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

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The LED can either mirror the display on your laptop (at the laptop's native 1,280-by-800 pixel resolution) or function as an extended desktop running at the full 1,920-by-1,200 resolution. If you're using your laptop with the lid closed, the display acts like an external monitor, switching on its built-in iSight Webcam and microphone if you're video chatting, and turning on the three speakers built into the monitor.

Yes, three speakers. Like the iMac, the display has two downward-firing speakers and a third that pushes sound out the back, reflecting off the support arm back toward the user. The resulting sound is a huge improvement over the MacBook Air's single speaker.

In fact, a lot of LED owners will likely use the display with their laptop closed. Snag an Apple wireless keyboard and mouse and you're ready to get to work as soon as you hook up the display cables. Just use the keyboard or mouse to wirelessly wake the computer from sleep mode and get busy. It worked like a charm for me, much to the delight of one of Computerworld's tech guys, who was considering the display/docking station concept for a corporate bigwig.

The integrated Nvidia 9400M graphics processor in the Air had no problem driving video on the display; playback was smooth, although I did notice that minimizing windows to the Mac OS X dock wasn't quite as fluid as it is on the Air's built-in screen. You'd have to be looking for it to really notice it, though. Apple claims a response time of 14 milliseconds, meaning video and games should generally play fine without looking choppy.

The display's aluminum and glass design complements the ultrathin MacBook Air.
The display's aluminum and glass design complements the ultrathin MacBook Air.

In addition to aesthetics, Apple also touts the display's environmental bona fides. It's mercury-free, arsenic free and avoids the use of PVCs around internal cables and wiring. In addition to being Energy Star compliant for low-power use, the LED display got an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool gold rating for environmental friendliness, as have a number of displays from other manufacturers.

The bottom line

Apple's 24-in. LED backlit Cinema Display offers everything a Mac user would want in an external monitor: a bright and sharp screen with high contrast, vivid colors and crisp text.

For Mac laptop owners on the go, it also doubles as something of a docking station, allowing users to charge their laptops and plug in several peripherals when working at their desks. With a built-in iSight Webcam, microphone and three speakers, it also works well for video chats and audio and video playback.

At $899, Cinema Display is not cheap, and it uses Apple's new Mini DisplayPort for its video connection, meaning an adapter will be needed for all but the latest laptops Apple has released. With those caveats aside, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better looking screen -- both in terms of the display and the aesthetics of its design -- out there. In both form and function, it shines.

For more about Apple see our how-to story: Don't wait for Snow Leopard: 10 ways to slim down and speed up your Mac now.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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