Conspicuous Consumer - Smart Company, Foolish Choices (1992)

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Deborah Branscum’s Conspicuous Consumer column puts Apple’s active matrix LCD defect apathy under the microscope. At 77dpi in pure black and white–no greyscale, and no RGB subpixels–you definitely noticed dead pixels!

Original text from Macworld, July 1992.

Dead pixels are nothing new today, but they presented a novel public relations problem in 1991 as active matrix LCDs began to appear in top-of-the-line mass market laptops. Apple, of course, chose to keep completely silent unless asked.

This is yet another aspect of ancient computing that goes completely unnoticed by the likes of Wikipedia and thus younger “YouTubers”. Passive matrix LCDs didn’t have this issue, but then again, they didn’t have the fast response time, high contrast, or wide viewing angles of an active matrix LCD either.

Macworld January 1993 contains a diagram showing the difference in construction between passive and active matrix LCDs.

If Apple considering dead pixels “bad” and voided pixels “acceptable” seems totally arbitrary, that’s because it probably was. It may just have been Apple’s way of quietly cutting the number of complaints it had to act on by 50%. :-) Just my two cents.

Deborah Branscum interview clips from the Digital Riptide technology journalism history project.

True story: through my dad’s job, we knew a guy who ran an Apple dealership in the early 1990s. When I was 10 years old, I was at a conference with my dad and while he and the dealer chatted, I got a chance to play with the dealer’s personal PowerBook 170 for a few minutes. I confirmed his 170’s display was completely free of dead pixels. I didn’t have the guts to ask, but I always wondered how many 170s he had to open before finding a perfect one–or did he get lucky on his first try? Barry Underwood of BMH Computer Solutions, are you still out there somewhere? :-)

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