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.