Sat, 18 Aug 2007 30-inch monitors
In 2004 Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD display was the largest high-resolution monitor on the market. So three years later, how does Apple’s monitor compare to newer offerings?
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For a while Apple had the 30in flat panel monitor space to itself with a niche product in the form of the 30-inch Cinema Display, offered at a premium price. Launched in 2004 – in response to motion and graphics professionals who wanted to view actual pixels in HD movie formats such as Academy 2K or Digital Cinema 2K – Apple settled on the WQXGA (Quad eXtended Graphics Array) size of 2560x1600 pixels.
These monster monitors are clearly not for everyone, but for designers, illustrators, musicians, motion graphics professionals and anyone else who found that they were rapidly running out of screen real estate, these 30in monitors were – and still are – a godsend.
Graphics cards manufacturers scrambled to keep up, and at its launch the Apple Cinema HD required two cards to drive a single screen. All current Mac Pros can drive two monitors with the base video card, and one of those can be a 30in screen. Currently cards from ATI, such as the X1900 XT, or NVIDIA, such as the Quadro FX 4500, can drive two WQXGA screens for a massive 5120x1600 experience. However, some older Macs will not be able to run Apple’s 30in monitor so check your specs carefully before making the investment.
Surprisingly, Dell was next on the scene with 30in offering of its own. Dell struggled to put the same kind of price difference on the giant screens that had made their 24in widescreen monitors so desirable, even among Mac purists who would normally scoff at putting a Dell on their desktop. But with technical specs that matched Apple’s in all key areas and a modest saving to boot, Dell became a serious competitor for the bargain hunter.
Other companies followed suit, and while the WQXGA end of the market isn’t exactly crowded, more manufacturers are now jostling for attention.
If Apple is to be believed, the secret lies in productivity gains. An Apple-sponsored report by Andreas Pfeiffer compared users working on a 17-inch Samsung SyncMaster 172x LCD monitor and a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD display. The results strongly indicated that the generous volume of pixels in the Apple monitor (all 4,096,000 of them) contributed to increased productivity not only among graphics and digital video professionals but also bean counters, who need to copy-and-paste stuff in Excel spreadsheets.
“Individually, the productivity gains may seem almost imperceptible,” wrote Pfeiffer. “Cumulated over time they can result in an return on investment of thousands of dollars per year.” So it’s time to write a letter quoting that statistic to your finance director.
The good news is that quality of all the 30-inch WQXGA resolution monitors is universally high, and no-one’s going to get fired for buying one of the monitors featured in this group test. All the monitors could be unboxed, plugged into a Mac (with a suitable graphics card – which covers all recent Macs) and be fully functional within a couple of minutes.
Being a digital signal, all the monitors presented strong, vivid colours and astonishingly crisp detail. Visually, there were minor colour differences, but not enough to trouble anybody but the most hardcore graphics purist. However, when we ran our scientific tests it became apparent that the colour gamut of the HP and Dell was much larger than that of the Apple and Samsung, so for precise colour work these might not be the best choices.
On paper, the Apple Cinema Display only has a contrast ratio of 700:1 compared to the other monitors’ 1000:1 contrast, but in practical terms it made no difference at all, and the playing field was fairly level. Instead, the devil was in the detail when it came to finding a winner.
It stands to reason that an Apple Cinema Display would be the best solution for an Apple product, such as a Mac, especially given the unique features that none of the other monitors have, such as a pair of FireWire 400 ports. However, the boffins at Cupertino appear to think that users will only want to tilt their monitor, not swivel it or adjust the height, which is somewhat limiting. In Apple’s defence, the company has recently dropped the price of its 30-inch display by £350, making it the cheapest in our round up.
The HP LP3065 and the Samsung SyncMaster 305T are both perfectly acceptable monitors. The Samsung is perhaps the most visually pleasing of the pair, but the HP does have three DVI inputs tucked away, and if that feature is important to you, then that’s clearly the monitor to go for. The Samsung suffers by only offering an average feature set, which means it sinks into the crowd while all the other displays on test boast some kind of unique attribute.
Over and above the excellent image quality shared by all the displays, the Dell scored highly on several fronts: a clean, distinctive design featuring height adjustment that was a joy to use, the genuinely useful 9-in-2 card reader and most of all, the reasonably low price. And given that nothing seems to have been sacrificed the group test winner became immediately obvious: The Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC.