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Will Apple’s Retina Display make it to MacBooks?

Apple’s third generation iPad announcement came with a lot of upgrades, but due to most of the announcements being leaked out long before showtime, there were few surprises. The least surprising was the long-rumored Retina display, which makes it easy to underestimate it’s impact on the “post-PC” era. Without a doubt, the Apple Retina display is a huge game changer. Perhaps the biggest of all the upgrades. Really! The biggest.

If you’ve had an iPhone 4 or 4s for a while, take a look at an iPhone 3Gs and see how pixelated everything looks. Now imagine that effect when viewing the non-Retina display on any computer. That’s the huge difference that the Retina Display offers, and it’s a trend that’s going to change a lot of people’s perception of what a computer is, and the quality expectations thereof.

Sure, we’ve had Retina displays in the iPhone 4 for almost a couple years, but using a Retina display at a large scale is going to dramatically change the way people view normal PC/Mac monitors. The pixels on today’s monitors will seem obvious and huge to those who’ve lived with a new iPad for awhile, relegating even a new iMac’s glorious monitor to second-tier status compared the iPad display quality.

The 11” MacBook Air has one of the highest pixels per inch of any computer with 135 pixels per inch, with most all other monitors having somewhere from 90-110 pixels per inch. Compare that to the iPad’s Retina display with 264 pixels per inch, and the iPhone’s with 326 pixel per inch displays and it’s easy to see that, pretty soon, all computers are going to have a lesser display quality compared to the iPad.

Now think about that for a moment. The iPad will have better display quality than anything else on the market. Anything. Fonts will be appear buttery smooth, photos will diplayed densely real. The experience will be quite a step forward.

The Retina display is one of those types of technology improvements that when you first see it, it’s easy to take for granted. It’s when you step back to a non-Retina display where you’ll really notice the quality shift. It’s like stepping back to VHS from DVD, to DVD from Blu-ray, or to standard definition from HD. It’s something you notice the huge difference after you’ve lived with it for a while, and it’ll be harder to go back to the lower-resolution screen on your laptop or desktop.

It’ll definitely be interesting to see when—or if—Apple will introduce Retina quality displays in their laptops. However, judging from how hard it was to get manufacturers to master making a Retina display the iPad’s size, I’m not expecting that to come anytime soon.

If you’re getting The new iPad, drop us a line and let us know what you’re seeing in regards to the Retina display changing your perception on computer displays.

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  • The ipad 3 has ruined it for me I don’t even own one and don’t like tablet computers but now every display looks awful

  • I’m predicting that not only will we see it in a laptop, but we will eventually see it in the new iTV. Over the next year or so, I think we will start to see a transition to retina displays in all of Apples displays. Why not? Whose going to drop thousands of dollars for a view that is inferior to their $499 iPad?

    People keep saying that the iTV will need to distinguish itself from the pack…well how about if its the first 4k TV? As long as it can playback lower resolution feeds, that would basically take the “I don’t want to have to upgrade my TV every year” argument and turn the iTV into a future proofing device that assuming it lasted wouldn’t have to be replaced for years and would still be ahead of the pack.

    I think we could even see retina screens in the MacBook Airs coming up!

  • Yes, Michael, you are correct. My DVD player does an excellent job of up-converting to 720p. And yes, there is a difference in quality between DVD and Blu-ray, but I would peg it at about 15% at best, even on my 58″ plasma, less than that on anything under 50″. And I run excellent equipment, properly set up to maximize the source content. The point I’m making is, good enough is often good enough.

    For example, my wife and I are HUGH Phantom of the Opera fans, so earlier this month we watched the Great Performances broadcast (in 720p HD) of Phantom from Royal Albert Hall (James, did you go? How fantastic that must have been if you did). Before it was over I grabbed the iPad2 and ordered the Blu-ray recording of the performance from Amazon. As soon as the disk arrived and we had 3 hours to devote to it, we watched the Blu-ray performance. The sound was MUCH better (5.1 versus 2.0), and while the picture was as good as you could want, it wasn’t particularly better than what we REMEMBERED from the HD broadcast the previous week. I’m sure we would have seen a difference in a side by side comparison, but in both cases we had marveled at the details that were visible. Both were FANTASTIC in our opinion. Good enough was good enough.

    I am a seriously committed photographer and I use the iPad2 primarily as a photo portfolio (for which it is a game changer) and a web browser. I will DEFINITELY buy a new iPad as my wife would like to have her’s (the iPad2) back. And I hope I see a wonderful improvement in my images, but I’m prepared to find that once again, good enough is good enough.

    At any rate, I will duplicate a couple of galleries at double resolution and take the iPad2 along to see what is what. I store all my portfolios on the iPad2 at 2048×1534 to allow for zooming in. I’ll create some on the web at 4096 x 3068 for the new iPad and we’ll see what we see. I’ll even report back, if there is an appropriate blog post to comment on at the time. I hope to be amazed (even eat a little crow), but I’m not convinced yet that I won’t find, once again, that good enough was good enough. Either way, I’ll have my own iPad, which is good.

    • I think you’re missing the point a bit with the “good enough” argument. I think the main difference with these Retina Displays is that they will finally be “good enough”. That is to say, for all intents and purposes, DPI will not get finer than what we will get in these devices. Anything finer will not matter as we have already achieved the maximum we can perceive. You are correct in that there is a point where it is “good enough.” I argue that Retina Display is that point, and not before.

  • Mike surprised you didn’t mention the analogy of going back from an OWC SSD to using a mechanical hard drive. My MacBook is experiencing problems so I’m using a newer Mac without an OWC SSD and this newer Mac feels much slower.

    Hope the new MacBook Pros later this year get Retina Displays as I think I’ll be buying the 2012 MBP whenever that comes out.

    • Thanks for your kind words on the OWC SSD experience. THe only reason I didn’t make a comparison like that is that it’s a visual comparison versus a speed comparison. But yah, if you take the point that it’s a leap forward than any leap forward comparison may do. Thanks for reading.

  • Charles (previous commentator) the difference from DVD to 720 or 1080 lines is huge, even with UK DVDs at 576 lines (PAL) or NTSC DVDs at 480 lines.

    I for one will be very interested in a MacBook Air with an iPad Retina Display. Even more so if you can put more than 4GB RAM into it… go for it Apple.

  • You made 3 visual comparisons above:
    VHS from DVD – I agree, huge difference
    SD to HD – again, huge difference
    DVD to Blu-ray – even on my top-of-line 58″ 1080p plasma TV, the difference isn’t worth writing home about. 720p to 1080p is just not that big a deal. Start talking 4K displays and now you’ve got something.

    So, I hope as far as the retina display on the iPad goes, your VHS and DVD analogies are correct, and it’s not a case of DVD to Blu-ray which will be a bit of a yawner. I’m definitely going to take my iPad2 with me and do a side-by-side comparison. We’ll see.

    • DVD to Blu-Ray ….. That is the same as SD to HD. (SD is classified as anything under 720 horizontal lines, and HD is anything 720 horizontal lines and greater)
      DVD has a maximum resolution of 480 horizontal lines (here in the U.S) and Blu-ray tops out at 1080 horizontal lines.

      I’d say if you don’t see a difference on your TV its because of two things probably…. first, most Blu-ray players up-convert standard DVDs to 720p, and second you might check your TVs aspect ratio. 16:9 is not the native resolution for Blu-ray most of the time. You need to set your TV to “Just” or “Full” or something like that depending on the brand. That way, your TV displays a pixel per pixel match of your source material and doesn’t overscan.

    • Oh it looks like I stoked the Blu-ray from DVD fires out there. Your right, many anamorphic upconverted DVDs can look fantastic…. even on my 135″ projected screen I still enjoy my DVD collection. But I do prefer to view my Blu-ray collection more as Blu-ray gives a seemingly flawless picture and uncompressed surround that only the absolute best DVD conversions can come close to quality wise, and of course fall short audio wise.

      Though my TV source comparative is, admittedly, kind of a simplistic example. As you don’t really read on a TV like you do on a computer or iPad, and what the Retina display does is allow those tiny details to be shown in their full glory with near field viewing versus the far field viewing that we do when we watch TV. That is unless you sit one foot away from your TV :)

      Thanks for reading, and sharing your perspective / thoughts.