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New 20" iMac Screens Show 98% Fewer Colors 470

Posted by kdawson
from the dithering-all-the-way-to-the-bank dept.
Trintech points us to an AppleInsider article about another class-action lawsuit directed against Apple Inc. This one claims that the displays on new 20" iMacs are only capable of 6-bit-per-pixel color, 98% fewer colors than Apple advertises. Rather than the 8-bit, in-plane switching (IPS) screens used in 24" iMacs and earlier 20" models, "[t]he new 20-inch iMac features a 6-bit twisted nematic film (TN) LCD screen," according to the article, "which the [law] firm claims is the 'least expensive of its type,' sporting a narrower viewing angle than the display of the 24-inch model, less color depth, less color accuracy, and greater susceptibility to washout." Apple recently settled a very similar class-action suit about the displays on MacBook and MacBook Pro models.
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New 20" iMac Screens Show 98% Fewer Colors

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  • by suso (153703) * on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:28PM (#22932774) Homepage Journal
    Good job slashdot, I think you successfully managed to show that reality is stranger than fiction by holding back on the fake articles this year. And you've thoroughly confused everyone.
    • by shaitand (626655) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:31PM (#22932814) Journal
      OMG PONIES!!
  • Uh oh (Score:3, Funny)

    by sltd (1182933) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:30PM (#22932804)
    Mac Fanboys converging in 3... 2... 1...
  • by MrNemesis (587188) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:32PM (#22932816) Homepage Journal
    ...the new OSX interface has shown us that we don't need so many colours. Colours in a computer eat up the memory bits and distract us from our reverence. Personally, I'm going to take Steve's advice and go get my eyes chromed.
    • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:59PM (#22933170) Journal
      You're absolutely right. I hate colours myself. I much prefer the American colors, thay're much brighter and prettier than the British colours. Damn that Jobs and his British colours! And he calls himself an American!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ThePromenader (878501)
        Technically, American 'color' contains less bytes than British 'colour'. So although American colors (especially in advertising) tend to be more towards the pure (rgb + complimentary), can we consider them to be the more 'simblastic' of the two?
  • If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:33PM (#22932834)
    the Windows Guy could retaliate in one of those commercials.

    But cutting costs is part of innovation, so Apple is still the best, OBVIOUSLY.
    • Re:If only... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Haeleth (414428) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:47PM (#22933020) Journal

      the Windows Guy could retaliate in one of those commercials.
      Unfortunately, the vast majority of Windows PCs (including pretty much every laptop ever made) also use these "inferior" screens, and nobody's tried to sue Dell yet.

      The fact is that most people can't tell the difference, and aren't interested in paying four times as much to get a product that isn't noticably better unless you make your living working with colour.

      This is a storm in a teacup.
      • Re:If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by kesuki (321456) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:58PM (#22933158) Journal
        Dell lets you pay extra to configure your laptop with a real screen. you pay through the nose, but still they let the person decide at checkout.
        • Re:If only... (Score:4, Informative)

          by dal20402 (895630) * <dal20402@Nospam.mac.com> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:12PM (#22933350) Journal

          There is no better laptop screen, because no one makes one. You can increase the resolution by paying extra, but you're still getting the same cheap TN crap that everyone uses and that Apple is getting sued for advertising as capable of displaying "millions of colors."

          Crap TN panels are slowly but surely taking over the desktop space too. It's hard to find a non-TN panel under 23" these days, and even many 24" and all 27" panels use the sucky technology.

          Unfortunately, Americans still largely drive tech trends, and we rarely care about anything but "big and cheap." (We say we do, but then we actually still buy "big and cheap.")

          • Re:If only... (Score:4, Informative)

            by tolan-b (230077) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:16PM (#22933408)
            This isn't about the MacBook suit, this is about 20" iMac desktops.

            Incidentally a guy (Mac user) on our forums ran some tests on his Thinkpad and found that it does indeed have an IPS display. So although TN screens may be common on laptops they're not ubiquitous.
            • Re:If only... (Score:5, Informative)

              by dal20402 (895630) * <dal20402@Nospam.mac.com> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:21PM (#22933456) Journal

              This isn't about the MacBook suit, this is about 20" iMac desktops.

              I realize that. I was responding specifically to the inaccuracy in the parent post.

              Incidentally a guy (Mac user) on our forums ran some tests on his Thinkpad and found that it does indeed have an IPS display. So although TN screens may be common on laptops they're not ubiquitous.

              IBM made several ThinkPads with IPS panels 2-4 years ago, although none were produced in large numbers. The 14" and 15" IPS screens are no longer being made. The only one I know of still being sold is the X-series tablet, which has a 1440x900 12" IPS screen that I believe is also now out of production.

              TN was just too big and cheap for IPS to survive. There was no money for the panel makers in producing a tiny quantity of $100 more expensive laptop screens for the few buyers with enough basic perceptivity to tell the difference.

          • Not so much (Score:3, Informative)

            by Sycraft-fu (314770)
            For one, there are laptop screens that use other panel types. For example LG Display makes the LP201WE1 which is a full 8-bit laptop LCD panel.

            Also it is easy to get non-TN panels for desktop displays, you just have to be willing to pay more. For example the LG L1910S is a 19" S-IPS monitor. However, it's going to run you like $350, not the $150 you may be accustomed to for monitors that size. Same deal with larger panels. Yep, you can get 24" TN panels, and you can get them for an extremely good deal. Just
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by thegnu (557446)

        Unfortunately, the vast majority of Windows PCs (including pretty much every laptop ever made) also use these "inferior" screens, and nobody's tried to sue Dell yet.

        The majority of Windows PCs are non-specific about the superiority or inferiority of their screens. Dell doesn't lie about it. No fraud, no suit.

        The fact is that most people can't tell the difference, and aren't interested in paying four times as much to get a product that isn't noticably better unless you make your living working with colour.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MojoStan (776183)

          Unfortunately, the vast majority of Windows PCs (including pretty much every laptop ever made) also use these "inferior" screens, and nobody's tried to sue Dell yet.

          The majority of Windows PCs are non-specific about the superiority or inferiority of their screens. Dell doesn't lie about it. No fraud, no suit.

          I just had to check the specs of Dell's (forgotten?) iMac competitor: the XPS One [dell.com]. From the specs:

          • Display
            Large Size ( 20" )
            Widescreen
            High Definition: WSXGA (1680x1050) resolution at 16.7 million colors

          Hmm... looks like an 8-bit panel.

          • Viewing Angle (up to 80 degrees)
            Fast pixel-response rate (5ms typical for fast motion)

          Fuck... that looks like a 6-bit TN panel. I'm assuming a viewing angle of "80 degrees" translates to "160 degrees," which is typical of TN panels. Also, I don't think current 8

  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:34PM (#22932844) Homepage
    I don't have a Mac, but I do sometimes buy computer monitors. I can understand specifications like the physical size, resolution, viewing angle and (just about) contrast ratio. But do manufacturers publish specs on what colour depth is supported? Is there some quantitative measure of how well a display shows different colours and how wide the gamut is? How can I avoid getting caught out like these hapless iMac buyers?
    • by randyest (589159) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:39PM (#22932918) Homepage

      But do manufacturers publish specs on what colour depth is supported? Is there some quantitative measure of how well a display shows different colours and how wide the gamut is? How can I avoid getting caught out like these hapless iMac buyers?
      Yes, of course. The LCD manufacturers will spec 6-, 8-. or 10-bit color for their panels. Then Apple will buy the 6-bit and claim it's an 8-bit. Then you sue Apple and get your money back and lunch with Steve, or something like that.

      But seriously, yes, LCD (and any decent LCD mfgr) will spec the color bit depth of a panel. A really good mfgr (NEC, LG, Samsung) will have gamut charts available to OEMs and possibly end users. But if Apple chooses not to share, or worse just lies about it, there's not much you can do other than try to do some independent research to figure out what panels Apple uses, then contact the panel mfgr to (try to) get some specs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Mogenpwr (1265890)
        Most people dont realize (hell, nobody does) that 6 bit panels (as opposed to 8 bit panels) do not lose the 2 MSB; they lose the 2 LSB. As a result,instead of the LSB being a digial 1, it's valued at a digital 4. They are fully capable of displaying the full 24 bit color palette, but they have problems when the image is very dark. To illustrate the point, when the image is Full White (R,G,B=255,255,255) with an 8 bit panel you may see the signal swing from 254-255. On a 6bit panel the signal will swing
    • My guess is to do the research to find out who makes the panels for the model you might want and go from there.

      I got a cheap 19" LCD which clearly has a smaller color space based on watching video simultaneously on the LCD and on a HT projector. The LCD clearly has marked color transitions where the (also LCD) projector does not. At least, I presume that's the issue. I don't really care, as the screen is mainly for setup of the HT computer, not watching, but I can see how somebody might be pretty disappoin
    • by xlsior (524145) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:43PM (#22932970) Homepage
      Pretty much any monitor advertised as 16.2 million colors is using a 6 bit panel with hardware dithering. Those advertised as 16.7 million colors tend to be 8 bit.
      • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:5, Informative)

        by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:00PM (#22933180)
        Mod parent up. This is absolutely true. I'd estimate that the vast majority of LCD panels on the market are 6-bit screens. Whether you are buying Benq, LG, Dell, Viewsonic, it doesn't matter. Most of them are 6 bit.

        They are cheaper, and they have faster response times.

        8-bit LCD panels are almost a niche specialty 'pro product' in today's market, and unless you went out of your way to buy an 8 bit screen odds are you took home a 6-bit TN panel, advertised as showing "16.2 million colours" without even knowing it.

        Its not just Apple. Although they seem to have gone beyond marketing deceptiveness to outright lies and deserve to be taken to task about it.

        But don't for a minute think all those free Dell monitors bundled with low end PCs are anything better. Hell, even the ones you can pay to upgrade to aren't often anything better than 6-bit.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by (H)elix1 (231155) *
          Whether you are buying Benq, LG, Dell, Viewsonic, it doesn't matter. Most of them are 6 bit. ... But don't for a minute think all those free Dell monitors bundled with low end PCs are anything better. Hell, even the ones you can pay to upgrade to aren't often anything better than 6-bit.

          For those interested in looking up the monitors, here [wikipedia.org] is a handy guide that gives you the inside scoop on most of the Dell flat panels. Also why the the 200x, 240x, and 300x series monitors get the loving they do and were wo
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nxtw (866177)
          Typically, 24" screens and greater are not TN. This article [behardware.com] claims that the first 24" TN panel came out in mid 2007.

          I can't imagine that there are many larger LCD TVs with TN panels, even among the cheap ones; the viewing angles would be unacceptable.
      • Unfortunately, that isn't a good indicator anymore. This is in part because companies are deceptive, but mostly because retailers don't know what they are talking about. At any rate, just do a little searching around and you'll find 6-bit TN panels that are listed on a site as "16.7 million colours". The reason is that the site isn't even checking, they just put that for ALL monitors.

        It also goes the other way too. I am thinking about getting an NEC 2690WUXi which is a pro monitor. It is, of course, an 8-bi
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Phroggy (441)
      I just checked. The tech specs page for Apple Cinema Displays says "Display colors (maximum): 16.7 million". The tech specs pages for the MacBook [apple.com], MacBook Pro [apple.com], MacBook Air [apple.com] and indeed the iMac [apple.com] all mention "millions of colors" (which is what Apple has traditionally called 24-bit color, as opposed to "thousands of colors" which is 16-bit mode and "256 colors" which is obviously 8-bit mode).
  • Class Action? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by randyest (589159) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:34PM (#22932856) Homepage
    Strange, the first case that was "settled out of court under undisclosed terms" seems to have been just two guys. Surely there are more than two photographers who bought macs thinking they would get 8-bit color and later realized it was only 6-bit. I wonder why no class-action was initiated? Since it wasn't though, it seems like Apple is still open to potentially thousands or more lawsuits for this false advertising.

    That's what it is, right? They say "millions of colors" when it's really 262k colors. Or is there some precedent that lets a company claim dithering = unique color?
    • by octover (22078)
      What I read was that the capabilities of the screen had to be a major purchase point in order to qualify, and most people would have a hard time arguing that. I'm happy enough with my display, but I am pissed that I was lied to about its capabilities.
    • If you are really into photography, you wouldn't buy the non IPS monitors regardless. These guys are idiots for buying a product clearly labeled as having a cheap screen and then being surprised when the screen was, well, cheap!

      It's not like dithering is not used in plenty of other applications to produce more colors than the device can physically output - I assume they are going after printer makers next?

    • by hattig (47930)
      It's a standard TN screen, as supplied with pretty much any computer under $1000. Indeed gamers prefer this type of display because they don't blur so much as slower response, but better image quality, alternatives.

      TN screens are 6-bits per component, alongside a load of other things like poor viewing angles, etc.

      They use temporal dithering to achieve 16.2m colours, because they can flick between close together colours very quickly, faster than the human eye can detect. There is another illusion used as wel
  • by DurendalMac (736637) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:36PM (#22932878)
    I work at an Apple shop, I love Apple products, but I'd be happy to tell you how shitty the 20" Aluminum iMac screens are. They really, really suck, and here's hoping Apple finally gets their head out of their ass and puts a quality screen on what should be a quality product.
    • by boristdog (133725) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:44PM (#22932980)
      I am not a big Apple fan, but in the past I always knew they at least put out a quality product. I never had problems recommending Apple products to my clients if their needs fit the product.

      But in the past few years Apple quality has been slipping. They need to nip this in the bud or they'll be known as just an OS company with crappy hardware.

      And for a company that pushes such a visual image - DON'T go cheap on the displays!
  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:36PM (#22932884)
    Apple is just trying to bring back the glory days of black and white screens.
  • That's OK (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lxy (80823) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:38PM (#22932906) Journal
    640 colors ought to be enough for anyone.
  • by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:42PM (#22932954) Homepage Journal
    Hasn't apple prided itself in that mac's are for "fun and artistic purposes" rather than business purposes? It seems to me that apple is shooting itself in the foot here, and then pouring lemon juice on the wound just for good measure.
  • by Russell2566 (1205416) * on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:43PM (#22932968) Journal
    Quick, ban this guy for posting something that might be construed as anti-apple... We all know they can't do wrong. Someone change Apple -> Microsoft and all will be well...
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:44PM (#22932978) Homepage

    6-bit colors? In 2008? What were they thinking? The trend is towards 10 bits. At 6 bits, gradients look awful; false edges appear. Go into Photoshop, generate a single color gradient, and then "posterize" to 64 colors to see what this looks like. Yuck.

    Dithering won't help; it puts noise into a nice, smooth gradient.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by randyest (589159)
      Do you think 10-bit color provides only 2^10 or 1024 colors? I assume (hope) not, so why would 6-bit color be only 64 colors? The 10/8/6 bits are per channel (Red, Blue, Green) so 6-bit color is 2^18, or ~262k. 8 bit is 2^24 or ~2.7million, 10-bit is 2^30.

      That said, you're right that 6-bit makes gradients (and many more things) look like shit. But, to be fair, not 64-color total shit.

      The Amiga had 4096 colors (12-bit total, 4 bit per channel) in the 90's. 1024 total colors, now in 2008, on the be
    • Dithering does help (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Solandri (704621)

      Dithering won't help; it puts noise into a nice, smooth gradient.

      You're thinking of spatial dithering. LCD panels can use both spatial dithering and temporal dithering. With temporal dithering on a 6-bit panel, the sub-pixel can only be 64 possible states*, but you flip it rapidly between two states to approximate something in between. This is generally invisible to most people. If you can see older fluorescent lights flicker like I can, you may be able to notice it; but for most people for all intents

  • I'm going to be madder then Hell if I take a monitor home, and look at the connector, and it has a 9-pin RS-232 Connector (Thats not a serial connector, the Serial ones are Female.)
  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:48PM (#22933032) Homepage Journal
    Apple uses octal.
  • 6 Bit per pixel. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:52PM (#22933098)
    Just a reminder this is 6 Bits per pixel not the Bit depth that you set on your OS. Having 64 Colors per Pixel and combination of hardware dithering makes a decent screen for most people. However for true videophobes that would get in the way 8 bit would be prefered. But for most people they wouldn't know the difference betwen 8 bit and 6 bit displays.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @02:56PM (#22933134)
    I'd call this 98% color reduction a healthy, green approach, great for the environment... except that green was one of the colors that was removed...
  • Things like this make it more painful that Apple doesn't have a good performing display-less model. I don't need the power of the Mac Pro, but need more than a Mac mini. The iMac is about the right specs except I'd prefer something that had room for a couple of hard disks. Also more importantly I upgrade my machine more often than I want/need to upgrade my display. I could easily envision going that route getting a good display and then using it for 2~3 machines and buying a MacBook for my portable needs.
  • by guidryp (702488) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:31PM (#22933556)
    90%+ LCD monitors are TN screens like the low end iMacs. They all claim 16+Million colors. The Panel itself is a LG.Philips LM201WE3(teardowns online). The manufacture web says it is 16.7million colors with FRC.

    This would only affect the clueless. It was widely complained about that apple switched to TN panel on the 20" as soon as the Aluminum iMacs came out. It is not a hidden fact, you can tell by the viewing angle specs.

    Apple will probably fight this one, because there is a chance the laptops did not have FRC dithering (many laptop screens don't) and thus did not have millions of colors, OTOH the FRC dithering panels are classed as having millions of colors industry wide, and the viewing angles were quoted to industry standards in the spec that would make it clear to anyone who knew or cared about display or even asked anyone for advice that these were TN panels.

    In fact you would have to be living under a rock to not know, but that won't stop some people for trying for a small cash grab and lawyers from trying for a big one.

  • by Cowclops (630818) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @03:34PM (#22933592)
    I'm the guy that you'd find arguing over how much LCDs suck and how much better CRTs are a couple years ago. But my CRT died last month (Mitsubishi 19" Aperture Grille, it was about the best monitor you could get short of the 22" version of the same), and I picked up a Samsung 226CW. There are only two things it doesn't do as well as the CRT:

    Absolute black level.
    Off-axis viewing degradation.

    The color is actually BETTER, DESPITE the 6 bit panel. The reason why 6 bit is not a big deal is because the panel response is so fast that it can temporally dither two colors into one, and you don't even notice that its doing it. For photography, its actually better color reproduction because its more consistent than CRT. On top of that, the "C" model in particular (as opposed to the 226BW) has a 95 CRI backlight, which means the spectrum the backlight produces is much less peaky and closer to natural sunlight. Altogether, the result is more accurate color than I'd get on a CRT. Plus I get 2ms response time so gaming is fine too.

    The 226CW may be TN, but its one of the best panels out there. I thought I was going to be more disappointed than I actually was. In fact, I wasn't disappointed at all because it turned out better in most regards, not just "almost as good." It can produce smooth color because spatial and temporal dithering on fast monitors is surprisingly effective, and its actually more accurate because of the better quality back light.

    Not that this was an article about CRT vs LCD, but I'm saying that TN panels have become common not just BECAUSE they're cheap but because the good ones (as cheap as they are) are SURPRISINGLY good. Apple may have used a shitty 6 bit panel instead of, say, Samsung's 6 bit panel, but the number of native colors is surprisingly not that big a deal, even if you're a picture-accuracy freak.

    (It doesn't excuse them from not clarifying whether it was TN or IPS though, and in fact it pisses me off that no manufacturers are clear on what overall technology goes into their LCDs)
  • iPhone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by themassiah (80330) <scooper@coopster.net> on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @05:05PM (#22934698) Homepage Journal
    I'm curious - and completely ignorant of how to find this information. What type of screen does the iPhone use? The WikiPedia entry doesn't give that much detail, or I don't know what I'm looking for. Thanks!
  • by ahfoo (223186) on Tuesday April 01, 2008 @05:32PM (#22934994) Journal
    I use one of these exact machines on the weekend and in the last few weeks I've been having serious eye strain. When I come home during the week and use generic 17" LCDs or my 19" CRT the need to rest my eyes constantly goes away by about Wednesday, but it comes back every weekend when I use that 20" iMac. Seems like a pretty direct correlation. It could be something else like the lighting in the room there, but I'm wondering if anybody else who has used one of these had noticed unusual eye troubles after prolonged usage.
  • because he is colorblind. That is why the original Macintosh and Lisa were in black and white with shades of gray. It wasn't that it was cheaper, it was that Steve Jobs is colorblind. 6-bit or 8-bit color, it all looks the same to Steve Jobs.

    On the other hand, Windows and PCs are the way they are because Bill Gates has asperger syndrome.

    Linux is the way it is because Linus Torvalds worked his way through college as a nude model for art students to paint or draw pictures of the human body. That is why Linux is open, totally naked.

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