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Weight and Resolutions

June 18th, 2012

I went to Akihabara today as it was only a few stops east of my medical appointment today, and stopped by a shop which had a Retina Pro. I have to say, it was not all that I expected.

First of all, the damn thing feels heavy. Partly it’s because you expect it to be lighter, but mostly I think it’s because it has been reduced in size more than it has been in weight, therefore it feels heavier than you expect. I had the same experience with the iPhone when it first came out, and the iPod before it: it feels solid, like a piece of machinery, not some cheap hunk of plastic. I’m certain that I’ll become accustomed to it.

The form factor is as advertised: slim, streamlined, sexy. The ports are all there. The screen bevel is not as smooth as I had thought it would be, but I think I just misread a review and expected something else.

Second, there’s speed. As one reviewer pointed out, apps open fast. By the time the icon in the dock has the ability to bounce once, the app is open. Currently, my aging Pro is giving me more and more spinning beach balls. I tried to open Preview, and the icon just bounced there for a minute before I force quit it and restarted. I literally cannot wait for the new machine.

Finally, the display. As with the iPad 3, you can see the quality and the depth of the retina display–but it doesn’t exactly jump out and bite you on the face. I’m sure I will feel like at least one reviewer, who didn’t notice it as much until they tried going back to an old display, and then felt like things were out of focus or something. It’s kind of like trying to sit and watch an old pre-HD NTSC TV show, and you wonder, “How did I ever watch TV at that crappy resolution, and why didn’t I realize it at the time? It used to look sharp, now it’s just blurry.”

The Retina Pro was sitting right beside the new Macbook Pro, and you could instantly see a difference when they are side by side. The Retina display has deeper, richer colors and notably better contrast. It is, no doubt at all, a better display.

However, there is a catch: Apple is being a bit screwy handling the resolution. With all past machines, you could choose to be in native resolution, or you could, using a list of applicable resolutions, decide exactly what resolution your screen will show.

Screen Shot 2012-06-18 At 9.15.21 Pm

Well, not any more. Now you get options like this:


As you can see, you don’t choose from a list–in fact, the computer doesn’t even tell you what the screen’s actual displayed resolution is. You can choose to have things look bigger (lower resolutions) or tinier (higher resolution), as you would if you scaled your resolution between 1024 x 768 and 1440 x 900–except, when you choose each one, Apple only tells you, in text below the image of the laptop, what the resolution “looks like.” As opposed to telling you what “it is.”

Further complicating things is the fact that, when you make one of these changes, the screen dims and pops back–much the way it would when you make an actual resolution change.

At this point, I honestly don’t know if you get to actually see 2880 x 1800 pixels in action, or if everything is scaled down to 1920 x 1200 at best, and the real native resolution is only displayed when you do something like play games. And if we’re not getting the full resolution in normal use, will Apple give it to us after all the apps have been updated to play nice with the Retina?

Yes, I know that rendering the screen in true 2880 x 1800 would make everything unacceptably tiny, but that’s what I thought Resolution Independence, introduced in 10.4, was all about. The display would be 2880 x 1800, but everything would be drawn bigger. Instead, it seems that we get approximations of different non-native resolutions.

Can anyone explain how this works? Is the display actually always in 2880 x 1800, but just downscales individual graphic elements, or is the screen actually never better than 1920 x 1200 and all the pixels everywhere just approximated–meaning we’re actually fuzzier than if we had a 1920 x 1200 display? Will we get back full control in a future OS, with this just being a transitory compromise?

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  1. Troy
    June 19th, 2012 at 01:13 | #1

    >Can anyone explain how this works?

    the whole point of jumping to 2880 x 1800 is to exactly double-up the pixels in the each physical dimension, like they did with the iOS devices, for backward compatibility with old apps.

    In “Best” mode, when an app asks to create a 500×500 window, the OS will create a 1000×1000 window and tell the app it’s 500×500 — so apps now deal mostly in logical device coordinates (called “points”) and not pixels any more — in the retina mode, one point is a bundle of 4 pixels.

    The exception is the very low-level CoreGraphics image buffer creation, CoreGraphics doesn’t know anything about points.

    The old resolution-independence thing never worked all that well — it’s a hard problem scaling a given UI layout to an arbitrary new scaling.

    >I know that rendering the screen in true 2880 x 1800 would make everything unacceptably tiny

    half as high, yes. what the “More space” options are doing is downsampling even larger offscreen surfaces, if Ars is correct.

    The logical screen of 1920 x 1200 is being rendered at 3840×2400 before being downsampled to 2880 x 1800 (a 4 to 3 pulldown).

    1680 x 1050 looks to be a 6 to 5 downsample.

  2. Troy
    June 19th, 2012 at 08:54 | #2

    Hey can you cancel your MBP order???

    Microsoft has announced their new tablets, and they’re awesome!


    One is an ARM device, kinda reminds me of the iPad I guess, but the Pro is a full Intel i5-based tablet form-factor (w/ pen input support) running Windows 8!

    How cool is that! Windows on an x86 tablet! Microsoft is really pushing the envelop with this!

    “4:51 Melissa Perenson: Have to say, from the looks of this, Microsoft has out-Apple’d Apple.”

    (Melissa Perenson, going by her comment stream covering the event, is a total idiot BTW, but don’t let that go against her judgment)

  3. Troy
    June 19th, 2012 at 08:59 | #3

    keyboard’s in the cover:


    that was unexpected. Probably better feel than the MBP keyboard, I’m not a big fan of Apple’s chiclet direction — for $2000+ I’d like to see some real money in the one part of the device I use the most, not the cheapest solution they can think of.

  4. Troy
    June 19th, 2012 at 09:00 | #4

    kinda funny difference in corporate esthetics:



    just looking at the URLs you can tell the corporate philosophies apart.

  5. Troy
    June 19th, 2012 at 09:23 | #5

    I see the Verge had better live coverage than PC World.


    This picture looks like a pretty decent idea, actually:


    they call it the “Type Cover”. Nifty.

  6. Luis
    June 20th, 2012 at 08:54 | #6

    From the WaPo review of the Retina Pro:
    Apple has streamlined the Display settings menu in system preference. Gone is a numerical list of resolutions. Instead we have two radio buttons — “Best for Retina display,” which is default and provides no further tweaking, and “Scaled.” There are five levels of scale, with Retina in the middle. You can opt for larger text that “looks like 1024 x 640” but screencaps at 2048 x 1280 (i.e. quadruple the resolution) or for more space that “looks like 1920 x 1200” with an image that screencaps to 3840 x 2400.
    That confirms something I had heard about but had no support: To improve the display, everything is rendered at 2x (4x pixels) before being downscaled–in other words, instead of displaying 1920 x 1200 on 2880 x 1800 actual pixels, which would not look so great, they render effectively a 4K display and then make the native 2880 x 1800 approximate that at 1920 x 1200.

    Here’s the question. Does 3840 x 2400 downscaled to 1920 x 1200 on a 2880 x 1800 display look better than 1920 x 1200 on a display of the same native resolution? Is it the same? Or is it worse?

  7. Luis
    June 22nd, 2012 at 10:47 | #7

    There are some apps out there now which allow you to set the resolution freely, as is possible on older Macs. Go to any of many Mac sites and you’ll see Retina Pros displaying 2880 x 1800. Incredibly tiny UI elements!

  8. Troy
    June 22nd, 2012 at 14:54 | #8

    >Does 3840 x 2400 downscaled to 1920 x 1200 on a 2880 x 1800 display look better than 1920 x 1200 on a display of the same native resolution? Is it the same? Or is it worse?

    basically you get another round of subpixel anti-aliasing thrown in compared to a native 1920×1200.

    2880×1800 does not suffer from the slight fuzziness introduced with subpixel rendering, because of course the pixels are too damn small to see anyway.

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