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Ask Soup Something Stupid: Tired of tubeless

By SoupIsGood Food, (soup@macedition.com), June 1, 2001

Madness! Chaos! Panic in the streets! Cats and dogs living together! Apple no longer makes CRT monitors! Aieee!

Deep breaths. Easy. The situation’s not quite that dire. There is going to be some pain involved with the transition to a tubeless Apple product line, but Soup’s here to help.

The largest headaches are going to belong to desktop publishing pros who need a top-quality CRT monitor to manage their color calibration, followed by the folks who want to run multiple monitors, but don’t have multiple ADC connectors – this includes PowerBook owners. The folks who don’t want to shell out all that money for an Apple flat panel are also in the “It Hurts!” category.

As flat panels go, Apple’s Studio Displays are unmatched in both price and quality. They’re simply at the pinnacle of the LCD display game, and no one else in the industry can even come close to touching them. Serious. Hie thee to the local Mac superstore (CompUSA will do in a pinch), and compare with the equivalently priced flat panels from the other vendors. There’s simply no contest. The Apple Studio displays are stunningly gorgeous both in their industrial design and in their image quality.

The poppa-bear 22" Studio Display offers the same display area as a Sony 25" monitor, with far better image quality. As a bonus, even Grandma won’t need help carrying it up the stairs. The big Sony CRT would require Grandpa, Dad, Uncle Roy and Cousin Agnes the female bodybuilder to get it up two flights.

The old Apple 17" CRT display had screen real estate roughly equivalent to the new 15" Studio Display. It’s also only a hundred bucks less after the recent price cut, for having a fuzzier image and being a huge hunk-o-glass heavier than the new flat panel model. It really, really is worth your while to spring for the flat panel.

Still, if that doesn’t sway you, take heart. Apple systems still come with a good ol’ VGA port for hooking up old-school glass tubes. Price Watch and Web services similar to it will tell you who on the Web has the best possible price for the monitor of your choice, and you can snag a 19" model for less than US$200! The downside is that while the display on an Apple CRT monitor looks kind of fuzzy and warped next to a flat panel, most of those astonishingly cheap generic monitors will look fuzzy and warped next to an Apple CRT. Make sure you know what you’re buying ’ ask your friends, read the reviews online, then go to Price Watch to find the lowest price on it. There are even a number of manufacturers who produce translucent casings in various hues for their CRTs so you don’t have to worry too much about a color clash with your Cube.

If preventing color clashes is your job, then an LCD can’t offer the same color fidelity a pro-quality CRT can. Apple had a rep as one of the top-tier monitor makers and their models were in hot demand by folks who were concerned about color fidelity in their designs, photos and publications. There’s hope for those who lament the passing of a display worthy of licking the suction cup on their Monaco calibrator for, though. LaCie makes the “electron/blue” line of monitors for the sole intent of critical color work, and they even come with cute l’il hoods to protect them from the garish glare of the overhead fluorescent office lights. The displays also offer a built-in color calibration hardware interface. The only downside is that they are pricier than the recent Apple CRT monitors and the design is nowhere near as swank. Still, if you make your money pushing pixels for publication and color calibration is key, they’re a worthwhile investment.

If you want more than one Apple Studio Display on your system, things get trickier. Most modern Mac video cards have connectors for both analog VGA and digital DVI, which is a standard digital interface designed just for flat panel displays. Since DVI is a broadly adopted industry standard used by almost everyone who makes flat panel displays and video cards, Apple’s new Studio Displays naturally don’t have DVI ports. That would make things far too easy on us Mac users.

No, the ADC is almost completely incompatible with DVI. And Apple uses their proprietary plug to provide USB connectivity as well as power to the Studio Display. So they not only won’t work without a new, ADC-equipped Mac, they won’t even power on! But wait, there is a solution.

As reported in our ProNews section, Dr. Bott makes a DVI-to-ADC adapter called the DVIator. It sells on Dr. Bott’s site for $150 and comes complete with an external power supply for your Studio Display. Gefen makes an adapter, too, but it’s bulkier and costs twice as much.

However, the new Studio Displays will only accept digital input, so if you have a Mac with only VGA ports, you’re stuck. Time to bite the bullet and upgrade to a new video card that has either an ADC or DVI port. But what if you have a PowerBook? Do the same.

Margi makes a PCMCIA video card called the “Display-to-Go 4MB” with a DVI port for $300. As the name indicates, it’s got 4MB of video RAM, so it will only give you 16-bit color on the 22" Studio Display, but it will drive the 15" and 17" models in full 24-bit mode. It’s definitely a Mac-savvy product, supporting spanning mode so you can use your built-in LCD display along with your external one.

The downside is that you’ll still need to buy a DVI-to-ADC adapter from Gefen or Dr. Bott, and Margi is currently doing its best to hunt down a bug that crashes the PowerBook G4. Also, since none of the iBooks have PCMCIA slots, you’re out of luck there.

So if you have your heart set on hitching a new flat panel Apple Studio Display or three to your Mac, you’re covered. You’re also covered if you don’t mind putting up with CRT quality at CRT prices, or do a lot of color-critical work. You can always paint over the name of the monitor’s maker and slap an Apple sticker on it. That’s why Apple gave you a sheet of ’em with your Mac.

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