30-Inch Cinema Display


Closer to the paperless office

The price per-pixel of flat-screen computer display continues to drop. At the same time the per-pixel price difference between different size models of large screens currently being sold has gotten very small.

Currently there’s no longer a big monetary reason to buy two smaller monitors instead of one big one. That’s what I did recently. I got a huge 30″ Apple Cinema Display and it changed how I worked. I ended up buying a used one on eBay for $1500. I’ve seen Dell’s 30″ monitor for sale on eBay for $1000 or less.

I’ve upgraded displays before but this upgrade to a Cinema screen gave me the biggest proportional step up in size. It was several weeks before I wasn’t awe-struck when I walked into my home office. What I hadn’t thought to prepare myself for was how much it changed my work habits.

The first thing I noticed was that the number of times I printed out hard copies of documents went down. Before, I would print copies of diagrams, specifications, and other reference material so that I could easily refer to them while working. Now I have space on the screen to have these visible. I wouldn’t say I’ve made it all the way to the “paperless office,” but it’s gotten a lot closer.

Within a few days of using a large screen I began to experience a much more significant effect, though: when more of the things I needed to look at were already in view, the amount of time spent on visual context switches went down. Having more documents in view not only reduces the time consumed by the switch, but also the “recovery time” needed to remember what I was doing. A related time savings is that when a document I may need to switch to is visible, it takes less time to realize that I need it.

The display fills a lot more of my visual field – so much, in fact, that it took me a week or so to get used to how far away the left and right edges of the screen were. In the end, I found that this made it a little easier to concentrate (since my attention was less often directed toward wherever I’d been keeping the notes that wouldn’t fit on the screen).

I found that once I got used to the idea that most things could be expanded to a size that required no window scrolling, I began to “think big” about a lot of things: my spreadsheets got bigger, my diagrams got bigger – and more unexpectedly: the size of the kind of thing I thought I could handle got bigger; and because I was much less often having to chop things into smaller pieces so that they could fit, things got simpler.

The 30″ Apple Cinema Display puts out a lot of light. The biggest difference this makes for me is that even with sun streaming in the window, the display is still bright enough to see clearly; I am no longer tempted to close the blinds. At night, I often turn it down to a dimmer setting to match the subdued lighting of the rest of the house.

I’m recommending a 30″ inch display to lots of people. I wish I’d bought one sooner!

08/18/08 -- Stephen Malinowski