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Wednesday, 02 April 2008 02:36

Apple sued over "inferior" iMac display

A few days after we learned that Apple had settled a court case over the MacBook and MacBook Pro displays, news comes of another plaintiff making a similar allegation about the 20in iMac.

Texas resident Chandra Sanders is suing Apple in the US District Court in San Jose, claiming that the company engaged in deceptive marketing by overstating the capabilities of the desktop computer's display.

The 24in iMac uses a high quality display capable of displaying 24-bit colour. Each pixel is made up of three subpixels, each with the ability to show 256 levels of red, green or blue. That's eight bits each. 256 to the power of three is rather more than 16 million, hence the term "millions of colors".

However, the 20in uses a lesser panel that only uses six bits per subpixel, or 64 levels. 64 to the power of three is 262,144 - well short of "millions". Apple (and other manufacturers, it should be noted) turns 18-bit colour into 24-bit colour by rapidly varying the shade of a specific pixel. This process is called temporal dithering.

When you watch TV or a movie, the picture doesn't really move. What happens is that a series of slightly changing still images is interpreted by the brain as movement. Temporal dithering is much the same in that both rely on the way the brain interprets what the eye actually sees.


But the real issue is that the panel used in the 20in iMac is visibly inferior to those used in its predecessor and in the 24in model. "Apple is duping its customers into thinking they're buying 'new and improved' when in fact they're getting stuck with 'new and inferior,'" said Brian Kabateck, managing partner at Kabateck Brown Kellner, the firm representing Sanders.

Word of the difference between the two current models in terms of their displays spread rapidly after they were introduced, and I made a point of doing a side-by-side comparison before purchasing. I was planning to buy a 20in iMac, but the apparent quality of the display tipped me towards the 24in.

If the lawyers running the MacBook suit couldn't find enough people who relied on Apple's "millions of colors" description to justify a class action, the iMac suit might meet the same fate. But that doesn't mean this plaintiff can't win, or that Apple won't settle.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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