A User Review

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Apple 23-inch

Cinema HD Display

By Ian Lyons

A Computer Darkroom Review

Before I get to the meat of this review lets look at some history. In mid May 2001 Apple announced their move to a fully LCD  display line-up. At the same time they unveiled a new all digital 17-inch Apple Studio Display featuring 1280 by 1024 resolution and  lowered prices for two other digital LCD displays in their line-up. The 22-inch Apple Cinema Display had already become very popular within the pro-graphics and imaging industry and the new 17-inch unit was set to become equally popular.


Next and nearly a year on Apple released the 23-inch Cinema HD Display. This display features a 1920 by 1200 pixel active-matrix, liquid crystal display, and like its forerunners incorporates a pure digital interface.

This new display is less than two inches thick and has a wide format design which delivers a 16:10 aspect ratio. Putting these numbers in context the display enables users to view two 11-inch by 8-inch pages at once with room to spare. In Photoshop we can park the Palettes on the right hand side of the display and still have lots of room for the image. Alternatively we could use the Palette Well and have masses of room - dual display configurations aren't really necessary when using the 23-inch Cinema HD Display (see screenshot below).

Technical Information

  • Screen size and type  23 inches diagonal viewable image size (19.5 inches Horizontal by 17.25 Vertical inches) Thin film transistor (TFT) active-matrix liquid crystal display.

  • Display colours (maximum)  16.7 million.

  • Viewing angle (typical)  170-deg horizontal; 170-deg vertical.

  • Brightness (typical)  200 cd/m2

  • Contrast ratio (typical)  350:1

  • Resolutions  1920 by 1200 pixels (optimum resolution)  1280 by 800 pixels  1024 by 640 pixels  800 by 500 pixels

  • User controls (hardware and software)  System power on/sleep/wake and Brightness

Image 1

Typical Photoshop Layout


Image 2

23-inch Apple Cinema HD Display Profile

Decision Time

Over the years I've probably spent a few thousand hours in front of CRT type displays of varying quality and relatively few at an LCD. So with my Mitsubishi CRT's at nearly 3-years old and showing signs of their age I found myself in the market for replacement. The question I put to myself was: do I purchase a new pair of CRT's or make the move to LCD?

To help me make an informed decision I questioned numerous highly respected Photoshop workers but found opinions to be divided. If I was looking for someone to help make my mind up there were plenty but I could also find others to change it. Some suggest that for colour critical work LCD's don't cut-the-mustard - viewing angle, evenness of illumination, contrast ratio, colour accuracy, etc are all quoted as reasons for not using them. Others take the opposite view and suggest that many of these issues have either been resolved or could be overcome with only minor alterations to my working environment. I'm not near smart enough to argue with either camp but in the few short hours (approx 50 in 12 months) I've had using high-end LCD's it was clear that the full story wasn't being told - by either side!

There's no question that the very best CRT's can cost significantly less than the best LCD's. Furthermore, I don't doubt that for someone needing the ultimate in colour accuracy the CRT is likely to be the only acceptable option. However, my eyes and so my own experience in front of  LCD's from Apple and Formac told me that there was much to be gained and relatively little (ignoring my hard earned cash) to be lost. By early August 2002 I had all but made my mind up to purchase the 22-inch Apple Cinema Display along with a new Apple G4 Power Mac but then decided against - instead I took a leap of faith (some say it was a moment of insanity) and ordered the 23-inch Cinema HD Display. I say faith because I could find nobody in my area that actually used one and so had no opportunity to try-before-I-bought. The 23-inch display arrived with my new Power Mac in early October and at time of writing this review I've been using it for just over a month.

Moment of Truth

So why did I go LCD and why so big? There are a number of reasons and some very specific to me and my work environment.

  • A twin CRT setup (image and Photoshop tool palettes) takes up an incredible amount of desktop space - the 23-inch LCD is only 24 inches wide and a total of (including support leg) 6.5 inches deep.

  • With the high brightness level and contrast ratio I can put the lights back ON - meaning I don't need to live in a cave anymore.

  • There is NO glare from the LCD - my CRT's had low glare glass but it wasn't worth a jot.

  • On low-end LCD displays users can experience severe colour shifts if images are viewed even a little off-axis - even compared to the 22-inch Cinema Display Apple has reduced this problem on the 23-inch model. All Apple displays deliver a minimum 160-degree viewing angle both vertically and horizontally. You really do need to make significant head movements for the angle of view issue to cause a problem.

  • Connection to the Power Mac is via Apples proprietary all-digital ADC cable which means that an additional power supply isn't required.

  • The all-digital signal between the computer and the Apple LCD display  produces undistorted screen images every time. Since there is no need to convert the digital signal to an analog form there is no image degradation. Furthermore there is no geometric distortion such as pin-cushion, trapezoid, etc. Degauss isn't required and the list of advantages goes on!

The 23-inch display incorporates two pressure sensitive buttons for Brightness and a combined Power/Sleep function. On the rear is a pair of USB ports. The Brightness control actually calls up the apple Display control panel from the Operating System and operates in software. The default setting is around 60% and when measured using my Eye-One spectrophotometer this equates to a luminance level of around 120 cd/m2 (actually the optimum value for an LCD). Obviously as the display ages and the backlight performance declines this value will reduce. My initial impressions of the Cinema HD Display would be that the images are "Stunning" - i.e. sharp, bright and vibrant colour. After calibration the black to white gradients are very smooth and devoid of the colour streaks/casts and posterisation. My CRT based legacy images appeared spot-on if not a tad over-sharpened and this pretty much confirmed the accepted wisdom that at the CRT's are considerably softer than LCD type displays. Colour accuracy at the level I work at (non-professional) has proved to be more than acceptable.

Typically the larger an LCD panel gets the more difficult it is to maintain even illumination across its full surface. We've all read of light and dark patches in the corners and how this can impact upon our ability to apply accurate colour and tone edits to images. Unfortunately the Apple 22-inch Cinema Displays I'd previously  tried certainly exhibited a greater variation than my CRT's. That said the 17-inch units were a lot better than the 22-inch versions. However, when measured across the full display area I find that the amount of variation from centre to edges for the 23-inch HD display is significantly better (at delta-E less than 3) than either of my CRT's (delta-E as high as 6). Dead or stuck pixels is another area that can plague LCD's and so far I've not found any but if others are to believed they will eventually arise.

Compared to my 19-inch Mitsubishi CRT's the the image is razor sharp, there is NO flicker. My CRT's were set up for 1280 by 1024 pixel resolution and the screen shot shown below (left) should give and indication of the amount of additional desk top space provided by 1920 by 1200 pixels. It's worth mentioning that driving an LCD at a resolution other than its native value will result in VERY soft images and text. You also need a graphics card capable of producing 1920 by 1200 pixels and not all can.

Resolution Comparison

Power Comparison

One of the plus points often mentioned for LCD's is the reduced power requirement. For many users this has little meaning but power is measured in watts and more watts means more heat. The graph shown above (right) compares typical LCD and CRT displays. Recall that I had two of these CRT's on my desktop and this has been replaced with just one LCD display. The benefit to me isn't just measured in heat output but the complete absence of screen flicker at the periphery of my vision - thus reduced eye-strain and headaches.

It is often claimed that LCD's do not offer a wide enough colour gamut. However, this is a fallacy as the the screen shot below show. I've measured the colour gamut of the Cinema HD Display as only marginally less than that  of my CRT's. Apple LCD's are factory set for Gamma 2.2 and a colour temperature of  approximately 6500Kand should therefore fit well within most Photoshop users requirements.


Gamut Plot Comparing CRT and Apple LCD Display

On Mac systems ColorSync automatically identifies an Apple LCD display and creates a profile based on information obtained from the display itself. Whilst not perfect this profile provides a reasonable  representation of the display's colour reproduction capabilities. A more accurate user defined profile can be created using the Apple Display Calibrator Assistant and a tutorial on its use can be found here

For ultimate colour accuracy  we can use an external measurement device such as the GretagMacbeth  Eye-One, ColorVision Spyder or MonacoOPTIX; all three of which are reviewed elsewhere on this web site. These tools have been designed to measure the colour output from an LCD display and create an accurate profile. The big weakness in all current LCD displays is their relatively poor black level. Typically a CRT can get as low as 0.3 cd/m2 but even the best LCD's can only achieve just under 0.5 cd/m2 when set to maximum brightness. This means that LCD's are probably not suitable for those who need black levels as low as those of CRT's.

As mentioned above I've now been using the 23-inch Cinema HD Display for just over a month. I was very pleased when it first arrived and my opinion hasn't changed. I've had no difficulties with colour shifts, poor neutrals, shadow posterisation, rainbowing and all the other issues that plague the low end units. For the price of the Apple 23-inch LCD I could have bought two of the new Sony Artisan 21-inch Self Calibrating CRT displays which by all accounts are better than CRT's costing 3 times as much again. Nevertheless I made my decision and am VERY happy with the results to date.

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