I don’t write a lot about computer monitors, but I’m making an exception this week because I’ve been using two displays that are truly distinctive.
One, from Acer, has 3D capabilities. The other, from Apple, is an upgraded Cinema display with support for Thunderbolt, a new and faster way to use external devices such as hard drives. The Thunderbolt display also is gorgeous, far more so than the Acer display.
The big question when weighing the Acer HN274H monitor is: do you really need a monitor with 3D?
I tested this capability by hooking up a PlayStation 3 gaming console, which doubles as a Blu-ray disc player with support for 3D-enabled movies and games.
The “Rio” computer-animated movie looked pretty decent – keeping in mind that 3D movies are best viewed on TVs at least 46 inches in size, and preferably greater than 52 inches. The experience on the 27-inch Acer isn’t quite the same because it isn’t as easy to discern all the 3D effects.
As with 3D TVs, you have to use special goggles to watch 3D video on the Acer display. this is a pain.
I later linked up a 3D-compatible Comcast cable-TV box to the Acer, also via HDMI (the display has three such ports) because I wanted to try the television provider’s 3D channels. this wasn’t possible, as it turned out.
Though I could watch non-3D channels just fine, the display would not switch into 3D mode, as it did flawlessly with the PS3, when a Comcast 3D channel came on the screen. The apparent reason for this, gleaned from troubleshooting sessions with Acer and Comcast: The cable box is in need of an update to work properly with 3D displays. this disappointed me because the box is a newer, advanced model.
The display worked wonderfully for computer work when I hooked up an Acer Predator gaming PC along with an Apple Mac Mini – at the same time, since the PC connected via DVI and the Mac linked up via HDMI.
I could then switch among the computers as well as the PS3 and the Comcast box via an input button on the front of the monitor. this makes the $650 Acer display a workhorse for those juggling computing and multimedia devices.
The Thunderbolt display isn’t as versatile, but it is aimed at a completely different audience – primarily users of recent-model Macs, such as the latest MacBook Air laptops and the recently updated Mac Mini desktop computers, which all have Thunderbolt ports.
My first hours with the Thunderbolt display almost made me want to weep for joy, the screen is that beautiful. this is partly due to its resolution, 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, compared with 1,920 by 1,080 pixels on the Acer display, even though both are 27-inch monitors. Apple displays have always been the best-looking ones I’ve used, and this one is no exception.
Once connected to a Mac via Thunderbolt, the display becomes a Thunderbolt hub with its own TB port on the back for use with compatible hard drives with transfer speeds outstripping those of drives using older technologies like FireWire and USB.
I was unable to test this feature because I couldn’t get my hands on a Thunderbolt peripheral as of this writing. I’ll keep trying, and follow up when appropriate. I wanted to write about the Apple display now, however, because it’s a great companion to the latest Macs – assuming you can stomach the monitor’s $999 price tag.
NEW IPODS DISAPPOINT AND DELIGHT
Those looking for major iPod upgrades this year were disappointed. Apple, which customarily revamps its music-player line annually, did not change much this year.
The iPod Touch is most glaring. There is nothing different about it, aside from a new color choice (white) and a modest price drop (it now starts at $199).
The news for iPod Nano fans is a bit better. in fact, I’m delighted with the modest changes to the tiny, square-shaped, LCD-screen device, which also saw a price drop – it now starts at $129.
The hardware is just the same. The changes are in the software. once the software is updated via iTunes on a PC or Mac, the Nano becomes more useful and enjoyable.
One helpful change: better Nike+ support for the fitness-related features that keep track of your walking or running progress over time.
This once required Nano users to plug a sensor into the player and attach another to one of their athletic shoes, but that is no longer necessary. The Nano does it all. Punch in your height and weight, select the walking or running mode and you’re good to go.
Also new: a bunch of extra clock faces.
Apple, noting how many people like to place their Nano devices on special watchbands and use the players as timepieces, has added a fantastic new selection of faces, including Micky Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Kermit the Frog.
I have never been a fan of wearing a Nano on my wrist, but I am doing so this week in honor of Steve Jobs, with that insane Muppet known as Animal on the screen. Here’s to the crazy ones.
HEADSET FOR IPAD (AND MORE)
Washing the dishes after dinner is one of my favorite times of the day. That’s when I put on earbuds and get caught up with my favorite podcasts via my iPhone or other media device.
The problem? The audio cords keep getting caught on the kitchen drawers’ handles, often yanking the sound equipment right off my head. Ouch.
So I recently tried a cord-free approach with Logitech’s new Wireless Headset for iPad.
Don’t let the name of this product throw you; it’s not just for Apple’s tablet.
As Bluetooth gear, the over-the-ear headset will work with almost any Bluetooth-compatible device. that includes virtually any recent-model smartphone or tablet, as well as computers such as Apple Macintosh machines that are set up for Bluetooth connections.
When I was washing the dishes, I had the headset paired with a smartphone (I tried iPhone 4, Android and Windows Phone 7 models with no problems) or a tablet computer. I could either put the device on the counter, far from the splashing in the sink, or, if it was small enough, tuck it in a pocket. The headset keeps working reliably either way.
I also used the headset while doing laundry, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn and so on, with my handset in a pants or jacket pocket. Wireless audio means absolute freedom and flexibility, with no bothersome cords to get in the way and become snagged on stuff.
One big bonus: The headset has a boom microphone, so it can also be used for phone calls with reasonably good clarity.
I did so not only with smartphones but with several Macs, all of which have Bluetooth built in, via Google Voice. this made the headset a fantastic alternative to the wired headsets I typically use for phone conversations, and allowed me to get up and walk around while on my calls. Awesome.
My quibbles with the $70 headset are minor. It’s a cheap-looking plastic-and-rubber device that isn’t likely to draw admiring glances the way pricier headphones might. it doesn’t seem durable, so it’s not the kind of device I’d suggest tossing in a backpack even though it folds up for greater portability.
The audio quality didn’t knock my socks off, either, and I wished I could crank up the volume a bit higher. Bluetooth pairing can be a pain, too.
But overall, this thing is a winner.
Julio Ojeda-Zapata covers consumer tech. Reach him: email@example.com or 651-228-5467. Read him: twincities.com/techtestdrive and yourtechweblog.com. Follow him: Facebook, Google+ and twitter.com/ojezap.
Tech Test Drive: New-product roundup: monitors, iPods, headsets