Apple’s Thunderbolt Display is a 27-inch, LED-backlit, in-plane switched (IPS) display which provides a bigger view and extra screen estate for Apple's Thunderbolt-enabled hardware (see picture).
The display can also be used as a hub for connecting flash drives and other peripherals. The display has three USB 2.0, one FireWire 800, and a gigabit Ethernet connection at the rear (see picture).
Hardware that can take advantage of the Thunderbolt display at present includes the latest MacBook Airs, the latest 13, 15 and 17-inch MacBook Pros, iMacs released in 2011, and the latest Mac Minis.
The connection at the rear of the display also allows Thunderbolt-enabled peripherals to be connected and accessed via Mac computers.
For example, we were reviewing Promise Technology's Pegasus R6 direct-attached storage (DAS) system at the time, and it was easy to plug it into the display and access the storage device.
Quibbles for us were the lack of USB 3.0 connectivity, no connectivity for hardware using DVI, HDMI, VGA or Mini DisplayPort connections for connecting computers other than Thunderbolt-enabled ones to displays, and annoying reflections off the glossy screen in environments with discrete light sources.
The display is a glossy, widescreen system with a cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio, and a native resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels in 32-bit colour.
Since it is an LED-backlit IPS monitor, which bumps up the price, it has a very wide angle of view and better contrast and colour saturation than monitors which use older fluorescent backlit technology and 'twisted nematic' (TN) for colour display.
The monitor uses a ‘ducks foot’-type stand (see picture).
This connects to the display via a hinge, allowing the display to be tilted at angles between -5 and 25 degrees. You cannot swivel the display to adjust sideways, just physically move the duck’s foot to achieve your desired view.
To stop thieves walking off with your Apple Thunderbolt Display, there's a Kensington security slot, allowing the system to be locked down.
As you’d expect from Apple, the Thunderbolt Display is easy to set up. Just plug the Thunderbolt cable into your laptop (or other Thunderbolt-enabled computer) and the display fires up showing an extension of your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro’s laptop display.
You can also use the ‘magsafe’ AC power connector built into the display to charge your Apple laptop.
We used a MacBook Air with the display and it gave us an extra 27 inches (measured across the screen diagonally) of screen estate, although users can just mirror the display from their laptop on to the Thunderbolt display.
We were also reviewing Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac at the same time. This software lets users run their Windows desktops as a virtual machine inside Mac OS X.
To make our virtual machine image appear on the Thunderbolt display, we just dragged the Mac OS X window on to the Thunderbolt display. When we dragged the cursor off our MacBook screen to the right, the cursor appeared to the left of the Thunderbolt display (see picture).
The Thunderbolt display has an ambient light sensor which adjusts brightness automatically depending on the light level in your working environment.
However, the glossy screen does reflect external light and is best positioned to minimise reflections.
Another feature of Thunderbolt is that it allows Thunderbolt devices to be daisy-chained together (see picture showing a MacBook Air connected into two daisy-chained Apple Thunderbolt Displays).
Display and colour calibration adjustments
To check display colour calibration users will have to check their Mac computers system preferences and click on 'display' (see picture).
This is unlike standard displays, such as the NEC EA192M and LG E1910P displays we recently reviewed, in which users can use dedicated hardware buttons located on the lower screen bezel to access on-screen display (OSD) buttons.
There are no such buttons on Apple’s Thunderbolt Display, so users have to use the above display calibration software assistant to set display parameters, such as gamma and colour white point.
To check the performance of Apple’s Thunderbolt Display with respect to colour representation and monitor performance, we used standard test images to ascertain brightness level consistency, colour banding and Moire interference, among others. The check turned up no faults we could discern.
We couldn’t fault the build quality and the monitor’s looks. But you need Thunderbolt-enabled Mac hardware to use Apple's Thunderbolt Display. The addition of connections for DVI, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort and VGA ports would resolve this.