Ever since Apple launched the $5,000 and up Pro Display XDR in 2019, there have been rumors that the company is also planning a more affordable screen to fill the same niche as its Thunderbolt display. You can connect a Pro Display XDR to a MacBook Air that costs one-fifth of its price, and Apple has always gone out of its way to mention that the MacBook M1 is technically capable of supporting 6K screen resolution. But it wasn’t exactly an attractive value proposition.
Enter the new studio display. With a design strongly reminiscent of the 2011 Thunderbolt display and a name that harkens back to its namesake from the late ’90s, the display is tailor-made for anyone who wanted a 5K screen from the long-gone 27-inch iMac without a computer connected. to that.
It’s certainly not for everyone, and at $1,599 it’s not the first external display I’d recommend to all Mac owners (especially people who are addicted to the cheaper Mac minis and MacBook Airs at the end of the spectrum). But as its rave reception from several Ars employees suggests, it will find an audience because it’s an Apple 5K monitor, and its design and features are a major step up from the 5K LG UltraFine display that Apple sold in last time. some years.
Before we talk about the monitor itself, it’s worth briefly recapping how high-density (aka “Retina”) displays are handled in macOS and why the discussion of 5K-versus-4K in a Mac context isn’t just about visual details.
Apple had a consistent formula when moving to Retina displays: each new screen would have exactly four times as many pixels as the non-Retina screen it replaced. So the 480×320 iPhone 3GS screen became 960×640 in the iPhone 4, and the iPad 2’s 1024×768 screen was upgraded to 2048×1536 for the first iPad Retina. The first Retina Mac, the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, used a 2880×1800 display that was exactly four times the size of the previous generation’s 1440×900 screen, and when it was finally released in 2014, the 5K iMac quadrupled the number of pixels of the original 27-inch iMac 2560. ×1440 screen.
For developers, this has made the transition from non-Retina to Retina screens relatively easy and predictable. You only had to increase your app assets to 200 percent of their normal size to take full advantage of Retina screens, and the iOS and macOS apps added Retina support fairly quickly. The downside is that developers cannot tell their applications to render at a size other than 100 or 200 percent of their normal size.
To make up for this shortcoming and take advantage of the extra density of Retina screens, Apple has also added “scaled”display modes to Retina Macs. These scaling modes increase the apparent resolution of your Mac’s screen; Apple no longer needed to offer 1440×900 and 1680×1050 display options for the MacBook Pro because you could scale its screen to look like a 1680×1050 screen with only a slight loss of detail. The GPU will display your desktop at 3360×2100 and then scale it down to 2880×1800 to match the display panel’s native resolution. Many MacBooks, including the older 12-inch MacBook and some later Air and Pro models, actually shipped using Scaled Display Mode out of the box.
But “a slight loss of detail”for one person is an “unacceptable loss of detail”for another, which is why some people (especially those in graphics and publishing) don’t like using 27-inch 4K monitors with their Macs. Compared to the iMac 5K, you either waste valuable desktop space by running the monitor at its native, unscaled 3840×2160 resolution, or you lose some detail by using the upscaled 5K display mode.
With a native 5K display, there is no such trade-off, and as such, some Mac users wish there was at least one good option to buy. Enter the studio display.