Who really needs an Apple Cinema Display?

Erik Eckel evaluates the Apple Cinema Display monitor. Who really needs all these features?

Occasionally, after years of providing full-time IT consulting services, I encounter a seemingly innocuous topic capable of lighting a veritable firestorm. Which is the best antivirus application? Do Macs even need antivirus? Surprisingly, whether a user or business owner really requires an Apple Cinema Display is one of those controversial questions.

Do you or your staff really need an Apple Cinema Display? Probably not. I recently read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and am currently reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, both celebrated novels that indict modern trends of materialism and overconsumption, so forgive my quick trigger reaction. But, no, this is want versus desire. It's understandable to desire a Cinema Display, but you'll be hard pressed to justify the expense.

Oh, they're nice. There's no doubt. These 2560x1440 max resolution LED monitors possess an integrated 49-watt integrated audio system, three powered USB 2.0 ports, Mini DisplayPort connectivity, and a 178-degree viewing angle. The 27-inch widescreen displays (the only model Apple currently offers) also include a built-in iSight camera, a MagSafe connector (itself a seemingly innocuous innovation originally dismissed, but which I've personally seen save several laptops from clumsy accident), 375cd/m^2 brightness, a 1000:1 contrast ratio, support for 16.7 million colors, and 12ms response.

The monitor's maximum resolution, in fact, is perhaps the Cinema Display's most important feature, followed by its color matching capacity. A quick review of Newegg's two dozen 27" monitors reveals not a single one supports a resolution beyond 1920x1080 (at least on the day this post was written).

Graphic artists, video production teams, photographers and exhibition and presentation groups may be the only constituencies that really require the resolution, color matching and performance the Cinema Display boasts. Certainly, the Cinema Display fulfills a specific performance role within businesses and other organizations. Brightness, color temperature, gamma and contrast customization, tied to expert adjustment within Mac OS X's Display Calibrator Assistant, assist professional users in leveraging the most of the display's capabilities. But many Cinema Displays adorning directors' desks are just like the Porsche 911s parked in the executive lot that will never see an SCCA event or race track: overkill.

As with anything else, there are exceptions. Some offices and environments pay tremendous heed to style and design. In such cases the Cinema Display's sleek form, which matches the rest of the unibody Mac systems' and that minimizes cords and clutter, may justify its purchase. In other cases you or your staff may actually require a monitor capable of the Cinema Display's performance. But I've seen Cinema Displays in server rooms, before, and in today's tight economy, that's not the best use of an organization's technology dollars.


See the CNET TV review of the 27' Apple LED Cinema Display