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Compared: Apple Studio Display vs Thunderbolt Display 2011

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We pulled our 2011 Thunderbolt Display out of storage to compare it to Apple’s brand new Studio Display.

Apple killed off its Thunderbolt display in 2016, leaving a void in the market. Apple didn’t introduce a new option until 2020 with the Pro Display XDR. But that display came at a huge price and wasn’t a real replacement for the more affordable Thunderbolt display.

Enter — the Studio Display.

Thunderbolt display

Apple has a long history of producing high-quality Mac-specific displays. Users may have forgotten about it with the introduction of the 2022 Studio Display, but it strongly follows the priority Apple has set for itself.

In 1998, Apple released the original Studio Display. These 3:4 aspect ratio displays were available for a year before being sold alongside Apple’s Cinema Display. The Cinema Display eventually replaced the Studio Display and was sold from 1999 to 2011.

It was in 2011 that Apple launched the Thunderbolt Display. At the time, Apple announced that it had created the world’s first Thunderbolt-compatible display. One of the neat features was that two of these displays could be daisy-chained and connected to your Mac with a single cable.

Otherwise, it had an expansive 27-inch panel, an all-metal body, and it eventually replaced Apple’s old Cinema Display.

We picked up one of those Thunderbolt displays at launch and it just happens to still be lying around in our studio.

Some familiarity with some modern upgrades

There are many similarities between these two screens. Each of these Apple displays measures up to 27 inches diagonally and connects to your Mac via Thunderbolt. Although different generations of the high-speed connector.

Both displays are anodized aluminum, although the Studio Display has much thinner bezels, is thinner overall, and weighs significantly less.

The Thunderbolt display has an older version of support from Apple that was used with several generations of iMacs. Users had the option of purchasing a VESA adapter kit if they preferred to mount the monitor.

Workshop display

With the Studio Display, Apple has provided three stand options. The main tilt stand is similar to the 24-inch iMac, but the height-adjustable version is more akin to the Pro Stand found with the Pro Display XDR. There’s also a VESA option, but you’ll have to decide which you want at the time of purchase.

On the back of the Thunderbolt display, Apple has included:

  • Three USB-A
  • FireWire 800
  • Gigabit-Ethernet
  • Thunderbolt
  • MagSafe Cable — 85W
Thunderbolt display ports

Thunderbolt display ports

The MagSafe cable is built into a permanently connected Thunderbolt cable to charge your portable Mac. With advancements in Thunderbolt, the new Studio Display can deliver up to 96W of power over the single detachable Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Apple has greatly simplified ports with the Studio Display, including just three 10Gb/s USB-C ports. Due to Thunderbolt data limitations, it is not possible to daisy chain two 5K studio displays as you would with the Thunderbolt display.

Image resolution and quality

The Thunderbolt Display had a resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels, while the Studio Display doubled that, measuring 5120 by 2880. This gives the Thunderbolt Display a pixel density of 108 pixels per inch and the Studio Display a 218 PPI in Retina quality. .

Close-up of the two Apple screens

Close-up of the two Apple screens

For contrast ratio, the Studio Display has a 1200:1 ratio and the Thunderbolt display has a 1000:1 ratio. Only a modest improvement for Apple’s latest monitor.

Thunderbolt display

Thunderbolt display

Looking at them side by side, both screens look good. But the Thunderbolt display looks a bit dated. It’s inserted further back from the front glass and doesn’t meet Apple’s definition of Retina because the pixels are discernible when seated at a normal distance.

It also has a slight yellow tint to the image, which can result from the ravages of time. Obviously, the new Studio Display appeared more accurate.

Studio display

Studio display

Another big difference is the brightness. Apple only had a peak brightness of 325 nits with the Thunderbolt Display, but the Studio Display can reach up to 600. This was evident when we maxed out both displays.

Cameras, microphones and speakers

Each of the screens has built-in AV devices. They have top-integrated cameras, multiple speakers, and high-quality microphones.

Studio Display Speakers

Studio Display Speakers

On the Studio Display, Apple has a six-speaker array, capable of producing above-average sound. It’s the best monitor we’ve tested to date. It’s also capable of Spatial Audio, to some extent.

Conversely, the Thunderbolt Display has a set of 2.1 stereo speakers that don’t sound bad for their age.

This Thunderbolt display features what Apple calls a built-in FaceTime HD camera. This is only a 720p camera, which technically counts as HD. This is lower than the Studio Display’s 1080p camera resolution.

You can see the dramatic difference between the cameras in the shots above. Some issues have been reported with Apple’s Studio Display camera, but here it seems far ahead.

The Studio Display has a 122 degree field of view, portrait mode and center stage.

Studio Display offers voice isolation

Studio Display offers voice isolation

There’s a single mic on top of the Thunderbolt display and a trio of microphones on the Studio display. The Studio Display’s microphone array can also isolate your voice, which helps in noisy environments.

Only one is available now

Although it was discontinued in 2016, the Thunderbolt display still looks surprisingly good. Its design isn’t bad, the picture is nice, and there are quite a few good bells and whistles baked in.

Apple's two Thunderbolt displays

Apple’s two Thunderbolt displays

Building on the Thunderbolt display, Apple has added some unique features. For example, the nano-textured glass option can significantly reduce glare.

Much of it is attributed to the A13 Bionic chip that drives the Studio Display, such as voice isolation, Center Stage camera tracking, hey Siri support, and video portrait mode.

We loved using the Thunderbolt display, and so far we’re enjoying the Studio display.

Or buy

Apple Studio Display prices start at $1,599 for the standard glass model, rising to $2,299 for nano-textured glass with a height and tilt adjustable stand. Apple Adorama Authorized Reseller is knocking at the door $50 off AppleCare for the new display with this activation link and coupon code APINSIDER.

You can also order the Studio Display from these retailers:

Alternatively, you can find Apple’s Thunderbolt Display on ebay.