Rarely Seen in the Wild, ColorSync 850AV Rides Again

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had acquired a very rare Apple AppleVision 850AV 21” monitor. Debuting in 1997, the 850AV was a high end, nearly 80 lb. bruiser of a display with a hefty $2,000 price point. The 850AV could be run at resolutions all the way up to 1600×1200 with a 75Hz vertical refresh rate, and featured integrated speakers and microphone. It was nearly the highest of high end in its day.

ColorSync 850AV

In March of 1998, Apple rebranded the AppleVision 850AV to “ColorSync 850AV”, saying that this new branding “more effectively communicates the advantages of the systems’ color calibration capabilities to customers”. Later that year, in November, Apple discontinued the ColorSync 850AV. Given its short market run and its high price point, I am guessing that the 850AV was not a strong seller – I have only ever seen one on eBay in years and years of watching. Happily, I was fortunate enough to win it and am thus able to pen this article about it, many years after its heyday.

The AppleVision/ColorSync 850AV had one particularly interesting characteristic – it could only be configured via the Mac OS Monitors control panel. Absent that control panel, this massive display defaulted to using only a limited percentage of the available physical screen real estate, and could not be further adjusted. It pretty much defeats the purpose of using a physically expansive 21” display when only a limited portion in the center of the display is in actual use!

I know this because even though I acquired this display as part of a system that included a Power Macintosh G3 tower (upgraded with a 450 MHz G4 CPU accelerator) for whatever reason, this system simply refused to execute the Monitors control panel successfully. Efforts to do so usually caused the Mac to freeze, and required a subsequent reset to restore order. SO… I had acquired an incredible display, but I had no idea if it would actually perform, since it steadfastly refused to take advantage of the full available screen real estate when run.

Taking advantage of our recent move and the progressive unpacking that is occurring, I was able to pair this display with a different system – my Power Macintosh 7300/200, itself upgraded with a 500 MHz G3 processor – in hopes that the Monitors control panel might prove to be more cooperative in a different environment.

Power Macintosh 7300 w ColorSync 850AV

I connected it up, booted the 7300, crossed my fingers and held my breath, and selected the Monitors control panel. I was delighted when it executed without crashing! Now as you will all know, the Monitors control panel is normally the place you go to adjust the color depth and the resolution of your display. In fact, what you are really controlling this way is the settings of the video controller on your Mac, not the display itself. However, the inverse is at least partially true when a monitor like the 850AV is connected to the Mac.

The word “connected” needs a little exploration in this context. In a typical Mac system, there is a single video cable connecting the monitor to the video output port on the Mac and that is that. Monitors like the 850AV extend this by including a second connection from the monitor to the Mac, this being an Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) cable. Widely used on almost all Macs from the Apple II GS in 1986 all the way through the “Yosemite” Power Macintosh G3 in 1999, ADB is a low speed serial bus supporting daisy chained devices. ADB is reputed to have been invented by none other than Steve Wozniak himself. ADB was largely used for keyboards, mice, joysticks and the like, but the 850AV put it a new use – monitor control.

When a monitor like the 850AV is connected via ADB to a Mac OS Macintosh, the Monitors control panel sprouts several new capabilities that are not otherwise present, all related to the adjustment of the monitor itself. Here is what a “standard” Monitors control panel looks like:

Normal Monitors Control Panel

By contrast, here is what appears when the 850AV is connected:

01. 850AV Monitor

You can see key new additions of Contrast, Brightness, Geometry and Monitor Sound selections, each of which allows you to directly control the indicated aspect of the 850AV’s behavior.

The Geometry selection is truly key with the 850AV, as it is the sole way of adjusting the screen display so that it fills the physical display surface from edge-to-edge, something which is highly desirable in any monitor, but especially desirable when you have paid a LOT extra to get the larger screen real estate of the 850AV.

02. 850AV Geometry

However, in addition to this, a full set of other geometry related controls is provided. These include actual screen geometry (Height/Width, Position), Pincushion adjustment, display image rotation within the physical display area, keystone adjustment and finally, parallelogram adjustments. A Degauss control is also presented. You certainly won’t use that function every day, but on occasion it can be useful. If you are reading this and don’t recognize the purpose of some of the controls mentioned above, you are lucky enough to have not had to deal with some of the older, more finicky CRT monitors!

Moving from left to right on the Monitors control panel, the Color control set is next. This lets the user undertake a lot of the usual color adjustments needed to ensure accurate color reproduction on screen.

03. 850AV Color

Controls are included for White Point, Gamma and Ambient Light level. A Recalibrate control is also included, which will guide you through a manual color calibration process. This is a fairly rudimentary approach to color calibration, and while it may get you into the right neighborhood, it will not dial in perfect color reproduction. To do that you need a hardware color calibrator accessory. I have acquired two of these for Mac OS at this time, and will post a future article on them and their use.

Finally, there is the Sound set of controls.

04. 850AV Sound

These controls support adjustments to the Volume, Bass and Treble of the 850AV’s built in speakers. The 850AV also sports a separate headphone jack, and its volume can also be controlled independently of the speaker volume – a nice touch. Finally, the Sound controls also allow the user to enable/disable the built in microphone on the 850AV and control its input volume/gain.

That completes a quick tour of the Monitors controls that are unique to monitors like the 850AV, which sport an extra ADB connection back to the host Macintosh.

As I mentioned above, I have the 850AV connected to my Power Macintosh 7300, and have it set for a resolution of 1280×1024. I am loving the extra display space, but I have to admit that due to the added height of the speakers at the bottom of the monitor, the display area itself sits up a little higher than I find comfortable. By the nature of the Mac OS GUI layout, with the menu bar along the top edge of the screen, the user is forced to interact with the very top of the display space quite often. I find myself having to crane my neck up to do this, and that becomes uncomfortable after any extended use. I either need a lower surface on which to place the 850AV, or I need to lay hands on its lesser sibling, the AppleVision/ColorSync 850, which is fundamentally the same display technology but without the speakers. I am on the hunt for an AppleVision/ColorSync 850 now, and will report on it here at HappyMacs if I should acquire one.

Until then however, I would absolutely recommend the 850AV as a great addition to your vintage Mac setup. The extra display space is more than worth any other considerations. Keep an eye on eBay if you are looking. They don’t come up often, but they do come up. Happy Hunting!



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