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Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch review: Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch

Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch

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Eric Franklin
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Eric Franklin

Senior Managing Editor / Mobile

Eric Franklin leads the CNET Reviews editors in San Francisco as managing editor. A 20-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, at the movies, or at the edge of his couch with a game controller in his hands.

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8 min read

Let's get right to it. If you're considering purchasing the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display, know that you'll need a Mac with a Mini DisplayPort connection in order to use it. If you only own a PC or older Mac, you're out of luck.

Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010)
7.6

Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch

The Good

The Apple LED Cinema Display's high resolution and screen coating gives it not only great performance in movies and games, but also in everyday tasks. The monitor works seamlessly when connected to a recent model MacBook, and provides a charging station and three USB ports. And it just looks really slick on a desktop.

The Bad

Thanks to Apple's decision to only include a Mini DisplayPort connection, the LED Cinema Display can only be used with Macs from late 2008 and on. Also, the display lacks ergonomic features and more-granular customization options. Some users will not appreciate the overly reflective and glossy screen.

The Bottom Line

As a desktop display and USB extender, the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display works wonderfully; however, for $1,000, there are better monitors that offer more options, including PC and Mac compatibility.

Not that the display's aesthetic appeal and fantastic performance won't inspire some to make the plunge right into a new Mac. Movies and games look great on the display, but what impressed us more was the way it handled fonts. Thanks to its glossy screen coating, fonts have a smoothness we've rarely seen, which makes doing everyday tasks almost as appealing as watching a movie. Almost. Also, the display works nearly seamlessly with our compatible MacBook Pro, including a MagSafe connector that charges the laptop as long as the monitor is plugged in.

Unfortunately, the same glossy coating that provides smooth fonts is also highly reflective. And don't plan on adjusting the display beyond tilting it back 10 degrees, as no other ergonomic option exists.

So $1,000 is a tough pill to swallow for a display with such a focused intended use, especially with the availability of other monitors like the Dell UltraSharp U2711, which has slightly better performance and is only $100 more. Unless you find some kind of adapter, though, you likely won't be connecting it to your MacBook.

PC users will obviously want to steer clear of the 27-inch LED Cinema Display; Mac desktop users would be better served with the Dell and its numerous customization and ergonomic options. MacBook Pro users willing to pay the price won't be disappointed with the LED Cinema Display's performance and synergy with their laptop of choice.

Design and features
Design-wise, the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display is, for all intents and purposes, a larger version of the 24-inch LED Cinema Display the company released in 2008, with a few changes. Those changes include an obviously larger screen, a much higher 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution, and an ambient light sensor. The ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the screen brightness depending on the amount of (you guessed it) ambient light in the room. Other extras found on the 24-inch model are retained here, including a built-in camera and microphone, built-in 2.1 speakers, and three USB ports located on the lower back left.

The monitor's chassis, including the back of the monitor and its foot stand, is the same smooth metallic gray seen on the 24-inch LED Cinema Display and Apple's Macbook Pros. The panel is 2.25 inches in full depth and about 25.6 inches wide, making it as wide as the 27-inch Dell UltraSharp U2711, although about 1.2 inches shallower. The bezel, flush with the screen, is 1.1 inches wide on the right and left sides, and the distance from the bottom of the bezel to the desktop is 3.6 inches. The foot stand is 7.4 inches wide, 8.2 inches deep, and the monitor hardly moved when we knocked it from the sides. This is in part thanks to the flatness and width of the foot stand, but also the display's heavy 24-pound weight.

If you own a MacBook from late 2008 or later, you'll be able to connect the 27-inch LED Cinema Display to your computer via Mini DisplayPort, otherwise, um, no. Like the previous 24-inch monitor, Apple refuses to offer DVI support for PCs and owners of older Macs.

The display includes a 10-degree back tilt as its sole ergonomic option, with no screen-height adjustment, pivoting, or swivel offered.

Calibration options in OS X include brightness, color temperature, gamma, and contrast controls. The interface for the latter can only be accessed by turning on expert mode from the Display Calibrator Assistant.

Design highlights
Connectivity Mini DisplayPort
Ergonomic options 10-degree back tilt
Resolution 2,560x1,440 pixels
Aspect ratio 16:9
Audio Built-in speakers
VESA support No

Feature highlights
Included video cables Mini DisplayPort
Backlight LED
Panel type H-IPS
Screen film Glossy
Number of presets n/a
Overdrive No
Picture options Brightness, Contrast
Color controls Color temperature
Gamma control Yes
Additional features Three USB ports; built-in camera; ambient light sensor

Performance
DisplayMate Performance: We tested the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display through its Mini DisplayPort input, connected to a MacBook Pro running both Snow Leopard and Windows 7. The display posted a composite score of 97 on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based performance tests--only 1 point lower than the Dell UltraSharp U2711.The display excelled at nearly every DisplayMate test we threw at it, achieving performance as good or sometimes better than the U2711. The only glaring performance problem we noticed was in our High Contrast Streaking and Ghosting test. This tests a display's ability to accurately display an image when large changes in contrast are present, such as a bar graph. We saw very apparent ghosting in the bottom level of this test screen; however, it should be noted that we didn't see evidence of this during real-world usage.

Text: In text, we saw no color problems with black text on a white background. Fonts were visible down to a 6.8-point size, and thanks to the screen coating on the monitor, the fonts have a smoothness unmatched by the Dell UltraSharp U2711.

Movies: We tested the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display using the Blu-ray version of "Avatar." Movies had an impressively low black level and no noticeable color tint problems. Colors were accurate without looking drab.

Games: Because of our intimate familiarity with World of Warcraft (WoW), it remains the best tool for judging color quality and vibrancy in games. WoW had a vibrancy and level of color saturation seen only on a few monitors before, for example the Dell UltraSharp U2711 and Samsung PX2370.

Sound: The built-in 2.1 speakers deliver powerful, deep, bassy sound that excelled when playing music and action scenes in movies and games; dialogue was easy to hear as well.

Viewing angle: The optimal viewing angle for a monitor is usually directly in front, about a quarter of the screen's distance down from the top. At this angle, you're viewing the colors as the manufacturer intended them. Most monitors are not made to be viewed at any other angle. Depending on its panel type, picture quality at nonoptimal angles varies. Most monitors use TN panels, which get overly bright or overly dark in parts of the screen when they are not viewed from optimal angles. On the other hand, IPS panels usually show only minimal color shifts with angle changes. The 27-inch LED Cinema Display has an H-IPS panel, and when it's viewed from the sides, we perceived the screen to darken about 15 inches off from center, which is more than twice as wide of a viewing angle as a typical TN panel has.

Recommended settings and use: The 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display was designed as a large screen, specifically for your Apple MacBook or desktop. It isn't intended to function with a PC, and without some sort of adapter, will not do so. As such, the display works wonderfully with a MacBook, extending its USB slots by three and even removing the need to ever plug in the MacBook via its own power cord at home. As long as the display is plugged in, and its power prong plugged into the MacBook, your MacBook battery will be charged.

A MacBook also fits very neatly under the monitor when the lid is closed; however, with the lid open, it is a bit awkward to look over your MacBook lid to see the bottom of your monitor screen. This is where screen height adjustment would have been useful. This almost necessitates the need of an external keyboard.

We preferred the default display settings for most tasks with a few exceptions. In both OSes, movies looked best with the brightness turned down to about 38 percent. In Windows 7, taking the contrast down to about the same level worked best as well. In OS X, using the Display Calibrator Assistant, adjusting each of the five vertical sliders to about the same level (about an eight of an inch below the midpoint) was the best contrast level for movies.

The Apple LED Cinema Display's H-IPS screen offers some of the most accurate color we've seen, and its screen coating means images have smoothness unmatched by the Dell UltraSharp U2711. Graphic designers working on Mac (as most of you do) will be pleased with the monitor's default performance, but may be dissatisfied with the lack of detailed screen-customization options. The options offered in the Display Calibrator Assistant are useful, but they may not be granular enough for serious designers.

Power consumption: Editors' note: All power consumption tests were conducted while not charging a MacBook.

The 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display achieved poor power consumption, with a Default/On power draw of 93.07 watts, compared with the Dell UltraSharp U2711's 93.72 watts in the same test. In our Sleep/Standby test, the Apple monitor draws 2.9 watts when running Windows 7 and 23.94 watts running Snow Leopard; however, when we completely unplugged the display from the MacBook, it drew only 1.2 watts in Snow Leopard. The U2711 had a 1.19-watt draw in the same test. With both monitors' center point calibrated to 200 candelas per square meter (cd/M2), the Apple monitor drew 59.8 watts, whereas the U2711 drew a much higher 81.8 watts; this indicates that per cd/m2, the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display draws less power than the Dell UltraSharp U2711. Based on our formula, the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display would cost $43.82 per year if running Snow Leopard and $29.78 while running in Windows 7. If somehow you completely unplugged your MacBook from the display every time it went into sleep mode, you're looking at a yearly price of $28.60. This is compared with the Dell UltraSharp U2711's $28.78 per year.

Juice box
Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010) Average watts per hour
On (default luminance) 93.07
On (max luminance) 93.07
On (min luminance) 23.94
Sleep 23.07
Calibrated (200 cd/m2) 59.8
Annual power consumption cost $43.82 (OS X)
Annual power consumption cost $29.78 (Windows)
Score Poor

Brightness (in cd/m2)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010)
361 

Contrast ratio
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010)
977:1 

DisplayMate tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010)
97:1 

Find out more about how we test LCD monitors.

Service and support
Nearly two years since the release of the 24-inch LED Cinema Display, Apple continues with its frustratingly strange customer support, that, since we've become so accustomed to it, isn't all that strange anymore. It backs the 27-inch LED Cinema Display with a one-year limited warranty that covers the backlight, but only includes 90 days of toll-free telephone support. With the purchase of a $249 AppleCare package, the warranty is extended to three years from the date of purchase, which seems almost like a necessity given the proprietary nature of the display.

Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch, 2010)
7.6

Apple LED Cinema Display (27-inch

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 9Support 5
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