Roundup: The best external monitor alternatives to Apple's outdated Thunderbolt Display

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2015
The last time Apple updated its in-house external display line was 2011's Thunderbolt Display, but with no clear signs that a refresh is imminent, AppleInsider has put together a list of the latest and greatest monitors.

Thunderbolt display


Initially announced in July 2011, Apple's current 27-inch Thunderbolt Display debuted as the world's first Thunderbolt-equipped monitor, replacing the outgoing LED Cinema Display.

At the time, the Thunderbolt Display offered cutting-edge display technology, borrowing its 2,560-pixel-by-1,440-pixel WQHD IPS screen from the 27-inch iMac that launched a couple months earlier, but it has since been overtaken by higher-resolution options or products that offer similar features at cheaper prices.

Rumblings of a Thunderbolt Display update have circulated for quite some time, but Apple recently set the rumor mill on fire with the stunning iMac with 5K Retina display.

It was speculated that the 5K iMac itself could be used as an external monitor, but those theories are easily swept aside with a quick reference to Thunderbolt's bandwidth limitations. While the new DisplayPort 1.3 standard rolls in support for 5K displays, that functionality is absent in Thunderbolt 2, let alone the original Thunderbolt protocol used by the Thunderbolt Display.

Even Apple recognizes consumer need for more advanced technologies, as seen with the Sharp 4K monitor advertised alongside the top-tier Mac Pro desktop.

At this point, it seems Apple will wait on 5K or higher screen tech backed by a next-gen Thunderbolt revision with DisplayPort 1.3. Until that day comes, here are a few options for Mac owners who need the cutting-edge of monitor technology or simply want an affordable method of expanding screen real estate.

Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K monitor

Dell's lineup of UltraSharp monitors are some of the best deals on the market, marrying solid technology with low prices. The 27-inch UltraSharp is no exception and is perhaps the closest analog to a theoretical 5K Thunderbolt Display made by Apple.




Using a dual DisplayPort setup, Dell's UltraSharp spits out 5,120 pixels-by-2,880 pixels at 60 Hz, while a single cable saves one DisplayPort input, but knocks resolution down to 3,840 pixels-by-2,160 pixels at 60Hz. LED backlighting is impressively bright at 350 cd/m2, just under the Thunderbolt Display's 375 cd/m2 specification.

In addition, Dell also sells an X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter that, when combined with an onboard 12-bit user-accessible 3D lookup table, offers an option for precise color control. Advanced colorimetry settings are usually reserved for more expensive commercial displays.

The Dell 27-inch UltraSharp UP2715K sells for $2,122.67 from Amazon.com, 2,279.99 from B&H Photo, or for $2,499.99 direct from Dell.

Dell also sells a number of cheaper options for those looking for a large 27-inch monitor, including the P2715Q, an affordable 4K display slated to hit store shelves in February for $689.99 from Amazon, or $699.99 from Dell and B&H Photo. The new U2715H offers a resolution identical to the Thunderbolt Display at a more affordable $570.

LG 27-inch ColorPrime IPS Monitor

Those searching for an updated Thunderbolt Display may not need to further than LG's commercial class 27MB85R-B, which also sports a WQHD display with IPS technology. LG is a known to be at least one of Apple's LCD panel suppliers for the Thunderbolt Display and the ColorPrime boasts identical specifications, aside from an anti-glare coating.




Unlike other monitors in its class, the LG boasts Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort and mini DisplayPort connections. LG's ColorPrime feature includes Scaler and True Color Pro software that works in tandem with an included calibrator for greater accuracy.

In essence, the 27-inch ColorPrime is the next-generation Thunderbolt Display Apple never built. It can be purchased for for $597.99 from B&H Photo. A second model, dubbed the ColorPrime 27MB85Z-B, tack on two Thunderbolt 2 ports at a cost of $829 from Amazon.

Asus

Taiwanese computer giant Asus also has a good selection of standalone displays in the 27-inch range, including a new 28-inch 4K product dubbed the PB287Q. The 3,840 pixel-by-2,160 pixel resolution panel runs at 60Hz over DisplayPort 1.2, making for clean, judder-free scrolling often associated with lower refresh rates.




The PB287Q comes with HDMI 1.4, HDMI/MHL 1.4 and DisplayPort inputs covering a wide gamut of connectivity alternatives, including all modern Mac products. Asus applies in-house processing technologies like SplendidPlus and VividPixel to boost color accuracy and image sharpness, while a highly adjustable stand can be raised 150 millimeters, swivel 60 degrees in either direction or pivot 90 degrees for portrait-style operation.

Despite a formidable feature set, Asus' PB287Q comes in at $593 from Amazon.

In the 27-inch WQHD class, Asus' PB278Q is LED-backlit like Apple's Thunderbolt Display and incorporates HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2 and Dual-link DVI connectivity. This slightly smaller model does not feature an IPS panel, but does come in at $479 from both Amazon and B&H Photo, much lower than competing products.

Sharp 4K monitors

Stepping up to a 32-inch monitor, Sharp's PN-K321 was one of the first professional-grade 4K displays on the market and still comes in near the top of the pile in terms of image quality. The display employs a high-efficiency IGZO panel to achieve impressive color accuracy and brightness, especially for its huge 32-inch form factor.

Sharp


While no longer tops in terms of outright resolution at 3,840 pixels-by-2,160 pixels over DisplayPort, the PN-K321's huge screen size and great visual performance make it one of the best displays out there.

Sharp also has a touchscreen version in the PN-K322B, which includes a tilt stand for easy touch access and its own Mac touch panel driver software for use with OS X.

The Sharp PN-K321 is on sale at a new low price of $2,962, while the touchscreen PN-K322B comes in at $4,017, both through B&H Photo.

It should be noted that many leading manufacturers are content to employ DisplayPort or mini DisplayPort technology in place of Thunderbolt, meaning their products can't be used as docking stations for other Thunderbolt-equipped devices. For that, Apple's Thunderbolt Display remains the best option.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 93
    You only mentioned one monitor with thunderbolt technology.

    Should have pointed out, LGs 34UM94-P or 34UM95-P .. both with Dual Thunderbolt 2, 3 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Display ports.
  • Reply 2 of 93
    I have a non-Apple monitor at work attached to my Mac machine. Good monitor, but not the finish and style as an Apple monitor. Apple had a solid lead with its Cinema displays. It is very unclear to me, why they neglect their display line that much.
    Initially I thought because they want to marry it with Apple TV. But this doesn't seem to happen. So come on and bring something solid to this category.
  • Reply 3 of 93
    macapfel wrote: »
    I have a non-Apple monitor at work attached to my Mac machine. Good monitor, but not the finish and style as an Apple monitor. Apple had a solid lead with its Cinema displays. It is very unclear to me, why they neglect their display line that much.
    Initially I thought because they want to marry it with Apple TV. But this doesn't seem to happen. So come on and bring something solid to this category.

    If you'd read the article, you'd know they don't have a newer one because Intel hasn't shipped Thunderbolt 3 yet. It's not like Apple is ignoring the issue.
  • Reply 4 of 93
    Apple...................WAKE UP! How long has the new MacPro been on the market without a complementing Apple UHD Thunderbolt monitor? Cannot even begin to understand the thinking behind this neglect.
  • Reply 6 of 93
    mcarlingmcarling Posts: 1,106member
    Exactly which Macs are capable of driving the Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K at full resolution?
  • Reply 7 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post





    If you'd read the article, you'd know they don't have a newer one because Intel hasn't shipped Thunderbolt 3 yet. It's not like Apple is ignoring the issue.



    Are you telling me Apple didn't update their display lineup, because they are waiting for Thunderbolt 3 since 2011 ...? If you are right, well, that would be even more strange. Having better displays on the shelves, but unfortunately, the port is not ready.

  • Reply 8 of 93
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,416member

    I wonder whether the author actually got the Dell to display the 5K using an iMac, or just read it in the product description?

     

    (edited to specify not a Mac Pro, but thanks Marvin and SolipsismX for helpful replies)

  • Reply 9 of 93
    adrayven wrote: »
    You only mentioned one monitor with thunderbolt technology.

    Should have pointed out, LGs 34UM94-P or 34UM95-P .. both with Dual Thunderbolt 2, 3 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and Display ports.

    I'm a big fan of the 21:9 displays. The only reason I would need it is for Xcode (of which I'm not nearly proficient enough to warrant the cost), but it seems like a lot of the A/V productivity apps would benefit from that addiiotnal width. I hope Apple goes that route with their Thunderbolt display update.

    I'd, personally, like to see a curved display but that doesn't work for video or images so unless they build multiple models or have a way to warp the display that doesn't affect the work negatively for video and image professionals I doubt that would come. Please, don't read that as I'm all for curved TVs; those are usually for multiple people sitting in different spots, but a computer display is typically single use with the user squarely in the center.
  • Reply 10 of 93
    boredumb wrote: »
    I wonder whether the author actually got the Dell to display the 5K using a Mac, or just read it in the product description?

    I doubt they bought one to test it out, but it should work on the Mac Pro providing the dual-link DP cable is plugged into two different TB ports on different TB chipsets.
  • Reply 11 of 93
    mcarling wrote: »
    Exactly which Macs are capable of driving the Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K at full resolution?

    I'm guessing it's just the Mac Pro at this point. The MBPs have 2xTB2 ports but it's still a single chip so I don't think it's capable of processing the bandwidth on a single chip until we get TB3.

    Also, when TB3 MBPs start shipping is when I think we'll finally see Apple update their external display.
  • Reply 12 of 93
    How do you not list the new HP series at 5K and 10-bit per channel?
    http://www8.hp.com/us/en/campaigns/workstations/ultrazdisplays.html

    The 4K 27" Z27s for $750 to the 5K for $1399?
  • Reply 13 of 93
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,229moderator
    boredumb wrote: »
    I wonder whether the author actually got the Dell to display the 5K using a Mac, or just read it in the product description?

    It doesn't look like they're shipping yet. They were supposed to be out in December but the current shipping is 3-5 weeks so maybe people will start getting them later in the month to be able to test them out. They use two internal panels so it's really like getting two displays. They should work on Macs with dual TB ports but we'll only know if someone tries them out. It wouldn't be a suitable alternative for Macbook Air owners nor Mac Mini owners nor any other models that have a single TB output.
  • Reply 14 of 93
    I think Apple will release new monitor with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.1 Type-C support this year when new Macbook Air arrives. It will be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and will have same resolution as Thunderbolt Display today but features USB3 connectors and modern thin design. They must have monitor available that works as a monitor and hub for new Macbook Air when it arrives with USB 3.1 Type-C connector.

    Next year when Thunderbolt 3 arrives Apple will release Retina 5K Display. Thunderbolt 3 will be only connection that can drive Retina 5K Display so it still makes sense to have lower resolution display available with Thunderbolt 2/1 and USB 3.1 Type-C support for older and lower spec computers.

    That's my speculation.
  • Reply 15 of 93
    Originally Posted by tap5a View Post

    I think Apple will release new monitor with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.1 Type-C support this year

     

    Why on Earth would they do that and dump it a year later? They learned their lesson from doing that with the 27” Cinema Display.

  • Reply 16 of 93
    I actually bought me a used Thunderbolt display last week for $600 and it is perfect. The MAIN reason I bought it was because of the docking capabilities. If I wanna bring my rMBP to work, just unplug 2 cables. AND I can keep my laptop's charging cable in my bag since the display has power that goes right to the laptop. Best purchase I've made in a long time. It's just so clean looking on my desk...
    I browsed a lot of the other monitors in stores via in store demos and they all looked washed out or just downright ugly (yeah I know, skin-deep right?) At least the ones in the $1k> price range. BUT, I do wish the Thunderbolt display had an audio out.

    Edit: damn autocorrect
  • Reply 17 of 93
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post





    If you'd read the article, you'd know they don't have a newer one because Intel hasn't shipped Thunderbolt 3 yet. It's not like Apple is ignoring the issue.



    The last time Apple depended on a single vendor it got screwed big time (PowerPC) - so what happens when Intel also disappoints?

  • Reply 18 of 93
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,151member

    This is a topic that is near and dear to me because I needed to add a second monitor to my 2013 iMac 27 (non 5K) about 6 months ago. I was shocked that Apple had not updated the Thunderbolt Display for what seems like an eternity. Because of this excessive lag and $1000 USD price tag the Apple Thunderbolt display is simply not a good value in any sense of the word. I ended up going with the Dell U2713HM which provides a presentation nearly every bit as good looking as the native iMac 27 (non 5K) display for at least one third lower price. It's worked out extremely well. This particular Dell monitor is not washed out or lacking in any way but the native 2013 iMac display is a tad bit better due to the way the screen is bonded. Owners of older iMacs or even ones of pre-5K vintage would be hard pressed to fault the visual characteristics of this Dell monitor in any way. 

     

    You do need to buy the rather clunky $100 USD  Apple Mini DisplayPort To Dual-Link DVI Adapter (http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB571Z/A/mini-displayport-to-dual-link-dvi-adapter) to get the Dell monitor to work but you're still way ahead of the game price wise. If you read the Apple forums you'll see a lot of people seem to have problems with the Apple Thunderbolt display. Plus, the Apple Thunderbolt display does not align vertically with the iMac 27 and has no adjustment whereas the Dell monitor can be adjusted vertically to line up with the iMac 27 screen. I always prefer to give my money to Apple but in this case they were so far behind and off the mark that even as a diehard fan I had to go with an alternative - and I'm happy with what I got.

     

    It is kind of puzzling to me why Apple has been dragging their feet on bringing the TB display up to snuff even for those of us with older non-5K products. For iMac users this is an annoyance but if I had a new Mac Pro I'd feel like Apple totally let me down by not offering a native, modern display for their most expensive flagship desktop computing platform. If they can't build it themselves they could at least brand label another vendors product and bring the aesthetic in-line with Apple customer expectations.

     

    No doubt that Apple has been very successful on the balance sheet so them not having a full set of system components like decent matched monitors has not hurt them at all. This tells me that Apple has moved on from providing separately available system components, save for a few niches like the Mac Mini and Mac Pro where they are content to simply provide only the core processing element. Can't argue with success - I guess.

  • Reply 19 of 93
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DewMe View Post

     

    This is a topic that is near and dear to me because I needed to add a second monitor to my 2013 iMac 27 (non 5K) about 6 months ago. I was shocked that Apple had not updated the Thunderbolt Display for what seems like an eternity. Because of this excessive lag and $1000 USD price tag the Apple Thunderbolt display is simply not a good value in any sense of the word. I ended up going with the Dell U2713HM which provides a presentation nearly every bit as good as the native iMac 27 (non 5K) display for at least one third the price. It's worked out extremely well.

     

    You do need to buy the rather clunky $100 USD  Apple Mini DisplayPort To Dual-Link DVI Adapter (http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB571Z/A/mini-displayport-to-dual-link-dvi-adapter) to get the Dell monitor to work but you're still way ahead of the game price wise. If you read the Apple forums you'll see a lot of people seem to have problems with the Apple Thunderbolt display. Plus, the Apple Thunderbolt display does not align vertically with the iMac 27 and has no adjustment whereas the Dell monitor can be adjusted vertically to line up with the iMac 27 screen. I always prefer to give my money to Apple but in this case they were so far behind and off the mark that even as a diehard fan I had to go with an alternative - and I'm happy with what I got.

     

    It is kind of puzzling to me why Apple has been dragging their feet on bringing the TB display up to snuff even for those of us with older non-5K products. For iMac users this is an annoyance but if I had a new Mac Pro I'd feel like Apple totally let me down by not offering a native, modern display for their most expensive flagship desktop computing platform. If they can't build it themselves they could at least brand label another vendors product and bring the aesthetic in-line with Apple customer expectations.

     

    No doubt that Apple has been very successful on the balance sheet so them not having a full set of system components like decent matched monitors has not hurt them at all. This tells me that Apple has moved on from providing separately available system components, save for a few niches like the Mac Mini and Mac Pro where they are content to simply provide only the core processing element. Can't argue with success - I guess.




    Spot on - this situation is simply ridiculous; not to mention that the venerable, old TB display is, in most places, STILL the most expensive display around...if Apple can't make a 5K display, why not at least an updated 4K one with full support Mac support? There is no excuse for that omission.

  • Reply 20 of 93
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Beware of Dells. I used to recommend a Mac plus Dell display, but not anymore.

    4k at 24" is terrific retina resolution, and my Dell UP2414Q has great color as well. But it's otherwise badly made. Hairs in between the layers, beat-up refurbs for warranty, awful backlight glow, unreliable and awkward controls... and half the time it won't even stay awake (which may be Apple's fault?)... I wish there were a better standalone retina display.

    I wish Apple made a 4k 24" Thunderbolt display similar to it.

    (At 4k, you DO NOT want 27"-30": pixels too small for 1:1 use, too big for retina or scaled use.)
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