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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

May 20, 2005

It's being so cheerful...

Dear Dogface,

Win a Mac Mini worth £340

As a registered user to the MacUser website, we would be delighted if you could spare 10 minutes of your time to complete an online survey.

MacUser exists because you read it. So to make sure you keep reading the magazine, we want to know what you think about MacUser, the Mac industry and the types of Mac hardware and software you use...

You know, using hilarious log-in names for web sites never gets old.

In my professional capacity yesterday, I was called upon to test a couple of computer displays. It's something I do occasionally. Over the past several years, most of them have been of the flat screen variety. In spite of their inability to match the colour space of a CRT display*, everybody wants a TFT these days, and manufacturers like Sony (first) and NEC-Mitsubishi have even stopped making CRTs.

So I've tested a variety of TFTs, just as I've tested a variety of different digital cameras etc. I've seen it all, from a blurred screen that makes you think you're going blind, to a crisp, bright, sharp display that made the whole world seem brighter and better.

A while ago, for example, I tested one of the phenomenally expensive Eizo displays. Fantastic quality, better than the Apple displays for example, though considerably more expensive. Considerably more expensive, indeed, yet with an enclosure having the build quality of a £1.99 bookshelf. I said to the rep - fantastic display, but in this market (Mac design, publishing, video etc), people expect it to look expensive, too.

So yesterday, I got a couple of displays from a manufacturer better known for other things. Let's call them X***x to spare their blushes. Presumably, some Korean manufacturer offered them the chance to put their brand name on a generic display. They looked quite trendy, anyway, with one of those mirror-like glass fronts. I don't know how much they cost. Probably considerably cheaper than Eizo and Apple, though looking like they cost more.

Booted up the 19" - shocking. Only word to describe the piss-poor colour. Everything looked blue. Spent some time with the Apple calibration tool, something I've done many many times, and couldn't get a good result. A grey scale image displayed with all the colours of the rainbow showing up as artifacts. Couldn't live with it. It was bright and fairly sharp (except with anti-aliased text which looked awful because of the colour interference) and would probably fool a Windows user into buying it.

What I mean by that is, if you had Windows XP on it in a PC World showroom, it might look bright and sharp enough to make someone think, "Wow!" and part with their cash. But for anybody dealing with graphics and photography, any attempt to make colour look remotely accurate is doomed to failure.

X***x later claimed they had messed around with the settings on that one, to which my reply was: if you want a dealer to test a display with a view to stocking it, don't fucking mess with the settings before you send it out. I actually dispute whether they really had, as I'd used the on-screen controls as well as the Mac calibration software.

As for the 17" one they sent, which they asked us to try to see if the colour was better: there was no power supply for it in the box. So a double gong for X***x. Thanks for trying.


*It's one of the great ironies of the Mac graphics market that the best display for colour accuracy was the good old Shadow Mask technology. You could get blacker blacks on Trinitron and Diamondtron displays, but Shadow Mask displays were much better for colour. Barco still made very expensive Shadow Mask displays until relatively recently. But people liked the flatness of Trini/Diamondtron, in spite of the black line you got across the display (part of the built-in technology) and in spite of the fact that the flatness often gave the optical illusion of being curved outwards. Even less accurate for colour than the 'trons is the TFT LCD display - which is what everyone uses nowadays. This is an Important Lesson: you can bleat about colour accuracy all you like, but people will still buy something less good as long as it looks better and is more expensive.


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