The King of All Notebook Displays

For years Apple has been shipping some of the best displays in consumer notebooks, but the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display is in a league of its own. While I never liked the phrase “painted on” in reference to the iPad and iPhone Retina Displays, that’s the best way I can describe the effect the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display has on me. Text really does look painted on. The effect is really the result of two things.

The first is Apple’s removal of its cover glass. LCD panels aren’t particularly attractive, they are ugly squares composed of two pieces of glass and a number of filters/polarizers. To hide the ugly edges, display makers wrap bezels around the display. Most people aren’t fond of bezels so next came a ton of effort to minimize bezel size. An alternative is to simply place a third piece of glass over the entire LCD assembly and make it look as if the bezel and LCD panel are integrated. This outermost layer is known as a cover glass and is what Apple uses on all of its glossy displays. If you’ve ever taken apart a Cinema/Thunderbolt Display or a newer iMac you’ll know that the cover glass is literally just a piece of glass that you have to remove with some suction cups.


Non-Retina MacBook Pro, notice the gap between the outermost LCD glass and the cover glass

The MacBook Pro’s Retina Display does away with the cover glass and instead uses a fairly unique LCD assembly. There are still two pieces of glass but the outermost glass is actually a different size and shape - it integrates a bezel. By integrating the bezel into the outermost glass in the LCD stack you get the same effect as a cover glass but without the added reflections it introduces.

You also limit the possibility of dust getting trapped between the cover glass and the LCD. The danger is that you no longer have a protective piece of glass in front of your expensive new LCD. If you scratch the display you're scratching the LCD itself. While this has been true for conventional matte displays for a while, it's worth mentioning if you're used to Apple's glossy displays where you did have that added security layer.


The MacBook Pro with Retina Display, no gap, no cover glass


The 2011 MacBook Pro with High-Res Matte display option, no cover glass, top bezel


From left to right: 2010 High Res Glossy MBP, 2012 rMBP, 2011 High Res Matte MBP


Glare handling indoors - 2011 High Res, Glossy MBP (left) vs 2012 rMBP (right)


Glare handling indoors - 2012 rMBP (left) vs. 2011 High Res, Matte MBP (right)

The Retina Display is also obviously an extremely high resolution panel at 2880 x 1800. Note that this is 44.6% more pixels than Apple’s 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, and 26.6% more pixels than the 30-inch panels that we’ve loved for so long - all in a 15.4-inch notebook display.


An iPhoto shortcut, High Res 2011 MBP (left) vs. Retina Display MBP (right)

At 220 pixels per inch it’s easily the highest density consumer notebook panel shipping today. At normal viewing distances and even with my face closer than I’m comfortable putting it I simply cannot discern individual pixels.

It’s the combination of these two elements, the removal of the cover glass and the insanely high pixel density that makes everything from text to UI elements just look painted on the new Retina Display. And the effect is gorgeous. I’ve never seen a prettier panel and it’s actually ruined me for pretty much all other displays, notebook and desktop.

While I can appreciate the iPad’s Retina Display, the impact from the MacBook Pro’s display is even more significant. Perhaps it’s because I still spend so much time working on a standard, non-tablet display, but I’m far more excited about this display than anything else Apple has delivered under the Retina moniker.

It’s not just pixel density that Apple has to offer here. Similar to its Retina Displays in the iPhone and iPad, the MacBook Pro’s Retina panel ditches TN in favor of IPS technology. The result is an incredible improvement in viewing angles. On a notebook I don’t spend a lot of time viewing it from far left/right angles, although I see the benefit when I’ve got others huddled around my display. Here the panel performs admirably - you lose brightness at far left/right angles but there’s no perceivable color shift. In fact, the painted on effect is even more impressive at these far left/right viewing angles.


The rMBP straight on


The rMBP viewed from the left

For a single user however the more impressive characteristic is just how good the display looks at vertically off-center angles. I wrote much of the initial parts of this review while on an airplane in coach, which with a 15-inch notebook on my lap means I’m going to be looking at the display at a weird angle to begin with. The thinner rMBP doesn’t do enough to make the airplane usage model any better if the person in front of you decides to recline, but the IPS panel does make the display perfectly usable at the off-center angle you’ll inevitably have to deal with.


2010 High Res, Glossy MBP (left) vs. 2012 rMBP (right)


Hello colorshift! 2010 High Res, Glossy MBP (left) vs. 2012 rMBP (right)

Ports & Expansion The Retina Display in Numbers
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  • vincbxart - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    u wrong. Because of :

    16x9 is good to show my video work.
    Discrete GPU is for gaming, ivy bridge is powerfull enough to threat with 4k video
    VGA is especially for professionnal, a lot of video projector till get that.

    The weight doesn't determine consumer or creative laptop...

    Why the Z is not a consumer laptop
    The price - pricier than the mb
    The gamut full adobe rvb when apple is bader than the mb 2008... (98% VS 68%...) - you pay a lot for it

    btw both are good. But The Z was greater than the macbook retina 2008 vs 2012
    Reply
  • dannyboy153 - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    1) Showing of your video work is consuming media not creating. Feel free the use whatever you want to create content but I find it easier to do it on a 16x10. Menu bars, navigation panels, etc takes up room.

    2) I'm comparing the Sony Z to the MBP, not some technical fact that Ivy Bridge can do this or that. Does the Z output 2560x1600? No.

    3) I didn't say the weight determine what was consumer or creative.

    4) You can use the Z for creating content. You can use a $400 laptop to create content. But clearly the former is better than the later. Same with the MBP with retina vs the Z...clearly the former is better than the later. But use whichever one you want.
    Reply
  • danrhiggins - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    BTW, I have a 2010 Z with 2 docking stations and the extra battery (the big one) that has been sitting on my desk unused for nearly a year when I switched to a 2011 MacBook Air. I really liked the Z. It was smaller and lighter than the Air. Actually I found the screen a bit too short for me.

    Bottom line is that I fell in love with the Mac OS and gestures. But that is just me.

    So if anyone lives in Colorado and is interested I am going to put the Z on Craigslist. ;-)
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Nailed it, the small 16:9 display, thicker chassis, and no dedicated GPU are huge corners that were cut. One can barely compare it with other 13" notebooks, let alone the 15" rMBP.

    Lots of grasping for straws going on here....
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Thicker chassis? The z is thinner than the MBP.

    The 13" is a design choice, not a manufacturing limitation. The goal is a 2.5 laptop. Japanese people don't weigh 180 lbs and don't like slugging around 4.5 lb laptops.

    Barely compare it with other 13" notebooks? Care to list one that can even compete? It was 80% of the MBP retina in an MBA form factor in 2008, and then even lighter in 2011.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Don't bother, you're arguing with an ignoramus. Reply
  • Chava - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    +1 Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, July 06, 2012 - link

    The only ignoramus I see are people grasping at straws trying to say that the rMBP has already been done in other laptops before.

    Sad and desperate
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    Thanks for proving my point. Reply
  • Guspaz - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I tried out a Vaio Z in a Sony store when I was in the market for an ultraportable laptop (I decided on the first-gen Toshiba Portégé ultraportable, something I somewhat regret). The Vaoi Z was impressively thin, but suffered from three fatal flaws:

    1) Ludicrously expensive. The base model was $2000, and you needed to upgrade it a bunch from there to get the specs respectable

    2) Only shipped with a bilingual keyboard; Sony refused to ship an American keyboard in Canada, even online, forcing consumers to get a strange non-standard keyboard with a funny shaped enter key

    2) Indrecibly delicate. If you poke the screen in the corner with one finger, the whole screen flexes and bends away from your finger. It felt like this thing would shatter if I breathed on it.

    In the end, it was no lighter than the Toshiba, and cost almost a thousand dollars more, but the Toshiba had its own issues.
    Reply

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