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Apple Cinema Display 20-inch LCD review: Apple Cinema Display 20-inch LCD

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MSRP: $1,299.00

The Good High resolution; clean, bright image; simple design.

The Bad Weak support policies; impractical for Windows PCs.

The Bottom Line This LCD is great for Power Mac G4 owners and publishing professionals, but consumers can save several hundred dollars on the older 17-inch Apple Studio Display.

Visit for details.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 5


Considering that 18-inch LCDs with 1,280x1,024 resolutions can cost upwards of $1,000, Apple's new 20-inch Cinema Display LCD, with its 20-inch screen and wide-format 1,680x1,050 spread, doesn't sound so expensive at around $1,300. Apple's careful, practical design, combined with this monitor's overall simplicity and good image quality, results in an attractive, efficient display for Power Mac users. But the 20-inch Cinema Display is not for everyone, as running this LCD on a Windows PC means sacrificing some simplicity and resolution. What's more, unless you buy the display as part of a whole Mac system, you can't even pay to extend Apple's miserly warranty. Still, the Cinema Display is a good match for new Power Mac G4 owners who are running the latest Mac OS, especially if they need an extra big work space or prepress-quality color. The 20-inch Cinema Display's clean lines and flawless design won't jar your senses the way that busier monitors, such as the Sceptre X7XV Naga, do. At 21 inches wide and 18 inches high, the thick, clear-plastic shell is big, but it's free of garish colors or flashy highlights. The three-point-design display rests on two feet at the front corners and a hefty leg that extends from the back, and it feels surprisingly stable. There's no way to swivel the display, but that hardly matters, since the panel has a 170-degree horizontal and vertical viewing angle. Images will appear clear when you stand up, roll away in your chair, or invite someone to huddle over a document with you.

However, to adjust the Cinema Display for your own comfort, you can move its leg in or out to tilt the screen from about 10 degrees to about 30 degrees back. When tilted all the way back, the top edge of the screen is 13.75 inches above your desk, low enough to keep you from straining your neck even if you're on the short side. A single, hard-wired, six-foot cable with an Apple Display Connector (ADC) plug on the end extends from the back of the LCD and draws both video signal and power from your Mac, along with a USB signal for adjusting the display. Talk about multitasking.

The Cinema Display has no onscreen menus; instead, one pressure-sensitive button turns the power on and off, and another, labeled with a brightness icon, sends a signal to your Mac to open the Mac OS display-preferences window. A company called Marathon Computer makes a $125 adapter to connect older Cinema Displays to an arm mount or a wall-mount bracket, and Apple says that Marathon is developing an adapter for the 20-incher. If you want to run the 20-inch Cinema Display on a Mac that doesn't have an ADC port or on a PC with a DVI graphics controller, Apple sells a $99 adapter that adds a USB line, a power cord, and dual signal cables. But aesthetes beware: If you use the adapter box, the single all-in-one cable will become the usual computer snakes' nest.

The 20-inch Cinema Display has none of the extras that many monitors offer these days--no speakers, no VCR inputs, no software, and no onscreen display.

But, befitting Apple's strength in graphics and publishing, the display serves as the platform for Integrated Color Solutions' Remote Director 2.0 software. Designed for graphics industry professionals, Remote Director 2.0 lets you verify the color of prepress proofs entirely onscreen, using the industry standards set by the organization known as SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications). Onscreen, all-digital proofing sidesteps the usual process of generating hard-copy proofs on special printers, reducing expenses and eliminating production-cycle delays.

Also handy for publishers, the Cinema Display's screen size--with 1,680 pixels across and 1,050 pixels down--gives you plenty of room to look at two whole pages side by side, or stretch out the timeline on a video-editing job, or position your tool palettes so that they don't block your view of the documents you're working on.

CNET Labs tested the 20-inch Cinema Display on a Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X 10.2. In casual tests, we found bright colors intensely saturated, earth tones rich with no hint of muddiness, and text very crisp and easy on the eyes. But CNET Labs' official LCD tests require DisplayMate Multimedia with Motion Edition Features. And since there's no Mac OS version of that application, the techs installed the Virtual PC OS emulator and ran the usual tests under Windows XP Home Edition on the Mac.

Those tests confirmed our first impressions about color and the screen's overall crisp look, but they also unearthed a tendency to lose control of the brightness at brighter settings so that shades of gray and colors didn't ramp smoothly from dark to light. However, that minor flaw shouldn't deter anyone from buying this LCD; its overall score falls in the just-above-average range of the LCDs we've tested. That said, however, the Mac/PC-compatible, more expensive Formac Gallery 2010 outperformed the Cinema Display by a wide margin. (Note: Apple representatives expressed no concern about our testing the Cinema Display with an emluator and an ADC/DVI connector. But we cannot ensure that the results would be the same if we had performed the tests on a Mac.)

For our informal tests, we used Apple's ADC-to-DVI adapter to hook the display up to the DVI port on our standard Windows testbed, a 730MHz Dell Dimension 4100 with a 128MB Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 graphics controller. The PC recognized the monitor, defaulting to 1,600x1,024 resolution--we're not aware of any PC graphics controllers that generate the Apple display's native 1,680x1,050--and the image looked about the same as it did on the Mac.

17- to 20.1-inch LCD image-quality test  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
CNET weighted score  
Princeton SENergy 981
Formac Gallery 2010
Apple Cinema Display
Envision EN-7500
Sceptre X9G
Brightness in nits  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
ViewSonic VG700b
Sony SDM-X72
Apple Cinema Display
Sony SDM-S71
Dell 1800FP
WinBook C1900
Note: Measured with the Sencore CP500
Like so many vendors these days, Apple's tech-support options seem like a way to increase the company's profits. Starting 90 days after you buy the display, Apple hits you for a hefty $49-per-incident fee. But Apple's support may be worth paying for: support personnel staff the toll-free lines from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT seven days a week. And when we put Apple's telephone tech support to the test, a live person routed us to the correct department; after holding for seven minutes on the toll-free call, a technician picked up the line and straightened us out on some lingering technical issues.

The warranty is limited to one year for labor and parts, including the backlight. Many other LCD vendors cover their panels for three years and the backlight for five--very important, since a backlight can cost you a considerable amount of money. Apple's more comprehensive extended-warranty plans don't cover the display by itself, only as part of a whole Mac system.

The company's Web site doesn't provide direct e-mail access to technicians, though it does offer a searchable knowledge base, and the site runs a discussion forum for customers that's frequented by helpful Apple staff. The Cinema Display documentation consists of a few illustrations that show how to hook up to your Mac, but since the monitor has no onscreen display and no driver independent of Mac OS and Apple's color-calibration utility's own help options, the simple pamphlet is really all you need.

Apple is reticent to describe its policies on replacing panels with defects, but after much discussion, the company told CNET that it considers a single dead pixel grounds for replacement; we couldn't extract a policy on pixels that are stuck on or missing fewer than all three subpixels.

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