Review: Apple's LED Cinema Display a boon for Mac laptop users

Apple's new display is more than a gorgeous 24-in. monitor; it's a de facto docking station

To most people, Apple Inc.'s new 24-in. LED Cinema Display looks like a stylish aluminum-and-glass monitor featuring a bright, sharp screen saturated with vivid colors. But this environmentally friendly monitor is also a modern take on a docking station for Apple's newest generation of equally stylish laptops.

In fact, that's how Apple has positioned the $899 LED display, which was announced in mid-October at the same time the company unveiled two new "unibody" MacBooks and two new 15-in. MacBook Pro models. Those new laptops -- and the revamped MacBook Air -- were redesigned with this LED display in mind: They all feature a Mini DisplayPort, Apple's version of the new industry standard DisplayPort, which feeds video from the laptop to an external monitor.

I'll explain more about the new Mini DisplayPort and how it works with Apple's newest laptops in a bit. First, let's look at the display itself. It replaces the now-discontinued 23-in. Cinema Display, which offered the same screen resolution in a slightly smaller size and did not use LED backlighting.

A stunning display

The 24-in. display Apple sent over for review purposes last week is, in a word, stunning. If you like the LED displays Apple has in its laptop lineup now, you're going to swoon when that same brightness, color saturation and razor-sharp text rendering is blown up on a 24-in. screen. Of course, you're paying something of a premium for that big-screen perfection; other 24-in. displays sell in the $500 to $600 range, a lot less than the $899 Apple wants for the Cinema Display. But they aren't LED-backlit, nor are they anywhere as stylish. And since they aren't LED-based, they can't make the environment-friendly claims Apple can.

The 21-pound Cinema Display looks a lot like Apple's 24-in. iMac without the extra "chin" below the screen. Like the iMac, it's adjustable up and down, but doesn't swivel from side to side. The viewing angle is great: 178 degrees along both the vertical and horizontal planes.

The main chassis -- constituting the back and sides of the display -- comes from a single chunk of aluminum, just like the new unibody laptops. The glass panel in front is surrounded by a shiny black bezel, again like the screen used in the new MacBooksMacBook Pro. And while the measured brightness is down a bit from Apple's other displays -- 330 instead of 400 nits -- the new glass allows for better contrast. The instant-on LED display has a contrast ratio of 1000-to-1, instead of the 700-to-1 ratio its siblings offer. The upshot is a screen with exceptional brightness and contrast, even in a bright office setting with sunlight-drenched windows.

The glossy screen does reflect a bit, but I didn't find that to be a problem. It goes with the territory: Glossy screens, while offering reflections in bright settings such as fluorescent office lights, compensate with brighter whites, deeper blacks and saturated colors. I'll take the trade-off.

The new 24-in. LED Cinema Display is designed to work with Apple's newest laptops.
The new 24-in. LED Cinema Display is designed to work with Apple's newest laptops.
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