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Apple LED Cinema Display (24-inch) review: Apple LED Cinema Display (24-inch)

Apple LED Cinema Display (24-inch)

Eric Franklin Former Editorial Director
Eric Franklin led the CNET Tech team as Editorial Director. A 20-plus-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, chauffeuring his kids around town, or absorbing every motivational book he can get his hands on.
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Eric Franklin
6 min read

The market for the 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display is limited. Until third-party adapters are released, the display is only compatible with MacBooks that have Mini DisplayPort connections. And even if you have that, you will pay $900 for a display that can't be used with other devices. It has a beautiful and clean design, great performance with movies and games, phenomenal sound, and a good viewing angle, but the monitor's lack of versatility makes it a product we are reluctant to recommend, even to its target (and only) market. It's a good display to be sure, but until those third-party adapters are released, it's more of a fancy docking station with an excellent-quality screen. If that appeals to you, and if you're an owner of a compatible MacBook, and if $900 seems reasonable, then go for it. For the rest of us, there are many more high-quality monitors out there that are not nearly as limiting in their compatibility. The best of these are the $516 Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP and the $399 Samsung SyncMaster 240HD. Both of these 24-inchers have lower price points, offer comparable performance, and boast many more connection options.


Apple LED Cinema Display (24-inch)

The Good

Incredible performance in DisplayMate tests; games and movies look great; clean design; good viewing angle; built-in camera and mic; phenomenal sound from built-in speaker.

The Bad

Complete lack of connection options that would allow you to connect to a PC or older Mac; dearth of ergonomic features.

The Bottom Line

While performance is excellent, the Apple LED Cinema Display's one connection option paints it into a small corner that is welcoming only to newer MacBook owners.

Design and features
The extremely glossy screen was the first thing we noticed about the 24-inch Apple LED Cinema Display. In fact, it's so reflective that it's practically a mirror when the display is off. Upon closer inspection, we noticed what seems to be a sheet of antiglare glass over the screen that slightly blurs out the reflection and extends over the bezel to the very edge of the panel. The panel is about .75 inch thick--a thin measurement for a 24-inch monitor--and approximately 22.5 inches wide, which is normal for a 24-incher. The bezel is about an inch long at the sides and top and 1.5 inches along the bottom. In the middle of the bezel's bottom section, there is a silver Apple logo. Directly above, in the middle of the bezel's top section, is a small lens for the built-in iSight camera.

About an inch above the lens on the top part of the panel, you'll find several small holes for the mic, and all the way on the bottom of the panel there are two built-in speakers. The sides of the panel are encased in a smooth aluminum finish that extends across the backside. In the upper middle section of the rear sits a black, reflective Apple logo, and in the lower left-hand corner are three USB 2.0 downstream ports.

The foot stand measures roughly 7.5 inches deep by 7 inches wide. Despite its narrow appearance, the stand provides enough stability that when the display is knocked from the sides there is minimal wobbling; however, thanks to its smooth aluminum finish, it does slide quite easily. The neck of the foot stand is 11.5 inches high and has a 2-inch diameter hole through it for routing the cables. Unfortunately, you can't rotate, swivel, or pivot the screen, and you can't adjust its height. The only included ergonomic feature is that the panel tilts back 30 degrees.

The display has a 1,920x1,200-pixel native resolution. Extruding from the back is an irremovable cord that splits off into three connections: a USB plug, a MagSafe connector (that will charge your MacBook if the monitor is plugged in), and a Mini DisplayPort connection. There is no DVI, VGA, or even HDMI connection. As we mentioned, this is a monitor for MacBooks (with the Mini DisplayPort connection) and for MacBooks only--at least for the time being.

You can adjust the backlight luminance by going through system preferences. There, you'll also have access to the display's color-temperature settings, where you can adjust it from 4,500K up to 9,300K. Unfortunately, there are no contrast controls.

    Manufacturer's specifications:
  • Resolution: 1,920x1,200
  • Pixel-response rate: 6ms
  • Contrast ratio: 1,000:1
  • Brightness: 330cd/m2
  • Connectivity: Mini DisplayPort
  • HDCP compliant? Yes
  • Included video cables? Mini DisplayPort

We tested the Apple LED Cinema Display via its Mini DisplayPort connection, which connected to a 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce 9400M/9600M GT graphics adapter with 512MB of video memory. With this configuration we are unable to give the display an actual DisplayMate score, as our DisplayMate score is based on a DVI-specific PC configuration with which the Apple LED Cinema Display was not compatible. Also, we used Boot Camp to install Windows XP Pro on the MacBook, because DisplayMate is not compatible with Mac OS. Given the different configurations, it would be unfair to make direct DisplayMate comparisons with the other tested displays, but we can at least discuss the results we got from the tests. Please keep in mind that DisplayPort has a higher video bandwidth than DVI.

The Apple LED Cinema Display impressed us the most in its color reproduction and contrast results. In our Extreme Grayscale Bars and Intensity and Grayscale tests, the display scored higher than any previous display we've tested. In these tests, the display was able to produce pure white as well as very light grays--a challenging feat for most displays, but the Cinema Display does it nearly perfectly. On the same token, it was able to display near true black while showing very dark grays. Also, it reproduced the grayscale (the shades of gray between black and white) accurately without any signs of other colors. This indicates that it does not have any color-tracking errors.

The display performed perfectly in most of our color tests, as well. Apple LED Cinema Display was able to scale dark shades of specific colors into lighter shades of the same color without compressing the shades in between. This indicates a very accurate representation of color all around.

The display continued to impress in our Uniformity and Screen tests, stumbling only in our Dark Screen test. During this test, we noticed that backlight bleed through is very apparent along the bottom and top edges of the screen on a dark screen showing all black.

We tried out our usual test movie, Kill Bill Vol. 1, and saw deep blacks and full colors. The yellow in the bride's jumpsuit was particularly impressive, with an accurate and deep yellow that did not bleed or show signs of other colors. World of Warcraft looked as good as we've ever seen it on any display, with vibrant colors and an impressive contrast ratio that makes the polygonal characters look full and three dimensional. We found that the display was best for movies and games when its color temperature was set to 6,500K and its brightness was set at 75 percent of its maximum.

While other displays, such as the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP, use cold-cathode florescent tube-based backlights, the Apple LED Cinema Display uses a light-emitting diode backlight. So instead of having several florescent tubes stretched horizontally across the screen, there are many individual LEDs all over the screen that can each be turned off or on. This gives LED displays more precise control over the amount of light coming through the screen. Other advantages include better energy efficiency, more accurate and precise color reproduction, a potentially thinner panel design, and a higher potential brightness level.

When viewing the monitor from above, below, or the side of its optimal viewing angle, we noticed gamma problems in the form of shadows along the bottom of the screen. The gamma problems are not as bad as on the Lenovo ThinkVision L2440x, where details on the screen can almost not be seen when viewed from the wrong angle, but Apple's panel's performance was not as good as the Dell UltraSharp 2408WFP, which lacked any gamma problems from off angles.

We were very impressed by the built-in speakers; the sound was loud when taken up to its maximum output, and showed no signs of distortion. The bass is deep and the quality is clear and full. These are some of the best speakers we've ever heard on a monitor.

Service and support
Apple continues with its frustratingly strange customer support. It backs the 24-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 the display was purchased, which seems almost like a necessity given the proprietary nature of the display.


Apple LED Cinema Display (24-inch)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 5Performance 9Support 5Setup 0