Achieving Retina

To make the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display a reality Apple had to work with panel vendors to build the panels it wanted at a reasonable cost, as well as deliver the software necessary to support insanely high resolutions. There was another problem Apple faced in making the rMBP a reality: the display pipeline of the GPUs Apple wanted to use didn't officially support scaling to the resolution Apple demanded of them. Let me explain.

All modern GPUs have fixed function scaling hardware that is used to efficiently scale between resolutions. A scaler either in your GPU or in your display panel is what lets you run non-native resolutions at full screen on your LCD (e.g. running 1680 x 1050 on a 1920 x 1080 panel). None of the GPUs used in the Retina Display MacBook Pro officially support fixed-function scaling of 3840 x 2400 or 3360 x 2100 to 2880 x 1800 however. Modern day GPUs are tested against 2560 x 1440 and 2560 x 1600, but not this particular 5MP resolution. Even 4K resolution support isn’t widespread among what’s available today. Rather than wait for updated hardware and/or validation, Apple took matters into its own hands and built its own GPU accelerated scaling routines for these higher resolutions. Fixed function hardware is almost always more efficient from a performance and power standpoint, which is why there’s some additional performance loss in these scaled resolution modes. 

What’s even crazier is Apple wasn’t pleased with the difference in baseline filtering quality between the Intel HD 4000 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M GPUs. As the Retina Display MacBook Pro would have to regularly switch between GPUs, Apple wanted to ensure a consistently good experience regardless of which GPU was active. There are a lot of filtering operations at work when doing all of this resolution scaling, so rather than compromise user experience Apple simply wrote its own default filtering routines. Since you want your upscale and downscale quality to be identical, Apple had to roll its own implementation on both. Apple’s obsessive attention to detail really made it possible to pull all of this off. It’s just insane to think about.

The Software Side of Retina: Making it All Work Driving the Retina Display: A Performance Discussion
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  • Mumrik - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link


    Anand, on page 4 you categorize the rMBP as a consumer device: "At 220 pixels per inch it’s easily the highest density consumer notebook panel shipping today.", but back on page 2 you made a deal of of calling it a pro "appliance" and pointed out that it wasn't a consumer device.

    Other than that - this DPI improvement really needs to get moving. It's been so many years and we've essentially been standing still since LCDs took over and the monitor business became a race towards the bottom. IPS, high DPI and native support for it in software PLEASE. 120hz would be nice too.
    Reply
  • dwade123 - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why Apple doesn't take advantage of their lead in Thunderbolt. This machine screams for E-GPU with GTX 670! Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Probably because right now the user experience would be poor. See Anand's comments about sound and USB cutting out when high-bandwidth transfers are occurring. That would be catastrophic mid-game and would definitely lead me to return the hardware as unfit for purpose. Apple have had their slip-ups but they rarely release hardware that is unfit for purpose. Reply
  • inaphasia - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Does Apple have some sort of exclusive deal (ie monopoly with an expiration date) on these displays, or can anybody (HP, Asus, Lenovo etc) use them if they want to? Reply
  • wfolta - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    In recent years, Apple has been the King of the Supply Chain due to Tim Cook. He's now the CEO. I doubt that there will be many retina 15" screens available for Apple's competitors for a year or more.

    Even if Apple didn't lock up the supply chain, Apple's competitors have been running towards lower resolutions, or the entertainment-oriented 16:9 1920x1080 (aka 1080p), so it will take them a while to pivot towards higher-density displays even if they were growing on trees.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Apple has been paying huge sums (in the Billions of Dollars!) to component manufacturers in advance to have them develop specific components such as this one, even paying for factories to be built for manufacturing exclusively for Apple for a certain time.

    It is also possible that Apple has licensed certain patents from various (other) manufacturers for their exclusive use which might preclude open-market sales of the same components even after the exclusive deal with Apple is up, because the display manufacturer may not be able to keep using these same patents.

    In short: The chances for PC manufacturers to get at them just by waiting for them to drop into the market eventually don't look too good.

    After all, none of the other Retina displays have appeared in other products yet. And the iPhone 4 is already two years old.

    So either the non-Apple-supplying component manufacturers or the PC builders will have to actually pay for their own development. And given their mostly dismal profit margins and relatively low volumes in the premium segment, I wouldn't hold my breath.
    Reply
  • Shanmugam - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Anand and Team,

    Excellent review again.

    When is the MacBook Air Mid 2012 review coming? I really want to see the battery life improvement, I can see that it almost tops out at 8Hours for light work load for 13" MBA.

    Cannot wait!!!
    Reply
  • smozes - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Anand states: "[E]nough to make me actually want to use the Mac as a portable when at home rather than tethered to an external panel. The added portability of the chassis likely contributes to that fact though."

    I work with an external display at home, and given that there are none yet at this caliber, I'm wondering about doing away with the external display and working only with the rMBP. In the past I've always needed external displays for viewing more info, and I'm curious if this is no longer necessary.

    Has anyone tried doing away with an external display and just using the rMBP on a stand with a mouse and keyboard? Since the display includes more info than a cinema display, and given healthy eyesight, would this setup be as ergonomic and efficient?
    Reply
  • boeush - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    For several years, I've been using 17'' notebooks with 1920x1200 displays. That resolution had been more than enough for the 17'' form factor; having even such a resolution on a 15'' screen is going overboard, and doing it on an 11'' tablet is just plane bonkers. I don't see the individual pixels on my laptop's screen, and I'd wager neither would most other people unless they use magnifying lenses.

    I really don't get the point of wasting money on over-spec'ed hardware, and burning energy pushing all those invisible pixels.

    I'd rather have reasonable display resolutions matched to the actual physiological capabilities of the human eye, and spend the rest of the cost and power budgets on either weight reductions, or better battery life, or higher computing performance, or more powerful 3G/4G/Wi-Fi radios, etc.

    The marketing-hype idiocy of "retina displays" now appears to be driving the industry from one intolerable extreme (of crappy pannels with sup-par resolutions) right into the diametrically opposite insanity -- that of ridiculously overbuilt hardware.

    Why can't we just have cost-effective, performance-balanced, SANE designs anymore?
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Reminds me of comments when the 3rd gen iPad screen was introduced. You have a review which both subjectively (from an extremely experienced user) and objectively from tests shows this is the best display ever for a laptop. Yet people ignore all of that and say it's a waste... I think it would be a waste if it didn't actually... You know... Provide a visibly dramatic level of improvement. And its better to make a large jump bordering on "overkill" than to make tiny incremental steps with something like display resolution- fragmentation/etc being what it is, Reply

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