Two years ago Apple introduced its first LED backlit Cinema Display. The 24-inch model updated the styling of Apple’s displays to match the unibody MacBook Pro’s ID. It also added features like a built-in MagSafe power supply and mini DisplayPort input, both targeted at owners of new Macs. Unlike most 24-inch displays however, the LED Cinema Display carried an $899 price tag at launch. Even today they are selling for over $600 used. By comparison, Dell will sell you a brand new 24-inch display for $259 or $539 if you want one with an IPS panel. Needless to say, Apple discontinuing the 24-inch LED Cinema Display makes sense. The company is generally uninterested in playing in value segments and I’m not sure there’s a huge market for $900 24-inch displays, regardless of what logo is on the back.

What is a lot more interesting however is the panel used in Apple’s 27-inch iMac. A 16:9 2560 x 1440 LED backlit LCD measuring 27” along the diagonal. Giving you 90% of the resolution of a 30” panel but in a more compact space. If you need more real estate than a standard 1920 x 1200 panel can give you and don’t want to resort to a multi-monitor setup, the 27-inch iMac was very appealing. There’s just one problem: it comes with a built in Mac.

What Apple has done in the 12 months since the release of the 27-inch iMac is separate the Mac from the display, leaving us with a 27-inch LED Cinema Display priced at $999.

Both the 24-inch LED and 30-inch panels are gone, the 27 takes their place in Apple’s display lineup. The new model is really an amalgamation of its predecessors. You get nearly the resolution of the 30-inch Cinema Display with the features of the 24-inch model.

Those features start with the styling. The 27 has a glass front, reminiscent of the unibody MacBook Pro, complete with its overly reflective glory. Unlike the Macbook Pro however, the 27-inch LED Cinema Display will almost exclusively used indoors. Most rooms/offices having some degree of light control (hooray for blinds) and the display is bright enough to make glare from other lights sources a non-issue. The glossy front does pose a problem while watching videos full screen however. If you ever had dreams of being an actor, expect them to be somewhat fulfilled as you find your face in any dark scenes or objects (e.g. black shirt).

The stand is a solid piece of brushed aluminum. You can adjust the tilt of the display but there’s no option to adjust its height. This can be a major problem if you don’t have a height adjustable desk. Apple has a tendency to build very targeted devices, if you don’t fit the target, prepare to be frustrated.

The 27 uses an IPS panel paired with an LED backlight. You lose some color gamut since Apple continues to use white LEDs vs. RGB LEDs, but you gain a more compact package and lower power consumption.

There’s an integrated VGA camera along the top of the screen, once again a feature missing from the old 30 but present in the 24. Along the bottom you have a mesh grill for the integrated 2.1 speakers that come with the display.

Apple 27-inch LED Cinema Display Specifications
Property Quoted Specification
Video Inputs mini DisplayPort
Panel Type IPS, white LED backlight
Pixel Pitch 0.233 mm
Colors 16.7 Million (24 bit)
Brightness 375 nits typical
Contrast Ratio 1,000:1 (typical)
Response Time 12ms
Viewable Size 27" (68.58 cm) diagonal
Resolution 2560 x 1440
Viewing Angle 178 degrees horizontal, 178 degrees vertical
Power Consumption (operation) up to 250W while charging MacBook Pro
Power Consumption (standby) <1 watt
Screen Treatment Glossy
Height-Adjustable No
Tilt Yes
Pivot No
Swivel No
VESA Wall Mounting Yes
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 25.7" (650 mm) x 19.35" (491 mm) x 8.15" (207 mm)
Weight w/ Stand 23.5 lbs (10.7 kg)
Additional Features 85W MagSafe Power Adapter integrated, 2.1 Speaker System integrated, 3 x USB port hub
Limited Warranty 1 year limited warranty
Accessories Breakout cable with miniDP, USB, MagSafe power, power cable
Price $999

Integrated MagSafe Power Adapter

Around back there’s a plug for power and a single cable that carries mini DisplayPort, USB and MagSafe cables within it.

The MagSafe connector can be used to charge any MacBook, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with a MagSafe connector. It’s a very convenient addition to the display and obviously works very well if you are using the Cinema Display with one of the aforementioned notebooks. If you aren’t however, the short length of the MagSafe power cable is annoying. I’ve got a desktop and a notebook and I wanted to use the power from the Cinema Display to keep my notebook charged while I’m using my dekstop. Unfortunately this meant that I have to keep my charging notebook very close to the display input on my desktop as there’s only 10” of slack on the MagSafe cable (cable to connector, add another 1.5” if you include the connector in the length).

Mini DisplayPort, Only

Mini DisplayPort is the only way to get video into this monitor, which pretty much rules out any Mac made before late 2008. Even EVGA’s GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition lacks a mini-DP port. I was forced to go back to my old GeForce GT 120 in my Nehalem Mac Pro to use the display (which works despite Apple listing it as compatible with only the 24-inch LED Cinema Display). Like many Apple products, if you have the right hardware the combination works flawlessly, if you don’t it’s just frustrating. Atlona is the only company I’m aware of that makes a dual-link DVI to mini-DP adapter. It sells for $149.95 if you desperately want the new Cinema Display and don’t have a video card with mini-DP out. I have yet to try it but customer reviews on Amazon indicate it works with the 27-inch iMac at least.

Integrated Audio

With MagSafe and miniDP out of the way we’re left with the USB connector on the cable. The USB connector plays two roles. First and foremost it is to connect the three USB ports on the back of the display to your computer. The second role is to connect the internal USB audio device to your computer as well. Driving the integrated 2.1 speakers is a USB audio device integrated into the monitor (DisplayPort audio is also supported). You get basic driver support for the controller under both OS X and Windows 7.

The integrated speakers sound better than notebook speakers, but worse than a good set of desk speakers. There’s very little bass and the highs can be a bit harsh at loud volumes. Then there’s the issue of where the sound actually comes from. The speakers point downward, a couple of bounces later and it sounds like music comes from behind your display rather than straight at you as is the case with standalone speakers.

The speakers can get loud. At their lowest setting I measured 47dB(A) sitting 2 feet away in my office (40 dB(A) ambient noise), but cranked all the way up the sound meter registered 87dB(A). The issue at high volumes is you really begin to see the limits of the speakers. There’s only so much you can do with speakers integrated into a display after all.

Again the speakers are a definite upgrade from what you’ll find in your MacBook Pro, but if you’re a desktop user with a decent sound setup they will go largely unused. While I used them over the past few days, I definitely missed my Klipsch Promedia 2.1s.

Built in iSight, Not Half Bad

Webcams are ubiquitous in Apple's notebook and desktop lineups, the 27 supports the family tradition with its VGA still/video camera complete with green LED to indicate when it's active.

Image quality is surprisingly good even in my not-so-brightly-lit office:

Applications like Photo Booth under OS X can rely on the LED backlit screen as a flash to help. There’s a mic along the top of the display.

I iChatted with Brian Klug and he said the mic sounded good in practice.

Also at the top of of the screen is an ambient light sensor. With the option enabled in software as ambient light increases, the screen’s brightness will decrease and vise versa. For the most part I found the feature worked ok but in my office I often found that the increase/decrease wasn’t significant enough to make a difference as the day turned into night. The sensor was never over active unless I was taking pictures of myself in Photo Booth. The flash before every photo bounced back, hit the light sensor and caused the display to dim significantly. Presumably you won’t be doing that all of the time and if you are, there’s always the option to turn it off.

Like all Apple displays there’s no OSD, everything is done in software. Under OS X this means you need to download the latest update for the 27-inch LED Cinema Display. Under Windows you need to download an update to Boot Camp 3.1. The good news is that the display works under Windows 7, the bad news is you need Boot Camp installed to get brightness control. The downloadable Windows drivers won’t work on a system without Boot Camp installed, in other words, on a normal PC you lose the ability to control brightness. Apple should make the 27-inch Windows control panel a standalone package and not tie it to Boot Camp. It seems as if Apple expects the only users interested in this panel will be those who already own an Intel based Mac. Self fulfilling prophecy much?

The Experience
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  • Valleyvalley - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    I really don't understand why all the so-called professionally keep bashing glossy screens. I mistakenly bought a matte screen after reading such reviews and it is horrible. Because the black level is not great, and because the coating is not smooth, reading text is painful. I have to make the font size much larger than normal to be able to read clearly and smoothly, which essentially doesn't take advantage of the high resolution much. As a result I am returning it. If you go to the review section on Amazon about Dell U2711 you'll see similar complains. After this experience, I decide to go with the market choice instead of listening to any of the so-called professionals and I would never touch a matte screen again, althought I will not necessarily buy the Apple LED. Professionals would like to think that because they learned such and such, they can somehow tell people what looks better. However, in reality that is totally rubbish and it is still up to the consumers to decide what looks better and what products will succeed. Professionals also would like to think they are smart and people are idiots easily swayed by marketing strategies, and they are so enthusiastic to convince people something like "what looks better in your eyes". I would say marketing clearly playes a role but in the end most people are not idiots and they know what they are seeing and can compare the effects using their eyes.

    Glossy is not a joke. It has clear advantage of black and white levels, more vibrant colors, and there are even comparisons online of glossy and matte screens under sunlight, with the glossy screen reflective but still visible and vibrant, but the matte screen totally washed out. It is more of a debate and personal preference. If you google "glossy vs matte" you'll find that it is not so one-sided. There are many people who don't know what glossy is and what matte is and they just believe in their eyes, and there is nothing wrong with it and they are not idiots. At the end of the day it is what matters, right? How can you win people's eyes. Those numbers of color, constrast, etc. are meaningless to most people. A picture is worth a thousand words. People can use their own eyes to make a choice. Don't be too self-confident in telling people what to do. It is really not Apple who doesn't listen to its customers because Apple is a product, and needs to win customers and it is doing pretty well so far. It is the so-called professionals who simply don't like to change and they don't, and simply have no need to listen to Apple's customers because they don't make any products and they just like to do stuff the good old ways.
    Reply
  • kenpmason - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    Your comments regarding matt vs glossy screens ignore a critical spec--dot pitch. The Dell U2711, which I've been using for a year now, has what I believe to be the smallest dot pitch available on the market today, 0.233. Most other screens have 0.250-0.300-- in other words, coarser. If you take a given rez and spread it over more real estate, then the dot pitch has to increase.

    People who "believe in their eyes" also tend to gravitate to screens with overly vivid (or lurid) colours. This can easily be seen when comparing low-end HDTVs to high-end ones. Similarly, glossy screens are more impressive at first glance, but over time they wear out their welcome.

    Please comment!
    Reply
  • richardbalboa - Monday, October 04, 2010 - link

    In 35 years on this planet I cannot once remember ever going to the cinema to watch a film on a glossy screen. Reply
  • datajerk - Tuesday, November 09, 2010 - link

    Any chance you'll post your tuned display profile? Reply
  • Valleyvalley - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    I really don't understand why all the so-called professionally keep bashing glossy screens. I mistakenly bought a matte screen after reading such reviews and it is horrible. Because the black level is not great, and because the coating is not smooth, reading text is painful. I have to make the font size much larger than normal to be able to read clearly and smoothly, which essentially doesn't take advantage of the high resolution much. As a result I am returning it. If you go to the review section on Amazon about Dell U2711 you'll see similar complains. After this experience, I decide to go with the market choice instead of listening to any of the so-called professionals and I would never touch a matte screen again, althought I will not necessarily buy the Apple LED. Professionals would like to think that because they learned such and such, they can somehow tell people what looks better. However, in reality that is totally rubbish and it is still up to the consumers to decide what looks better and what products will succeed. Professionals also would like to think they are smart and people are idiots easily swayed by marketing strategies, and they are so enthusiastic to convince people something like "what looks better in your eyes". I would say marketing clearly playes a role but in the end most people are not idiots and they know what they are seeing and can compare the effects using their eyes.

    Glossy is not a joke. It has clear advantage of black and white levels, more vibrant colors, and there are even comparisons online of glossy and matte screens under sunlight, with the glossy screen reflective but still visible and vibrant, but the matte screen totally washed out. It is more of a debate and personal preference. If you google "glossy vs matte" you'll find that it is not so one-sided. There are many people who don't know what glossy is and what matte is and they just believe in their eyes, and there is nothing wrong with it and they are not idiots. At the end of the day it is what matters, right? How can you win people's eyes. Those numbers of color, constrast, etc. are meaningless to most people. A picture is worth a thousand words. People can use their own eyes to make a choice. Don't be too self-confident in telling people what to do. It is really not Apple who doesn't listen to its customers because Apple is a product, and needs to win customers and it is doing pretty well so far. It is the so-called professionals who simply don't like to change and they don't, and simply have no need to listen to Apple's customers because they don't make any products and they just like to do stuff the good old ways.
    Reply
  • Valleyvalley - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    These comments are not for the author of this review. I think the author did a good jobs and provided little opinion of his own, which is a good thing. These comments are mainly for the previous comments.

    My suggestion: if you care reading text online, etc. a lot, double check the Dell U2711 or any other matte screens before buying, though I know that is difficult as DELL doesn't have physical stores like Apple. From my personal experience, reading text is a lot easier on a glossy screen and that is very important to me, much more important than being a little reflective or 16:9 and such and such.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    I'm not calling myself a professional nor am I one to jump on the bandwagon, while I don't despise glossy screens as some do I prefer matt screens and can see why reviewers prefer matt screens as well.

    There's no doubt a glossy screen has a 'wow' factor that a matt screen doesn't which in turn is no doubt responsible for the popularity of glossy screens. However I find that works against it for image or video work as the image looks a bit 'fake', it's not unlike a P&S camera with boosted contrast and saturation. Again it makes the DSLR netural image look flat but the DSLR image is more accurate and better to work with.

    For text I don't have any problems reading a matt screen, I find the opposite as there's no worrying about getting the angles right to ensure there's no distracting light reflecting off the screen and getting in the way.

    I do have the Dell U2711 and think it's a superb monitor, it's always my first choice to work with when possible. I also have the Studio XPS 16 with the RGB backlit monitor which is also extremely good but it's difficult to ignore the irritating reflections from it's side to side glossy panel.

    John
    Reply
  • Valleyvalley - Monday, December 06, 2010 - link

    No. Matte is not more accurate. It is only slightly more accurate to a photographer's taste because it somewhat mimics the uneven and un-smooth surface of a printed picture. For the majority of people who don't even print out their pictures that often and just watch them on a monitor, share them online, etc., Matte==FAIL! It just looks worse. Reply
  • Valleyvalley - Monday, December 06, 2010 - link

    And you enjoy reading the DELL text only because you didn't put it side by side with the Apple 27 inch LED with the same resolution. I bet anyone can tell it is less smooth than this Apple display. Reply
  • smartvmusa - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - link

    Hey, I am lover of Mac product. Its a nice information about 27" LCD Display.

    Thanks
    Smartvm
    Reply

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