Apple’s HD Cinema Display: Or, How I Overcame Monitor Envy


apple-cinema-hd-displayIn 1999 I was building websites with UltraDev and Drumbeat. I was playing with DHTML and a cool new thing called CSS. I was dropping the word “recordset” into conversations with other geek friends via the just-released MSN Messenger Service. I considered myself pretty technologically accomplished. But then one day a friend visited and used my computer to check his email. As he took his seat before my beige plastic 15 inch CRT he mumbled “Ugh! It’s so small.”

I was crushed. My monitor was smaller than his monitor. How embarrassing!

Since that day I have always strived to use the largest monitor possible, and usually two of ‘em side by side. And while dual monitor setups are not so common in most homes, at least we’ve come a long way since the primitive days of 15 inch CRTs. The first flat panels ordinary people could afford were tiny, low resolution, low color saturation, low-light things. The contrast (pun intended) to today’s cheap, bright and capable LCD screens is remarkable, but it has been a very short journey from one to the other.

I always knew that Apple (s aapl) made amazing displays. Perhaps they haven’t always been the first choice of graphics professionals, but at least they’ve been consistently better than the cheap monitors offered by PC manufacturers. So early this year, as I switched completely from PC to Mac, I made sure I bought the biggest and best displays Apple could offer. And that meant the gargantuan, beautiful, breathtaking 30 inch Cinema HD Widescreen Displays. Two of them, as it happens.

And they are amazing. Positioned side by side before me, I practically swim in Cinema Display goodness. To clarify; when I work on my 15 inch Macbook Pro, despite the beauty of that glossy screen, I’m acutely aware that it provides a limited, narrow view of the digital world, a little like peering through the mail slot in my front door. With these enormous cinema displays, I don’t need to peer through the mail slot because the door has been thrown wide open. Sometimes, it feels like the door has been taken off its hinges. And sometimes, I feel a little silly having all this display. In fact, unless I’m doing some graphics/video work, I don’t maximize windows. Doing so feels… I don’t know… over the top, somehow.

So why does anyone need more than one monitor? The answer falls conveniently down to a single word: productivity. Quite simply, people who (properly) use multiple monitors work more efficiently and productively. Don’t take my word for it — look at this report (PDF) from Pfeiffer, which goes into extraordinary depth examining the virtues of extensive screen-space.

There’s Always a Down Side

The Cinema HD Display isn’t perfect. Sure, Apple generously endowed it with two USB ports and two Firewire 400 ports within easy-reach, and if you’re using a Mac Pro, those ports are fantastically useful, saving you from making trips to the mysterious, cable-strewn world Beneath the Desk. But FW400 is old now, and since these displays were launched they haven’t been refreshed. Newer standards, such as HDMI, are unsupported. Even Apple’s own Mini-DV standard isn’t supported without an adapter.

But by far the biggest problem with the 30 incher is its price. At $1,799 it’s a fantastically expensive monitor. Our own James Dempsey compared Apple’s behemoth with Dell’s 30 inch UltraSharp Widescreen and concluded he preferred the Dell. Read the article to see his reasons why, but I’ll tell you now that price was an important factor.

But I have no regrets — and a good job, too, considering how expensive these things still are. Whether you buy from Apple or elsewhere, they’ll set you back a painful $1,799 each! Personally, however, these displays are by far the most impressive non-television panels I’ve had the pleasure of using. Call me insane, but I enjoy needing to slide my chair a little to the left to more comfortably see what’s going on on my other screen.

The Future

As with all things Apple, there’s the knowledge that what’s top-of-the-line today will be old-hat tomorrow. Buy a brand new MacBook Pro and enjoy the pleasure of being at the cutting-edge while it lasts — because new models will be out before you know it. Well, the 30 inch Cinema HD Displays have yet to be surpassed. But Apple does have some very nice new LED screens on the market. It makes me wonder what might be happening with the ageing 30 inch line.

A quick visit to both the American and UK versions of the Apple website revealed that, at some point since April this year, Apple quietly removed the dedicated microsite for the 30 inch display. The only link you’ll find now is to its product page in the online store. My old bookmarks no longer work. So — what’s happening? Is Apple discontinuing the 30 inch Cinema HD Display, perhaps planning to replace it with a refreshed new line based on their LED monitors? I emailed no fewer than four of my contacts at Apple who, two weeks later, have remained utterly silent on the matter.

But I’ve never quite gotten over that brief period of monitor envy in 1999. I’ve always hated it when I’ve walked into a room and discovered, to my silent horror, bigger and better monitors than my own. So I’m going to enjoy my beautiful cinema displays while I still can, because I know it’s only a matter of time before Apple makes them feel like that old, beige 15 incher that started it all.


John Le Fevre

I’m running a MacBook Pro with a 22-inch widescreen. I have the LG as the main monitor with the Dock set to the left. The Mac is on my left side and I want to run the Dock down the left side of the LG but still be able to move the mouse to the left over the Dock onto the Mac. If I set the Dock for left it mounts on the Mac. If I set it right it is on the right side of the LG.
THe only way I can set it the way I want is to set the LG as being on the left side of the Mac in the Monitors prefs panel. Any suggestions?



Apple monitors are okay … but for that price, you can get something really good.
Well Apple is always like this premium prices for not that “premium” technology :)

Dell is selling great products, along with NEC

Brandon Eley

I have the Dell 30″ 3007WFP (previous generation model) and absolutely love it. We also have a few other Dell displays around our office including the 24″ and 20″ models.

When I was researching displays I was shocked to see the Dell had equal (or better) specs than the Apple displays for a fraction of the cost. And what’s more, the Dell has a myriad of connection options and ports such as CF, SD card, USB, and the new model offers many different types of video input as well.

I just can’t see a justification in the price difference between the Dell and Apple displays…


Just bought the Cinema HD 30 inch and a Mac Pro. Great! It’s like having my HD TV on my desk. However, what’s the point of supplying a display with a firewire connector that’s completely redundant?


I’m going to switch to Mac later this year. My idea was to go for a Macbook as desktop replacement, but then I realized that is not easy to attach a dual monitor configuration to an Apple notebook. I prefer to use twin monitors instead of a big one, but on Macbooks you have only one display port and no express-card slot for expansion. USB solutions are pathetic, and the only thing that can save you is Matrox and they dual-head box. I can use the Notebook screen as a second display, sure, but the idea is to left the Macbook lid closed until you need to move.
Seriously, the lack of a docking station or any way to emulate it is a real downside for professional use of Macbooks :(

Adam Jackson

I have a Dell 30″ Single LCD and I LOVE IT!!! It’s an amazing monitor. I don’t have a Mac Pro or iMac so I only have a 17″ MBP and 13″ MBA so the 30″ works great for those computers.

I completely agree that the monitor space is terrific if you can afford it.


Wow, I really wish you had included a photo of your desk. I’d love to see what 2 30″ HD displays look like side by side in a home office.


Thanks Adam! That’s an incredible setup he has.

Now I’m truely jealous. :)


Are you using the dual-monitor setup with your Macbook Pro? If so, do you need external adapter to run the second screen? As far as I know, it’s impossible to run an external dual-monitor setup out of the box.

I am interested in running this setup w/ my MBP 13″, so would love to know how you managed.


@Mark: maybe I phrased my question incorrectly. I don’t mean the adapter from Mini-Display to VGA or DVI.

What I mean is that my MBP has only one external display port. I currently have one external 24″ monitor which I hook up to my MBP. With this setup I use both my external monitor and my laptop’s 13″ display. This is a decent setup, but I would like to have *two* external 24″ monitors, and I just can’t figure out where I would plug the second monitor.

Liam seems to say in his post that he runs two external monitors off of his Macbook Pro. I’d like to know how this is possible.



And to think, I still do most of my work on a 13″ MacBook. Maybe I need another monitor for it…


I was using a 20″ Lacie Electron Blue up until last year. And for 5 years it ran great until the tube went. Reason why I never went to LCD’s and cinema display’s were you couldn’t beat the it for colour accuracy (in prepress) and sharpness compared to the LCD’s of the time. Now of coarse, Lacie has come out with a great line up of colour accurate LCD monitors, one of which I purchased to upgrade from my CRT. I still spent a pretty penny but worth every cent. I am now in the FUTURE!


I’m in the market for a new monitor, and just can’t justify the Apple 30 inch display. The price is higher then even the newer Dell 30 inch, and offers less.

So I can buy a $1799 display, and a $99 adaptor to hook it to my Air sometimes by manually recabling it off the desktop, or a $1299 Dell using the same quality panel with multiple inputs, including DisplayPort for the Air. Hmm, tough call.

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