The Retina Display

Last night I played with an Apple Macbook Pro with the new Retina Display (Wikipedia link). Wikipedia cites some controversy about whether the display actually has higher resolution than the human eye can perceive. When wearing glasses my vision is considerably better than average (I have average vision without glasses) and while kneeling in front of the Macbook I couldn’t easily distinguish pixels. So Apple’s marketing claims seem technically correct to me.

When I tested the Macbook Pro I found that the quality of the text display was very high, even now the 1680*1050 display on my Thinkpad T61 looks completely crap when compared to the 2880*1800 display on the Macbook. The Macbook was really great for text and for a JPEG that was installed on the system for testing. But unfortunately pictures on web sites didn’t look particularly good. Pictures on my blog looked quite poor and pictures returned by a Google search for “art” didn’t look that great either. I wonder if Safari (the Apple web browser) isn’t properly optimised for the display or if there is something that we should do when preparing pictures for web sites to make them look better on Safari.

The retina display has a 71% greater DPI which means 2.93* the total number of pixels of my Thinkpad. The overall quality of the experience for me (apart from web pictures) seems more like a factor of 2.93 when compared with my Thinkpad than a factor of 1.71. This has to be one of the most desirable products I’ve seen from a company that’s opposed to freedom for it’s users. I’m not about to buy one though, $2,300 is a lot of money for a system that can’t be upgraded, repaired, or recycled, and doesn’t even have an Ethernet port. I’m sure that if I bought one I would discover that it some of the hardware features don’t work properly with Linux.

The new Apple design trend of making it impossible to repair anything works reasonably well for phones and tablets which are cheap enough that they are hardly worth repairing when they have been used for a while. Lots of people can afford to spend about $600 on something that may be discarded after a year or two, but very few people can afford to spend more than $2,000 on such a disposable product.

Why is Apple the only company producing systems with such displays? If someone produced regular PCs that have the expected features (including an Ethernet port) with such a display at a lower price then I’m sure that there would be a great demand.

6 comments to The Retina Display

  • Jason

    Completely agree. The displays are fantastic, but I’ll never spend that kind of money just for that one feature.

  • Wojtek

    I suppose they also mean the end of pixelart, and non-aliased fonts:(
    For the pictures on the web I have a simple suggestion. Maybe they’re of finite physical resolution, and cannot be losslesly upscaled. How would we imagine creating information from nothing? Unfortunately, this will also go for our old digital photos. In 2022, when you watch -on a 40” sub_retina – your photos taken in 2003 with 4MPix camera, you will cry…
    And talking about competition not taking up the retina for cheaper “normal” laptops – we just have to wait a little, I think they haven’t mastered the tech yet.

  • etbe

    Jason: We don’t completely agree, I might spend that kind of money, but not today and not for a locked down product that has dubious support for the OS I use. If I was a Mac user then things would be very different. Also if my usage patterns were the same as they were when I used a laptop for everything then it might be different.

    Wojtek: Why would non-aliased fonts end? People always want something better and I’m sure that the Macbook Pro text wouldn’t look as good if it wasn’t for the Apple font rendering.

    You are correct that pictures can’t be upscaled too far without looking bad. My casual observation when watching Youtube videos has been that scaling things up by more than a factor of 2 makes them look ugly on monitors I’ve used (such as my Thinkpad T61). If the pictures looked bad because Safari was upscaling them to have a similar screen size then they could have done so with a factor of 2 and presumably had it still look good. Upscaling by a factor of 2 on a Retina display has got to be a lot better than the same upscaling on a display with a much lower DPI and shouldn’t be much worse than native size on a regular display.

    I’ve already had the problem with digital photos. I’ve got photos from old camera phones in extremely low resolution. The problem however is that to increase the number of pixels without making an insanely long shutter time you need a reasonably large lens. The trend towards most photos being taken by camera-phones combined with the trend towards camera-phones being insanely small goes against quality photos.

    As for mastering the tech, I don’t think that Apple makes the screens either, they just pay someone else. Presumably Apple has an exclusive contract with whoever is making their screens. If that company doesn’t have patents then other companies could sell to Lenovo etc.

  • I haven’t seen these apple displays yet. For me what I really desire in a display is that it should reflect good light rather than emit bad light, and not flicker at all. It should be as pleasant to read as a book or magazine. Until we achieve that, I don’t care very much about any other display features such as 3d, high dpi, high contrast, high frame rate. All those are desirable, but totally unimportant compared to “can I read a web page without my eyes bleeding”.

    So I bought a laptop with Pixel Qi display. It’s good, I can use it out in the sun, but not ideal for reading. It looks shiny or shimmery and not as good as paper. I have an e-paper reader which is better, but I can’t attach it to a computer, and it has very low contrast and takes a long time to refresh the screen. Here’s hoping for some good colour display tech that I can plug into my laptop and use outside, that looks just as good as matte paper, and supports at least 30Hz refresh rate. I’d settle for 10Hz, hell maybe even 2Hz, that’s how bad I want this!

    I am guessing that no one else is making these retina displays because Apple placed patents, has not licensed the patents to anyone, will not sell the screens to anyone, and no one else is up to speed with manufacturing similar displays.

  • etbe

    Sam: Please bring your Pixel Qi device to the next LUV meeting, I’m sure that lots of people will be interested to see it.

    One thing I totally forgot to check about the Retina display was whether it reflects light, that’s been a major failing with most recent laptop displays with Thinkpad being one product that continues to include matte displays. I would be very surprised if you could notice a flicker in any modern displays, if so please write a blog post with a list of the worst ones you see on display in Myer and Dick Smith.

  • etbe

    I’ve written another review about the mirror surface of the Retina display at the above URL.