By James Galbraith
Apple’s Thunderbolt Display is very nice. It has a beautiful 27-inch IPS screen, a stylish aluminum case, and handy connectors that replace ports missing from Apple’s laptops. But at $1000, the Apple display is too expensive for many consumers, especially if those extra ports aren’t necessary.
Less expensive displays are available, but 27-inch displays with high quality IPS panels and LED backlights still cost a pretty penny—HP’s ZR2740w is over $700 and Dell’s U2711 has a list price of $999 (available for $800). Monoprice, a company known for its affordable computer cables and adapters, hopes to shake up the display market by offering its 27” IPS LED CrystalPro Monitor WQHD for much less—under $400—than these more expensive monitors.
Removing the CrystalPro out of the box, it’s quickly apparent that there are major differences between the Apple and Monoprice displays. If you’re expecting the fit and finish of Apple’s LED Cinema Display or Thunderbolt Display, you need to reset your expectations. The Monoprice monitor uses a generic-looking black plastic case with a somewhat flimsy stand. It has seven buttons on the bottom, two of which do absolutely nothing. There’s a power button, volume up and down, and backlight brightness controls. No onscreen menus appear to show you where on the scale from low to high the monitor’s brightness or volume is set; just stop pressing the button when it looks or sounds good. Apple displays have no buttons, but you can control the brightness and volume from the keyboard, with onscreen cues as to the relative level of each.
The CrystalPro offers only a DVI connection. DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB are not included. If your Mac has Mini DisplayPort, you need a dual-link Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter, which you can find from Apple ($99) or Monoprice ($69). The monitor does have speakers but they sound tinny, especially when compared to the Apple Thunderbolt Display’s speakers.
What the CrystalPro does have in common with the Apple displays is a 2560-by-1440 LED backlit, 27-inch IPS LCD panel from LG. With the CrystalPro sitting next to the Apple Thunderbolt Display, the Apple display’s color temperature was considerably cooler than the CrystalPro. When the two displays were calibrated to 6500K and 120 nits of brightness with a Datacolor Spyder 4, the CrystalPro was much closer to that 6500K target at its default settings.
Like the Apple display, the CrystalPro has glossy screen. It’s less reflective than the Thunderbolt Display, but more than the new iMacs. Photos on the Apple display appeared to have a little more depth. When I moved to the very far left or right, I couldn’t see any difference between the two displays, with neither display losing contrast or shifting colors. Text was very legible even at small point sizes, and colors appeared consistent across the screen with little light leakage evident.
Monoprice offers a one-year warranty and will replace the display if there are five or more dead pixels. Most companies have a threshold closer to ten stuck or dead pixels. I found no stuck or dead pixels in the CrystalPro sent for review. Our first review unit had an issue where a semi-circular dark patch appeared at the top center of the screen. I’m not sure if it was damaged in shipment or if this was a manufacturing defect. Monoprice shipped us a second review unit and luckily, it did not have the same problem.
The 27” IPS LED CrystalPro Monitor WQHD cuts some corners to get its price down to less than half of other 24-inch IPS displays. But if you can do without USB, Thunderbolt, ethernet, and varied connection options, and can ignore the generic styling, the lack of onscreen menus, and the sub-par speakers, the CrystalPro’s basic on-screen performance matches that of more expensive displays.
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