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The Monitor

May 28, 2013 - Dave Hecei
C4D30AA-ABB_1_448x300Let us, for a moment, discuss one of the most important components in a computer system. I am not talking about the CPU (the main processor) or the GPU (the graphics processor), but the computer monitor. Let’s face it, the monitor is something that you have to look at for hours at a time. I believe that a good monitor is a vital part of a desktop computer system. Think about it, a computer is just a fancy calculator. It sits there calculating, storing, retrieving, and then displaying a result. That result can be a spreadsheet, email, a game, or a movie. Everything you do relies on a monitor to show what you are working on or watching. So why not use the best monitor possible.


Ever since the first Mac, Apple has obsessed over the monitor.  The first 128k Mac had a tiny 9-inch monochrome monitor,which at the time was considered high resolution. You have to remember that in 1984 most computers were using color televisions or a monochrome green screen for a display. This allowed for about a 320x240 resolution or 640 x 400 for green screens. Graphics back then showed only 1 to maybe 256 colors.

Old Apple CRT monitors were adequate, but later on they started producing CRTs using the Sony Trinitron tube, which were quite exceptional. Sony was famous for it’s televisions and used some of that tube technology in making some amazing, and very large, monitors.

portable-203Then came LCD technology. Of course, LCD made its introduction through notebook computers. The very first portable Macintosh had a pretty amazing Active Matrix LCD panel. At the time there were two main LCD technologies – Active and Passive. Passive was cheaper to manufacture, but Active looked so much better.

Today we have newer technologies that improve the quality of LCD screens. First is the use of LEDs as the backlight. This improves the color, contrast, brightness, and consistency of the color LCD panel. A new LCD design called IPS has improved color, response times, and greater viewing angles. IPS stands for In Plane Switching. Basically, a fancy term for the way the LCD crystals are turned on and off.

Apple uses IPS technology in all their products. One of the benefits of IPS is that touching the screen doesn’t cause a color or light shift where pressure is applied. This is something that TN-type displays will show. This makes IPS perfect for touch screens. Apple also uses IPS in their Cinema Displays and iMac displays.

bigpictureCurrently, Apple only sells a 27-inch high-resolution monitor – the 27-inch Cinema Display and 27-inch Thunderbolt Display. The Thunderbolt display is unique in that it can easily connect to a Thunderbolt enabled Mac, either desktop of notebook, using a thin Thunderbolt cable. If you are connecting it to a MacBook (Air or Pro) then there is also a built-in MagSafe power cord that runs power from the monitor to your notebook. This makes the Thunderbolt display ideal for MacBook owners. Just set you notebook down next to the monitor, either opened or closed, and connect the power and display cables. If you also include an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to this mix and you have a fantastic desktop system with practically no wires.

But this all does come at a price. The Apple Thunderbolt Display is basically $1000 (well, ok, $999). This is a very high-end monitor at a high-end price. Did I forget to mention that the display has a bevy of extra ports on the back? Three powered USB 2.0 ports, Firewire 800, Gigabit Ethernet port, Kensington lock slot, and another Thunderbolt port. Having these ports allows the display to act as a very expensive docking station. This way when you don’t have to connect everything to you MacBook, just the power and Thunderbolt cable. The Apple 27-inch Cinema Display is essentially the same monitor but without the extra ports. It does however have built-in cables for mini DisplayPort, USB 2.0, and MagSafe power.  While it might not have the extra ports, it does have a built-in iSight camera and microphone. The Apple Cinema Display is also priced at $999.

If a thousand bucks is a bit more than you’d like to spend, I’ve got good news for you. Apple is not the only ones making IPS based monitors. There are some great choices from Dell, HP, LG, Asus, and Monoprice. They also make them in many more sized than Apple’s 27-inch displays.

Dell, HP, LG, Asus, and Monoprice all have a 27-inch IPS model with the same resolution as the Apple Displays - 2560 x 1440. They also have street prices under $700 with the price-champion being the display from Monoprice coming in at under $400. At that price you might think there is something wrong with it. Not really. It has been well reviewed by most of the tech press. It is a very basic monitor when it comes to fit-and-finish and connections. The finish is a very basic black plastic case. There is only one port. It’s a dual-link DVI port. The Dell UltraSharp U2713HM, the HP Smartbuy ZR2740w, and the LG 27EA83R-D all have a nicer build quality and more ports to choose from.

Instead of going with a WQHD resolution you can go with just the standard full HD, which is 1920x1080. This is still a high-resolution screen, especially in the 22 to 24-inch sizes. Dell, HP, LG, Asus, Lenovo, and Acer all have full HD resolution IPS monitors ranging from 21.5 to 27-inches.

My pick for the high-end monitor is the Dell UltraSharp U2713HM with a street price about $650. On the low-end, my pick is the HP Pavilion 23xi with a street price about $225. I really like the HP’s look, which is eerily similar to an iMac. It matches the style of aluminum Macintoshes quite perfectly. And with a price well under $300 is a perfect display to use with a Mac mini.


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