Subject: Problem Solving Guy #2 – Monitors and Displays

Here’s our second in an ongoing series of helpful Q&A conversations between John “Nemo” Nemerovski and Guy Serle. Nemo asks the questions and Guy ducks answering them like a felon avoids a parole officer. Uh, not that he knows anything about that. They welcome your suggestions for future topics.

NEMO: What are the different types of connectors used for displays that work with Apple computers, Guy?

GUY: Not too loaded a question, sheesh! Maybe I should get loaded first? No, no, that always leads to trouble. Back to your question. Early on, Apple didn’t need to worry about monitors for Macs (or Mac-Like computers) since they were built-in to all their original models. I’m speaking of the LISA and the first 128K Mac to the Mac Plus. I didn’t include the Mac SE in this list since the day it was introduced; Apple also came out with their first real expandable Mac, the Mac II.

The Mac II was the first Mac that allowed for an external monitor. What this means is, unlike every other previous Mac, that no built-in monitor was present. In order to hook up to Apple’s new monitor line for the Mac, you would connect via a DB-15 (Two rows of pins, eight on top and seven on the bottom) port. This port lived on in all modular Macs (The “II” series, various “LC” models, Centris, Performa, Quadra, and PowerMac) until the PowerPC family came into its own with the G3/4 models.

While very popular with Apple, it meant that the various makers of video cards had to create two different models for their customers. One model with the various PC standard interfaces (CGA, VGA, SVGA, etc), and one for Apple. Why didn’t Apple just use the same video port as everyone else? Easy to answer: Money.

Apple sold their own line of monitors and as long as their users needed non-standard (to the rest of the world) monitor connections, they could sell a lot of CRTs. You COULD use a PC monitor, but that entailed buying an adapter that you would have to literally set the pins for. The best part of this process was if your pin settings weren’t correct, many times you would have to restart the machine to try a new setting! Talk about a night of groovy fun!

The other problem with this was that you could not just buy a video card from another manufacturer since many of them did not support Apple’s video hardware implementation. As well as needing different firmware for the Graphics processor to support Apple as compared to PCs. For those of us who struggled through the early nineties with some of Apple’s bone-headed business decisions, I salute you.

Apple finally saw the light and started getting video cards with either both DB-15 and SVGA outputs or even better SVGA and DVI.

NEMO: Has Apple now standardized on one type of generic display connector?

GUY: Yes, DVI is the new standard and Apple is now playing nice-nice with others. Though they briefly went back to nonstandard when they came out with their own interpretation of the DVI connector called ADC. ADC stood for Apple Display Connector. The ADC connector not only incorporated the emerging DVI standard, it also included all the needed cables to power an Apple LCD display and connect to the display’s USB/FireWire ports as well. A nice idea since it meant you only needed one cable to go to your monitor (Apple monitors only natch). It probably won’t shock too many readers to learn that only Apple’s computers and LCD displays used and supported this feature. They have since gone back to the industry standard DVI connector.

NEMO: What are the advantages (and disadvantages, if any) of this decision?

GUY: Well, the only disadvantage is to Apple. With all modern Macs, we can choose darn near any manufacturer’s SVGA or DVI equipped computer monitor.

NEMO: Do owners of older Macs need some sort of adapter to get the new monitor connections to fit and work properly? Is it worth the effort and expense?

GUY: Depends on the age of the Mac. In my opinion, anything older than say the beige G3 series, it probably isn’t worth it. By the time you add in the cost of a PCI based video card and the monitor itself, you could have a native G4 based Mac that will already have the card and most likely the connectors required. I don’t believe NuBus based Macs will support anything other the VGA based monitors. While there are plenty of LCD displays with VGA connections, the NuBus based Macs probably won’t have enough video ram to drive it.

NEMO: David Weeks tells me Dell makes displays that are as good as Apple’s, and use the same connectors. Aside from a squarish (non-cinema format) appearance, is he correct?

GUY: DAVID WEEKS SHALL BURN IN THE ETERNAL FLAMES FOR USING D*LL MONITORS WITH A MAC! Wait for it….wait for it…OK, the meds have kicked in. Sigh, yes he is correct. If the D*ll monitor is close in specs to a like Apple monitor, it should look just as good (shudder).

NEMO: David’s new 20″ Dell monitor has more vertical pixels and fewer horizontal pixels than does my new Apple 20″ Cinema Display. Which format is better for most users, Guy?

GUY: That’s kind of a tough call. It mostly depends on what the individual is going to use the computer for. Doing lots of MS Office stuff? The ..Duh…Duh..DELL monitor will offer the most bang for the buck. As long as both are of similar quality. I admit that I MIGHT be a little prejudiced. From what I have read, Apple is a little pickier over which displays they purchase from the various makers, while Dell is more of a commodity broker in the computer field. “Whatever works, ship it,” says Dell.

If the user is more interested in doing digital video or digital audio, in my opinion they would be better off with the wider aspect Apple monitor. Plus they won’t have to stare at the “Dell” symbol while at work. That would certainly stunt my creative (such as it is) process. Though it might help with trying to lose weight. Nothing would put me off my feed better than looking at the Dell logo all day.

NEMO: Should I be jealous that David’s Dell display has more total pixels and costs over $300 less than my Apple Cinema Display?

GUY: No, because you will be assured a place in the Promised Land.

NEMO: Are the 17″ and 20″ iMac G5 displays as high quality as Apple’s freestanding Cinema Displays?

GUY: I have seen it suggested at some sites that they aren’t as good. From looking at them with my eyes in Apple Stores, I haven’t noticed any degradation. Depending on how much I can save, I’m going back and forth between getting a G5 tower or a G5 iMac.

NEMO: Why do the PowerBook and iBook monitors seem so much less bright and clear than do the new Cinema Displays and iMac monitors, Guy?

GUY: I’m not a computer designer, but from a guess I would say it has much to do with power consumption. If your display is plugged into AC juice all the time, damn the torpedoes and pump up the volume. Laptops have different considerations however. One of the major ones is battery life. Apple could make a laptop with a display as bright as their desktop displays and watch it stay light for all of 15 seconds

NEMO: Why do you think Apple Stores have that horrible fluorescent lighting, making especially the laptop monitors appear so inferior?

GUY: I honestly (stagger) hadn’t noticed (bump) the bad lighting (SLAP! Sorry sir…uh…miss). Actually, I have heard rumors that Apple is going to make some changes in their brick and mortar stores and number one on the hit parade is to adjust the lighting levels. I’m not sure when the already opened stores will be redesigned as they will probably concentrate on getting the new stores done first. The two stores in my area as some of the oldest will most likely be the last to be changed. Of course being lucky enough to HAVE two stores close by means I don’t have to rely on the hit or miss Store-within-a-stores at CompUSA. While I’m sure CompUSA’s lighting is superior, the enthusiasm of the Apple Store employees more than makes up for any deficiencies in fluorescent levels. Plus not having to wade through aisle after aisle of Windows products is a big plus as well.

NEMO: If a user intends to use a non-standard screen resolution, is an eMac a better choice, with its traditional CRT glass screen that displays everything in equal sharpness?

GUY: I guess that depends. You say you want a resolution? Well you know (Shoobedoowah OHHH! Shoobedoowah) we all want to change the world. Unlike everyone else, I never get tired of that joke. The eMac has two strikes against it for going with non-standard resolutions. First off the relatively small screen size is going to limit the number of different resolutions to choose from. Secondly, remember that the eMac only has a 32 MB video card. Push it too hard and your overall system performance will drop like my waistline on Krispy Kreme doughnuts. So yes in theory, the eMac might be a better choice for non-standard monitor resolutions, but I don’t think I would do it. You’d be better off just getting a larger high-quality CRT with a Power Mac G5’s superior graphics card to drive it. CRT’s typically have better color matching as well.

NEMO: Why doesn’t Apple now promote their own brand of 17″ monitor to keep prices down for new Mac mini purchasers?

GUY: Mostly out of embarrassment. Steve Jobs declared the CRT dead when the G4 iMacs were announced and said Apple would never, by cracky NEVER sell CRTs again. Then less than a year later, the CRT based eMacs came out. It isn’t well known, but Apple does sell a CRT monitor. When you pick the Mac mini from the Apple web store, waaaaaaay down near the bottom of the page in additional accessories, an NEC 17-inch monitor is available for purchase.

NEMO: What sort of monitor do you use, Guy, and which one would you prefer to have in an ideal world (except for the outasite 30″ behemoth)?

GUY: Honesty (I hate that concept) forces me to admit that I don’t have an Apple monitor. I’m currently using an IBM branded 21-inch model P-50. If I had my druthers (HERE DRUTHERS! HERE BOY!), either the 20 or 23-inch Apple models would be ideal. I do enjoy playing with Digital Video and Audio, so the wide aspect of Apple’s monitors appeals to me.

NEMO: Are you aware of the problems reported on Apple’s 23” Cinema Displays?

GUY: Oh there’s quite the lively discussion over in some of Apple’s message boards with accusations of some post deletion by Apple from some of the users. According to my research (HA!), the main problem looks to be color consistency. Yellow banding was also reported, along with some dark tinting in the center. The earliest ones seemed to have the biggest number of problems. Later models appear to have the problem solved. The biggest issue is whether those people with faulty monitors have been taken care of. Considering the premium that people pay for Apple-branded products, there really isn’t any excuse for an issue as clear-cut as this to be unresolved.

NEMO: Why does David Weeks’ late-model 17″ Apple Display appear so much less bright and white than my Cinema Display, in a side-by-side viewing?

GUY: The Cinema Display is just a superior monitor in my opinion. Also, David Weeks is cursed for owning a Dell monitor.

NEMO: Thanks, Guy. Our readers and I *really* appreciate your well-crafted responses and dry wit.

GUY: Well crafted as the Minnow from Gilligan’s Island. As far as my wit goes, it’s about as subtle as a punch to the jaw. Thanks for noticing though!

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