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How super high-def displays change everything

Mike Elgan | June 17, 2013
Ultra high-resolution displays are suddenly possible for all screen devices. It's a great time to be an eyeball.

The consumer electronics market is being flooded with devices that have incredible high-resolution screens.

All the new iPhones and high-end Android phones have them.

The 10-in. iPad has one, as do the Archos 97 Titanium HD, Onda V972, Freelander PD80, Ainol NOVO9 Spark, Cube U9GT5 and others.

So does a new class of laptops, including the Google Chromebook Pixel, Acer Aspire S7, Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display, Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A, Asus Zenbook UX32VD, Dell XPS 12, Dell XPS 13, Samsung Series 9, Sony Vaio Duo 11 and others.

Asus recently announced its lust-worthy ASUS PQ321 31.5-in. desktop display, which is a 4K display.

And for the truly wealthy, Apple announced this week that its upcoming Mac Pro will be capable of powering three 4K screens simultaneously. Imagine the Mac Pro running three 31.5-in. 4K displays! The displays are $3,799 each, so it would cost about $12,000 just for the displays. Current Mac Pros are well over $3,000, so we're looking at an absolute minimum of $15,000 or so. (Hmm. Maybe if I sell the car...)

The problem with Retina-quality, ultra high-resolution and 4K screens is that once you've used one, it's hard to go back to lower resolutions.

Believe me. I know.

For the month of May, I used a Chromebook Pixel — Google's cloud laptop with super high-pixel density — as my main computer. At the end of the month, I packed it up and went back to my old MacBook Pro. Suddenly, the screen quality looked horrible.

I was happy before. Now I'm miserable.

This is especially true since Apple didn't announce a Haswell-based Retina MacBook Pro at its developer's conference this week. (I expect the company to launch such a machine in a few months, so I don't want to buy a Retina MacBook because it will become obsolete when that happens.)

What is a super high-resolution screen, anyway? And what makes one so awesome?

Apple coined (and trademarked) a word for its own super high-resolution screens. It calls them Retina displays. It's not a technical term, but it's what Apple calls any screen on which the individual pixels cannot be perceived by people with 20/20 vision who are looking at it from a "normal" distance.

That's a great way to think about these screens. Even though pixel densities on consumer electronics devices with screens have gone up steadily over the years, there's something binary about the new super high-resolution screens.

Suddenly, it's possible to look at a screen and for the first time ever, see no pixels, no "jaggies" (the jagged edges of pixelated raster images) and no gray boundaries around letters. We've crossed some kind of line.


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