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Display Quality and is it a TV?

Last updated 2013-01-13 - Send Feedback
Related: computer display, iMac, Macs, video

The display on the late 2012 iMac is excellent as built-in displays go. Glare is relatively low, contrast is good, sharpness is excellent. But it’s no Retina display to be sure— not photorealistic, not even close.

Grayscale uniformity is very good, but with visible issues, definitely not as good as my NEC PA271W or NEC PA301W and one cannot due a real calibration of the screen, and in any case only by tweaking the video card in 8 bits (since Apple still does not support 10 bit video). So as a tool for critical color work— no. But as a very nice screen for overall use— yes it’s quite nice.

As I worked with the 3.4 GHz iMac, I found that it delivered a little faster performance on some photographic tasks, and notably slower performance on others (see the tests). All in all quite impressive for what it is, but with its 32GB memory limitation and no spare internal bays or even upgradeable ones and no PCIe support, it’s just not a viable machine for my needs.

As a TV?

Part of my testing of the iMac involved watching some videos and movies to assess screen quality and responsiveness (well, I might have tested a little more than I needed to, but...).

I found myself feeling interested in the idea of using the iMac as a smallish TV.

But I make two key observations here, both of which relegate it to half-baked and disappointing status as a TV replacement:

  1. Compared to my recently acquired Sony BRAVIA KDL46HX850 46-Inch 240Hz 1080p 3D LED Internet TV (which has a stunning picture quality), the iMac screen looks so second-rate it’s not even in the same ballpark. The Sony technology makes even plain DVDs look unbelievably good. Well, the 46" Sony TV costs almost as much as the 27" iMac, so perhaps that’s understandable.
  2. Amazon Prime video: this is a quality disaster; you can watch HD on various specialized boxes but not on your computer where Amazon offers only a low-res video feed (with Flash, yuck) which isn’t up to a decent 480p quality standard. Forget 720p or 1080p— not available to your PC. It’s a joke in terms of image quality. Sure, if you sit back 6-8 feet from the screen it looks halfway OK.

If these two things were fixed, I could see buying an iMac to do double duty as a TV.

Yes, one can get 1080p content in various other ways, but I rarely watch TV or movies, I just want something that looks great and no fooling around to get it.


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