Final Words

As a display, the Thunderbolt Display is no different than the 27-inch LED Cinema Display. You lose some of the resolution of the older 30-inch panels but you get a much more compact form factor that feels far less overwhelming on a desk. Having the 27-inch display exclusively for the past year I can honestly say that I don't miss the 30. I've mentioned before that I'm more productive on a single high resolution display vs. two lower resolution panels, the 27 continues to suit my needs very well in that regard.

Quality hasn't changed at all since the previous generation. Color temperatures are finally more reasonable out of the box thanks to Apple's pre-calibration on all panels. Brightness and contrast are both good and calibrated color quality is professional grade. Color gamut is about the only blemish, a side effect of Apple's LED backlight. If you're coming from a notebook panel however, you won't notice the difference.

The real improvements here are obviously those enabled by Thunderbolt. Apple is turning its line of displays into docks for its mobile computers rather than just external displays. It started with integrating MagSafe and has culminated in GigE and FireWire controllers now a part of the display. For MacBook Air owners who don't have options for these high speed interfaces to begin with, the Thunderbolt Display is a must-have. If your MBA is a secondary or tertiary computer that only gets taken on trips perhaps the Thunderbolt Display isn't so life changing. For those users who have moved from older MacBook Pros to the 13-inch MBA however, the Thunderbolt Display is a wonderful companion.

For MacBook Pro owners the Thunderbolt Display is more of a convenience than anything else. If you ferry your notebook between locations frequently, having to hook up only two cables vs. several is nice. I don't know how else to word this without sounding incredibly lazy (I promise I'm not), but I'm more likely to move my notebook around if I don't have to unplug/reconnect 7 cables everytime I get back to my desk.

For me the Thunderbolt Display is good but not perfect. I wish it had a 1/8" stereo output, an SD card reader and USB 3.0 support. Give me those things and I'd be ecstatic. There's always next year's model.

Promise Pegasus owners beware. If you're writing to the Pegasus while listing to music via the Thunderbolt Display you'll eventually encounter dropped/corrupted audio frames. The problem seems confined to the Pegasus, so we'll have to wait on Promise for a fix. The Thunderbolt Display itself doesn't seem to be the cause of any issues.

Even with its limitations, the Thunderbolt Display is one of a kind. I do hope it's the start of a much larger trend. Short of a CPU and memory there's a bonafide motherboard inside the Thunderbolt Display, featuring many of the components we're used to seeing inside systems but now encased in a display. Thanks to SSDs, Turbo Boost and Thunderbolt the only thing holding notebooks back from being true desktop replacements is GPU performance. Sony has already toyed with the idea of sticking a GPU in an external box connected to their notebooks, perhaps that's something we may see more of in the future.

There are still significant concerns over the adoption of Thunderbolt in the future. While it may be free of royalties, there's only one company that makes Thunderbolt controllers: Intel. Not to mention the licensing fees for using the Thunderbolt logo. What made USB and PCIe successful was the ability for many companies to produce and integrate the necessary controllers. I believe we'll need to see the same from Thunderbolt for it to truly become ubiquitous.

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  • NCM - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    At under a grand for a giant IPS display that incorporates at least $200 worth of extra connectivity (laptop power supply, T'bolt, additional ports, speakers) this monitor is good value for a MacBook Pro or Air user.

    Colour accuracy is more than adequate for most professional work. If it's not good enough you should be taking a big step up to something like an Eizo, both shrinking the display size and doubling the price in the process.
    Reply
  • jecs - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    You did read but you just don't understand what color accuracy means or what to do with it.

    What you call poor color accuracy is the gamut space that is important only if you work with wide gamut color. Apple does not cares for wide gamut, not with this display or with past displays. It does not means the display is not accurate in color, it is very accurate. But Apple optimize their displays for print accuracy were wide gamut is not required. Even for FCP Apple doesn't work with wide gamut. For consumer use wide gamut is also a mixed bag because many complain the color in general looks to bright or "artificial".

    I have a 2410 Dell display because I care for wide gamut for what I do but I do appreciate Apple displays and this thunderbolt display is good and other vendors should pay attention to the connectivity and function for desktop use. I would want a mate screen version for more serious professional design but for demanding consumers who appreciate quality and efficiency this is a nice option.

    But right now what you need to know is what display is best for what you do.

    Are you a professional. Are you a consumer or an aficionado looking for an intermediate option. Or buying the cheapest display.

    The Apple displays are for entry level professionals or high end consumers or hobbyist.

    For broadcast professional work or for cheap options look else where.
    Reply
  • hechacker1 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    While I agree with your overall point, I don't think the calibration used by Anand is really informative unless you are doing photo processing work.

    He's targeting the Adobe 1998 profile, which is great for photo editing and printers that support that target (rare unless in a professional setting).

    Most of the Internet is SRGB profile by default, and I'm guessing this display would perform even better there. Most consumer cameras also target SRGB unless you are talking about RAW mode prosumer cameras.

    The fact that this display can accurately display most of the Adobe profile bodes well for its accuracy.

    If you were in Broadcasting or video editing, you should target Rec. 709 profile, which has completely different gamma curves.

    In my opinion, Apple displays are generally very good for the money. Even my late 2009 Macbook Pro can calibrate to excellent color accuracy with VERY little error.

    However, my biggest complaint is that lately Apple displays target 6800-6900K color temps, which are too blue for most calibrations and profiles. Sure it looks good to the untrained eye, but it's bad for color accuracy.
    Reply
  • jecs - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I agree to your more expert opinion than mine.

    Apple is moving more than ever to the high end consumer or prosumer and the move to the higher kelvin could be another sign. Final Cut X and the price is another example.

    But all in all Apple displays are still good monitors.

    If you want a very cheap desktop IPS panel Dell also has a new Ultrasharp line with a shorter gamma space and fewer connectors. But there are other cheap options.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    ...that I would not be in the market for a $1000+ display from Apple, Dell or an other manufacturer. What i'm in the market for is the best I can get for $200 - $300. Now, what I can get for my dell is a docking station that comes with an additional power brick for $129.00. So I can get a decent (not great but decent) 22 to 24 inch display + a docking station well within my budget.

    I guess if a 27" is what you absolutely have to have and you are willing to pay for it, this is a good option...but not for me.
    Reply
  • NCM - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Which is fine and all, but the fact that you aren't in the market for a monitor in this category is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    What's next, that we start posting about our cats?
    Reply
  • BrooksT - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    Why would you spend $200 on a monitor when you can get a legal pad and pen for $8? I guess if you have to have a computer monitor and you're willing to pay for it, but paper and pen are better options for many people. Reply
  • name99 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Professionals pay for quality tools.
    Look, if you're earning $100K a year, and this makes you more productive (not to mention happier) it's worth it.

    Are you amazed that professional carpenters don't use $5 saws from Target? That professional truckers rig up the insides of their rigs with fancy electronics? That professional musicians buy high quality instruments, not what they can find on Craigslist?
    Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    You can also buy a $60,000 Cadillac Escalade SUV to pick up your kids at soccer practice.

    What's your point again?
    Reply
  • alphaod - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Nice review as usual; very tempted to purchase one, but I think I'm fine with my current setup; already have a power supply I keep plugged in at times.

    Honestly if Apple added a powerful GPU, yes I think it would a more enticing purchase, but than they'd have the issue of cooling this unit, powering this unit, and constantly upgrade GPUs; at the same time, we'd have people posting online asking all day when the next Thunderbolt GPU updates will come. This would probably also cause problems with pricing; it would come awfully close to the price of an iMac which I'm sure most people would then consider buying an iMac instead (making this product redundant).

    Personally I'd prefer if Apple added an optical drive (for those of us who replaced the optical drives in our MacBook Pro notebooks), optical out, better GPU in the display~Hell forget about releasing this display; redo the iMac as a dock for the MacBook Air/Pro!
    Reply

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