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Sunday, December 07, 2008, 07:05 am PT (10:05 am ET)

Apple's LED Cinema Display: the review


The LED Cinema Display in summary

Deciding what to rate Apple's latest display has been particularly difficult precisely because its value is entirely dependent on your choice of hardware and your lifestyle.

As an external display for a MacBook, or for most users of future desktop Macs, the display is excellent. It produces a vivid picture and could easily be called a lifesaver for Mac portable owners tired of tripping over AC adapters or plugging in several cables each time they revisit their desks. Apple's design is quick to set up and easy to use.

But for everyone else, the situation quickly complicates itself. In the time-honored tradition of next-generation Apple hardware, the LED Cinema Display alienates not just older Macs but even systems that technically handle DisplayPort but haven't used Apple's format. It's entirely likely that at least this 24-inch model won't leave the store without a MacBook following at the same time. That's no doubt what Apple would like, but it also sacrifices sales to users of any platform who might be in between system upgrades.

And of course, certain professionals or especially demanding home users simply won't want the display at all due to the gloss. Again, it's not terrible, but to exclude a significant portion of Apple's bread-and-butter pro market from considering an ideally-sized display is effectively throwing money away. Even if a future 30-inch display goes with a matte cover, those prospective buyers aren't likely to be upsold to the bigger offering — they'll buy elsewhere instead.

There's also the matter of priorities. A Cinema Display with speakers, a webcam and MagSafe isn't necessarily what people want. Without having a component pricing chart, it's impossible to say just how much Apple could have saved by stripping these features. However, in a fiercely competitive market for computer displays, dropping the price to $799 could potentially have picked up owners who wanted the least expensive color-accurate display possible.

As such, AppleInsider's rating shouldn't be used as an absolute gauge of quality, but rather a median point to help you know what to expect. If you're Apple's target user, you'll probably love it and may well rate it half a star higher or more. If you don't need the extras or you don't like the tradeoffs, the display could be strictly average or mediocre. It also won't appeal to buyers who are willing to exchange some image quality for a lower price tag.

From a purely technical standpoint, we like it. The picture is vivid, the sound is great for the class, and the design is both eye-catching and at times handy. We just hope that more Macs and Windows PCs can recognize Mini DisplayPort and that Apple doesn't end up sacrificing a large chunk of its display sales to high-end customers in the name of those few mainstream buyers who can spend the money Apple would like.

Rating 3.5 out of 5



Pros:

Good image quality at or near 24-inch iMac level
LED backlight is green and instant-on
Strong built-in sound
iSight is handy for video chats
Built-in MagSafe charging for MacBooks
Easily rotated/pivoted design
No external power brick

Cons:

Glossy display will scare away some (not all) buyers
Mini DisplayPort currently a MacBook-only standard
Expensive for those who don't need the audio, video or power features
No FireWire; one less port in total
No hardware power or brightness controls