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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  • burgerace - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    Wide color gamut is, for most non-professional users, a horrible drawback. Operating systems, web browsers and sites, images from my SLR camera, games, movies -- content is created for traditional color gamut!

    At the recommendation of of tech sites like this one, I bought two WCG Dell monitors, a 2408 and a 2410. They exhibit garish red push, and distorted colors in general. ATI drivers can use EDID to adjust the color temperature, reducing red push to a manageable level. But when I "upgraded" to an NVIDA 460, I lost that option.

    Anand, do you actually look at the monitors with your eyes? Can you see how bad WCG looks? Forget the tables full of misleading numbers from professional image editing software, please.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    I think your problem is that most people spending this chunk of change on an LCD also have them properly calibrated. As mentioned in this exact review the uncalibrated picture was quite bad. This LCD might have even been cherry-picked for the review unit (don't know if this was sent by Apple for review or Anand purchased it for personal use). So WYSIWYG doesn't apply when calibration is performed. Reply
  • burgerace - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    WCG monitors are NOT capable of displaying a greater number of colors than a traditional monitor. They display the same 24 bit color, but it's spread over a greater range of wavelengths.

    ALL mainstream content is designed to use only the 73% gamut. There is no way to "calibrate" a monitor to make mainstream content look good. Either the monitor displays the content within the correct, limited gamut -- thereby using less than 24bit color to render the image and throwing out visual information -- or it spreads it out over the wide gamut, causing inaccurate colors.
    Reply
  • Pinkynator - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    Finally someone who knows what they're talking about!

    I've finally registered here to say the exact same thing as you, but instead I'll give you my full support.

    People just don't seem to understand that wide gamut is probably the second worst thing that happened to computer displays, right after TN monitors. It's bad - it's seriously bad.

    Things might change a very long time from now, in a distant future, *IF* we get graphics cards with more bits per channel and monitors capable of understanding that (along with proper software support), but right now it's just something that is being pushed by marketing. Even tech review sites like Anandtech managed to fall for that crap, misleading monitor buyers into thinking that bigger gamut equals a better picture. In fact, it's exactly the opposite.

    To go into a serious theoretical hyperbole for those who do not understand the implications of a stretched wide gamut with 8BPC output, a monitor with a 1000000000% gamut would only be capable of displaying one single shade of red, green or blue. Everything at 0 would be black, and everything from 1..255 would be eye-scorchingly red, green or blue. (Actually, the shades would technically differ, but the human eye would not be able to discern them.)

    Your options with wide gamut are as follows:

    1) Display utterly inaccurate colours

    2) Emulate sRGB and throw out colour information, lowering the dynamic range and picture quality

    That's it. Nothing else. Wide gamut, as it stands right now, DESTROYS the displayed image.

    If you like wide gamut, that's fine - there are people who like miss Justine Bieber, too, but that doesn't make her good.
    Reply
  • vlado08 - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    I don't understand sRGB emulation.
    But probably on the input of the monitor you have 8 bits per color and through processing they cange it to 10 bits to drive the panel? This way you may not lose dynamic range. Well the color information will be less than 10 bits per color but you dont have this color in the input to begin with. Tell me if I'm wrong.
    Reply
  • Pinkynator - Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - link

    Example:

    Pure red (255,0,0) on a wide gamut monitor is more intense than pure red on a normal gamut monitor (which content is created for, thus ends up looking incorrect on WG).

    That means (255,0,0) should actually be internally transformed by the monitor to something like (220,0,0) if you want the displayed colour to match that of the normal monitor and show the picture accurately. It also means that when the graphics card gives the monitor (240,0,0), the monitor would need to transform it to (210,0,0) for proper display - as you can see, it has condensed 15 shades of red (240-255) into only 10 (210-220).

    To put it differently, if you display a gradient on a wide gamut monitor performing sRGB emulation, you get banding, or the monitor cheats and does dithering, which introduces visible artifacts.

    Higher-bit processing is basically used only because the gamut does not stretch linearly. A medium grey (128,128,128) would technically be measured as something like (131, 130, 129) on the WG monitor, so there's all kinds of fancy transformations going on in order to not make such things apparently visible.

    Like I said, if we ever get more bits in the entire display path, this whole point becomes moot, but for now it isn't.
    Reply
  • andy o - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    If you have your monitor properly calibrated, it's not a problem. You don't have to "spread" sRGB's "73%" (of what? I assume you mean Adobe RGB). You create your own content in its own color gamut. A wider gamut monitor can ensure that the colors in it overlap other devices like printers, thus proofing becomes more accurate.

    Wide gamut are great for fairly specialized calibrated systems, but I agree they're not for movie watching or game use.
    Reply
  • teng029 - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    still not compliant, i'm assuming.. Reply
  • theangryintern - Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - link

    Grrrrrr for it being a glossy panel. I *WAS* thinking about getting this monitor, but since I sit at my desk with my back to a large window, glossy doesn't cut it. That and the fact that I HATE glossy monitors, period. Reply
  • lukeevanssi - Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - link

    I haven't used it myself, but a close friend did and said it works great - he has two monitors hooked up to his 24" iMac. I have, however, ordered stuff from OWC before (I get all my Apple RAM there since it's a lot cheaper than the Apple Store and it's all Apple-rated RAM) and they are awesome.
    http://www.articlesbase.com/authors/andrew-razor/6...
    Reply

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