Retina display for Apple: Awesome for everyone

Date February 21, 2012

The internet is rife with gossip that the new iPad will have a retina display. According to MacRumors, who apparently found an LCD that fell off the truck, it's going to have four times the resolution as the iPad 2, or 2048x1536, also known as QXGA.

I've gotta tell you, I'm really excited about this, and not just because I'm a big Mac fanboy. And you should be too.

Have you been monitor shopping lately? Yes? Then you know how much it sucks. Why? Because of the curse of 1080p.

A while back, someone decided that the "right" resolution for TVs was 1920x1080, and the best way to draw the picture was progressive scan (as opposed to interlaced), so 1080p became the prevailing TV resolution. Which was OK, but still not great. Somewhere along the way, though, things went off the rails...

Companies making monitors apparently decided, somewhere in the 2005-2010 range, that everyone wanted to watch movies on their computers, which is a logical statement. I don't only want to watch movies on my computer, but I would like to do that. And apparently the monitor makers thought that's ALL I would like to do, because over the past few years, pretty much every monitor that you can buy at a decent price is 1080p.

Don't believe me? Check out Pricewatch's list of 27 inch LCD monitors. Lowest price is $264 as I write this, and it's 1080p. The next nine are, too, until you get to this $900 beast, which runs 2560 X 1440. Say, that sounds pretty close to the iPad's 2048x1536...

Yes, ok, I'll admit it. The reason that I want the iPad to have a retina display is so that every other LCD maker in existence is shamed into making better screens. The ability to hold a $1,000 tablet that includes an 9.7" screen that pushes nearly twice the pixels of any screen you can buy in the whole big box store down the road should be sufficient embarrassment to get them off of their butts and their laurels.

There's absolutely no technical reason for this kind of stagnation, as Apple will hopefully show everyone. If it takes Apple to accomplish what NEC or ViewSonic should have been doing years ago, then so be it, but we need better displays, both in terms of resolution and acreage. There are only so many terminal windows that fit on 1080p, and I'm tired of having to add more screens to get the space I need.

  • Christopher H

    Perhaps there is no technical reason, just an economic one. If the LCD monitor makers have determined that the vast majority of the market for say, up to 27" monitors is satisfied with 1080p screens, that's what they'll produce.

    Sadly, all of the tech people and creatives who could use bigger resolutions are a minority compared to the average computer users out there. Look on the good side though, it's becoming easier and easier to do double and triple monitor setups these days.

  • Scott

    I'm betting Apple will still beat the major monitor makers to retina-level displays at desktop sizes.

    They'll probably start with the Airs and the MacBook Pros, but eventually an iMac is going to sport a 5120x2880 display at 27". The recoded apps will look stunning and the legacy apps will run just fine pixel doubled :-)

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    Scott: The holy grail for me in terms of Apple's home computer looks a lot like the current gen of iMacs, but with a retina display and a touchscreen interface, ala the ipad.

  • Ernie

    No. Frackin'. Kidding.

    At work, I have a 23" monitor, ostensibly because I need the extra screen real estate to do some hardcore multitasking, usually with one screen doing development/sysadmin stuff and the other showing me documentation on *how* to do that development/sysadmin stuff.

    This 23" widescreen LCD replaced two 17" CRTs. Do I get two 17" CRTs full of pixels? Can I put documentation next to code?

    Not really. Almost. My windows need to overlap. And it's certainly not enough. I would rather have two 17" 2x3 LCDs, really.

    But hey, at least the LCD doesn't flicker.

  • Derick

    Apple defines a retina display to be any display with a pixel density above 300 ppi (this was Steve Jobs' magic number that he gave during the release of the iPhone 4). The iPhone 4/4S has this. Even with the updated resolution, the iPad 3 won't meet this requirement (sqrt(2048^2 + 1536^2) = 2560 /9.7 = 264 ppi). This falls significantly short of the iPhone 4/4S display of 326.

    That said, while it won't be a retina display by their own definition, I too hope and look forward to this increasing monitor pixel density. Gimme a 4k monitor, please :P

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    Interesting. I looked it up, and it's all about arcseconds per pixel. There should be a good arcsecond-to-pixel calculator for monitors, but all I can find are telescopes and DSLRs.

  • Derick

    Once you have your pixels per inch, you can calculate the arcseconds per pixel with some basic trig. And calculating the PPI is as simple as just using the Pythagorean theorem using pixel resolution and the diagonal screen measurement as I showed.

    3600 * arctan (1 / (X * 12))

    where X is the PPI value. You multiply by 3600 to go from degrees to arcseconds (60 arcminutes in a degree, 60 arcseconds in an arcminute)

    It would be pretty simple to create a web-based calculator that takes in vertical pixel count, horizontal pixel count, and diagonal screen length (all easily obtainable values pretty much every manufacturer gives) and return the arcseconds per pixel value

  • Alexandra Stanovska

    Interesting, lastly I was thinking the same. Reminds me of http://www.xkcd.com/732/
    My current monitor is 24'' 1920x1200 and I am very happy with it, I consider it appropriate resolution.

    Also what's up with all those thin 16:9 "noodles"? If widescreen, 16:10 is more appropriate for computer work, since when you put menus, toolbars, ribbons (eh) status bars into account you get thin piece or real estate to actually write document, edix excel or view web page. Not to mention when upgrading company laptops, new ones we receive have amazing 1440x900 ... that's a major step forward compared to old ones that had 1440x1050 don't you think?

  • Flemming Jacobsen

    My present 24" LCD monitor can be pushed to 1920*1200 and I only gave 200 US for it a couple of years back. So some of the screen producers didn't cave in and join the bandwaggon :)