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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  • seapeople - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Wow, is that the Sony everyone here has been harping about "outdoing Apple" years ago?

    Reading that review basically says that while the general specs of that Sony are outstanding, every other possible aspect of user experience (keyboard, hinge design, trackpad, thermals, and noise) is completely terrible.

    Oh, and it looks like it costs more than the rMBP and comes loaded with bloatware.

    There's a reason that didn't get an Editor's choice award, and it's not some great conspiracy...
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Not really. You can buy it without the bloatware, you just need to select Windows Pro. They got a review unit from Sony, and Sony shipped them their "consumer" version which is loaded with bloatware (although I agree, that is even more reason to not have bloatware).

    The hinge is by design and something Sony engineers are quite proud of. Not everyone likes it when something is different, especially when it comes to keyboards.

    Simply read the comments (http://www.anandtech.com/Show/Index/5530?cPage=5&a... and you can see only the reviewer had an issue with the hinge that he couldn't even explain very well.

    I have been using the Z1 for 2 years now and the experience is awesome. It may just take some time to get used to a small laptop.

    Trackpad can glitch every once in a while and for noise you can make it silent in the Sony control center (change fan from performance to silent).

    There is always going to be fan noise in a high end laptop when stressing the system. This applies to the rMBP as well (http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=13918...
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Moron. Reply
  • mlambert890 - Thursday, November 29, 2012 - link

    Were you two on the design team of the Z? LOL!

    You just called the guy a moron for pointing out why *ANAND* didnt like the Z.

    OK you guys are right. The Z is amazing and it is a crime against humanity that only you and your fellow crusader "get it". Sony should be the #1 PC maker rather than approaching junk bond status and it is only Apples "marketing hype" their ability to "buy off" guys like Anand and the "stupidity" of everyone on earth (except you two) that keeps Apple profitable. What an amazingly arrogant pile of crap that is

    Im a huge Vaio fan and Im 100% sure Ive spent more on them than you two have combined over the years and even *I* think the two of you sound nuts.
    Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    You're talking out your ass. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Amazing argument.

    Truth hurts dude, sorry
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Nothing you noted is cutting edge, and it is also thicker and heavier than Apple's machines Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    How is 2.5 lbs and 0.66" thick thicker and heavier than Apple's machines? Apple does not have a single laptop lighter and thinner than Sony's Z. Not even the ridiculously slow MBA can compete. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Since when were Ivy Bridge i5 and i7 CPUs ridiculously slow? Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Comparatively? Since forever. Stop trying to undermine people's valid arguments by failing to read them, jackass. Reply

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