The Biggest Picture: Apple's New Flat Panels

Although rumors about new flat panels from Apple were all over the Web in the weeks before WWDC, that didn't detract from their actual unveiling. The lovely new design—with a thin aluminum bezel that looks more at home with the Power Mac G5 and aluminum PowerBooks, and aluminum stand with an adjustable hinge—made a splash, but it was nothing compared to seeing the 30-inch flat panel. From the media section of the keynote, the relative sizes of the three panels were apparent, but it wasn’t until later in the day when we met with Apple that the enormous size of this display was evident. Staring at the behemoth, it was hard to pay attention to what the Apple folks were saying about Tiger—this thing is bigger than my TV!

The Apple Cinema Display HD 30-inch is so big, in fact, that no existing graphics card has enough power to drive its 2560-by-1600 pixels. Apple wisely switched from their own ADC connector to DVI with these new panels—giving PowerBook users, among others, the ability to use the 20-inch and 23-inch models without a bulky and expensive DVI to ADC converter—but even the standard DVI doesn’t have the bandwidth for the 30-incher’s astronomical resolution. So nVidia created the $599 GeForce 6800 Ultra DDL card, an 8x AGP card with 256MB of DDR RAM—and the first graphics card to support the dual link DVI standard. Steve Jobs said during his keynote that the 30-inch panel needs two DVI connectors to achieve the proper resolution, so I expected to see two pairs of connectors on the nVidia graphics card. But the case is actually that dual link DVI passes along twice the information of standard DVI along the same cable by using all 24 pins of the connector instead of just 12. All this graphics power comes at a space price as well—the card itself is so big that it takes up the space of two PCI cards.

So who might be willing to spend nearly $4000 to get one of these giant panels up and running (including the card, that is)? Apple says editors using Final Cut Pro HD now have enough pixels to edit full-resolution HD video and have room for tool and palettes, which makes them the perfect candidates. And because of the panel’s small bezel and the dual-monitor support of the nVidia card, Apple suggests you might want to put two side by side. At that point, the graphics card is only $300 per monitor. Sounds like a good deal—if you have $7200 to spend. Even then, you’ll have to wait until both card and panel ship in August.

  
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