bright enough in most situations.
  • Contrast: this is excellent, the black level is perfect and typical of OLED. Dark grey shades are a little washed out.
  • Reflections: the glossy coating of the display is hardly ever susceptible to reflections and makes the image appear crisp in dark rooms. During the day, the black of the QD OLED panel appears slightly shallower than that of WOLED monitors.
  • Colours: the AW3225QF covers both SDR and HDR colour spaces extremely well. The colour accuracy in standard picture mode is good but not outstanding. Meanwhile creator mode for increased accuracy seems buggy.
  • HDR: peak brightness is high, but only in very small test windows. Dolby Vision support is more of a handicap due to Microsoft’s faulty Windows implementation.
The new QD OLED panel lives up to the hype. However, Alienware’s implementation isn’t perfect across the board.
The new QD OLED panel lives up to the hype. However, Alienware’s implementation isn’t perfect across the board.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

Brightness and contrast: nit-picking (of the highest order)

Samsung’s third-generation QD OLED panel boasts the same brightness as its predecessors. It reaches 250 nits full screen brightness at the highest setting, sufficient in most situations. Only when the sun’s out would I prefer a bit more at my table next to the window.

Alienware doesn’t use dynamic brightness in SDR mode. This means that even if the proportion of white decreases (more precisely, Average Picture Level APL), the white doesn’t get brighter. Conversely, other manufacturers increase brightness with a low APL. Then the picture in an average game scene will get a bit lighter. However, if you switch from an interior to a snowy landscape, for instance, the APL goes up and the screen dims. A bright scene suddenly appears too dark in direct comparison.

White doesn’t continually get lighter or darker on the AW3225QF – irrespective if I’m trudging through a snowy landscape or there’s just a lantern shining brightly at night.
White doesn’t continually get lighter or darker on the AW3225QF – irrespective if I’m trudging through a snowy landscape or there’s just a lantern shining brightly at night.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

It’s a matter of taste if you like it or not. I prefer a constant brightness like the AW3225QF – at least outside of games. The ideal solution would be an optional setting, such as «Uniform Brightness» in the Asus PG34WCDM.

HDR brightness is also good, with the monitor almost reaching the promised 1000 nits in a 2% window. With larger test windows, however, the brightness drops faster than with other models – only 459 nits can be achieved in the 10% window. The QD OLED panel thus achieves lower values than the WOLED panel of the Asus PG34WCDM, my only reference value with the new measurement method so far.

I won’t bother with a contrast measurement because, like all OLEDs, the Alienware AW3225QF can completely switch off individual pixels. This means the contrast ratio tends towards infinity. The panel is also extremely evenly illuminated. I measure a maximum DeltaE of 1.4 between the centre and edges of the image.

This number describes the difference between measured colours and their target values (Delta stands for deviation, E for sensation). I use dE2000 for all graphics, which takes human perception into account. Deviations with a dE2000 below 1 are invisible, while below 3, they’re only visible to experts. From 5 upwards, most people can tell the difference between a reference image, and values above 10 are insufficient.

The AW3225QF features a glossy coating but is surprisingly non-reflective. In a darkened room, contrasts appear crisp and colours brilliant. By contrast, in bright ambient light, black turns slightly purple, as QD OLED panels don’t have a polarisation filter. In this situation, WOLED panels are out in front, especially if they boast a matt coating.

The AW3225QF (right) looks less black in bright surroundings than a WOLED panel (left).
The AW3225QF (right) looks less black in bright surroundings than a WOLED panel (left).
Source: Samuel Buchmann

Colours and shades of grey: amazing panel with firmware potential

By measuring colours and shades of grey, I intend to answer three questions:

  1. Gamma and white balance: how accurately does the monitor display neutral grey tones?
  2. Colour space coverage: how many colours can the monitor display?
  3. Colour accuracy: how accurate are the monitor’s colours?

On average, the AW3225QF displays grey tones a bit too brightly. Details can get a little washed out, especially in dark areas, but at least they’re not lost. I much prefer that to an overly aggressive contrast curve with black crush. The white balance is also incredibly accurate, with deviations from the target colour temperature being invisible.

The top right graph shows the balance between red, green and blue as a percentage. Ideally, all three lines should be exactly in the middle. If they’re not, greys will have a colour cast. The graph below shows how strong this deviation is with different shades of grey. Meanwhile, the gamma value at the top left shows how good the gradations between shades of grey are. The grey line should be as close as possible to the yellow line, which shows the target value of a 2.2 gamma curve. Otherwise the contrasts won’t be right.
Samuel Buchmann
Samuel Buchmann
Greyscale measurement in standard settings: 75% brightness, 75% contrast, native colour space.
Greyscale measurement in standard settings: 75% brightness, 75% contrast, native colour space.

The Alienware AW3225QF covers the common SDR colour spaces very well, you could even say outstandingly well for a gaming monitor:

  • sRGB: 100% (good = 100%) – the standard colour space for digital content. Most SDR images and videos are adjusted to sRGB.
  • AdobeRGB: 97.9% (good = >90%) – an important colour space for editing images intended for printing.

The almost complete coverage of AdobeRGB is really amazing. This was previously reserved for specialised graphics monitors with IPS panels. When calibrated, the AW3225QF would even be suitable for pre-press. While ex-factory colour accuracy is good, it’s not at a professional level. In standard image mode, the average DeltaE for sRGB content is 3.8, but some colours deviate more. As for saturation, it’s generally too high.

The graph on the top left shows how well a display covers the selected colour space. If it’s under 100%, a monitor can’t display all colours. The Color Checker on the top right examines how much colours deviate from their target values. The white squares signify target values, while the dots are measured values. In the graph at the bottom, you can see deviations as dE2000 values. Everything below the green line is invisible, all those below the yellow line are still very good and anything found below the red line is passable.
sRGB colour accuracy in the standard settings: 75% brightness, 75% contrast, native colour space.
sRGB colour accuracy in the standard settings: 75% brightness, 75% contrast, native colour space.

The whole point of Creator Mode is to ensure greater colour accuracy. I can set it to either sRGB or P3. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work properly with the latest firmware (M2B103). The gamma is clearly too bright, and the coverage of the sRGB colour space is reduced to 92.9%. As this is clearly a software problem, Dell could really do with making urgent improvements.

HDR: Dolby Vision proves an unexpected handicap

More and more games support HDR, which means monitor manufacturers are increasingly designing their high-end devices with this in mind, with OLED panels being a prime example. By switching off individual pixels, these panels help you achieve sharp boundaries between very bright and very dark content, such as explosions in night scenes.

When the Alienware AW3225QF receives an HDR10 signal, it almost reaches the promised value of 973 nits in HDR Peak 1000 mode. However, it quickly dims during big highlights. The contrast curve and colour temperature aren’t far off the mark. Unlike with old Alienware OLEDs, in HDR Peak 1000 the tone mapping works correctly.

The EOTF curve is the HDR equivalent of a gamma curve. If the grey line (measured value) doesn’t follow the yellow one (target value), grey tones aren’t accurately graded. Greys above this will be too light and any below will be too dark. In the graph at the top right, you can see the absolute brightness values (in nits) the monitor uses to display grey levels. The diagram below shows the colour balance in HDR mode. If the lines are below 100, the grey tone doesn’t contain enough of this colour, and if they’re over 100, it contains too much.
Greyscale measurement in HDR Peak 1000 mode in a 2% measurement window.
Greyscale measurement in HDR Peak 1000 mode in a 2% measurement window.

These are the results for HDR colour space coverage:

  • DCI-P3: 99% (good = >90%) – the standard colour space for HDR content, for example in HDR10 or Dolby Vision.
  • BT.2020: 79.7% (good = >90%) – an even larger colour space, seen as the future but current content rarely uses it.

The coverage of the very large BT.2020 colour space is better than WOLED monitors at just under 80% but not outstanding for QD OLED. TVs with this panel technology regularly boast over 90% coverage, as measured by my colleague Luca Fontana.

However, as content in this colour space is still a pie in the sky, this hardly plays a role in practice. At 99%, the coverage of DCI-P3 is excellent, and this is exactly what the HDR versions of today’s games and films are geared towards. The Alienware AW3225QF also displays colours fairly accurately, with an impressive average HDR DeltaE of 3.0.

HDR colour accuracy without luminance errors in HDR Peak 1000 mode.
HDR colour accuracy without luminance errors in HDR Peak 1000 mode.

This monitor supports HDR standard Dolby Vision. Unfortunately, Microsoft kiboshes this somewhat. As soon as Windows recognises a Dolby Vision-capable display, it declares the output signal as Dolby Vision by default, even if the content is actually HDR10. If this is the case, the picture will be too bright and colours will seem washed out.

Unfortunately, you can’t switch the AW3225QF to HDR10 manually. Eventually, the device receives an instruction from Windows to display a Dolby Vision signal. The only thing that helps is the Dark setting, which makes the image look right. However, this mode reduces the maximum luminosity from 971 to approximately 450 nits. Until Microsoft improves its HDR implementation, support for Dolby Vision is more of a handicap.

Gaming: wow!

Enough with the numbers. What’s the Alienware AW3225QF like for gaming? In a word: heavenly. This monitor hits the sweet spot for me in terms of pixel density and size. 4K resolution looks razor-sharp on 32 inches. And for the first time, it’s combined with OLED picture quality. Just be aware that you need a powerful computer for good frame rates in full resolution.

Be it strategy games, RPGs or shooters, everything looks good on the AW3225QF – and sharp.
Be it strategy games, RPGs or shooters, everything looks good on the AW3225QF – and sharp.

One advantage of the 16:9 format is that it doesn’t cause problems in any game. Role-playing and racing games draw me in a little less than they would on an ultrawide, but the richness of detail, the perfect contrast and brilliant colours easily make up for it. In isometric games, I also prefer the extra vertical space compared to a 34-inch screen in 21:9.

You’d struggle to find a game that the AW3225QF wasn’t suitable for. The 4K OLED also masters fast movements in shooters with flying colours. At 240 Hz, blurring is reduced to a minimum. Only competitive pros would find devices with a lower resolution and an even higher frame rate a better choice, such as Alienware’s sister model the AW2725DF.

Tracking shots of moving objects with 1/50 second shutter speed. At 240 Hz, motion blur is incredibly low.
Tracking shots of moving objects with 1/50 second shutter speed. At 240 Hz, motion blur is incredibly low.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

In the office: sharp text on an OLED – finally

Until now, all OLED monitors have been at a significant disadvantage when it came to office applications given that text never seemed particularly sharp. This was partly because of low pixel densities, but also down to special sub-pixel patterns that Windows and macOS don’t cope with well. What’s more, a lot of models had always-on dimming mechanisms and a high burn-in risk.

The Alienware AW3225QF solves at least the first two problems. Its third-generation QD OLED panel uses a new subpixel structure that results in less colour fringing than the old one. The pattern is still a triangle, but the individual sub-pixels form a different shape.

The new QD-OLED subpixel pattern (right) improves text sharpness compared to its predecessor (left).
The new QD-OLED subpixel pattern (right) improves text sharpness compared to its predecessor (left).
Source: Screenshot YouTube/Little Snowman Evaluation

Combined with a 140-ppi density (pixels per inch), even small text is crisp and clear in practice. I can’t see any colour fringing with the naked eye and the edges don’t look frayed.

Text on the digitec website with standard Windows scaling. Thanks to a pixel density of 140 ppi, the font on the AW3225QF (left) looks much sharper than on an OLED with 110 ppi (right).
Text on the digitec website with standard Windows scaling. Thanks to a pixel density of 140 ppi, the font on the AW3225QF (left) looks much sharper than on an OLED with 110 ppi (right).
Source: Samuel Buchmann

An IPS monitor is still a bit sharper, but the difference is negligible. The AW3225QF also has no Auto Static Brightness Limiter (ASBL), which reduces the brightness after a few minutes if there’s little movement in the picture. Depending on the model, this is [a real nuisance] for screens with LG WOLED panels(/page/der-lg-oled-flex-bringt-mich-zum-verzweifeln-26324).

Nevertheless, I can’t recommend the Alienware AW3225QF for everyday office tasks without certain caveats. As with all OLED monitors, there’s a risk of burn-in if you display the same menu bars and window arrangements for hours on end. The more brightness you need to work, the higher the risk. Only long-term tests will show how quickly it takes for ghosting to actually occur. After a month of testing out eight hours per day in worst-case scenarios, I still see no signs. And Alienware offers a 3-year burn-in warranty.

I really enjoy working with the AW3225QF. However, if it were mine, I’d be a bit worried about burn-in given my application profile, as I would about any OLED.
I really enjoy working with the AW3225QF. However, if it were mine, I’d be a bit worried about burn-in given my application profile, as I would about any OLED.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

One reason for this could be the preventative measures. The AW3225QF actively cools its panel when I require a lot of brightness. When it’s sat next to my silent MacBook, the device’s fan is audible but not annoying. Even my very quiet PC is louder. After four hours of running time, the AW3225QF automatically activates a pixel refresh cycle during the next standby, which eliminates temporary ghosting. I can also manually trigger a panel refresh. This takes an hour and is designed to repair more extensive damage.

Controls and power consumption: erm

Alienware doesn’t do anything wrong in terms of the device’s operation and controls, but it doesn’t exactly stand out here either. I operate the on-screen display (OSD) using a joystick on the underside. Sometimes it takes quite a long time to get to the desired option.

What bothers me more is that some settings are greyed out in some image modes. For example, the brightness can no longer be adjusted with P3 colour space in Creator Mode. The colour temperature is also fixed. This is where Alienware could take a leaf out of Asus’ book. Its OSD is clearer and leaves all settings available to me at all times.

Alienware should rework its OSD, it seems antiquated and restrictive.
Alienware should rework its OSD, it seems antiquated and restrictive.
Source: Samuel Buchmann

Apart from the gamma error in sRGB mode mentioned above, I didn’t notice any bugs. The monitor switches to standby when the signal stops and wakes up again reliably. It works flawlessly with my AMD graphics card PC as well as my MacBook.

The power consumption measurement also reveals no surprises: at 75% brightness, it gobbles up an average of 50 watts. If I push the setting to the maximum, it consumes 110 watts with a completely white picture. These are typical values for OLEDs of this screen size, while LCDs with LED lighting draw less power.

In a nutshell

Excellent gaming monitor at a fair price

The Alienware AW3225QF marks the beginning of a new era. As one of the first models available with the new panel generation, it combines OLED picture quality with high pixel density. Games are a real revelation on the AW3225QF. However, to make full use of the display, you need a lot of power and, depending on the game, the help of upscaling technologies. 240 frames per second in 4K don’t calculate themselves.

Even working on the AW3225QF is a treat. It solves the low text sharpness problem of past panel generations, is bright enough and offers a large work surface. The only unknown is the risk of burn-in, which the monitor shares with all OLEDs. At least Alienware tries to minimise the risk through active cooling and good maintenance functions. While not the monitor’s fault, the incorrect display of HDR10 content still remains a problem. Windows renders it incorrectly as Dolby Vision.

Compared to models from other manufacturers with the same panel, the Alienware monitor is the only one that’s curved. For me, this is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. More than anything, the AW3225QF stands out for its relatively low price. I’ll soon be checking whether it’s worth spending more. The Asus ROG Swift PG32UCDM, for instance, is already available.

Pro

  • Large screen with high pixel density
  • OLED black levels and good brightness
  • Outstanding colour space coverage
  • Hardly any motion blur
  • Excellent text sharpness
  • Good HDR10 accuracy
  • Not susceptible to reflections
  • Remarkably low price

Contra

  • Risk of burn-in with static content
  • Meagre port choice
  • Less deep black than WOLED in bright rooms
  • Dolby Vision a handicap due to Microsoft’s implementation

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My fingerprint often changes so drastically that my MacBook doesn't recognise it anymore. The reason? If I'm not clinging to a monitor or camera, I'm probably clinging to a rockface by the tips of my fingers.


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