My review on the Apple LED Cinema Display 27 inch

15 Nov 2010

When I tweeted that my order of a 27" LED Cinema Display was out for delivery I got a bunch of feedback from people asking for a review. I've been working on it for almost a month now, so enough time to have an opinion. When I bought my Mac Pro I bought it with a 24" LED Cinema Display because I didn't want to buy a 30" one that used older technology. Somehow I always knew Apple would eventually bring a bigger one with the LED technology.

Before jumping onto my experiences so far, I would like to give you the complete story on which displays I used to work on before. This will give you a better idea on why I decided to buy the 27 inch so quickly.

My previous Apple 30 inch HD Cinema Display

I think we need to go back to somewhere in 2004 for my 30 inch Apple Cinema Display. This was a great screen. Never before had I so much space! I still remember what a huge step up it was from my previous display. The thing is, if you have so much space you sometimes don't bother too much to get things as organized as possible. I'm talking about organizing your application palettes to save as much space as possible. All I did was arranging everything in a logical place and made sure that all the palettes that I use the most were easily reachable, but I didn't pay extra attention on how to place things to save room on my screen. Why bother if you have the pixels. I was spoiled pretty quickly. That screen was so huge! In fact it was so big that I sometimes had to look for my cursor or pointer :) Working on that screen was a real pleasure.

At first it wasn't my intention to buy a 30" at all. We bought the new 23" back then, but there were some temporarily issues going on with that screen at that time (they all had a pink haze). Many others had that issue too and kept having it after receiving a replacement. I didn't want to end up in that 'receiving sending back' game too, so I opted to update to the 30" inch instead that didn't have these problems.

My previous Apple 24 inch LED Cinema Display

Even while being so happy with the 30 inch, I always kept wondering "do I really need *that* amount of space?". 2560 x 1600 pixels is a lot of space. So when we bought the Mac Pro I decided to go for a 24" LED Cinema Display instead, partly because the 30" at that time hadn't received any serious hardware update too. The 24" one has a great resolution too (1920x1200), so I thought this would be enough to work on. Still, after being so used to a 30"… I totally underestimated the jump to a smaller screen. Not that I complained really. I just adapted instead, but what I didn't realize was the time I saved by having this extra space. One of the things that I was pretty accustomed too was having 2 documents open from 2 different applications right next to each other. This was one of things why I loved working on a 30" screen so much. I never had to switch between the 2 applications. This was such a time saver as I often receive PowerPoint document from clients with mockups or schemata that I constantly needed to look at while I was working on the design. What was also handy was when I had to compare the HTML code of 2 different documents, or for when I'm working in Illustrator and Photoshop and dragging objects from 1 app to the other... With the 24 inch it's not really possible to do that. Still I liked working on this screen and I got used to it pretty quickly. I started by better organizing my screen estate, organizing my palettes, some of them in collapsed mode etc.

My 27 inch Apple LED Cinema Display

When I noticed the announcement of the new 27" LED Cinema Display I got real excited. I bought it immediately when it became available. We actually did the same for the iMac 24", we replaced it with a 27" one right after it came out and sold the 24" one. In general I would say that the 24" is fine as long as you don't know any better.

My 27 inch Apple LED Cinema Display

I got used to the 24" until the moment that Geert ordered the 27" iMac. Once I saw that 27" screen and compared it with the 24", there was such a big difference. With the 27 inch display I have the space in pixels back that I was accustomed to with the old 30" one, but it isn't as huge. I don't have to look from left to right if you know what I mean :) In physical dimensions it's just right, and the screen resolution is just perfect, a bit less high, but the same horizontal space.

The quality of the display is also a huge leap forward when being compared to the 30" from 2004. It uses LED backlight technology so you don't have to wait for its full brightness. The previous 30" had to warm up before it reached its maximum brightness. The LED-backlit display is instantly on. You also have greater control over screen brightness. Talking about brightness… What I also love about the 27 inch is the fact that it immediately adapts to ambient light. When it's slightly getting darker or brighter around the display it immediately automatically adapts. With the days getting shorter and sometimes grayer, it's getting a bit darker late afternoon already or early morning. When I switch on my desk lamp, the display will automatically adapt its brightness. That's a cool feature the 24 inch doesn't have. As a bonus this feature also saves energy which is pretty important to me too.

It is glossy!

People often complain about the reflection on the glossy Apple displays, but I'm not one of them. I actually like this glossiness as it shows more sharpness. Everything looks so much better on them, so very crisp. Personally I believe it is mostly a matter of how your environment is set up. For instance don't place your display facing a big window… However I recently tested by using the screen directly faced to the window. The office has a pretty big window facing the East, so you see the sun come up in the morning. When it does that it shines almost directly on the screen. I didn't notice any reflection once I cranked up the brightness to its full potential. Believe when I say that these things are bright. Mine is on half of what it can be for most of the time. At its full brightness facing a window with the sun shinning on it, the screen is still very usable. As I said a nonissue for me.

Color consistency

So far color consistency seems to be great too. We always calibrate our screens with ColorMunki Design every month. The ColorMunki Design is a complete color management and measurement system in a box that tries to take all the heavy lifting out of your hands. It consists of a spectrophotometer that calibrates your monitor and that also can be used to profile your projector and printer. You can also capture any color from any item. I reviewed it a while back. The 27" iMac has behaved very well so far. When you re-calibrate it after a month you don't see any visual color changes. Once we calibrated our screens, we set the color profile of the display for all Adobe ® Creative Suite applications via Bridge. You can do that via the menu '"Edit" in Bridge (last item) or via "Shift Command K". I start out with the "Europe General Purpose 3" setting in Bridge. However, you can't change the RGB setting for screen as far as I know in Bridge, so I go to Photoshop instead. In Photoshop you display Color Settings via the "Edit" menu or via the shortcut "Shift Command K". I only modify the RGB part under "working spaces" to the ColorMunki profile of the 27". Once you do that you get an alert that your Creative Suite applications aren't synced anymore. No worries, easy fix. I save that profile to "Duoh". After that I go back to Bridge and use the menu "Edit" in Bridge (last item) or "Shift Command K". In the "Suite Color Settings I choose "Duoh" and voilà all Creative Suite applications are in sync again.

Update (16/11/2010)

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there that sometimes struggles with the complexity that is known as color management. As pointed out in the comments by Fabio Pili I was under the impression that I needed to assign my calibrated monitor profile there. I personally did not know that Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign automatically load your monitor profile from the system preferences and translate that working space to the color you see on the screen. With that in mind I also went over to Fabio's site to read an interesting article that talks about web browser color management. The interesting part of the article is this:

Never use sRGB as your main working color space, since it’s smaller than most digital camera color spaces, leading to unnecessarily clipped colors. Work on a bigger color space like Adobe RGB, or preferably ProPhotoRGB, and convert to sRGB only on output when preparing images for the web.

 — Fabio Pili

With this new knowledge I changed my working space. I am now using the Europe Prepress 3 setting that uses the Adobe RGB (1998) workspace instead as recommended above by Fabio. I only changed a few things that affect opening files. Below is a screenshot of how my settings look in Photoshop. I saved my profile again as "Duoh" and back to Bridge I re-apply it by using the menu "Edit" in Bridge (last item) or "Shift Command K". In the "Suite Color Settings" I choose "Duoh" and everything is in sync again. With these settings it is important that you check that convert to sRGB is on when using Save For Web. If it is off you'll see a color shift. Thanks Fabio for your help!

Update (17/11/2010)

Reader @coreland provided this link to test your LCD monitor.

This is how Photoshop is now set up to handle color management.

Conclusion

Personally I think when you are a graphic designer that the 24 inch LED Cinema Display is the minimum you need as a professional. It's definitely a very good screen, but if have the luxury to choose between a 24 and 27 inch, I wouldn't doubt for a second and go for the 27" as it's worth the extra investment. What you spend extra on this screen is earned back by saving production time.

Comments

  1. 1 Luka Kemperle 15 Nov 2010

    dear Veerle,
    thanks for another great review!
    That’s what we needed it!

  2. 2 Greg 15 Nov 2010

    Great review, Thank you! :)
    One side question.
    What is the name od black pad on your desk under keyboard and mouse?
    Looks very functional.

  3. 3 Brian Bates 15 Nov 2010

    This is a great review. I wasn’t aware of the ambient light adjustment feature. That is a big deal although I know that the Pantone Huey supports this as well if it’s plugged in to the monitor (but clutters the desk…).

    I’m used to working primarily on a 21.5” iMac with a second monitor of the same size so I’ve never had a huge primary screen. Would be interesting to see how my workflow would change on just a 27”. I still use Expose quite a bit either way.

  4. 4 ben 15 Nov 2010

    The back lit LED screen is a huge upgrade because the light to dark color ration or dynamic range is improved. If you put 24” side by side with 27”, the visual difference is immediate.

  5. 5 Lukas 15 Nov 2010

    Hi there,
    thanks for the review! Just one question: what would you say; how good are the colors without calibrating the monitor? Do they have a tint? Or are they too saturated, or not saturated enough?

  6. 6 Peter De Bouvere 15 Nov 2010

    I have a quite expensive Dell 24” screen at work that I use as a secondary display with my Macbook Pro. The difference in quality is stunning. The Mac is clear, crisp and very, very beautiful. The high end Dell screen is not bad, but (literally) pales in comparison.

    Fun fact: That new museum in Ghent - STAM - must have a 100 of those Cinema Displays showing interactive content to the visitors. Very nice…

  7. 7 Erwin Heiser 15 Nov 2010

    I’m sure it’s a nice screen but the gloss/glare kills it for me, I just can’t stand it.
    Currently looking at Eizo displays for my next monitor, probably a 24”.

  8. 8 Derek 15 Nov 2010

    I actually just bought the 27” Apple Display last week and absolutely love it! Great review!

  9. 9 Niclas 15 Nov 2010

    thx for the nice review :) The 27 is on my list!

  10. 10 Fabio Pili 16 Nov 2010

    Hi, Veerle.

    I’d like to point out that you’re getting the color space concept totally wrong when you assign your monitor profile as your working space on the Adobe programs.

    That RGB setting there is a virtual RGB space, used for your work. AdobeRGB or the larger ProPhotoRGB are good options there. Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign load automatically your monitor profile from the system preferences and translate that working space to the color you see on the screen.

    Using you monitor profile as a working space can lead to big color inconsistencies when sending your files to print. Do some research on that. Keep up the great work. Love the blog.

    Cheers from Brazil,

  11. 11 Gabriele 16 Nov 2010

    I was wondering if it would be better to have two 24” instead of one big 27” for jobs like web design/developing

  12. 12 gromek 16 Nov 2010

    A nice review which let’s one understand your decisions quite well. I have to comment on a few things, though. First: the glossiness – although the crispness of the glossy display is really intriguing I cannot agree that reflections on the screen are not an issue. Having one of the new 21.5” iMacs myself I find the reflections are highly dependent on the placement of the display in relation to lightsources (windows, office lighting) and the actual lighting situation (sun, overcast etc.). Cranking up the brightness is no option in my opinion as it totally exaggerates the brightnes of the “paper” when working for print. So sometimes the reflections ARE annoying and I find myself wishing Apple had gone more for ergonomics than for eye candy here. Having a non glossy EIZO sitting next to my iMac as a 2nd display I can see the difference quite clearly.
    Second: Setting the color profiles of the Creative Suite applications to a display(!) profile (as RGB is concerned) seems very odd to me. The profiles used for the settigs as set up in Bridge and Photoshop are – as far as I know – responsible for far more than just the display side of things (especially for how file conversions between CMYK and RGB mode are handled). I cannot imagine why anybody should set these (ideally) device independent “under the hood” workings to behave according to the properties of a highly individual piece of hardware. Actually I’d use such an individual profile as you get from ColorMunki to set the display to show colours (say from the “Adobe RGB” color space) more or less “correctly” by selecting it (i.e. your “Duoh” profile) for your display in the “Display(s)” system preferences. Mmmhh…

  13. 13 Veerle Pieters 16 Nov 2010

    @Greg

    What is the name od black pad on your desk under keyboard and mouse? Looks very functional.

    That is the Joyn Bench Writing Surface. It isn’t small, almost 60cm wide and 50cm in height.

    @Fabio Pili

    I’d like to point out that you’re getting the color space concept totally wrong when you assign your monitor profile as your working space on the Adobe programs

    I’ve updated the article and credited you for the great help.

    @Gabriele

    I was wondering if it would be better to have two 24” instead of one big 27” for jobs like web design/developing

    I prefer one big screen instead of two smaller ones. It is nice also but you still have two separate monitors and it creates a break between the two when you move your mouse when you have a document open over both screens. It isn’t as seamless as with one big screen. I almost never had something open over two screens but used the second one to store iChat, Mail etc… Of course this is my personal opinion just as with the glossy or matt surface debate.

    @gromek

    Setting the color profiles of the Creative Suite applications to a display(!) profile (as RGB is concerned) seems very odd to me.

    See update in the article.

  14. 14 gromek 16 Nov 2010

    @Fabio Pili

    That RGB setting there is a virtual RGB space, used for your work. AdobeRGB or the larger ProPhotoRGB are good options there.

    Fabio Pili’s warning against using sRGB as the working color space for RGB and preferring Adobe RGB instead has something to it (for exactly the reasons he gives), but beware(!) if you are tampering with colour corrections on a system (i.e. a display) that cannot cover the Adobe RGB space (as - to my knowledge – actually and sadly no Apple display can), you may end up producing or overlooking colour problems that are de facto there in the colour values of the picture file, but which your display effectively cannot show and you - accordingly - will not notice. These problems or faults could, however, surface in a proof for the print job or - even worse - in the finished printed job itself. So it could indeed be argued if using sRGB as the default RGB working colour space is so bad after all: you will lose colour information, some saturation and richness in certain colours once you save RGB files with that profile but on the other hand you can be pretty sure that you actually see all what’s in the picture even if you’re using a recent and preferably calibrated Apple display and not some really(!) expensive high end proof display that can truly cover the Adobe RGB range. You really have to make some choices here.

  15. 15 Veerle Pieters 16 Nov 2010

    @gromek

    So it could indeed be argued if using sRGB as the default RGB working colour space is so bad after all

    Hmmm, this is what I mean by being complicated, it is never black or white… Now I am doubting again if sRGB would be a better option. Judging from your comment I would say so.

  16. 16 Fábio Pili 16 Nov 2010

    @Veerle Pieters gromek has a valid point, but that’s what rendering intents are for. Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric rendering intents convert those out of gamut colors to fit inside your device color gamut. This process maintains the relation between colors, so any differences, even outside your display’s color gamut, are still visible.

    Besides that, sRGB is smaller than most offset printing presses on the blue axis, so it’d lead to unnecessarily flat colors there. I’ve just compared it myself.

    Use AdobeRGB as your RGB working space. It’s safe and recommended by Adobe itself.

    ProPhotoRGB, on the other hand, is a huge working space. It’s useful to work with digital camera RAW files, but you have to be careful when converting it to sRGB - for the web - or your choice or offset profile.

  17. 17 thomas 16 Nov 2010

    @Fabio / Veerle: what about the eciRGB-profile for the screen. i use it for printworks an select this profile in photoshop. also, I’m using the »isocoated v2 (ECI)« or the »300 %« profile for b/w and spot-colour-channels. this two channels loads automatically the K-channel from the CMYK-System. remember, if you print real b/w or with one pantone-colour you use the K.

    sorry for my bad english :(

  18. 18 Joey Baker 17 Nov 2010

    Thanks for the great review! My only wish was for a side-by-side of the 30” vs. the 27”. Both for screen real estate and relative brightness. Thanks!

  19. 19 Fábio Pili 17 Nov 2010

    @thomas

    @Fabio / Veerle: what about the eciRGB-profile for the screen.

    I did some research on the eciRGB and it looks like a good RGB working space option. It covers all the standard CMYK offset printing gamut.

    Just make sure your monitor is calibrated with a hardware calibrator and the profile is correctly specified at the system control panel.

  20. 20 Ann-Sophie 18 Nov 2010

    What about the specs of the iMac 27”? I’m planning to buy a Mac but I’m still in doubt if I’d go for the iMac with specs maxed out OR if I’d go for Mac Pro? The latter is a bit more pricy =]

  21. 21 Veerle Pieters 22 Nov 2010

    @Ann-Sophie

    What about the specs of the iMac 27”? I’m planning to buy a Mac but I’m still in doubt if I’d go for the iMac with specs maxed out OR if I’d go for Mac Pro?

    It all depends on what you are going to do with it. For example if you are going to work with big RAW files and video all the time than you are better of with a big (not entry level) Mac Pro. If you are doing regular Photoshop and web design work you will be glad with a specs maxed iMac. Just my personal opinion :)

  22. 22 gromek 22 Nov 2010

    @Ann-Sophie

    What about the specs of the iMac 27”? I’m planning to buy a Mac but I’m still in doubt if I’d go for the iMac with specs maxed out OR if I’d go for Mac Pro? The latter is a bit more pricy =]

    In addition to Veerle’s comment I’d say that if you are a designer doing “normal” design work (brochures, websites, the odd poster every now and then etc.) you will actually not NEED even a maxed up iMac. As a designer you’re likely to take some time to think between the steps you do in your design work. So processing speed (being the main benefit of a “maxed” mac) is – in my opinion – not such a big issue as it might be for processing power, volume and/or strictly time oriented work as 3D-rendering, video work, ultra high definition photo manipulating, prepress batch processing and so on. It is, of course, always tempting to go for the max as your tools are concerned and it’s ever so nice to have it all happen in a blink of your eye. I dare say, however, there might be better or eventually designwise more efficient ways to spend your money than working with a machine whose potential you actually use to a degree of – let’s say – 60%. But again, this is a quite personal view…

  23. 23 Ann-Sophie 22 Nov 2010

    @Veerle Pieters
    @gromek
    Ok thanks for your advice. I’m a graphic designer mainly for print (posters, brochures, logo’s,...) and sometimes for the web. For brochures with lots of images, the rendering can be quite slow which slows down the workflow. This is extremely frustrating even though you say, as a designer, you take the time to think between 2 steps. At first, I was looking at Mac Pro but people say this would really be too much, too expensive, so not interesting to buy.
    But thanks again for your replies and the interesting discussion on color profiles.

  24. 24 gromek 22 Nov 2010

    @Ann-Sophie

    I’m a graphic designer mainly for print (posters, brochures, logo’s,...) and sometimes for the web. At first, I was looking at Mac Pro but people say this would really be too much, too expensive, so not interesting to buy.

    If that’s what you do (quite close to the jobs I do) I think you won’t regret NOT going for the Mac Pro. As I personally prefer a 2 display setup to the single big 27” screen I went for the 21.5” iMac in spring and not for the 27” version which then was the only one with the i5 processor option. However, I chose the better graphics board, the bigger harddisk and 8 GB RAM and after 7 months of experience with this configuration I still think it’s been the right decision. I’m inclined to say (having learned that from experience) that most of the time it appears reasonable to me to first think of the midrange Mac configuration and to see what components (especially RAM) might need a bit of “maxing”. Unless you regularly do special jobs that definitely need special features of the top level machine(s), that is.

     

  25. 25 Greg 24 Nov 2010

    Veerle,

    I’m mainly a web designer, so I’m not up2date about settings for print design or combined work but save for web by Viget Labs and Bjango on setting up PS say otherwise ont the color management.

    just my 2 c’s

  26. 26 Veerle Pieters 25 Nov 2010

    @Greg

    Veerle,I’m mainly a web designer, so I’m not up2date about settings for print design or combined work but save for web by Viget Labs and Bjango on setting up PS say otherwise ont the color management. just my 2 c’s

    Basically they are using color management wrongly as you will notice if you read the comments on the original Viget article . When you are working for print, just like me, you need color management. In fact you can’t turn it off anyway. Your Mac is always using color management. The thing that I didn’t know, was that Photoshop uses the display color setting from preferences as pointed out by Fabio Pili here earlier. My setup is similar to an author in the comments of the Viget article. It explains how to set it up properly.

     

  27. 27 Greg 25 Nov 2010

    @Veerle Pieters

    thx for the extra info. Will test this later and inform you all.

  28. 28 Michael 26 Nov 2010

    I have a Mac Pro (MacPro4,1 from 09/2009) and the LED Cinema Display 27”. Apple recommended to disable the option “Automatically adjust brightness as ambient light changes” while calibration. I don’t have this option unter System Preferences / Displays.
    Do you?

    F1 and F2 are out of function too.

  29. 29 Veerle Pieters 26 Nov 2010

    @Michael

    Apple recommended to disable the option “Automatically adjust brightness as ambient light changes” while calibration. I don’t have this option unter System Preferences / Displays.
    Do you?

    Yes I do. Are you sure you updated your Mac via software update because as I remember there was an update available for this 27” screen when I first connected it.

  30. 30 Michael 26 Nov 2010

    @Veerle

    Are you sure you updated your Mac via software update because as I remember there was an update available for this 27” screen when I first connected it.

    Yes, I have installed a pretty new system, updated with"27-inch LED Cinema Display Software Update 1.0”, but no effect.
    No option, no brightness-slider and the F1 and F2 are not working too.

    If someone knows anything…

  31. 31 Greg 27 Nov 2010

    @Veerle and the rest:
    I tried and set up everything correctly from the essenmitsosse.de site BUT I keep getting (minor) color shifting between solid color background-colors and solid color images (jpg, png,..) in html pages.
    Quote from essenmitsosse.de:

    If you work in Adobe RGB (or an other profile than sRGB) there could be a slight difference in color after Saving For Web because of the difference between Adobe RGB and sRGB.

    That’ s exactly our (we as web designers) main problem. Those minor color shifts that make our solid color images not blend correctly with html background-color.
    I’m convinced that when I’m saving a photograph for the web, I’ll check “convert to sRGB” for the best result. But for solid colors I’ll stick with my current set up, unless someone convinces me ;-)

  32. 32 Veerle Pieters 28 Nov 2010

    @Greg

    I’m convinced that when I’m saving a photograph for the web, I’ll check “convert to sRGB” for the best result. But for solid colors I’ll stick with my current set up, unless someone convinces me ;-)

    You have to check convert to sRGB when saving for web because sRGB is the common standard on the web. In fact in Adobe Photoshop CS5 you have view > proof setup > Internet Standard RGB (sRGB) to check how it will look. I didn’t see any color shifting with background color defined in CSS so far with this setup. You get differences when there are elements created out of this loop.

  33. 33 Greg 28 Nov 2010

    @Veerle Pieters

    You have to check convert to sRGB when saving for web because sRGB is the common standard on the web. In fact in Adobe Photoshop CS5 you have view > proof setup > Internet Standard RGB (sRGB) to check how it will look. I didn’t see any color shifting with background color defined in CSS so far with this setup. You get differences when there are elements created out of this loop.

    I’ll spend this sunday testing and testing ;-)

  34. 34 Veerle Pieters 28 Nov 2010

    @Greg

    I’ll spend this sunday testing and testing ;-)

    Make sure if you pull a color from a background to match a photo you do it from within the view > proof setup > Internet Standard RGB (sRGB) to get a correct result.

  35. 35 Greg 28 Nov 2010

    @Veerle Pieters

    Make sure if you pull a color from a background to match a photo you do it from within the view > proof setup > Internet Standard RGB (sRGB) to get a correct result.

    Don’t have CS5 (yet).
    Here are some tests I did this afternoon.
    All comments/critiques/tips are welcome

  36. 36 Dom 07 Dec 2010

    Hey!

    This is IPS ?

    thanks