Apple 27-inch LED Cinema Display Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on September 28, 2010 12:15 AM EST
I think the more compact 27-inch form factor is the right package to deal with greater than 1080p resolutions. Thirty inch monitors are great if you need more than 1920 x 1200 on a single panel but they’re bulky and don’t have a particularly great pixel density. The 27-inch 16:9 panel in the new LED Cinema Display is a nice alternative.
The styling is impeccable however Apple made two sacrifices in order to design such a pretty display. The first sacrifice is the glass covered panel. It looks great but glare can be a problem. Apple has generally avoided the problems associated with glare by outfitting its glass displays with ridiculously bright backlights/panels; the 27-inch LED Cinema Display is no exception. Glare is actually even less of a problem indoors since its easier to control light, and the bright display is more than enough to compensate. The issue of glare actually has to do with watching dark scenes in movies on the screen. You’ll see your reflection in dark scenes or even in objects like a suit jacket in an otherwise well-lit scene. It’s very bothersome at first, but you can get used to it if you absolutely must. While I don’t mind Apple’s glossy MacBook Pro screens, I’m less sold on their use for a desktop. Perhaps this is because I don’t watch a lot of TV/movies on my notebook and more on my desktop.
The second sacrifice is the lack of a height adjustable stand. You can tilt the Cinema Display but you can’t move it up or down. Apple even has the gall to suggest simply adjusting the height of your workspace if your monitor is too high/low. This wasn’t a problem for me because I actually bought a height adjustable desk a while ago (a properly adjusted desk helps fend off carpal tunnel in a major way), but I recognize that the vast majority of desks out there don’t let you change their height. Whether or not the lack of height adjustment will bother you really depends on your choice of desk.
The integrated speakers are a nice touch. They’re good enough to get the job done if you’re space constrained and a significant step above what you get in a notebook. Compared to a good set of desk speakers however they obviously fall short.
Cable management is beautifully handled. The single cable carrying MagSafe power, USB/audio and video keeps desk clutter to a minimum. Being able to charge your MacBook/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air is awesomely convenient. This is the sort of proprietary Apple design that the company has employed for decades, the difference is now Apple has the marketshare for it to actually be useful. The cable length is a bit limiting to how you can setup your desk so keep that in mind before getting too excited.
As a monitor the 27-inch LED Cinema Display is very bright. Black levels are average for a high end panel and as a result we noted middle of the road contrast on the display. Color reproduction out of the box isn’t that great, but calibrated the display is good.
Color gamut is the bigger issue thanks to the LED backlight. You get a power efficient display, but you also lose a chunk of the AdobeRGB 1998 color gamut. RGB LEDs would solve this problem but they are costly (and power hungry) to implement. Apple wanted a thin display (ruling out CCFL) and presumably wanted to stay below $1000, which ruled out RGB LEDs for the backlight.
If you’re used to notebook displays, the 27-inch LED Cinema Display will still be a step above. But if you’re moving from a high end desktop panel you may actually take a step back in color quality. Coming from using mostly CCFL lit panels, I found the whites to be too harsh on the 27. Color and brightness uniformity are both very good.
Overall the new 27-inch LED Cinema Display isn’t the knockout I had hoped it would be. You get 90% of the resolution of a 30-inch display, in a more compact package. The ability to charge your notebook (if you’re a modern Apple user) is a nice convenience as well. And at $999 it’s actually more affordable than most 30-inch LCDs. With a 120Hz panel and RGB LED backlighting it could have been both forward looking and near perfect, instead what we have is a display that’s good, but not great.