On the Choice of Computer Display for Design

We’re certainly big fans of Apple products, that’s no secret. We have a number of Apple’s LED Cinema Displays in our office, but since we’ve used them for so long, we decided to get a “budget” display for our Mac Mini at home, which we use to do occasional bits of work as needed, when our laptops are handy.

First of all, there is a huge difference in price. I’m talking about a 27″ Apple display, which has as high a resolution as any display I’ve seen. It’s simply astounding. For $999, you get an amazing display, which also includes a power adapter for your laptop, a camera and a speaker, several USB adapters, all built into one very stylish package.

For home, we picked up a ViewSonic 22″ LED display. It’s certainly not as attractive, and while it has the proper connectors to work with a Mac, it’s not as elegant. It’s much smaller, but that’s not a bad thing in our living room. But critically, you can find it for $159 online, about 1/6th of the price. That’s cheap.

So why bother with an office full of pricey displays, when these can be had for so much cheaper?

The problems with this type of display are immediately apparent to anyone doing design for a living, frankly. Looking at them side-by-side, it’s quite obvious why the Apple display is better.

First, there is a color shift to the budget display that is very distracting. If you’ve never used an Apple display, the first thing you notice about them is how bright they can be set, and the second thing you notice is how predictable the color is at all viewing angles. From virtually any angle, the Apple display’s whites look perfectly white, and blues look perfectly blue. The color doesn’t shift.

On the budget display, the color shifting is extreme. If you move your head just a few inches to the side, the colors change. This is profoundly distracting, since I often call Kandace over to show her a design, but she would be seeing different colors. Colors are certainly critical to our work, so that won’t do. On the ViewSonic display, in fact, it’s so bad that from a few feet, you can see the color shift from top to bottom without moving your head!

Another thing that’s missing in a budget display is a certain degree of sharpness. On Apple’s displays, you can trust that a pixel is a pixel, but while I’m convinced that the same should logically apply to the budget display, it doesn’t feel the same to my eyes. I’ve had to play around with sub-pixel antialiasing, and ultimately disable it, because it was driving me crazy. The detail just isn’t there, and while it doesn’t technically make sense to me, the eyes don’t lie.

The bottom line is that I would consider a budget PC display adequate for casual use, and it’s probably wise of me to look at our designs on it now and again, it’s just not good enough for professional use. It’s not just testing that exposes its weaknesses; try to edit a photograph and you’ll quickly find yourself moving your head around just to be sure of what you’re seeing. One’s neck could get tired.

Apple’s displays may be expensive, but for a designer, they really are worth it.