As I previously mentioned, the iMac with 5K Retina Display is going back to Apple. Not because there is anything wrong with it, it’s a beautiful machine, but mainly because I wanted to keep my Mac Pro and I couldn’t justify (to myself anyway), the extra expense of a second powerful machine, just for the display.
However, once you’ve experienced a Retina display, it’s really hard to forget about it!
So in looking for possible alternatives, my eye was taken by the LG Flatron 31MU97 31″ True 4K 60Hz Professional WideScreen LED Monitor.
This is a true Cinema 4K display, with a native resolution of 4096 x 2160. The iMac 5K Retina Display is 5120 x 2880. These figures are significant.
Firstly, some words first about using these humongous resolutions in real life.
Yes, you can run these monitors at these incredible resolutions. It’s quite a buzz to play a 4K Ultra HD resolution at full size – and it looks awesome too.
However, in real life, you’re really not going to stick to these maximum resolutions, the on screen elements – menus, dialogue boxes, etc, are just too small.
The true power of these monitors is that it allows you to run in HiDPi mode, or in Apple’s parlance in Retina Mode.
In HiDPi, all the pixels available are used, but they “scale” the resolution to something more reasonable.
With a normal iMac or Apple Cinema Display, the optimum resolution for the 27” screen is 2560 x 1440. At this resolution, all the on screen elements are perfectly readable and correctly sized for the display.
With the iMac with Retina Display having exactly 4 times as many pixels as the 2560 x 1440 display, when in HiDPi mode, each point at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 is made up of exactly 4 pixels. As such, the crispness of the display needs to be seen to be believed. You can scale up the resolution and it still looks great, but the sweet spot is 2560 x 1440 HiDPi. The added benefit is that if you play 4K media it will be displayed in its true resolution.
So as the iMac was going back, I decided to throw caution to the wind and ordered the new LG Flatron 31MU97.
It arrived a couple of days ago and as the iMac isn’t going back until tomorrow, I was able to do some comparisons.
I discovered that at a certain optimal resolution, the LG Flatron 31MU97 is as eye popping as the iMac Retina.
The only problem is that the optimal resolution is 2048 x 1080 not 2560 x 1440
At 2048 x 1080, the LG also is able to use exactly 4 pixels per point making the display super crisp and gorgeous, just like the iMac display.
So what’s the problem?
2048 x 1080 HiDPi on a 31” monitor makes everything pretty damn large!
It’s usable, but realistically, you’d want a bit more screen real estate on such a large monitor.
But all is not lost, if you scale the display up to 2560 x 1350 HiDPi (same as the iMac but just slightly wider as it’s a 21:7 ratio display), it still looks pretty good.
Very good in fact.
If you’d never seen an iMac with 5K Retina Display, you’d be blown away by the quality of the LG 31MU97 at 2560 x 1350 HiDPi.
But it’s not as good as the iMac, very close, but not quite. Presumably due to the fact the scaling is not using an exact number of pixels for each point at this resolution.
Even so, I’d recommend it to anyone with a Mac Pro who wants to go with a Retina Display. It’s still a Retina display in my eyes as you still can’t discern any visible pixels.
The LG 31MU97 is able to be driven at the full 4096 x 2160 resolution using DisplayPort rather than Thunderbolt, and it is VESA mountable. Not forgetting the fact that it’s half the price of an entry level iMac with Retina Display.
There is one issue in that the monitor is so new, the Mac Pro doesn’t appear to support the full resolution out of the box. However, due to some fantastic work by Stéphane Madru, the developer of the awesome SwitchResX, the full resolution is available by the addition of a small config file on the Mac Pro. You don’t need to purchase SwitchResX, it’s a simple text file that Stéphane has created. This is documented over on the MacRumours forum.
So I’m a happy bunny again.
I can get my refund on the iMac and have a full blown 4K Retina display on my Mac Pro.
At least, until the next new thing comes along.